Monday, April 14, 2014

What the Bible says about slavery

Discourtesy of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason
and Science.
New Atheists have a tendency to ask questions about Scripture and Christian belief they intend to be purely rhetorical but which reveal defects in their knowledge and assumptions. Case in point: Mira Sorvino’s  set of “rhetorical” questions about the lack of a passage in the Bible stating positively the evil of slavery.

Precisely because the questions are intended to be rhetorical, the New Atheist isn’t looking for an answer — it’s supposed to be a slam-dunk “gotcha”, and anything you say is mere thimble-rigging, a pathetic attempt to rationalize an obvious error. Moreover, the proper response requires something of a full history lesson, for which many people have no patience … especially if it challenges cherished myths about ante-Internet European history.

That the Bible was never intended to be treated as the sole infallible source of Christian beliefs is not a sufficient answer in itself. To understand where the defect lies, first ask yourself this question: How, after thousands of years in which the propriety and naturalness of slavery was taken for granted, did the West come to believe it wrong? I’ll give you a couple of clues: 1) It had nothing to do with the rise of the scientific method; 2) it also had nothing to do with the Renaissance and the so-called “Enlightenment”.

It’s very tough for Americans to remember that we were almost the last of the modern First World countries to abandon slavery, and then only as a byproduct of a horrific struggle that decimated a generation of young men. It’s tougher to remember that people convicted of felonies can still be forced to work by the state, as a stated exception in the Thirteenth Amendment, or that international treaties still conditionally allow forced labor by prisoners of war. But only history wonks like me know that, from about 1100 until 1492, slavery as we understand it was all but dead in Christian Europe, hanging on mostly in the borderlands between the Christian and Moslem worlds.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Catholic Pharisees and the sin of rash judgment

The most dreaded implement of the Internet Inquisition:
the comfy chair. (© 1970 Python (Monty) Pictures, Ltd.)
That the accusations came in on a post dedicated to shoring up the tradition of worshiping on Sunday was bizarre as the accusations themselves. Said Kelly Lexy:

You seem to be an adherent to the Novus Ordo sectarian community. That is bad news. That means you are pro-abortion and a supporter of the engagers of the Sin of Sodom. …
One must say that you are obstinate. You are familiar with the sedevacante position [Indeed I am, especially with its similarity in flaws to Protestantism]. You have a familiarity concerning the heresies of the post-Vatican II claimants to the papacy. Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation: the heretics you promote reject this Dogma. …

If you’re at all familiar with my writings of the last five years plus, the statement that I am “pro-abortion and a supporter of the engagers of the Sin of Sodom” must have had you howling with either rage or laughter. The bit about baptism is a bit trickier; let me just content myself for now with saying that this is willful misinterpretation of Pope Francis’ words on the part of Ms. Lexy.[1]

When I denied her charge and told her she’d committed the sin of rash judgment, she doubled down on it: “Your false religion recognizes pro-abortion politicians as having a  good standing. Your false religion celebrates the sodomites since you have sodomite ‘masses.’ You are therefore pro-sodomite and pro-abortion since you are in communion with this evil and all such persons. You are an apostate.”

Not even Bernardo Gui — the real Bernardo Gui, not the cardboard-cutout antagonist of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose — would have brought me to trial under such specious reasoning. In any event, since the inquisition is defunct and has been for a very long time (even in Spain), I’m not worried about an auto-da-fé just yet.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Apologetics toolbox: Sunday worship II — St. Paul and the Law of Moses

Part I concerned itself with the basic case for Sunday worship against those communions which argue that we ought to worship on Saturdays, that Sabbath worship is mandated by “God's law” (i.e., the Law of Moses). Part II looks at a particular argument, which tries to reintroduce the Law of Moses via St. Paul.

Yesterday (3/22/14), I engaged in a Facebook argument in which a Seventh-Day Adventist attempted to lecture The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named on St. Paul and Sabbath worship. Apparently it carried over from someplace else, for when she posted to The Blogger’s wall a link to a video that asked, “Can the Majority Ever Be Wrong?”, he replied (quite lucidly), “Of course the majority can be wrong. But that is useless for demonstrating that you are right.” He then asked SAD why Christians are bound to observe the Jewish Sabbath when we’re not bound to observe anything else the Law of Moses mandates (i.e., phylacteries, kashrus, etc.).

Someone else noted that the Israelites were never bound to observe all 613 mitzvoth, a contention on which I held my piece though I felt it didn’t really answer the question. So I cited Colossians 2:16-17, with the punctuation, “Saint Paul FTW.” The Blogger, probably after heaving a mental sigh, advised me, “I’ve cited that previously. [SDA] shrugs it off with ‘you don’t understand Paul’ and then supplies no explanation of what he ‘really’ means.”

To her credit, SDA tried to enlighten The Blogger and me. However, within two sentences, her analysis went off the rails: “When the NT was written it had to line up in agreement with the OT.”

This is a problem we encounter quite frequently in combox controversies with less sophisticated sola scriptura types: Although we all acknowledge Scripture to be “inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) — literally, Theopneustos, “God-breathed” — and thus to have a unity in the Holy Spirit, some Protestants treat the New Testament as if the books and letters were intended to be treated the same way they treated Old Testament Scripture. In fact, though, the NT works, especially the letters, were “occasional” in nature, written ad hoc to address contemporary issues and needs, without any obvious consciousness that they would one day be gathered together in a single codex.[*]

This makes a difference, because SDA continues, “The OT was the reference guide for Paul used [sic]. Paul had to learn and memorize the entire OT and not only that he was taught by the top notch Rabbi [Gamaliel]. Who is better at understanding and writing the NT. Obviously the NT had to be in agreement with the OT.”

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Apologetics toolbox: Sunday worship I — the basic case

As a result of a Facebook argument, I decided to repost this as the first part of a two-part series. Part II was posted March 23, 2013, and concerns itself with an attempt to sneak the Law of Moses into Christianity through a back door; this is the basic case.

*          *          *

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27-28 NIV).

With these words, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest, was commanded not for the benefit of God, who can be — and ought to be — worshipped any and every day of the week, but for the benefit of his creatures doomed to eat their bread in the sweat of their face (Gen 3:17-19), to give them a day of rest (Ex 20:10; cf. Ex 23:12, 31:15, Dt 5:14). Indeed, the English word holiday is a contraction of “holy day”, a fact G. K. Chesterton played on when he said of the ancients, “And only when they made a holy day for God did they find they had made a holiday for men.”[*]

But Jesus doesn’t simply remind the Pharisees that the Sabbath is for man’s sake … he also associates the Sabbath to himself: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:28; cf. Lk 6:5). Tertullian argued from the relevant passages, the plucking of grain from the fields (Mk2:23-28; Lk 6:1-5) and the curing of the withered hand (Lk 6:6-10), that Jesus as Son of Man and Son of God had the power to transfer the Sabbath to another day:


Now, even if He had annulled the Sabbath, He would have had the right to do so, as being its Lord, (and) still more as He who instituted it. But He did not utterly destroy it, although its Lord, in order that it might henceforth be plain that the Sabbath was not broken by the Creator, even at the time when the ark was carried around Jericho. … Now, although He has in a certain place expressed an aversion of Sabbaths, by calling them your Sabbaths (Is 1:13-14), reckoning them as men’s Sabbaths, not His own, … He has yet put His own Sabbaths (those, that is, which were kept according to His prescription) in a different position. Thus Christ did not at all rescind the Sabbath: He kept the law thereof, and both in the former case did a work which was beneficial to the life of His disciples, for He indulged them with the relief of food when they were hungry, and in the present instance cured the withered hand; in each case intimating by facts, I came not to destroy, the law, but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17), although Marcion has gagged His mouth by this word (Against Marcion 4:12).


Friday, March 21, 2014

Three cosmic historical errors—UPDATED

Hypatia of Alexandria: astronomer, mathematician,
philosopher ... martyr of Science?
Yesterday morning (3/20/14) I shared on Facebook a link to Artur Rosman’s CosmosTheInLost post, “Walker Percy on the College Dorm Arguments of Sagan and deGrasse Tyson”. Rosman reprints an extensive footnote by Percy in the latter’s book Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (New York: Picador, 2000), in which he bemoans the “unmalicious, even innocent, scientism” of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. Neil deGrasse Tyson comes into the matter because of his reboot of the Cosmos miniseries, which includes Sagan’s highly-defective history of scientific development illustrated in cartoons (how appropriate!) by Seth MacFarlane.

One of my best friends, a Methodist, didn’t see the problem:

Being a fan of both of these men (Sagan and Tyson) and a fan of the original and the new one, I don’t understand the need to find an anti-theistic agenda in the productions. These men have made careers in astrophysics and increase the wonderment that is our world. The production value is huge and the entertainment value is bigger still. Am I so different from the supposed slack jawed, numb skull, UFC watching set that are supposedly changed in mindset with a show like this? My beliefs are not changed by the fact that this show grabs my attention and entertains me with all matters of the universe.

The problem isn’t an anti-theist agenda in the productions. Rather, the problem is in the perceived need to strip Christians and Christianity of all contributions to scientific development, and to add distortions of history in support of the “Christians hate science” trope. Three stand out in the Cosmos series, two of which Sagan elided together: 1) The murder of Hypatia; 2) the destruction of the Library of Alexandria; and 3) the death of Giordano Bruno.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

On criticizing Church leadership

The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.
—Hilaire Belloc (1870 – 1953)
In 1963 Bl. John XXIII created a commission of six non-theologians to study questions of birth control and population. In 1965, Paul VI expanded the commission to fifty-eight members, including bishops, theologians and married couples; at its final meeting, an executive committee of sixteen bishops was also present. As you may not have guessed, the majority concluded that the pope could use his authority to approve at least some form of contraception for married couples.

After two further years of study and reflection, Papa Montini rejected the majority position, explaining in Humanae Vitae, “… [T]he conclusions arrived at by the commission could not be considered by Us as definitive and absolutely certain, dispensing Us from the duty of examining personally this serious question. This was all the more necessary because, within the commission itself, there was not complete agreement concerning the moral norms to be proposed, and especially because certain approaches and criteria for a solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church” (op. cit., 6).

I bring this up because Pat Archbold posits a hypothetical case:

Say … [that] the outcome of the Synod on the Family on the question of admission of divorced and remarried to communion follows the suggestions of Papal advisers Cardinals [Reinhard] Marx and [Walter] Kasper. That the remarried are admitted to communion after some pastoral counseling and the annulment process is moved from tribunal to pastor. In this case, the Church does not change its immutable teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, but the newly implemented pastoral praxis dramatically alters the landscape.

Leaving aside the predictable cheering from progressives, Archbold asks, what should the orthodox do: go along, remain silent, or speak out?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Of judgment, sheep and Fred Phelps' passing—UPDATED

Fred Phelps, Sr. preaching at Westboro Baptist.
Yesterday, I happened to remember a chorus from Part II of Händel’s Messiah, “All we like sheep”, which is taken from Isaiah 53:6 KJV: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” And it occurred to me that people who use the image of sheep to illustrate people who blindly follow leaders know less of sheep than I do ... and I don’t know much at all, at all. (Sorry; on St. Patrick’s Day I tend to slip into a stage-Irish accent.)

Contrary to the image, sheep have minds of their own. They wander all over as they graze. The shepherd’s task is to keep the flock together, and to protect them from predators. The task is made easier by dogs who have been bred to chase livestock back into herds (they make really good pets for children, too). Nevertheless, the shepherd’s life is hardly that of Riley — er, one of ease and contentment; when they’re not on the move trying to get the sheep from one pasture to another, they’re on watch for wolves.

So it is with Catholic and Orthodox bishops: The true picture of Church history is neither the triumphalist Whig history of millions of devoted faithful marching shoulder-to-shoulder in the wake of inspired leaders nor the hideous dystopian myth of cruel tyrants tormenting anyone who showed signs of intellectual independence. Rather, it’s the story of mostly ordinary men — some saints, some knaves, some fools, all limited by the very fact of their humanity — trying not only to spread the Gospel message but also to protect to the best of their knowledge and ability its integrity against threats both real and imagined.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A matter of trust

I don’t have any links on this because I’m going off of memory (little bits of which seem to be falling out with my hair). However, I’m almost certain you’ll have seen it, too: the latest manipulative trope from the pro-abortion camp, which essentially says, “If you can’t trust a woman to make good decisions concerning her body, how can you trust her with a child?”

The first time I heard it, I was reminded of a child psychologist I once listened to, who said that teenagers equate trust with love. When adolescents say, “You don’t trust me!”, they’re really saying, “You don’t love me!”, and they need to be taught that love and trust are not coterminous. Here, I think the same adolescent thought-process is the same: “If you don’t trust me with this decision, that means you don’t think of me as an equal” … again fallaciously presuming that only men are against abortion.

It’s not as formidable a challenge as pro-aborts may think. In fact, the short and simple answer is, “It’s something of the same way you can trust me with a home loan but not with bank robbery.”

A loan is an action of trust, one that a person can either deliberately fail or fail for reasons beyond her control. In fact, the banking industry runs on trust; the lengths to which it must be regulated now simply speaks to the fact that, as our society grow larger, the social functions that insure trustworthiness are breaking down. In any event, I could just as well have said “savings account” with “home loan” and the principle would still be the same.

What is that principle? Just that there are actions or powers with which no one should be trusted. Ever.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Catholic Circular Firing Squad, V. 3.0: Wherein Your Humble Blogger throws a spittle-flecked nutty—UPDATED

For those of you who missed it: Yesterday, Rorate Coeli, a traditionalist-oriented blog with which I’ve had issues before, broke a story screaming that Bishop Michael F. Olson, the newly-installed young bishop of Fort Worth (my home diocese), had rescinded Fisher More College’s permission to celebrate the Mass in the Extraordinary Form (aka the Tridentine Latin Mass, Mass of Paul V, or Vetus Ordo).

As RC presented the matter, the rescission was a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. They printed a letter which Bp. Olson had sent to Michael King, FMC’s president, corralled a source called the Canon Law Centre to opine against Bp. Olson’s actions, then spent the rest of the news speculating how it could fit in with Pope Francis’ plan to abrogate Summorum Pontificum and destroy the Latin Mass forever. (Yeah, it’s that bad.)

Well, I followed the story all afternoon and evening yesterday, and all morning today (3/4/2014). You can read everything I learned on The Impractical Catholic; suffice it to say that RC didn’t check their facts or do any really serious inquiry into matters at Fisher More; they simply ran with a “bishop bashes TLM” story because it fit their “Francis Hates the Latin Mass” frame.

However, the Fisher More administration, particularly in the person of Pres. King, allegedly has begun to stray into schismatic territory, coming within an ace of sedevacantism. No less a person than Dr. Taylor Marshall, former chancellor and philosophy professor at Fisher More, also accuses King et al. of fiduciary mismanagement. It now appears someone at Fisher More — perhaps King? — played RC to make the bishop look bad and (perhaps) create traditionalist pressure to reverse himself.

Monday, March 3, 2014

What are you prepared to suffer?



Now that Arizona’s SB 1062 is dead as last week’s roast chicken, you might think some sanity might descend upon the public square. Don’t count on it.

Let’s set out the inarguables. SB 1062 was Arizona’s reaction to the case in New Mexico where a photographer was sued under that state’s human rights laws for refusing to provide her services for a gay wedding. The relevant passage, as noted by constitutional law professor Josh Blackman, is virtually cut and pasted from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993: “STATE ACTION shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”

According to a bipartisan commission of law professors, SB 1062 would not have “allow[ed] any restaurant or bar-owner to puts up a sign that says ‘No Gays Served’,” as one email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hysterically asserted. Rather, under the law, “business people can assert a claim or defense …, in any kind of case (discrimination cases are not even mentioned, although they would be included), that they have the burden of proving a substantial burden on a sincere religious practice, that the government or the person suing them has the burden of proof on compelling government interest, and that the state courts in Arizona make the final decision.” Neither discrimination nor homosexuals were mentioned in either SB 1062 or RFRA 93.

In any event, Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto message correctly pointed out that Arizona doesn’t have a New Mexico or Illinois-style human rights law to be used as a progressivist ratchet. And as Kevin D. Williamson correctly argues, “If anything, it is much more likely in 2014 that a business exhibiting authentic malice toward homosexuals would be crushed under the socio-economic realities of the current climate.”