April 2008 Archives

Sex and Duty

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This is over a month old now, but I'm way behind on a number of things, and it won't get better until the semester is over in a couple weeks. Hugo Schwyzer wrote a while back about a bad policy at what seems to be an emergent-type church involving having married couples promise to have sex every day for a month in an effort to build sexual intimacy. He's probably right in a lot of his criticisms, and I can think of some he doesn't mention. But I disagree with one of his points, and I think it's one he's particularly emphatic about.

He thinks the bad guy here is duty, as if a duty to have sex with one's spouse is bad. His argument is that good things lose their goodness when they become a mere duty. In one sense of what someone might mean by a duty, I think he's right. However, in a pretty common sense of the term, I think he's very wrong, and I think his view is strongly at odds with the moral perspective Paul expresses in I Corinthians 7 and Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount implies.

It's worth distinguishing between (1) duty in the sense of merely following rules without any further reason and (2) duty in the sense of going the extra mile for another person or doing what you'd want them to do for you if you were the one who strongly desired sexual connection. The first kind of duty is worthy of the Schwyzer's criticism. The second is not.

Suppose one member of a married couple has a strong desire for sexual intimacy, while the other doesn't. I'm not talking about cases of serious illness or complete exhaustion. I simply mean one wants to and the other doesn't. The one who doesn't is completely capable of engaging in sexual activity and enjoying it but simply isn't interested. Now it may be the loving thing to do for the interested party to back down. I don't want to suggest that forcing sex even in marriage is remotely excusable. Nevertheless, the question I'm interested in here is not the moral obligation of the interested party. What Schwyzer was addressing is whether there can be a duty to have sex, not whether there can be a duty to refrain. I'm sure he'd agree with me that there are plenty of instances of that.

The Pauline view is clear on this. In I Corinthians 7, Paul commands husbands and wives to seek to be available to each other sexually except in times of special devotion to intense prayer. That suggests a duty to have sex. It doesn't mean a duty to have sex every night, as the proposal in question suggested. But it does imply a duty to have sex. This Pauline view can be easily motivated by Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, particularly by the Golden Rule (do to others what you'd want them to do for you) and the extra mile (if someone asks you to carry something a mile, do it for two miles, and if someone asks for your coat offer up your shirt too). Jesus speaks as if this sort of thing is a typical characteristic of his followers, and those who don't do this are failing to be like citizens of the kingdom of God out to be. I can see how someone would apply such statements to the case at hand by arguing for a duty to have sex even when one isn't interested for the sake of the sex.

But this is not duty for the mere sake of duty. It's duty for the sake of the other person. If a person motivated by love for another person has a duty to do what's loving for the other person, there may well be times when that involves having sex when one otherwise wouldn't have been interested, and Jesus' teaching does seem to include cases like that. I'm not sure why cases of voluntarily being willing to have sex when one isn't interested should be exceptions to the kinds of loving acts he commands in those passages. This doesn't mean setting an arbitrary rule to ensure that couples have sex more often, but it does suggest that the motivation Jesus commands in the Sermon on the Mount involves a duty to show the kind of love that might include things like this. So I would defend Paul against Schwyzer's argument by pointing out that a duty to sex in the Pauline sense seems to follow fairly easily from the kinds of teachings in the Sermon on the Mount that I'm sure Schwyzer has no problem with.

 
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I wrote before that my proposal for a chapter on mutants and the nature of race was accepted to The X-Men and Philosophy volume and that I'd submitted three other proposals for two other volumes. I haven't heard anything one way or the other about my submission about The Hobbit, but I found out today that one of the two proposals I wrote for Harry Potter and Philosophy was accepted. They liked what I submitted about the limits of authorial intent, but they had a number of good submissions on that topic, and they decided they'd rather go with my proposal on destiny in Rowling's series, so they accepted that one. You can see the blog version of my initial thoughts on the matter here.

Before I even started graduate school, I hoped to be able to write popular-level philosophical discussions about questions that I thought needed serious philosophical reflection that science fiction and fantasy often raise, and I guess now I get to write about two topics I care a lot about in two fictional worlds that I've spent a lot of time in. These will be my first publications besides a book review (although it was a book review that made several substantive points, some of which I thought were genuine contributions to how to think about the issues). That means I need to work hard to submit some parts of my dissertation to journals pretty quickly to avoid giving the impression that I'm a lightweight when it comes to publication. Still, I'm glad to have the chance to contribute to these volumes.

David Bernstein raises some good questions about how the FLDS case has been handled. But he quotes an op-ed that seems to me to be dead wrong:

You've ruled the existence of five girls between 16 and 19 who were pregnant or had children was evidence of systematic abuse, even though in Texas 16-year-olds can marry with parental consent. You've ruled young toddlers are in "immediate" danger because of their parents' beliefs or what might happen 15 years from now, not because anyone abuses them.

Excuse me, but unless these girls were the first wife of the father of their children, they weren't married. Texas allows parents to consent to marriages of their children when they're 16. They don't allow parents to consent to non-marital sex with a dude who's already married to someone else but wants to have a pretend wife in addition. That's not marital sex, since they're not married. Since the men are already married, there's no marriage the parents could have consented to, and that makes it rape. Automatically. The girl can't consent, and the parents can't consent to an illegal marriage. The legal question ends right there. This is child abuse.

Someone might try to argue that the law doesn't track with the right answers to such questions when you're talking about what counts as abuse morally speaking. But that's not the issue here. What matters is whether it's legally abuse, and it's legally rape if the man in question is already married to someone else and thus can't have gotten genuine consent to a legal marriage from the girl's parents.

It's hard to resist commenting on what GatoRat says in the comments:

Several of those old girls already have children. If a fifteen-year-old is pregnant with her third child, were the first two immaculate conceptions?"

It is correct to point out that there were clearly pre-16 cases. It is not correct to confuse immaculate conception with virginal conception. I don't see how the idea of a child being conceived without original sin is relevant at all to this discussion.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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I've long wondered what idiot first came up with the idea that a curse on Canaan in Genesis 9 someone was supposed to justify mistreatment of black Africans, who have little association with Canaan anywhere in the Bible. Most scholars today don't see Genesis 10's table of nations as showing geneaological connections to begin with, given how such language is often used in ancient near eastern cultures for political and cultural connections of vassalship without geneaological connections (and most of the names are place names and ethnic groups without the usual indications that appear with proper names). However, even if you do take it the way it sounds if you take what's in the English translations literally, the curse is on Ham's son Canaan, not on Ham himself. Black Africans are connected with other sons of Ham, not the one who was cursed. The view is completely at odds with what the text actually says.

So I've long wondered who first came up with the view this curse on Canaan justified enslaving the descendants of Canaan's brothers, Ham's other sons. I'm wondering no longer. It turns out that it wasn't a Jewish or Christian interpreter at all, and the view is actually a lot older than I thought. I figured it appeared at the earliest in the late medieval period. It actually doesn't appear in Europe until the slave trade was well under way, so I was partly right. Medieval Europe (Spain and other Muslim-influenced parts aside) was actually opposed to slavery for the most part (at least if you don't count serfdom as slavery; I do, but I also consider modern employment a kind of slavery, and that's not the kind of slavery this view was trying to justify).

The people who first came up with this justification for slavery of Africans were very early Muslims, and that view was dominant within the Islamic world (but not outside it) for 100 years until it spread to Europeans via contact with the Spanish and their treatment of Moors. Then Europeans and eventually colonial Americans began to adopt it. So it wasn't even initially a misreading of the Bible. The relevant parts of the Qur'an don't mention Ham at all, so it's not even a misreading of the Qur'an. It's simply a fabrication in order to justify the kind of slavery Muslims had been imposing on black Africans.

It was an early Muslims who first (as far as we know) developed the idea that Ham was cursed. I found a quote in Edwin Yamauchi's Africa and the Bible from a Muslim who wrote in the late 7th to early 8th centuries, and the whole view is right there. Noah cursed Ham (not Canaan) by imposing slavery on Africans whenever the descendants of Shem would come across them. It attributes their hair type to the curse as well (but not, interestingly, their skin color, though it does mention their skin color). A 9th century Muslim does bring in a change of skin color because of the curse, and Yamauchi mentions other sources attributing natural slavery to black Africans because of this curse, a view that I'm pretty sure doesn't become entrenched in Europe or the Americas until the slave trade was well under way.

Its first appearance in the colonies isn't long after the British occupied American territory and started importing slaves, but it had been in Europe before that. Various versions of it appear even before the Reformation, as early as the mid-15th century, but that was in formerly-Muslim Portugal regarding the now-enslaved Moors. European theologians generally resisted the idea, and it probably didn't take serious hold until the modern concept of race came into existence through the work of Immanuel Kant and his contemporaries who sought to explain differences in physical features by means of biological essences of different races.

So Muslims, a very dominant form of which has an awful lot of problems with human rights even today, seem to be the initial impetus behind one of the key justifications of European and American slavery of blacks. This doesn't excuse the Europeans and Americans who did it, but Muslim writers were originally responsible for the idea, and it came to the colonies and Europeans via the cotton trade. I think it's time to stop blaming this on Christianity even if there were plenty of Christians who have held this view that originated in Islamic slavery. It's silly enough to blame Christianity for a view that hasn't held sway for most of Christian history but only appeared late and lasted only a couple hundred years before going the way of the dodo except in offshoot groups like Mormons. But if the view originally came from another religion entirely and has been dominant in the members of that religion's justification of slavery, while Christians steadfastly resisted it for centuries before falling sway to it for a few hundred years, I think it's justifiable to claim that those who blame this on Christianity are relying on historical ignorance.


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Little People

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We were out for a walk today, and Sophia and Ethan had gotten ahead of the rest of us. As they approached a road, we called them back. Ethan stopped, and Sophia kept going. So Ethan went over to Sophia, picked her up, and carried her back toward us. Sophia protested in a way that imitated Ethan's usual protesting (which in turn imitates what his teachers say to him when telling him a general rule about not saying no to teachers or some such thing. Here is the exchange that began with that. The first line itself would have been funny enough, but she doesn't stop there.

Sophia: It's not ok to bring little people back to their moms and dads.
Me: Are you a little person?
Sophia: Yeah.
Me: Is Ethan a little person?
Sophia: Yeah.
Me: Is Bear-Bear a little person?
Sophia: Yeah, and so is Isaiah.
Me: Is the baby a little person?
Sophia: Yes, they are.

So she assumes a fetus is a person (whereas some philosophers I know might wonder if Isaiah is a person on their account of personhood, or perhaps they'd think his personhood is just now beginning to emerge now that he's beginning to communicate better). But she also thinks her stuffed bear is a little person. (In both cases it means she's working from a conceptual framework that doesn't require consciousness or the capacity for pleasure or pain for personhood. I'm not sure if there's some condition her assumptions about personhood require, though. I think for the bear she might be speaking in the world of her imagination or something.)

Then she does a third interesting thing. She goes on to use a singular 'they' with the correct grammatically-plural but semantically-singular verb (as opposed to saying "they is", which occurs in some colloquial English dialects even for a real plural "they" but not ever in standard colloquial English, which still says "they are" for a singular referent when gender is unknown). What's funny is that she and Ethan are in full disagreement about whether the baby is a boy or a girl. She wants a sister, and so she must be getting one. Ethan is expecting another brother. [We'll be happy if Isaiah thinks more of the baby than he would a stuffed animal he can throw things at, since that's exactly what happened the last time he was near a newborn. He nailed it in the head with a pretty hard plastic toy. That boy can really aim, but he needs some more discernment of targets.]

Anyway, Sophia isn't going to go out of her way to avoid using male or female terms for this kid. It's just so natural for her that she used the singular 'they' (and got it right) without thinking that she has this view she's putting forward about a baby sister. She's learned the language better than a lot of cranky language prescriptivists who think this expression is some offensive innovation in recent years (even though it occurs in the King James Version of the Bible, not to mention Shakespeare and Jane Austen).

More Kid Stuff

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Sam has compiled another list of stuff the kids have been saying and doing.

Meanwhile, the ultrasound technician asked us today if we wanted to know what we're having. I resisted the temptation to say, "What, do you think it might be a lizard or something?"

I saw this several months ago but didn't get around to linking to it, and I've been spending all my online time looking at the bevy of activity on the Supreme Court blogs, so I wanted to post something that didn't take much time (and I had to drudge the dregs of my potential blogging list to find this). According to Justin Taylor in the above-linked post (there's no citation or link, so I'm taking his word for it), Hillary Clinton seemed to admit in January that she was allowing her supporters to die of exposure at one of her rallies. How so? Well, she said it was so cold that her supporters at the rally were literally freezing to death.

It's so funny that the word 'literally' is one of the most common words used to mean something other than its literal meaning. Here's another example that I love repeating. The great philosopher William Alston told our Christian philosophers' group about a decade ago that he had once heard a football announcer say, "and when he gets down into the red zone, he literally explodes!" I knew football was dangerous, but I didn't know how bad it really was!

What's going on here linguistically is that the word 'literally' is being used as an intensifier rather than to convey its literal meaning. This usage of the word is roughly synonymous to other intensifiers such as 'really', 'truly', and 'completely'. There's nothing linguistically inappropriate about it. Words don't always mean their literal meaning or their usual meaning. What's funny about it is how easy it is to intensify a metaphor by adding the word 'literal' without meaning it literally at all. In this case, it's particularly unfortunate, because if you did take her literally (and she did use the word that might in many cases indicate that you should) she would be admitting to what may well be gross negligence of the sort that could lead to many people's deaths.

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Rights to Ourselves?

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I've discussed the relation between rights and obligations before. One thing that a lot of people seem to think is that you can have responsibilities or obligations toward someone who doesn't have any right to you doing what you do. On the other hand, others thing that any obligation you have toward someone implies that they have some right to you doing it.

One thing that affects how you think of this is whether rights are explanatorily prior to obligations or the other way around. I'm not at all attracted to the view that rights are fundamental and that obligations are derivative from them, but that's a view that a lot of people have. I'm much more inclined to think my rights arise because someone has an obligation toward me.

If rights are prior to obligations, then here's a funny result. If an obligation requires that there already have been a right, then what about my responsibilities to myself? I think Immanuel Kant was right in taking us to have such obligations. If I seek a bad life for myself, that's immoral even if I don't harm anyone else in the process. If I do things that harm myself but don't affect anyone else negatively or positively, I have still done something wrong. I have violated my obligations to myself. But how can this be if every responsibility is based on a right? What right do such obligations rely on? Do I have a right to myself doing this? That's an extremely odd way of talking. Do I have a right to certain behavior on my own part?

I've been spending less time blogging in the last few days because I've been working on several things I've been sending off for publication. Actually, they're all for the same series of books looking at pop culture phenomena from a philosophical perspective. I received word on Saturday that my submission "Mutants and the Metaphysics of Race" was accepted for the forthcoming Blackwell volume The X-Men and Philosophy. I'm very happy about that, because it should be a lot of fun to write, and it reflects a lot of the things I'm writing about in my dissertation.

The due date for submissions to two other books in the series is tomorrow, and I've been putting together three submissions, two of them based on things I've written about on this blog before. I've reflected before about destiny in Harry Potter and the limits of authorial intent given some of J.K. Rowling's comments about her stories. The one that took a lot more new thinking was about providence and chance in The Hobbit, which was a lot harder to think through than the same questions would have been for The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion.

I thought about something on race in Harry Potter, but I already had these two posts that I could refashion into abstracts for chapters, and I do have a lot of grading to do and still some class prep for tomorrow, so I went with the quicker path. I think it might have beenm harder to come up with something as philosophically-oriented given that the metaphysical issues wouldn't have been as upfront as the difficulties I'm going to be pointing out with seeing mutants as a race. With ethical issues, there would be much less that's controversial that Harry Potter is suited for pointing out. (The examples Rowling gives are much more clearly wrong in an uncontroversial way than the kinds of racism that really aren't universally seen as bad.) It's probably for the best, because now if any of these get accepted it will be a publication, albeit a popular-level one, on a philosophical topic other than my dissertation, and that shows more well-roundedness.

It remains to be seen if any of these will be accepted, but having one accepted for a different volume certainly helped provide the energy necessary to write up what I'd been thinking about for a while. Now I need to get something published in an academic journal in case any of these get accepted, or potential departments I apply to might think I'm only capable of publishing philosophy for a popular audience.

 
The 220th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Imago Dei. 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 the not-recently-updated Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals or the up-to-date but less-informative christiancarnival.com list.
 
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It's time to schedule some more hosts for future Christian Carnivals. The schedule as it stands is below, and I will add to it as I schedule new hosts. You can find more information about the Christian Carnival here. If you are interested in hosting an edition at your blog, you can contact me at the email address in the header. If you have particular preferences as to when you would like to host, please include that in your message. When possible, I will try to give the earliest spots to new hosts and hosts who have hosted less recently.

219 April 9 Chasing the Wind
220 April 16 Imago Dei
221 April 23 Everyday Liturgy
222 April 30 Brain Cramps for God
223 May 7 Participatory Bible Study Blog
224 May 14 The Evangelical Ecologist
225 May 21 Parableman
226 May 28 Bounded Irrationality
227 June 4 Ancient Hebrew Poetry

The Bible study group that I attend has been studying Exodus, and we're nearing the end of the plagues. I've been thinking anew about Pharaoh and the hardening of his heart. People holding to a libertarian view of freedom like to point out that Pharaoh hardens his own heart before the first time it says God hardens it. It isn't a simple progression. Sometimes his heart is simply hardened in the passive, and I don't think there's a neat order to it. The passive formulation occurs in what I believe is even the first instance (Exodus 7:21), and that occurs three times in ch.7 before 8:21, where Pharaoh is first said to harden his own heart. But it is true that Pharaoh is said to harden his own heart before God is said to harden it.

On the other hand, compatibilists about freedom and predetermination notice that God predicted long before the encounter even happens, when Moses hadn't even returned to Egypt, that he would harden Pharaoh's heart and that Pharaoh wouldn't let him go. (Exodus 4:21) This may not require a compatibilist view, but there's one view that I think doesn't fit well at all with this whole sequence, and that's open theism.

First, God predicted that Pharaoh would not to let them go. He even predicted that he would harden Pharaoh's heart. He told Moses to ask for a three days' journey to sacrifice and return. But he promised to Moses that Pharaoh wouldn't let them go and that it would lead to their permanent freedom from Egypt. What needed to happen for God's prediction to come true? Pharaoh needed to resist Moses, something open theism doesn't allow God to predict. Yet God had predicted it, and it was at least in part dependent on Pharaoh's hardening of his own heart.

As libertarians like to point out, God hardens Pharaoh's heart only later in the series of plagues. God nevertheless predicts that he'll do it to Pharaoh before Pharaoh even hardens his own heart. There's only one way I can make sense of this is open theism is true, and that's that Pharaoh is one unusual exception of someone who simply isn't free. In order to predict that Pharaoh would refuse to let them go, God must have forced him to do what he did. Why, then, does Pharaoh harden his own heart before God hardens it?

Open theists often go the Exodus narrative because of Moses' interaction with God after the golden calf incident, saying that the classical view of divine foreknowledge doesn't fit well with the plain sense of that text and others like it (although there are problems even with that claim). But it seems to me that open theists are the ones that have a problem with the plain meaning of this narrative.


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One of the things I'm suggesting in my dissertation is that the one-drop rule for determining race in the United States is on the wane, or at least that it's more complicated when it applies than just the usual view that it always does. One piece of evidence I think is somewhat compelling is the linguistic fact that a lot of people feel perfectly comfortable referring to a set of twins with different skin colors as if one is black and the other white. I've also got some more outlandish intuition pumps that I think help the case a little.

But there's another way of departing from the one-drop rule that a lot of people I know seem to exhibit, one that a lot of race scholars seem to me to treat as at best marginal. A lot of people will talk about mixed-race people as if they are both races. Barack Obama is sometimes referred to as both black and white, for example. James Collier, a mixed black-white man, speaks this way. I think a lot of people we know see our kids as either both black and white or as neither black nor white. If someone can be both black and white, then it clearly contradicts the one-drop rule.

I discussed some of my work with a leading scholar of African-American philosophy a few months ago. He took me to task for a lot of assumptions that he refused to recognize as anything but ignorance. He spent a lot of time explaining that Plessy of Plessy v. Ferguson was 7/8 white, I suppose in order to show how significantly the one-drop rule has affected policy. What that ignores is that things are changing, however. That case was a long time ago. I think he may have thought I was denying that the one-drop rule ever operates, which is not only way beyond the evidence I've presented but almost certainly very easy to prove false. But that's not the view I was defending. I was simply arguing that it's more complicated than it was several decades ago, with some people at some times no longer relying on such a rule.

I don't know many non-blacks of my generation whose racial judgments rely on the one-drop rule, and I've discussed race issues with a lot of people of my generation from a broad range of backgrounds. The one place it still persists very strongly in the circles I've run in is among black people. I know of at least two black conservatives who have claimed that black Americans have a lot invested in the one-drop rule, although I haven't seen enough to figure out what they might be. It's a provocative claim, one I want to think about more. But I'm sure of one thing. At least in the northeast of the U.S., people of my generation are at the very least not consistently using the one-drop rule. I say good riddance. It's unfortunate that some scholars are a little more reluctant to acknowledge that than there seems to be evidence for.

I have to agree with Sean Oxendine on this:

But the absolute top of the list is how much the outcome of the race has depended on the ordering of the contests. Imagine, for example, where things would stand if Georgia, Alabama and a few caucus states hadn't moved their dates up to Super Tuesday, but Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas had, in fact, moved up. This race would likely have been over February 3, with calls for Obama to get out reaching the same crescendo that the calls against Hillary are reaching.

Of course, the whole way we got to this position was Obama's magical "ten in a row" during February. But Maryland, DC, Virginia, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Hawai'i, Maine, Washington and Nebraska were all races that he was supposed to win -- and by large margins at that -- with the arguable exception of Wisconsin. Imagine if those races had instead been Indiana, Kentucky, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and a couple of Super Tuesday states (say, MA and TN). The storyline would be completely different.

What a way to pick a President.

This is a criticism of the whole process, not just of how the Democratic primary does things. It's even clearer for the Republican primary. If Florida had been the first GOP state, followed by New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, Giuliani might have been the nominee. If Iowa had been followed by certain key Southern states without New Hampshire in between, Huckabee would have had a real chance. If South Carolina had been first, followed by Tennessee and perhaps Georgia, we might have actually seen Fred Thompson doing well in other states. If Michigan had been before Iowa, Romney would have had enough momentum that he could possibly have done a good deal better, and if more Western states were early on he might have had enough to get the momentum necessary to take states he lost by a large margin.

This process is highly sensitive to small changes in the order of states, and that seems to me to be a very bad thing.

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The 219th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Chasing the Wind. 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 the not-recently-updated Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals or the up-to-date but less-informative christiancarnival.com list.
 
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:

Obligatory Grace

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One potentially bad argument for the need for infinite punishment comes from John F Walvoord, in Four Views on Hell. On page 27 he says "While on the one hand [God] bestows infinite grace on those who trust him, he must, on the other hand, inflict eternal punishment on those who spurn his grace."

Now it is possible that he means that without the grace offered, God has no choice but to inflict the punishment that has already accrued. I'm fine with that. But it is also possible that he means that the infinite punishment is punishment for spurning the grace itself. (The context does nothing to make it clear which he means.)

If it is the latter, that's horrible. Grace isn't exactly a free gift from God if the failure to accept it is punishable by hell, is it? In what moral system is it obligatory to accept grace?

 
The 218th Christian Carnival is at Kiwi and an Emu.

Infinite harm

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One thing every traditionalist agrees upon is that those in hell deserve infinite punishment. The standard reason given is that those in hell have sinned against an infinite God, therefore their crime is infinite.

(Other reasons are certainly possible. Another somewhat commonly given reason is that those in hell will continue sinning for all eternity, thus meriting infinite punishment. It seems a little injust to me to give someone an infinite punishment because of the infinite crimes they will commit in the future, but that's why I don't use that argument.)

But back to the matter at hand, the standard argument is that the crime is infinite because it is committed against a God who is infinite. Now this is all fine and good in a feudal society, but it strikes me as a pretty weird argument in a Western democracy. We don't, in theory at least, punish a thief more harshly for robbing the president than robbing a beggar. Should we be?

Now, that's not to say that the Feudal system is wrong in which the severity of the crime is measured by the stature of the victim, but certainly the argument can't stand alone. You need to present the argument and then prove that the feudal system is right. So far, I've never seen a traditionalist do that.

So I think that the Feudal Justice argument is at least incomplete, if not wrong. But I agree that we've committed an infinite crime. How do I go about showing it without the Feudal argument?

I posit that we all have a part in crucifying Christ. Killing God is a pretty straightforward infinite harm in a way that is not so clear in other sins. How we are all involved requires a bit of speculation. I am forced to speculate that the Tree of Knowledge is symbolically connected to the Cross, and that the eating of the fruit is connected to killing Christ. Thus, in Adam, we've all killed Christ. It's a pretty big stretch. Most Christians will agree that we all have a part in killing Christ, as long as they don't think to hard about how they're involved.

At any rate, having committed the infinite harm of killing Christ, we deserve infinite punishment. How do you guys go about showing we deserve infinite punishment?

One of Annihilationism's better arguments is that there are several biblical images that portray the final state as one of complete harmony: God has reconciled all thing to himself, he rules over all, etc. Hell must ulimately be empty then, otherwise there are people who are not in complete harmony with God.

The standard counterargument against it is the lake of fire into which are thrown the Anti-Christ, the beast, and death who will suffer for ever and ever. When confronted with this, annihilationists generally point out that there are no people suffering for ever and ever, just these other things (usually taken to be systemic sin structures). When it is pointed out that people are indeed thrown into this lake of fire, they point out that it was intended for the Anti-Christ et al. and not for people. So though it may torture those things forever, it may easily consume a person (the same way that a punihsment designed for an adult might kill a small child).

Now, each part of that parry is fine by itself. But together it doesn't work at all. By conceding that the lake of fire punishes the Anti-Christ et al for all eternity, annihilationists can no longer claim the Complete Harmony argument, since the Anti-Christ et al are hardly in harmony in the final state.

Weirdly, I've only read one paper that calls the annihilationists on this count. Everyone else seems to let them get away with it. I have yet another compromise position that I use to wiggle my way out, but I've yet to see a good annihilationist defense of this point.

Traditionalists typically just assert that hell is harmonious with heaven, even if we don't understand how. All actual explanations of how this is so have seemed pretty weak to me.

How do you guys deal with the Complete Harmony argument?

Avoiding the plain meaning

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One of the traditionalist's strongest arguments is that annihilationists don't accept the plain meaning of words like "eternal" or "everlasting". And they're right. While some of the alternative readings of those verses are plausible, some are really stretching it--unacceptabily so in my opinion.

What really amuses me is that the annihilationists come back and make exactly the same argument against the traditionalists--that they don't accept the plain meaning of words like "destruction" and "perish". And they're right too. The traditionalist who demands the plain meaning of "eternal" will go out of their way to use an alternative meaning of "destroyed" and not notice at all that they're using a double-standard. Along the same vein, the annihilationist who demands a plain reading of "perish" has no problem using an odd meaning for "everlasting".

Bizzare.

One of the reasons that I've settled on my position is that I think the plain meaning of all those words is right. Which implies that both positions are right. So I had to find a way to make both positions compatible with each other.

(wink here again. Just so you know.)

Traditionalists typically advance two arguments about suffering against annihilationists: 1) We merit infinite suffering (I'll probably deal with this point in a different post), and 2) People suffer differing levels of punishment in hell.

Point (1) is intended to prove that you can't have annihilationism since you can't suffer an infinitie amount without infinite time (again, I disagree, but that's for a different post). Point (2) is intended to show that annihilationism is false since there is only one result--annihilation without differentiation, and that contradicts the different levels of punishment shown in the Bible. (This point only works on annihilationists who believe that there is no period of suffereing before annihilation. It falls completely flat against those who do.)

Traditionalists run into trouble if they try to hold both (1) and (2). Basically, there are no real levels of punishment in infinite suffering. You might argue that person A's suffering is 5x more intense than person B's suffering. But when you multiply by infinity, it is exactly the same. 2 x infinity = 5 x infinity = 100 x infinity = infinity x infinity. So to argue that there are levels of punishment in infinite suffereing is to not understand infinity very well.

There are two defenses that I can see against the contradiction: 1) Cardinality. There really are some infinities that are larger than others. You could argue that Person A's suffering lasts for duration Aleph naught, while Person B's suffering lasts for Aleph prime. This strikes me as a distinction without a difference, but I suppose it would be technically true. 2) You could argue that suffering is qualitatively different at different levels--a pain that is quantitatively 5x worse is even worse in some uncountable way as well--it is a qualitatively worse pain.

I have never seen either argument made. Has anyone else?

The Annihilationism Debate

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(Note: this is wink writing this, not Jeremy. I know I haven't written a post in forever, so I'm warning you up front who I am.)

I'm currently writing (or more accurately, procrastinating from writing) a five page paper. The assignment is to take an issue about which Evangelicals might disagree, lay out both positions, and show why you take the position you do.

My plan is to discuss Hell: Annihilationism vs Eternal Conscious Suffering, and then conclude with an edited version of this post.

As is my habit, I've done far too much research for a short paper, and therefore have too much to say. Since I can't cram it all into the paper, some of it is going to come out here. Sorry.

The first thing I noticed about the debate was how shoddy it is, especially from the traditionalist side. Now, I think both sides have strong arguments and a few of the principals involved are terrific. But the average (mode) argument is pathetic.

Probably the most frustrating argument was when traditionalist would "refute" annihilationism by listing off a long string of verses that discuss hell. They would conclude that:
1) hell exists
2) annihilationism is therefore wrong
3) therefore, hell = eternal conscious suffering.
Now, while they do a pretty good job of proving (1), they don't do a thing to prove (2). It is as if (2) is a logical consequence of (1). Which it isn't.

Annihilationists don't dispute the existence of hell--they dispute the nature of hell. The argument above might work against most versions of Universalism, but it doesn't prove a thing against annihilationism.

The other majorly annoying thing about the average (mode) traditionalist argument was the assumption that annihilationists all gave up on inerrency. While that is certainly true of some, their assumption that you can't make a biblical argument for annihilationism was pretty maddening.

Really, the only traditionalist arguments that I found to be solid were the ones that were directly refuting John Stott. The rest were largely not worth reading. So if you want to read up on the subject, make sure that "John Stott" is one of your keywords or you may just end up pulling your hair out in frustration.

March License Plates

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U.S. states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government

Canada: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

U.S. states lost from February: Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, West Virginia

U.S. states gained (not in February): Alaska, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming

U.S. states seen yet at all: I'm down to just Hawaii and Mississippi. Alaska and Wyoming were on this list after February, but I did see them both during March.

What organization has a weekly death toll more than twice the five-year death toll for American troops in Iraq? Planned Parenthood [ht: Sam].

I don't think it's remotely morally decent to abandon Iraq the way most Americans seem to want to do (and most of the rest of the world wants us to do). Nevertheless, if I had to be a one-issue voter and did share that view, I would have little inclination to prefer the war issue to the abortion issue. Other issues being equal, anti-war pro-lifers will have a very hard case to make if they want to end up supporting the Democratic candidate over John McCain. Other issues aren't equal, of course, but there will have to be an awful lot of very serious issues, all favoring the Democratic side, to overcome this difference (and some people probably do think that). But I've seen people, even commenters on this blog, claiming that pro-life issues are outweighed by the anti-war issue, even claiming that it's more pro-life to support those who approve of the status quo on abortion in order to end the war. I don't know how that view can stand up under these numbers.

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