Job Posting: Automotive Philosopher


This article is a great reminder that reports of philosophy’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. How would we program a self driving car to deal with the famous trolley problem? Sit down, eager utilitarians, this gets complicated quickly, a sample:

“Here is the nature of the dilemma. Imagine that in the not-too-distant future, you own a self-driving car. One day, while you are driving along, an unfortunate set of events causes the car to head toward a crowd of 10 people crossing the road. It cannot stop in time but it can avoid killing 10 people by steering into a wall. However, this collision would kill you, the owner and occupant. What should it do?

One way to approach this kind of problem is to act in a way that minimizes the loss of life. By this way of thinking, killing one person is better than killing 10.

But that approach may have other consequences. If fewer people buy self-driving cars because they are programmed to sacrifice their owners, then more people are likely to die because ordinary cars are involved in so many more accidents. The result is a Catch-22 situation.”

So quickly it becomes more than just “minimize loss of life” – and how is this to be resolved by an autonomous machine?

Lessons From Leithart’s Apology

In relation to one of the incidents that I posted about last time, Peter Leithart has posted an apology on his Facebook page. I do not like to level accusations and then not post something that might be considered response. So even though I didn’t mention Leithart myself, clicking on the link I posted, would have brought up his name. Here is the text of Leithart’s response:

“I write this with a great deal of reluctance. I have refrained from making any public statements about the recent internet turmoil over two sexual abuse incidents that took place in Moscow, Idaho while I worked there as a faculty member at New St Andrews College and served as pastor of Trinity Reformed Church. I have been concerned that anything I say would add fuel to an overheated debate.

Besides, I’m ambivalent about the wisdom of hashing through these terrible events on media that are poorly suited to the careful, sensitive treatment that sexual abuse demands. Evil must be exposed, but I doubt that the internet is the best place to do it. Inevitably, the ones who are most wholly forgotten are the ones who were most deeply damaged.

A few friends, though, have urged me to say something publicly, since, as has been reported, I was pastor of one of the abusers. These friends thought it would be useful for me to clarify my actions and offer my retrospective assessment of my performance as pastor. Other leaders from Trinity or Christ Church might see things differently, and my comments below are not intended as criticism of them or anyone else. I speak only for myself.

First, I was pastor at Trinity Reformed Church when a member of the church, Jamin Wight, was charged with sexually abuse of a minor, a young teenage girl. By the time I learned of the abuse, it had ceased.

Second, the report implies that I sided with Jamin. That is accurate in some ways. I did sit with him in court, as the report claims; I visited and wrote to Jamin while he was in his court-ordered program; I continued to be his friend and pastor. I believed, and still believe, that I had a duty to provide pastoral counsel and care to Jamin. Neither I nor the other elders at Trinity ignored or excused Jamin’s sin, and there was no attempt on my part or Doug Wilson’s to cover it up.

Third, it is true, as was reported, that Jamin remained a member “in good standing” at Trinity. That means that he did not come under formal church discipline and was not excommunicated. It does not mean we excused his sin. We rebuked him, and I and the elders of Trinity admonished him repeatedly to repent fully. At the time, I believed he was repentant.

It is clear now that I made major errors of judgment. Fundamentally, I misjudged Jamin, badly. I thought he was a godly young man who had fallen into sin. That was wrong. In the course of trying to pastor Jamin through other crises in his life, I came to realize that he is deceptive and highly manipulative, and that I allowed him to manipulate me. A number of the things I said about Jamin to the congregation and court at the time his abuse was uncovered were spun in Jamin’s favor; I am ashamed to realize that I used Jamin’s talking points. Though I never doubted that Jamin was guilty, I trusted his account of the circumstances more readily and longer than I should have, and conversely I disbelieved the victim’s parents (to the best of my recollection, I had no direct contact with the victim, who was a member of Christ Church). I should have seen through Jamin, and didn’t.

As a result, I didn’t appreciate how much damage Jamin did and I was naive about the effect that the abuse had on the victim’s family. I recently asked her and her parents to forgive my pastoral failures, which they have done.”

Two things that I want to talk about after reading that post:

  1. Leithart talks about how it was easy to fall into believing the rapist’s version of things. I think one of things that is overlooked by many is how appealing evil can be. Predators rarely appear in real life as the stereotype of the friendless weirdo in the trench coat. Rather they are often charmers, the last person you expect, and they know how to manipulate emotions. You have to keep reminding yourself as they try to engineer a reversal of field where they paint themselves as the victims (this is a common tactic) what has happened. If an adult in a position of authority has had a sexual relationship with a minor and has admitted as much, they are not the victim. Keep reminding yourself of that.
  2. I don’t know what any given church might mean by church discipline, but it alarms in this case that Leithart states that the rapist in his congregation was not under any kind of church discipline, and yet the victim’s family (admittedly in a different church with possibly different rules) was put under some kind of disciplinary action. This is the second time in less than a year that I have read about case where a church has put the victim of pedophile under church discipline, but not the pedophile! The story was a little bit different with Matt Chandler’s church, but still, here’s a pro-tip: if your church is disciplining the victim, something is seriously wrong.

I know there are difficult matters here, and I know that yes, even – perhaps especially – criminals need pastoral care, but it is alarming that churches can so easily become unsafe places for victims.

Doug Wilson And Child Molesters


Doug Wilson, from what I have read of his blog and so on, relishes the opportunity to attack his opponents, more so than even most polemicists on the internet (which is saying something). I do not think he could contain his glee if it was found that some bleeding heart liberal denomination was marrying a convicted pedophile who had stated that he wanted to have children from the marriage. How would Wilson love to broadside such a misguided leader who insisted it was okay because the pedophile was having weekly pastoral chit chats and had been given some reading material for his betterment? Wilson would surely howl with contempt when the backsliding compromiser insisted that there was context and if you only knew the backstory, there were perfectly good – even biblical – reasons for marrying a convicted sex offender who wanted children.

Of course it would not surprise Wilson that the same soft-on-crime, wish-washy pastor had been pleading for leniency for another sex criminal a few years earlier and insisting that the family of the victim was in big trouble with God for not forgiving the offender. Even more, this moral relativist would try to pin some of the blame on the victim and her parents, because of more mysterious context. Wilson would be relentless in directing his acidic wit at such a shameful act among his opponents.

So why is it that Wilson is behaving in the ways I have described above?

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.