Some helpful links to roll over a new year:

For John MacArthur fans: How to wear a suit.

Ta-Nehisi Coates praises Newt Gingrich for being one of those conservatives who didn’t wait until Mandela’s death to support him.

Carl Trueman praises high-Anglican liturgy.

What’s going on with Francis Chan?

The Magic of a Kind Word

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

-Proverbs 15:1

Much has been said about Pope Francis’ statements on atheism or homosexuality, the sorts of things that have earned him the nod from Time as Person of the Year for 2013. What’s remarkable is that nothing that he’s said really contradicts what either of his two most recent predecessors have said. What he has really changed is more a matter of tone. There is nothing in the substance of Francis’ statement about how he can’t judge a gay man who seeks God that contradicts Benedict’s assertion that all gays are “objectively disordered.” There is a world of difference however in the tone of such remarks. Benedict was successful at capturing very conservative church people from Evangelical denominations, Francis is capturing the attention (and the imagination) of pretty much everyone else. And yet for all those who either laud or damn him as a crypto-Marxist, nothing he has said seems to fall outside of conventional Catholic teaching.

Revisiting Euthyphro


Socrates famously posed the dilemma: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Later, this dilemma forced itself upon monotheistic religion, in the form of “Are things moral because God commands them, or does God command them because they are good?”

Taking the first horn of the dilemma commits one to a divine command theory of ethics, the latter to something more like a natural law position. Problems appear on both horns for the Christian, because the first approach seems to imply moral absurdities (like saying that child-rape would be good if God commanded it) and the second metaphysical ones (leaving morality as a kind of unexplained surd, existing independently of the putative First Cause).

For this reason Christian thinkers have tried to resolve the dilemma. One common approach is to say that the moral standard is God’s own nature, which he then commands that creatures reflect. I think this answer is partly right, but incomplete. By virtue of divine simplicity, it is true that Goodness is identical with God, since God is the source of good, and must be good, and being identical with his nature, must be goodness itself. Yet this answer is incomplete, for it’s not clear how divine goodness relates to what is good for human beings, which is what the dilemma was originally talking about.

Christians want to affirm that human goodness somehow finds its source in God (again, he is supposed to be the ultimate explanation for all things), but nevertheless want to avoid the problems that seem to come with a crude divine command theory of ethics. How can this be done? It seems to me that a kind of Thomistic metaphysics is the only good answer. One could try to avoid this route by taking a more voluntaristic and nominalistic metaphysics, but such an approach seems to entail the same moral problems that the crude divine command theory does. But then how can one avoid the other problem, of making morality an ontologically ungrounded surd?

The way around this problem comes in recognizing that what is good for human beings is determined by their nature, but that that nature is created by God. So while it is true that morality as such is not essentially a divine positive law backed up by threats of force, nevertheless it is derived ultimately from God as Creator. And further, since God’s nature is the law for his own actions, his creative activity partakes of the goodness of his own nature.

Thus one can avoid both horns of the dilemma and provide an intelligible connection between the goodness of God and morality if one takes the path of Thomistic natural law.

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Craft-Brew Blog


Who are we, City of God, in 2014? One helpful clue comes from Carl Trueman who, in the wake of the Driscoll plagiarism scandal praised the essential role of what he called “craft” blogs (at about 8:10 in the podcast). By this he meant those sites that are not the online arms of Christian publishing, or denominations, parachurch ministries, those that “owe nothing” in Carl’s words. He likens them to craft-breweries (hence the title of this post). We are at a weird sort of juncture, where blogging isn’t what it was in, say 2004 when I first started experimenting with the medium, many of the biggest names in blogging have been scooped up by a handful of websites and are now all but indistinguishable from columnists or journalists, many of the rest of us are using Twitter or Facebook the way we once blogged. That said, it’s easier sometimes to put together one’s thoughts on this kind of medium where there are not inflicted on your family or coworkers and they can be longer than 140 characters. What’s more, it’s nice to have a greater degree of ownership over the platform where, say, some Facebook admin can’t decide that one’s content is somehow beyond the pale. So here we are, please enjoy our craft-brew selections.

Paul Tillich’s Definition Of Sin Is Beyond The Pale

I’m not that well versed in the theology of Paul Tillich, but I know people who are and who adore him. From what I’ve heard explained and from what I’ve read, I don’t get it. Two courses from John Frame at Reformed Theological Seminary didn’t help my opinion of the man and what I just read from Bill Craig has sealed the deal. Next time I hear the man’s name mentioned in a positive light I’m going to start braying at the heavens a la Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf II.

Similarly in the 20th century, a very prominent 20th century theologian was Paul Tillich. Tillich really could not even be called a theist, I don’t think. He didn’t really believe there is a personal mind or being distinct from the world who has created the world. Tillich referred to God as “the ground of being.” He is the sort of ultimate reality that is the foundation or the ground of everything else, and everything else is simply a manifestation of this fundamental reality which is difficult to characterize called “the ground of all being.” So for Tillich sin is alienation from the ground of being. Rather than recognizing your unity with the world and with the ground of being you are estranged from it. You don’t recognize that and so you are alienated from the ground of being. So Tillich reinterpreted the traditional characteristics of sin in line with this philosophy. For example, what was unbelief for Tillich? Unbelief is the failure to recognize your unity with God. You really are one with God. God is the ground of your being and you are one with God but unbelief is a failure to recognize that oneness with God. So you need to get rid of that alienation and estrangement by recognizing your fundamental unity with God. What is pride? Pride is self-exaltation. Rather than being oriented toward God, you are oriented toward yourself and exalt yourself. It is a refusal to recognize yourself as finite. You are just a finite creature that is ultimately doomed to perish and pass away and pride is thinking of yourself as somehow more significant than you really are; failing to recognize your finitude in face of the ground of being. Concupiscence he interprets to be, again, just self-seeking – seeking your own goods and interests. Again, for Tillich I think you can see, as with Schleiermacher, you have this same tendency to obscure the moral aspects of sin. We don’t hear anything here about guilt or punishment or the need for redemption. It is just a sort of failure of human consciousness to realize its oneness with God or dependency upon God.

Craig speaks more to this in the Q&A:

Question: It seems as though the modern position here is nothing more than a repackaged form of Pelagianism. Is that correct?

Answer: I think it is worse than that because – we’ll talk about Pelagianism when we get to original sin – but Pelagius did think that we need redemption, we need forgiveness, even if he thought that we have the ability to come to God and the ability to live a sinless life on our own in virtue of God’s gifts that he has given us. But it still is a moral failing on Pelagius’ view. So I think this is much worse than that. To me this is more like pantheism really. It is more like Buddhism, I think, in a sense. If you think of the ground of being as just being Brahman or The All or The Absolute, it seems to me that this is very alien to a monotheistic conception of God and sin.

In Case You Haven’t Had Your Phil

Uncle Si

Here’s Phil’s Brother, Si

A popular celebrity personality said some things that some people did not like. His employer, fearing that this was damaging to its reputation (and therefore its bottom line) suspended the celebrity personality from his on-air duties. Other people did not like this, so the employer worried that this would also damage their bottom line, so the celebrity was reinstated and the employer promised to run ads touting the fact that they didn’t agree with their lucrative celebrity’s opinions. Status quo ante bellum. Next…

Putting Krampus Back in Christmas


Peter Escalante writes about the dark folk figure, and echoes the Lutheran Law-Gospel dynamics in the tradition.

But it is true that this companion of jolly St Nick is depicted as dragging wicked children down to Hell, and how much more devilish can you get? However, according to Luther, it is not only the Devil who does this. For Luther, as for the Protestant consensus generally, the Law, as accuser, has as its office precisely “to make us guilty, to humble us, to kill us, to lead us down to hell “.  But it does all this real accusation and metaphorical violence, of course, in order to prepare hearts for the Gospel; the Law is ever the close companion of the Gospel, and its crushing work is done to break our pride so that we might be saved. If benevolent St Nicholas of popular imagination, the giver of gifts as signs of the greatest gift, the giving of the Son of God to us,  is rather obviously a personification of the Gospel, then perhaps the 19th c (and even earlier) Krampus- the companion of St Nick- is a popular symbol of the Law in its office as accuser of conscience. And even where Krampus or Belsnickel gives rewards to the good children, here too there is a correspondence to the Law, which rewards good deeds for what they are. But the Gospel offers perfect peace and joy regardless of either the Law’s terrors or its rewards; it is pure gift, an unconditional gift of which parents’ Christmas gifts to their children are an image, for no good parent gives gifts as bribes for good behavior, but rather from love.

ND Wilson Responds To Atheist Fortune Cookies

One way to evaluate the claims of atheism when it comes to the origins of the material universe is strict logical analysis. Bill Craig’s explanation of the kalaam cosmological argument is perfect for this. The problem with this is that Bill’s no fun. Enter ND Wilson. Sometimes a belly laugh is more effective than a syllogism. I think this is the case here, but you be the judge.

Imagine a world that is truly and intrinsically and explosively accidental. Explain time in that world, in the world with no narrative and no narrator. Why time? Why progression? Before hydrogen had its alleged and infamous cosmic hiccup, did something aphysical and philosophically flammable snafu first? Perhaps nirvanic nothingness is more unstable than we thought; after all, it would have to spontaneously generate progression and causation (as laws and/or authoritative patterns) before hyper-hydrogen could get flatulent and before that flatulence could begin seeking radically sophisticated order. (Sidenote: By nirvanic nothingness I mean nothingness – nothingness as in what your teeth see only less, nothingness as in take a glass and empty it, erase the glass, remove the table on which it sat, part the electrons in the air where it once was and step between them into the black coldness of space, and then remove the cold and the blackness, remove the ability of anything to take up space, remove space, remove causation, and while you’re at it, remove God.)

But we’re not done. We need an emptier grasp of this concept. Nothingness (no space, no time, no spirit): Grab a book about talking mice. Stare at the cover. Ready? Turn to page number -77. Right. Now set a bowl of fruit at its feet or pull the beating heart out of a slave on top of a ziggurat in its honor because that bit of nothing (all nothing is one in its noneness) invomitvented causation, space, time, you, me, and herpes. And if it could do that, there’s no telling what could come from its nonexistent bowels next. Nonexistence is the squirreliest of b$%^gods. Any nothing any nowhere could suddenly become any something any somewhere – and it could arrive with new laws for its new reality. Watch out for -77. It gave and it can taketh away.

Atheist Fortune Cookie: There is only the material world. Don’t ask me where hyper-hydrogen came from, but I am pretty sure it blew up because I am here (I think). The ‘laws’ of nature and reality and logic and morality are non-binding and are merely internal descriptions of the accidental explosion by another part of that same explosion and are likely to further explode or implode into something else as stuff continues to splatter around. You have no soul, and love and loyalty are chemical by-products of the accident and have no authority as the explosion neglected to accidentally create any. You have no purpose, no deeper meaning, and are no more valuable than any other mobile composting machine, engulfing and expelling until you are engulft and expelt. Also, as you have no soul, the concept of you it itself shaky, as your self-identity is simply the result of an arbitrary atomic boundary imagined by static electricity in spongey tissue inside a spherical bone that appears to be proud of any carbon-based meat that happens to be electronically connected to it. You’re not important. Your molecules prefer fragmenting to binding and will inevitably and absolutely fly apart. So suck on that, sucker of thatness. Also, you should be open to new opportunities of the month.

Atheists trapped in an exclusively physical philosophy must maintain that what we have dubbed Time is just one part of a physical entity (thus, wormholes and bad TV). Time is just another part of the shock wave perpetually spreading out from an explosion, ever impregnating nothing with something as the growing anti-crater we call a universe does its from-everlasting-to-everlasting belching.

My atheist friends: You aren’t taking this seriously.
Me: What was your first clue?
Mystic Docs and Post-Docs of the Most-Low Goo: You are petty, simplistic, and ignorant.
Me: Page number -77 made me that way. Accept me.

Death by Living, pgs. 102-105 (Just in case Janet Mefferd is reading this blog).

The Preestablished Harmony of Pop


Theodor Adorno, a member of the Frankfurt school, analysed pop music from the perspective of Critical Theory in his 1941 essay “On Popular Music”. Among his many reflections on the subject (of varying worth), he considered the reason for the hold of popular music on the masses. Part of his answer was the following:

The frame of mind to which popular music originally appealed, on which it feeds, and which it perpetually reinforces, is simultaneously one of distraction and inattention. Listeners are distracted from the demands of reality by entertainment which does not demand attention either.

The notion of distraction can be properly understood only within its social setting and not in self-subsistent terms of individual psychology. Distraction is bound to the present mode of production, to the rationalized and mechanized process of labor to which, directly or indirectly, masses are subject. This mode of production, which engenders fears and anxiety about unemployment, loss of income, war, has its “non-productive” correlate in entertainment; that is, relaxation which does not involve the effort of concentration at all. People want to have fun. A fully concentrated and conscious experience of art is possible only to those whose lives do not put such a strain on them that in their spare time they want relief from both boredom and effort simultaneously. The whole sphere of cheap commercial entertainment reflects this dual desire. It induces relaxation because it is patterned and pre-digested. Its being patterned and pre-digested serves within the psychological household of the masses to spare them the effort of that participation (even in listening or observation) without which there can be no receptivity to art. On the other hand, the stimuli they provide permit an escape from the boredom of mechanized labor.

The promoters of commercialized entertainment exonerate themselves by referring to the fact that they are giving the masses what they want. This is an ideology appropriate to commercial purposes: the less the mass discriminates, the greater the possibility of selling cultural commodities indiscriminately. Yet this ideology of vested interest cannot be dismissed so easily. It is not possible completely to deny that mass consciousness can be molded by the operative agencies only because the masses “want this stuff.”

But why do they want this stuff? In our present society the masses themselves are kneaded by the same mode of production as the arti-craft material foisted upon them. The customers of musical entertainment are themselves objects or, indeed, products of the same mechanisms which determine the production of popular music. Their spare time serves only to reproduce their working capacity. It is a means instead of an end. The power of the process of production extends over the time intervals which on the surface appear to be “free”. They want standardized goods and pseudo-individualization, because their leisure is an escape from work and at the same time is molded after those psychological attitudes to which their workaday world exclusively habituates them. Popular music is for the masses a perpetual bus man’s holiday. Thus, there is justification for speaking of a preestablished harmony today between production and consumption of popular music. The people clamor for what they are going to get anyhow.

David Oderberg on Consequentialism

If one listens very carefully to activists, politicians, and related characters in the media, one begins to hear a certain kind of ethical view beneath some policy recommendations. I’m not going to provide an example, so if the reader does not know what I’m talking about, or does not believe me, they may ignore my comments without further ado. But I know that I’ve heard these views, and so I want to briefly refer to one response to them.

The view affirms some human rights as inviolable, but then also appeals to a kind of consequentialist or utilitarian logic. Several varieties of this perspective appear in academic ethical philosophy, which the interested reader could track down if they please. At the moment, though, I only want to point out one response.

David Oderberg’s paper Why I am not a Consequentialist gives several lines of argumentation against consequentialism in general; I will not discuss them all. Helpfully, Oderberg highlights his most forceful argument:

I have given a number of fairly abstract reasons why consequentialism is on the face of it unintuitive and unmotivated. But I also think it is straight out false, and not only false but an evil and dangerous theory – a view I am not alone in holding. There are a number of ways in which I could defend the view, but I want to focus on one in particular, the one that has always seemed to me – at least ever since I stopped being a consequentialist – the most damaging. It is a very familiar objection, but no less persuasive for being well known. This is the charge that consequentialism allows, indeed requires, certain kinds of action that are obviously wrong and so not to be done. In particular, consequentialism permits and requires actions that are horrendous evils, as evil as anything can be. The typical example often given is of the judge who condemns an innocent man to death in order to satisfy a rioting mob that will murder hundreds of people if the judge lets the innocent man go free. Another is the doctor who kills patients for their organs so he can transplant those organs into many other patients who need them. In general, according to consequentialism, it is at least permitted, often obligatory, for a person to commit what looks to any sane observer like a blatant and serious violation of someone else’s rights, and hence to commit an act of grave injustice, in order to maximize value, or at least to do what he thinks is likely to maximize value. Now, for the non-consequentialist, no intuition his opponent can bring to bear in support of the consequentialist position on this matter is as strong as the intuition that such apparent injustices are indeed injustices, and so to be forbidden on all occasions, no matter what the consequences. According to Elizabeth Anscombe, even to entertain the supposition that the judge is allowed, let alone required, to condemn the innocent man to placate the angry mob is to show evidence of a morally corrupt mind. Someone who thinks the issue debatable, she says, is not someone with whom you should enter into debate

After, Oderberg engages with responses to this point, including an academic example of the view I described above, in the person of Philip Pettit. Pettit argues that consequentialists should want to maximize dignity. Oderberg replies that this can be interpreted in two ways. One is that on closer inspection of Pettit’s work, it seems like he’s redefining dignity to presuppose consequentialism, and so falls foul to the various problems with consequentialism. The other is that Pettit is actually appealing to a non-consequentialist understanding of dignity, in which the right people have to respect is not grounded in how their being respected contributes to the maximization of social benefit. Oderberg replies that this approach will undermine Pettit’s project, since taking this view of dignity will contradict consequentialist principles, rendering Pettit’s system incoherent.

Oderberg’s penultimate paragraph describes the situation for all attempts to support this kind of mediating position between the idea of human rights and a consequentialist approach to ethics:

There is more that can be said about Pettit’s and other attempts to give a consequentialist defence of rights and justice. All such attempts will fail, simply because the structure of rights and justice and the structure of consequentialist thinking are contrary to each other. The only way the consequentialist can reconcile them is by reinterpreting rights and justice in terms that are explicitly or implicitly consequentialist. For the non-consequentialist, this would not merely be a case of begging the question, but of discarding at least some of the non-negotiable intuitions we have about rights and justice, such as the inherent and absolute injustice of knowingly condemning an innocent man to death. On the other hand, if the consequentialist wants to preserve such intuitions, he must incorporate into this theory principles that are themselves non-consequentialist. But if he does this, there is no logical stopping point short of abandoning consequentialism altogether.

The implication of Oderberg’s argument for ethics and politics, at minimum, would be that those who wish to coherently defend human rights need to seek support elsewhere. Something like Kantian deontologism, divine command ethics, or natural law ethics, would certainly do a better job (Oderberg chooses natural law ethics), though a further discussion would have to continue between those three possibilities (and others) in order to determine the ultimately correct system.