July 2007 Archives

As I was posting my latest post in my Christianity and Politics series at the conservative philosophy blog Right Reason, I thought it might be nice to put together a post here linking to all the posts in the series. I will update this post as I add posts there. Posts 7 and 8 are tentatively titled, and I may even restructure what I hope to cover in remaining posts.

1. Introduction: Christian and Politics (Guest Blogging)
2. Augustine on Civil Government: The Two Cities
3. Augustine on Civil Government: Two Further Preliminaries
4. Augustine on Civil Government: Authority
5. Augustine on Civil Government: The City of God and Compromise
6. Christian Political Political Participation
7. Religious Motivations in Politics
8. Religion and the First Amendment

Eugene Volokh has an excellent post on the use of terms that might be regarded as offensive. Three paragraphs struck me as offering an interesting argument, one I haven't thought through very carefully yet, but one that nonetheless intrigues me:
If handicapped people learn that some people say "disabled" and others say "handicapped," and that neither is evidence of hostility, a few might still bristle at one (or the other); but many will be satisfied by the explanation that decent people use both. But say that everyone is told that "disabled" is the one right term, and some decent people don't go along, whether because of force of habit, strong preference for "handicapped," or just bristling at being told what to say. Then handicapped people who hear the term may well become more offended, because they've been taught that the word is offensive.

People who might even prefer to shrug the term off might feel almost obligated to take it as an insult. If someone calls me "Gene" rather than "Eugene," I'm a little annoyed (that's just not the name I prefer in English), but I assume that it's just because they've fallen into that habit with other Eugenes they know, who do go by Gene in a way that I don't. I assume the speaker's intentions were good, and I think I'm happier for it.

But if someone started a campaign of insisting that calling me Gene is actually rude, perhaps even insulting (because the diminutive implies a diminution of my status), I'd both hear "Gene" a bit less often, and be much more annoyed when I do hear it, precisely because I'll worry that it's a deliberate violation of the New Good Manners Rule and thus a deliberate slight. Those who make the handicapped/disabled issue into a matter of identity politics rather than just a matter of apricot/apricot (or even Gene/Eugene) may thus increase the amount of hurt feelings on both sides.

The 183rd Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian  blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Jan Crawford Greenburg has a nice post looking at some of the overblown rhetoric about the last Supreme Court term. Much of the criticism of this last term, from both legal scholars and legal reporters, has been wildly inaccurate, conveniently forgetting important details and drastically misrepresenting the reasoning of the majorities. This is true from both the left and the right, but I'm in agreement with her that there really has been a pretty strident panic on the left. What's particularly strange about it is that it's a reaction to a few small steps in a direction opposite of what the Warren Court and Rehnquist Court had virtually made seem inevitable, and those who have come to see the pretty radical direction of the post-FDR Supreme Court as guaranteeing leftward movement eternally have now recognized that when Republican presidents actually appoint conservative judges it has an effect.

The reality is that the five-person majority isn't remotely monolithic. Justices Scalia and Thomas are originalists. They insist on giving arguments from the original meaning of the law in question or relevant section of the Constiotution. In Thomas' case, later judicial decisions that he thinks were wrongly decided have little value in interpreting what the Supreme Court should say. Scalia is much more inclined to allow precedent to have some value given that it throws the legal system into disorder if you overturn precedent willy-nilly. But he's still somewhat resistant to such moves. They don't agree on everything, not even in theory, but they tend to argue on the basis of original meaning (Scalia usually in terms of what an informed audience at the time would have understood, while Thomas usually seeks to discover the original intent of those who came up with the language in question. Often these will lead to the same result.)

But Justice Kennedy is more results-oriented. He has principles, but they are moral and political principles, not legal principles. He overturns laws and precedents when he thinks a moral issue is at stake. He rarely gives arguments based on original meaning or original intent unless he's trying to garner votes from Scalia and/or Thomas. He cites precedent when he thinks it will get him votes from other justices. But the parts of his opinions that seem to do the most work for him (i.e. the ones that use the strongest language and argue about how high the stakes are) are the kind of thing you'd expect to see in a political election or a congressional debate. They aren't legal arguments. Many of his principles are conservative, often moderately conservative, but some of them are clearly in line with the liberal wing of the Court (e.g. on whether abortion in general should be legal, whether the government can take your property so a developer can build a Wal-Mart, on the rights of gay people to have sex, on detainee rights and executive power).

Then there are the two newest justices. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito are definitely conservative, and they have usually agreed at least in part on the results with Justices Scalia and Thomas and often enough with Justice Kennedy to frustrate Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer. But they are a different kind of justice. They are conservative not in the sense of going for politically conservative results whenever it suits them (as Kennedy would do if he were more morally and politically conservative than he is) and not in the sense of sticking with the original meaning of the law in question or the Constitution. They give much a higher place to precedent.

No Surprise Here

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You scored as Marcus Aurelius, Your attention to duty even when the going gets rough has earned you the identity of Marcus Aurelius. A philosopher-emperor, he used Stoic musings to steel his resolve against a hard lot in life. You know few years of peace, and believe the only final answer to the empire's problems is a complete conquest of Europe. Despite this, you are probably one of the most human and thoughtful emperors in the history of mankind. Hail Caesar!

Marcus Aurelius










Antoninus Pius


















Which Roman Emperor Are You?
created with QuizFarm.com

 The 182nd Christian Carnival is up at Brain Cramps for God.

Baptist Blogger has a very interesting and thought-provoking post on Christianity Sexuality and the Ethic of Pharmaceutical Enhancement. He's not talking about what is now coming to be called "male enhancement" but about such drugs as Viagra. I'd never looked into the actual scientific behind drugs like this (i.e. what they actually do and what their effects are on a level more specific than the popular understanding), never mind thought about the ethical issues they raise, so I learned quite a few things from this post. I'm not sure I agree with everything the post says, but I don't think I'm going to work out a careful view on this anytime soon, so I'm not going to raise any worries now. I did find it an interesting read that raises some good questions worth thinking about by those for whom this is an issue.

In case anyone might want to comment on this post, be aware that comments might more easily be trapped in the spam filter or held for moderation for a post on this subject, due to the presence of certain keywords. If you leave a comment and don't see it within a reasonable amount of time, send me an email, and I'll check to see if it got eaten by the filter.

Update: Ha!

The Problem of Waste

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A while back, Stephen Colbert had biologist Ken Miller, who teaches at my alma mater (although I never took a class with him), on his show to talk about evolution and intelligent design. Miller is known for being a devout Catholic who supports the scientific consensus of contemporary evolutionary theory. It's a a strange interview. One of Miller's main points is that people who deny evolution can't explain why we need flu shots every year, since the flu virus evolves to the point that old vaccines won't cut it. This is, of course, a terrible straw man argument, because even the most vehement critics of evolution don't deny evolution within a species, what they call microevolution.

But one argument struck me as particularly strange. Miller seems to think waste is a problem for intelligent design, since God designed things that went extinct. Oops! Fossils show God's mistakes. Miller thinks he has a higher view. God set in motion a process that gave rise to everything on this planet, and it shows God's greatness that he used evolutionary processes. So he has a theological reason for favoring the non-ID model.

But wait a minute. Doesn't the theistic evolution model have the same problem? Aren't there all these things that resulted from the process that God initiated that got left behind? If God set in motion the processes that lead to evolution of more complex species, you still get species that result from that process that die out. You get waste. Did God intend that result? If so, then the same problem arises for Miller. Something God designed died out. If not, then we seem to have a denial of God's purposes in creation. Is this the idea common in deism that God sort of set things up but didn't concern himself with the details of how it turned out? That's not very Catholic of Miller, who claims to be a pious, orthodox Catholic. But those seem to be his only options. Either there are forms that were designed by God that no longer exist, or those forms were not designed by God and do not fall under his plan of providence.

So it turns out that this is really an argument against theism and a doctrine of providence, not an argument against intelligent design. This is just puzzling. I don't know Miller's views on providence, but it seems to me that his argument is misdirected either way it turns out, and it should apply as well to any theistic evolutionary view that holds to the theological positions of the Roman Catholic Church. It's really just a particular case of the problem of evil, and I don't really know his views on that issue either. But whatever else is true, this isn't a problem for ID any more than it is for theistic evolution.

Update: Check out the excellent comments on Ted Poston's Prosblogion post on this subject. I'm in full agreement with almost all of the comments to this point (7:42 EST Aug 1, 2007), and some of them are making some of the points I wanted to make in this post but in a much better way. There are also some considerations there that hadn't occurred to me at all but seem right.

The 182nd Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Brain Cramps for God. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian  blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:


Rick Mansfield finished his top ten Bible translations series about a month ago, and I never got around to linking to his last few posts:

The Modern Language Bible: New Berkeley Version: This was my mom's favorite translation while I was growing up. The Honorable Mentions: KJV, NET (i.e. New English Translation, i.e. NET Bible), Cotton Patch Version, NRSV. Final Thoughts. For links to the rest of the series, see here.

It took Rick over a year to finish the series, and he put a lot of work into it over that time. I highly recommend it to those interested in Bible translations who haven't looked at it as I've linked to it over the past year-plus.

Harry Potter predictions


The final Harry Potter novel is due out tomorrow, and most bookstores are treating that as one minute past midnight tonight. Our copy will be arriving by mail tomorrow, because we did the Amazon preorder deal, which should save us some money over buying it in a bookstore.

I thought I'd record some predictions as to what will happen in the seventh book before my predictions could be tainted by actually seeing the book. Since some may read this who haven't read through book six yet, I'll put the predictions in an extended entry to leave the front page free of spoilers for earlier books. 

My final Augustine post is up at Right Reason, Augustine on Civil Government: The City of God and Compromise. The foundation is now laid for me to apply these general principles in a contemporary setting in my next post.

The 181st Christian Carnival: Poetry Edition is up at Mere Orthodoxy. Here's the poem Matt wrote for me:

To vote Fred! or not vote Fred?.
That is the question
That Jeremy is asking.
Evangelicals are giddy,
But would not support Rudy.
Which seems like it should result in some cognitive dissonance.

Radical Honesty

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The Boo Guy has a nice critique of a new trend called Radical Honesty. I hadn't heard about this, but it sounds insane. Key paragraph:

I frequently combat the forces of "being real" that pervade 21st Century Christian thought, basically the same idea. The problem is, when you let your "real" thoughts out, they are usually the lesser half of who you'd like to be, the negative thoughts and doubts. I have good and bad thoughts about almost everyone and everything at every moment. I choose to verbalize and act on the ones that take steps toward me becoming who I'd like to become, instead of the ones that will only cause trouble or make me a weak and needy person. "Radical honesty" is bull.

Even if you think lying is always wrong, does it follow that you always ought to say everything that comes to mind? If you consider that some actions amount to lying because you refuse to say something, then I wonder if it does. I already think there are cases when lying is ok. I think this example helps solidify that, because not engaging in radical honesty does amount to lying of a sort, and it would be pretty bad not to lie in those ways.

The next post in my series at Right Reason is up, entitled Augustine on Civil Government: Authority. This post moves a little more into socio-political issues. The next post will be my last on Augustine's own views, finally getting to the main question of Christians and civil government, and then I'll move on to a contemporary focus and how I'd extend the basic Augustinian view to the sitution of an evangelical Christian in the United States today (i.e. my own case).

I've written several times before about James Dobson's views on voting for pro-choice candidates. I've criticized his stance that he could never vote for Rudy Giuliani, on the grounds that such a stance is actually worse for the pro-life movement. I've pointed out an interesting irony: he is a pragmatist about seeking incremental change on abortion rather than insisting on complete change to his ideal state, but at the same time he won't rely on a similar pragmatism in terms of which candidate he'd support between a militant pro-choicer and a lukewarm and moderate pro-choicer with federalist and judicial conservative leanings. I've defended my view that a pro-lifer should be willing to vote for Giuliani if it comes down to a race between him and any of the leading Democratic candidates, insisting that such a view is not simply a matter of doing what leads to the best consequences, relying on the theoretical background of what I'm calling a moderate deontology in ethical theory.

Now I'm being puzzled by a strange new phenomenon. Evangelicals and religious right types who have said they could never vote for Giuliani seem to be flocking to Fred Thompson. Joe Carter is among them, and I suspect the Family Research Council in general is with this movement from Mitt to Fred. There's a suggestion that James Dobson and Focus on the Family are part of it. There seem to be others, many of whom, including Richard Land, who are not willing to endorse just yet but who are whispering about what a good candidate he is or telling people behind the scenes that they will eventually support him. Blogs for Fred was started by evangelicals who want to prevent a Giuliani nomination, run by some prominent evangelical bloggers (Joe Carter, Jared Bridges, Andrew Jackson, and Josh Claybourn).

Yet Fred Thompson is very clearly pro-choice. He's likely a bit more moderate than Giuliani, who in turn is more moderate than any of the Democratic candidates. But Thompson seems to support abortion in the first trimester, even if he thinks the federal government shouldn't be limiting states from passing laws against abortion. He thinks the right policy, as Giuliani does, is for states to allow it, although Thompson would limit later abortions, while Giuliani would not. Both are judicial conservatives of a sort, and both are federalists of a sort. Both would appoint justices similar to the ones Bush did. The only difference is one that would manifest itself only at the state level, which a president wouldn't have anything to do with, and since most abortions are in the first trimester even the state difference wouldn't make an overwhelming difference anyway. On this issue, I think pro-lifers might prefer Thompson to Giuliani. So what? If the reason to oppose Giuliani is that he's too pro-choice, I can't see how Thompson should be less pro-choice enough to support him over the many candidates who are solidly pro-choice, including recent converts who are honest about their conversion to the pro-life view, unlike Fred Thompson, who has been pretending all along that he's pro-life and always has been.

So this just mystifies me. I can see how someone would support either Giuliani or Thompson because they think other issues are more important the pro-life ones. But I can't see supporting Thompson while saying you can't support Giuliani if the only issue serving as the basis for that decision is abortion. Their views are nearly indistinguishable when it comes to the role of a president. So what's going on here? Is this just ignorance, perhaps willful ignorance, of Thompson's actual views? Is it wishful thinking? Or is there some sophisticated defense of condemning Giuliani for his views on one issue while supporting Thompson despite his nearly-identical views on the same issue?

My second post on Augustine and Civil Government is up at Right Reason. It's entitled Augustine and Civil Government: Two Further Preliminaries, for lack of a better name. It looks at two more background issues, one related to divine governance and the other on the subject of what kind of collection of people counts as "a people", both of which will be relevant for his more concentrated treatment of the primary subject I'm interested in, which is how Christians should relate to civil government. 

The 181st Christian Carnival is will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Mere Orthodoxy. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian  blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

My next post in the series on religion and politics is up at Right Reason. It's called Augustine on Civil Government: The Two Cities, and it provides some of the background on Augustine's general views before I launch into his direct treatment of the issues I'm going to focus on.

From 2008 Central:
Tancredo is trying to keep the immigration issue alive. At his news conference Wednesday, he unveiled an immigration bill that would crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and limit citizenship to children born to at least one parent who is also a U.S. citizen or lawful resident.
Wait a minute. Wouldn't that be unconstitutional? From the 14th Amendment:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

He isn't proposing an amendment. He thinks it would be constitutional to do this. How so? I had to Google around to find his explanation, but here it is. He relies heavily on "and subject to the juridiction thereof", claiming that children of illegal immigrants aren't subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. I can think of lots of things that the contrast between those under U.S. jurisdiction and those not could come to, but the idea that children of illegal immigrants are not under U.S. jurisdiction is one of the least likely. Doesn't it raise problems for enforcing laws if illegal immigrants aren't under U.S. jurisdiction? Then why would their children not be?

Update: This post is about Tom Tancredo and the constitutionality of his proposal. Comments should be about that.

My guest blogging at Right Reason starts this week. I've got an introductory post up now about whatI intend to cover. I still haven't figured out how much will be cross-posted here. Here is my summary of the series Max and I worked out:

Max asked me to take on the theme Christianity and Politics, and I'd like to use this opportunity to explore Augustine's views on how Christians should relate politically to a religiously pluralist society. I think he has a lot to offer to those current debates, and his views line up nicely with my own in several ways. I don't expect just to present Augustine's views, however. I expect this to be as much about how I see myself as an evangelical and how I relate to the pluralist society we live in, including how religious views can affect both political discourse and ground my support for particular policies.

 The 180th Christian Carnival is up at Everyday Liturgy.


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Blogs are abuzz with the news the Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) is on a list of people who called a prostitute. Lots of things might be appropriate to say about this, but there's one thing I've been seeing that just isn't one of them. A lot of people have been calling him a hypocrite for being strong on family values politically while having an adulterous relation with a prostitute. This sort of comment derives from ignorance about what hypocrisy is.

According to Merriam-Webster, hypocrisy is "a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion". As far as I can tell, there isn't any evidence here that his claim to be in favor of family values was false, i.e. that he doesn't really believe it. He did do something that conflicts with such a belief, but that doesn't mean he doesn't really have the belief and was just faking it to get elected. That would be hypocrisy. Pretending you believe something in order to get elected fits with the Merriam-Webster definition. It's a kind of dishonesty.

On the other hand, many people often have higher standards for themselves than they actually meet. I certainly do. That doesn't make me a hypocrite. It just means that I'm bad. Being bad and being a hypocrite aren't the same thing. If you're bad, and you realize you're bad, you regret it afterward and not just because of the consequences. If you repent of the action and turn from it, then it reveals that you really disagree with the action but did it out of weakness. You're still morally responsible for it, and if it's a serious wrong then you're morally to blame for a serious wrong. But it's not hypocrisy unless you never really believed it to begin with, and committing an indiscretion like this isn't a sign of never having believed it. We do what's wrong knowingly all the time. There's a difference between that and pretending you're something you're not.

(Note: Vitter has dealt with this issue within his own marriage and has been in counseling with his wife because of it. I think that's evidence that he is committed to his marriage and really is in favor of family values, even if he did something that undermines the family and his family in pretty serious ways. So I would think the evidence is even fairly strong that he's not a hypocrite.)

Update: There may be an inconsistency issue here. I may need to think about that a little more, but I would insist that that's a separate issue from whether he's a hypocrite for merely doing something he believes is wrong. That wouldn't constitute grounds for a hyocrisy charge. But that doesn't mean there's no issue here related to his role as a senator passing laws against pornography while engaging in the act and then thinking his repentance and reconciliation with his wife is sufficient while a criminal investigation of the prostitute is taking place. If Vitter committed a crime, and he's been endorsing the prosecution of that crime, and yet he was complicit with the crime, that is indeed a problem, and it might constitute hypocrisy. I'd need to see the details more to be sure, but that's the suggestion. There is a difference between running a prostitution ring and paying to use one of the prostitutes in that prostitution ring, but I think there might be an issue, but it may not be as simple an issue as it sounds.


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outlook cant handle large files More likely it's the ISP. As far as I know, Outlook has no limit on the size of file attachments unless you set one yourself. Many ISPs limit attachment size, however. So get a GMail account.

emotivism and sports
Somehow I don't think that word means what you think it means.

kansas song with broken glass That would probably be "How My Soul Cries Out For You", which has a bar fight in the middle of it, including a smashed bottle.

arguments against vegetarians
Is it just me, or does this sound like this is referring to arguments that take vegetarians themselves to be bad rather than just arguing that vegetarianism as a philosophical view or way of life is misguided or uncompelling?

consents to sex then says no. it's not rape.
Is the assumption here that indicating your desire at one time to do something amounts to an unbreakable promise to do it? You have to be thinking with your loins to assume that.

is the saying that if you take one step i'll take two is a parable or bible verse

The 180th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Everyday Liturgy. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:


[Cross-posted at Prosblogion]

At Prosblogion, Trent Dougherty links to an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Michael Ruse called Creationism. The SEP is usually very good, and I have to say that Ruse is much more reasonable on these issues than many in the anti-ID movement. He understands the positions he's criticizing a little more accurately and usually represents them a little more fairly. Any philosopher knows a lot more philosophy than Richard Dawkins, but Ruse stands out as someone willing to discuss the philosophical issues as philosophy, while many in the debate are dismissing them as other things (usually as religion or as bad science).

But this piece reveals that in some ways he does display a number of symptoms that I find throughout the anti-ID movement. Trent calls the article deplorable, and I do wonder how this got published in the SEP. It's not as bad as anything you'd find in Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins, but it's actually worse in some ways than the Wikipedia entries on these issues, which I don't have a very high opinion of.

Devin Carpenter asks in a comment why Trent finds the piece deplorable, and I decided to type up my reasons, which quickly got long enough that I didn't want to leave it as a comment. So here are some of why I consider this to be a fairly bad Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy entry. This is only after a quick skim and then once through with a closer read, so I may have misunderstood him in some places (although a couple times I think he may be at fault if I did). But I'd be very surprised to have gotten him that wrong on all these issues. Some of these are more minor and may well just be pet peeves of mine, but I think a number are much more serious. I'm listing them in the order they occurred to me as I was reading through the article more carefully.

1. He claims that six-day creationists are enthusiastic about Intelligent Design, which is simply false if he's referring to the arguments of Dembski, Behe, and Johnson (which his later section on ID makes likely). Most creationists in the narrow sense do not support ID arguments of that sort, since they think such arguments concede too much to evolutionist and to old-earth creationism. The ID leaders want to include six-day creationists, but they've had a hard time winning them over.

People often speak as if personal attacks in politics have been getting increasingly worse. Perhaps they have in the short term. I have no idea. But personal attacks have not been a recent phenomenon, and the kind we have now wouldn't have been beyond the pale in past generations. 08 Guru ASC has some choice morsels from some pretty nasty personal attacks in presidential elections in the past, some of them going way back to Adams (both of them, actually), Jefferson, and Jackson.

New Carnival

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I was included in a new blog carnival recently. I'm not entirely sure how. It seems to be a somewhat broad selection of posts vaguely related to God, religion, the meaning of life, love, etc.

[ht: Tom Gilson]


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Is there a name for when Andrew Sullivan links to you? If not, maybe I'm coining one now with "Sullilanche". (I originally thought "Sullivalanche", but that sounds less like the original word. I did leave it in the URL for the post).

It's pretty much monopolizing my sitemeter for the moment. I'm curious how he found out about the post. If you're reading this, Andrew, thanks for the link, and I'd be interested to know what directed your attention here.

He describes me as a Kantian. I wouldn't call myself a Kantian. I don't like several things about Kant's version of deontology, and the absolutism I challenge here is just one of them. I also think he's too rationalistic, ignoring the contribution of emotions to proper moral evaluation, and I'm more inclined to see character as the primary object of moral evaluation rather than actions as Kant (along with most modern ethicists) does. If I had to pick a philosopher I'd align myself with most closely, it would most likely be Augustine.

As I was typing up the post announcing the Christian Carnival that I just posted, it took great effort to refrain from a snarky comment about the July 4 anniversary of U.S. independence. Here is what I was going to say, but I thought it needed to be in a separate post.

I was going to say that the Christian Carnival is up, complete with quotes from the Federalist Papers to celebrate the anniversary of U.S. independence from the oppressive, dictatorial regime rule of the British monarchy that had previously treated the colonists the way Saddam Hussein did the Kurds.

Seriously, I have to wonder at those who yesterday celebrated American independence from the relatively mild discomforts of British rule who yet think those who supported freeing Iraq from Saddam Hussein had no just cause.
Now I admit that that isn't the only reason someone might have opposed the invasion of Iraq, but it is a common enough complaint, and I'm sure some making it nevertheless defend the American Revolution, which in my view was an unjust war. Clearly there have been worse wars in terms of the motivation, but I don't see it as having been one of the better ones either. The key comparison I have in mind is between the kind of oppressive regime in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and the comparatively mild situation that the colonists considered oppressive enough to start a war to eliminate. I do think the oppression of the Afircan slaves of the colonists would have constituted a good case for a just cause, but the colonists were complicit in that while complaining about how they were being treated by the British government.
There are ways to resolve the inconsistency (although I think they involve false premises, e.g. the premise that it's ok to initiate a revolution against your own government but not ok to assist others in overthrowing theirs, which I would say gets it backwards in terms of which is more morally justified). But those who hold both views ought at least to try to resolve the potential inconsistency rather than simply not thinking about the tension between their views on these different issues. So I think it's worth pointing out the potential problem.
I want to say that I consider the U.S. system of government perhaps the best human government the world has seen. The ideal government would be rule by an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good dictator, but that's not going to happen until the final resurrection. Until then, (at most) few have come up with a better way to govern over fallen human beings than the U.S. model. My conviction on that matter doesn't mean I think the method of attaining such a system was right. I don't, and it amazes me the ease at which people will approve of it without ever thinking that such approval might even raise questions about their views on the invasion or Iraq.
While I'm at it, I might as well link to my What Should Christians Think About July 4? post from three years ago.

The 179th Christian Carnival is up at Participatory Study Bible Blog, complete with quotes from the Federalist Papers to celebrate the anniversary of U.S. independence.

In two previous posts, I first presented an account of deontological ethics in which it is sometimes ok to go against moral principles in order to previous seriously grave consequences. Moral principles are not all absolutes. Many of them have thresholds, and if the consequences are bad enough the principle is no longer in effect. I then argued that this kind of deontological view allows a pro-life voter to vote for a pro-choice candidate who is not as bad (to a pro-lifer) than a more strongly pro-choice candidate (and who is better in the voter's mind on other issues).

Now I want to apply the same kind of reasoning to a situation within the Republican primary. A commenter on this post said the following:

Actually, it is NOT the federal government's purpose to protect our life, liberty, and property. The federal govt's job is much narrower than that, and is spelled out clearly in Article 1, Sec 8, for anyone who can read. If you insist on giving the feds more powers than those granted by the Constitution, you promote lawlessness and open up to the Congress and Executive a boundless field of power, no longer subject to definition.

The Bill of Rights doesn't say, "Congress shall make laws protecting our freedom of speech" (for example.) No, rather it's a negative, "Congress shall make no law..." Congress is prohibited from infringing on our rights. The Constitution should be viewed as a restrictive document, defining and restraining federal power.

The only crimes Congress has a right to punish are piracy, counterfeiting, and treason. Murder, jaywalking, rape, embezzling do not fall under federal jurisdiction, therefore may not be punished by the feds. Abortion is murder. But even if abortion were "healthcare" it would still be without federal jurisdiction, as healthcare is not listed among the enumerated powers.

To insist that the feds must prosecute abortionists is to trash the whole Constitution in letter and spirit. If we amend the Constitution to prohibit abortion (in order to restrain the out of control courts) then we are also putting the nail in the coffin of federalism, and altering the spirit of the Constitution.

Ron Paul is the most principled and consistent opponent of abortion in DC today! He is principled rather than pragmatic; ends do not justify means.

One issue is the original meaning/intent of the Constitution as opposed to all that's been added in how courts have interpreted the Constitution and how the government now functions as a result. The U.S. Constitution does give a very narrow purpose for Congress's role. But two things might be said for rejecting such a narrow view today, and neither involves the idea of a living Constitution that typifies judicial liberalism.

Does the Constitution set up the judiciary branch to interpret the law and the Constitution? The Constitution never speaks of judicial review (although the Federalist Papers do). The Supreme Court is never given any task at all in the Constitution itself, although it is said to have power extending to all cases in law and equity that arise under the Constitution. But power to do what?

A few days ago I posted about the differences between deontological and consequentialist views in ethics. Consequentialists think consequences are all that matters in terms of evaluating the moral status of an action. Deontologists think other factors can sometimes trump consequences, and thus you'll end up with situations when doing the right thing requires doing something that doesn't lead to the best consequences.

My main point in the post was to defend a moderate deontological position in one respect. Absolutists think the moral principles that are more important than consequences are always more important than the consequences. In other words, absolutists hold that deontological moral principles always apply, and consequences are irrelevant. A moderate deontologist in this respect will argue that deontological principles are not always absolute in that sense. Sometimes consequences will be so much more important that the principle doesn't truimp the consequences in that case. These deontological principles will then have a threshold. If the consequences are serious enough that they surpass the threshold, then the principle no longer holds for that action. If they are below that threshold, then they hold.

An example of how this works comes from Plato. It's usually wrong to steal, and if you borrow something it's usually immoral to refuse to return it. But what if you borrow your friend's sword, and your friend returns to you asking for the sword after you've discovered that your friend intends to use it to commit a great evil? Plato argues that it would be wrong to return the sword, even though normally you ought to do so. The moderate deontologist explains this in terms of this particular action being above the threshold for the immorality of stealing (or more precisely of refusing to return borrowed possesions).

In the rest of this post, I'd like to apply this line of thought to the first case I presented at the outset of my previous post. I want to say that in those cases a deontologist can say what I want to say without being a consequentialist. The first case was a pro-life voter who shudders at pulling the lever for someone as pro-choice as Rudy Giuliani, even if the consequence of pro-lifers taking such an attitude is that the even more pro-choice Hillary Clinton would be guaranteed to become the next president. Two things matter here. One is that Rudy Giuliani really is preferable to Hillary Clinton according to pro-life criteria, even if both are much closer to the not preferred end of the spectrum. The second is that the moral principles at stake here are not absolutes, and in certain situations above the threshold the principles no longer apply.

As a fiscal conservative with federalist tendencies, Giuliani doesn't think the federal government is the place to further such an agenda. He didn't even further it at the local level when he was mayor of New York City. He simply retained the status quo. Hillary Clinton would much more militantly pursue a pro-choice regime.

The 19th Biblical Studies Carnival is up at Biblische Ausbildung.

Robert Hewitt Wolfe developed one of Gene Roddenberry's original ideas in the series Andromeda. It wasn't a perfect show, but it was intelligent in many ways. I liked the show a lot in the first year and a half of its existence. Then the producers fired Wolfe out of the false belief that ongoing storylines couldn't draw an audience (which subsequent years in TV have disproved pretty thoroughly). The second half of the second season had the same writing team without Wolfe, and it wasn't up to the same quality but was clearly the same show with some of the same feel and interest. But then they hired former Twin Peaks writer Bob Engels to take over as head writer for the third season. The show got worse and worse as time went on. I never got around to watching the second half of the final season.

But Robert Hewitt Wolfe apparently kept watching, because he's written a document (officially no more than fan fiction for legal purposes) that gives some sense of what he would have done with the show had it continued. It's not told from the perspective of a writer detailing where the show would have gone, however. It's written up as a script that basically treats what happened in the show as a possible future that the Trance Gemini character was exploring, and she reveals a good deal about what her race really is, what their purposes are, what she's been up to all along, and one possible future that at least would have gotten some play had Wolfe remained on. It's not clear what he would have had be the actual future, but maybe we never would have seen it anyway.

In all, it's a very interesting read for those who liked the show under Wolfe who were disappointed with the direction it took.

The 179th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Participatory Bible Study Blog. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:



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