Thoughts About Religious Celebrities On Ashley Madison

This is all over, and I’m not sure too much more needs to be said about Josh Duggar being on a site dedicated to adultery. One thing though that I should like to note is that there has been the tendency to insinuate that the Duggar’s upbringing in the extreme “Quiverfull” movement was somehow the cause of his infidelity. While there’s lots that is frankly disturbing in the materials that the Duggars used to raise their kids, the fact remains that people raised just about any which way can end up cheating on their spouses. Everyone can then ex post facto gather around and say that the cheater’s childhood was too permissive or too strict or too structured or too disorganized or what-have-you. Josh Duggar cheated because he is a human being, and we have pretty good documented evidence that some subset of humans do this from time-to-time across all cultures. There’s no need to reach for an additional cause here. The only way that I can see his upbringing/subculture playing into this was in the fashion that cheated: on a website that promised anonymity, I don’t imagine he would be comfortable with the risk of trying to pick up girls in a more prominent fashion given his profile and the fact that his job was essentially to be a professional heterosexual monogamist.

Where Duggar’s upbringing and subculture do come into play more strongly is in how this will be dealt with. He’s already gone to a sort of “treatment centre” for some kind program. It’s also pretty clear that his wife will be under incredible pressure to stay with him. This might be something she would choose to do anyway, but then it might not be, I have no idea and neither do you. It also concerns me that, yes, he’s the guy with child molestation scandal following him around, and so there remains a question about how safe he is around his own kids, given that it’s clear that he has been hiding some other sexual conduct that is out of line with how he claimed to have been living his life.

Creepy Stalker Churches


If you are a pastor or an elder and you know your church to be doing this, stop. Just. Stop. Actually no, you need to do more than just stop, you need to also go before your congregation, apologize, try to explain why you thought something like this was a good idea and then humbly ask for forgiveness. If I were you, I would have a resignation letter in my back pocket just in case as well. Don’t worry if you that leaves with few opportunities to serve in a Christian church, I hear that these guys would really appreciate what you do. (H/T)

Aesthetics in Church

I have been thinking about this topic recently and I wanted to use this space to act as a sort of sounding board for some thoughts I have on the matter. I should like to start with the simple premise that aesthetics matter. In the sort of utilitarian, practical-minded bent of many evangelical churches, this can sometimes be a difficult case to make. This has started to change, and not just in Greg Thornbury’s wardrobe:

Attention: This is not the next Doctor Who

Attention: This is not the next Doctor Who

(Seriously though, this man is well-dressed, and he has a White Falcon!) The sense of it that I get is that aesthetics are seen by many as this nice little dressing that goes on the top of more solid, practical things. But much in the same fashion that Keynes notes that most practical men were in the thrall of some long-dead philosopher, most people who think that church worship services should eschew too much of a consideration of aesthetics are simply acceding to aesthetic decisions that have been made elsewhere. This clip from The Devil Wears Prada explains it much better than I can:

Now this is not a call to become obsessed with aesthetics, we certainly wouldn’t want an elders board to look like the editorial meeting of a magazine, but simply to acknowledge that even neutral walls and dusty rose carpets are the results of much thrashing about design. All those cheesy patches on the church keyboard? Ditto. This starting point shouldn’t lead us to conclude that aesthetics should govern everything that is done in a worship service, but simply to accept that aesthetic choices are inescapable and that a dull aesthetic is an aesthetic nonetheless. You aren’t escaping this with khakis and unaccompanied psalms.

Another Voice Against The Confederate Flag


And this is a significant one too, since I don’t think you can much more conservative and Southern than Russell Moore. As of this week Dr. Moore is ready to declare that he has had enough with displays of the Confederate battle flag. You should read the whole thing, but there are a couple stand-out quotes:

“The Confederate States of America was not simply about limited government and local autonomy; the Confederate States of America was constitutionally committed to the continuation, with protections of law, to a great evil. The moral enormity of the slavery question is one still viscerally felt today, especially by the descendants of those who were enslaved and persecuted.”

This is something that is strenuously denied by apologists for the south, but is plainly there in the language of those who led the Confederacy.

“As those in Christ, this descendant of Confederate veterans has more in common with a Nigerian Christian than I do with a non-Christian white Mississippian who knows the right use of ‘y’all’ and how to make sweet tea.”

The slicing away of ethnic identity is something that we see hinted in not only in Galatians 3:28 but in the fact that Saul of Tarsus decided to go by Paul – no longer the name of an Israelite king from his own tribe, but the name of Roman, probably one whose immediate forefathers had been slaves.

“The Confederate Battle Flag may mean many things, but with those things it represents a defiance against abolition and against civil rights. The symbol was used to enslave the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, to bomb little girls in church buildings, to terrorize preachers of the gospel and their families with burning crosses on front lawns by night.

That sort of symbolism is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ. The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”

Holding on to something that divides like the Confederate battle flag does is, I think Dr. Moore implies here, a form of idolatry. There is no good reason to keep displaying the stars and bars. But again, don’t take that up with me, you can argue with a son of the south, Russell Moore.

The Fault In Ourselves


If you care about these types of things, then I am sure you already know that one of TV’s famous Duggars has admitted to sexually assaulting a number of underage girls including, apparently, some of his siblings while he was a teenager. There’s a great deal that one can make of this case, including the Duggars’ link to über-creep, Bill Gothard and his disturbing approaches to sexual abuse. There’s also Benjamin Corey’s very salient point that when church leaders encounter sexual abuse, it’s their moral – and sometimes legal –  duty to report it to the police. Apparently the Duggars did this at one point (only to result in a stern talking-to by a man now serving jail time for child pornography), but then actively resisted further investigation when Oprah, of all people, notified the authorities.

I think this scandal demonstrates the futility of believing that one can somehow insulate oneself or one’s family from this or that kind of immorality. This happened to a family that homeschooled their kids in a rural environment hours from a major city with no TV and no and internet while enforcing a strict dress code (particularly on the female members). I don’t know how much further a family can be separated from the wider world, and yet somehow building these types of alleged protections does not keep sexual abuse at bay. It calls to mind the sort of horror film trope where the protagonists do everything to barricade themselves away from the monster, only to realize that in the process, they’ve locked themselves in with the monster.

The fault, dear Duggars is not in our television/social media/education system, but in ourselves, that we are human.

Mr. Jones And You

Who dresses this way? I mean other than ska musicians.

Who dresses this way? I mean other than ska musicians.

So it looks like lots of other people have had things to say about the attempted internet clampdown prosecuted by former Mighty Mighty Bosstones member theologian-huckster Tony Jones. Lots of people have told me to shut up in my life, but no one until now has had their lawyer try to force the issue, so I’m going to provide all the links I can find for anyone else who has something to say about this act of callow douchery.

The Naked Pastor has a colourful image for us. He also brought something that came to my mind, the “Streisand effect” – trying to squash a minor story can turn it into a big deal.

Stephanie Drury reminds us that this is a completely voluntary request that no one is under obligation to obey.

Brother Maynard echoes this sentiment.

Bill Kinnon points out that he has been asked by Tojo’s ex-wife to take his post down (like everyone else, he’s declining, because, well, duh).

Jasdye reminds us that this is part of a larger problem of big-name religious celebrities getting a free pass all the time. (Hey did you hear? Driscoll’s making a comeback!)

Anyone else I’m missing? I’ll add to the list.

The Tony Jonestown Massacre

It appears that a certain theologian is trying to scrub the internet of any references to allegations that he was an abusive and manipulative jerk. Your humble scribes here at City of God were listed among those that said theologian’s lawyers insisted that his ex-wife (and alleged victim) ask to engage in self-censorship. I don’t actually know what the rationale is behind this court order however I know that said theologian has tried this routine in the past:

…and claimed he was trying to protect his kids or something. (Because they totally read random theology blogs, right.)

It is worth noting that this legal order in no way disputes the basic facts of any of these postings – it is not asking us or anyone else to correct false or misleading information, one imagines if someone was prepared to lawyer up to this degree and not actually sue for libel, then the plaintiff must basically accept that the information being shared is fundamentally accurate.

As for what is supposed to be removed, I can’t speak for what anyone other I wrote, but mostly I just linked to other, convincing (in my mind) accounts and shared my opinion that this would seem to indicate that this theologian is a terrible person, or something to that effect. See? I can’t even be bothered to read my old posts, that some random lawyer in a flyover state thinks should be removed for the sake of children who will definitely never encounter them.

Maybe it’s I’m wrong though, maybe all these allegations are false (they are, after all, only allegations). I do however view with deep suspicion someone who takes this sort of censorious view of the internet, and to that end I say to hell with this, I’m not drinking your Kool-Aid.

Thomas Weinandy on the Suffering of God

In the course of arguing for the classical divine attribute of impassibility, Weinandy suggests there is a sense in which suffering can be attributed to God. I think it is helpful to keep this in mind, as one of the reasons the doctrine sometimes fails to persuade is the intuitive sense that such a view obviously contradicts biblical portrayals of God. However, if the classical doctrine is understood in its fullness, it does not simply reject depictions of God as suffering; it only notes that the sense in which God, as uncreated Creator, “suffers” must be sui generis.

Sorrow and grief are attributed to God not by way of predicating a passible emotional change within him, but rather by way of denoting that he is all-loving and good. Because he is perfectly loving and good, he finds sin and evil repugnant, and so he can be said to sorrow and grieve in the light of their presence. God does not grieve or sorrow because he himself experiences some injury or the loss of some good, nor that he has been affected, within his inner being, by some evil outside cause, but rather he grieves or sorrows only in the sense that he knows that human persons experience some injury or the loss of some good, and so embraces them in love. This sorrow and grief ascribed to God could contain the note of suffering only if we mean that, as all-loving, he is intensely concerned with the reality of sin and evil, and the suffering that ensues from them. To ascribe suffering to God is not to denote a positive passible emotional state as if such a state were distinct from a variety of other emotional states within God, but solely to specify the truth that God, as all-loving and good, is opposed to and finds abhorrent all that is not loving and good. To ascribe suffering to God does not then imply that God experiences inner emotional anguish or distress because he has experienced some injury or the loss of some good, nor that he has been adversely affected by some evil outside cause, but rather it accentuates the truth that God’s perfectly actualized goodness is wholly adverse to all that is contrary to his goodness, and that in his perfectly actualized love he embraces those who suffer because of sin and evil. ‘Suffering’ would then be attributed to God metaphorically since it has been purged of the passible and emotional connotations found within human suffering, but it would retain and might intensify the authentic truth that God, in his goodness, abhors evil and so repudiates it, and in his love, embraces the sufferer. The innocent who suffer injustice know then that God, in his goodness, is adverse to the injustice suffered, and experience God’s love as a love that is deeply concerned and consoling. As a way of expressing God’s repudiation of evil and as a way of accentuating his loving care for the sufferer God could then be said ‘to suffer in love,’ but God could not be said ‘to suffer in love’ in the sense that he himself experiences some form of inner anguish or distress due to some personal injury or the loss of some good. [Does God Suffer?, 169]

It’s worth considering, too, what it would mean if biblical depictions of God suffering were taken literally without any qualification. Weinandy explains:

Eternally God is immutably and impassibly adapted to every situation and circumstance, not because his love is indifferent and unresponsive, but because his love, with all its facets, is fully in act, and so he is supremely and utterly responsive to every situation and circumstance. God is unconditionally adaptable in his dynamic and passionate love because his love is immutably and impassibly in act. If God needed, sequentially in a potency/act manner, to adapt and re-adapt and re-adapt himself again to every personal situation in every momentary instance, he would be conceived as an infinite mega-computer … continuously and simultaneously processing trillions of conflicting bits of emotional data. He would then be seen to be perpetually entangled in an unending internal emotional whirligig. [162-163]

And being perpetually entangled in an unending internal emotional whirligig is a far cry from biblical descriptions of God as the makarios theos: “—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see.”

Theodicy and the Goodness of God

The “problem of evil” has been around for a while, as have responses to it. One of the most perennial (appearing in places such as Job) is these days called “skeptical theism”, or else a “mysterian” reply; putting it simply, it questions the question, pointing out that God’s incomprehensibility, the limits of our knowledge, and the fallibility of our moral sensibilities, along with the positive reasons to believe in God’s power and goodness, and argues these should lead us to conclude God has sufficient reason to allow evil, though we cannot necessarily see what it is. It is a conclusion that God is trustworthy, though his ways sometimes seem inscrutable.

Sometimes, when this response has been provided, the natural question will arise: if this response is correct, what does it mean to call God “good”? I want to provide a brief answer to that question here.

Aristotle provides an intuitive definition of good which covers the various uses human beings have for the word beyond and inclusive of the ethical: “the good is that which all things desire.” In light of this definition, the classical conception of God is that God is the most desirable reality. As Thomas puts it:

But all things, each according to its mode, desire to be in act; this is clear from the fact that each thing according to its nature resists corruption. To be in act, therefore, constitutes the nature of the good. Hence it is that evil, which is opposed to the good, follows when potency is deprived of act, as is clear from the Philosopher inMetaphysics IX [9]. But, as we have shown, God is being in act without potency. Therefore, He is truly good.

I’m not here concerned to provide the arguments for the classical view of God, just to explicate what it said about his goodness. If we follow it’s roadmap, we will also say that God’s goodness means God’s desirability. To put it plainly, God is the kind of thing that, when we might see him (whether with the eyes, or in the figurative sense, with the eyes of the mind), we would want him. Or perhaps to say it yet another way, God’s goodness is what leads us to worship him, to be struck with awe and joy at the sense of his presence.

Now we can connect this back to theodicy. Questions of God’s justice focus more specifically on the moral character of God, i.e., his goodness in the more narrowly ethical sense. But the general doctrine of God’s goodness has implications for this more specific sense, too. It means, at minimum, that nothing in God’s character implies God is anything less than the ultimately desirable reality.

Returning to the “mysterian” theodicy, then, we can explain it this way. The character of cruel and evil people is repulsive; people with healthy consciences find such behaviours morally disgusting, not desirable at all. The argument claims that if we knew all the relevant truths about God and the world, which we do not know, we would be able to see both God and all the evil in the world simultaneously, and still see God as the perfectly desirable reality. Nothing in his character provides grounds to react to him as morally sane people do toward evil dispositions.

For those who want to read further on how the classical conception of God relates to the problem evil, you could do worse than to start with Ed Feser’s various posts on the subject.

Without Any Gaps

I stumbled across the podcast, History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps and thought that the readers of this blog might find it illuminating. As anyone who has taken an undergrad survey course in philosophy might have surmised, this podcast is meant as a corrective for the usual course of (Western) philosophy that goes something like Plato, Aristotle, assorted other classical Greeks and Romans up to Augustine, then a brief medieval stopover with Aquinas and then onto the Enlightenment.

How careful is host Peter Adamson about gaps? Well, to give you an idea, there are now over 200 episodes and they are still on the medieval period. Indeed, there are over twenty episodes on medieval philosophy and they haven’t even gotten to Aquinas yet! If you work and/or have kids, then you don’t really have time to hunt for medieval thinkers to understand, so for the non-academic (or the otherwise-occupied academic) this is a great way to at least get an introduction to some of these thinkers.

What exactly falls into these gaps? Here’s an example: Now I know some Christian traditions argue that the medieval period gets a bad rap, but even so, I rarely see Christian thinkers even acknowledge that thinking on topics like election was not, as seems to be popularly thought, essentially untouched between Augustine and Luther. This was apparently a serious topic of discussion in the time of Charlemagne.

I’m sure that someone who knows these all these philosophers might quibble with how Adamson portrays one or another of them, but I imagine that for many who are curious about these topics and outside the halls of academia, it will be exciting just to get an introduction.