April 2009 Archives


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The 274th Christian Carnival is up at RodneyOlsen.net.

Torture Investigations

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Maybe I haven't been following the calls for torture investigations closely enough, but it seems to me that there need to be two things that I'm not seeing for me to be convinced that the people issuing such calls are sincere about the issue and not just pursuing a politically-motivated witch hunt.

1. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and a number of other congressional Democrats were involved in discussions with President Bush and other administration officials when all this was actually going on, and they seem to have given their approval of whatever actually took place with official sanction. Or at least they voiced no objections. That's what I keep hearing. But I have heard very little about anyone seriously suggesting that they be investigated. The only reason I can think of for that is that they're Democrats. Someone with more information than I have should feel free to correct me on this if I've got the facts wrong, but it's very hard to see this as a movement to correct for mistaken policies and hold those responsible accountable unless all who were responsible are going to be investigated.

2. As far as I've been able to discern, the U.S. military has long used techniques like waterboarding in training their special forces to be able to withstand harsh interrogation techniques. My understanding is that they train them in techniques that are uncontroversially torture. Yet President Obama continues President Bush's claim that the U.S. doesn't torture. Those who accept it from Obama but didn't from Bush need to account for this, and if they think these procedures are immoral in principle then they ought to be consistent and issue a call to hold accountable those responsible for torturing our own troops, including any at high levels who knew about this and allowed it. (I suspect that would be all the presidents for at least as far back as Jimmy Carter, the earliest president still alive.) Again, it's possible that I don't have all the facts on this, and I'd be happy to receive corrections on this, particularly if you can back it up with sources I'd be likely to trust. But what I read of the very memos that everyone's getting all excited about now (even though they say almost nothing that we didn't already know) seems to confirm that this has been going on with our own troops.

I don't think this shows us one way or the other whether these policies are legal, morally justifiable, or worth pursuing an investigation about (and I see those as three somewhat independent issues). I actually think those issues are more complex and difficult to navigate than either side wants to acknowledge. See my 2004 post and then my 2007 pair on the moral and linguistic issues. (I can't say that I'd agree with everything in those posts now, though.)

But it doesn't seem to me that most of the people who are actually raising a big stink about this are doing so for consistent, principled reasons unless they're willing to apply it to the above two cases. (That doesn't mean they're all hypocrites, because they might not see the inconsistency and might be willing to adjust their behavior if they did see it, or perhaps they have arguments for differential treatment of the different cases, although I'm not sure what those would be.)

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The 274th Christian Carnival is coming Wednesday at RodneyOlsen.net. 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 Christian Carnival archive.
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:

Minority Thinker asks, "How Can Parents of Young Children Observe a Day of Rest?" If sabbatarian principles mean we have a moral responsibility to take a day of rest, then what does that mean for a full-time parent whose work is to care for a family? For that matter, what about someone who has a full-time job who then comes home and has a family also to care for? Is it rest from one's job if that rest time is spent doing household tasks and doing a different sort of work? This post is adapted from a comment I left on that post.

I've spent some time reflecting on how Christians should see the Sabbath (and see also this followup). I'm assuming that background here, although some of this might reflect small developments in how I've thought about this since then.

A close look at the biblical passages on the Sabbath reveals that there are certain aspects of farming that they did do and others that they didn't. They wouldn't do any planting or harvesting on the Sabbath, but they would feed their animals, and they would rescue animals if they fell in a ditch. Similarly, for household living they wouldn't gather food on the Sabbath, and they wouldn't do something to bring in income to provide for food if it wasn't something that had to be done every day, but in the ancient world they couldn't prepare a meal and then put it in the fridge to be microwaved the next day, so they prepared food on the Sabbath.

The theological principle behind the Sabbath is less rest and more completion and wholeness or peace with God. God created, and then God allowed his creation to stand. It was complete. His work was done. Of course, it wasn't really done. God still maintains his creation and providentially orders it. But there's a sense in which its completion is celebrated in the seventh-day principle. In Christ we enter God's rest, meaning we are complete and not in need of further work to be in God's family. Christ's work is done at the cross. It doesn't mean we're perfected yet, but of course we're not ever done yet experientially in this life. The Sabbath principle is to recognize what is complete in Christ and to rest in that. In this sense all time since Christ is Sabbath time. It's not that the work week has expanded to include the seventh day. It's that the Sabbath has expanded to include the rest of the week, the same way the holiness of the temple has expanded to include all believers as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

Now there is a secondary principle of observing regular rest as a simple wisdom teaching in the sense of the wisdom of Proverbs, but do we have to do that in the 6-on 1-off pattern of the Sabbath ritual in the Mosaic covenant? I'm not sure why we would. The opponents Paul is dealing with in both Galatians and Colossians are too tied up with observing special days and seeing them as special, and Romans 14 and Philippians 3 allow for the weaker Christians to maintain such customs if they can't bring themselves to be mature enough to recognize the principles in other ways, but Paul's preference is for them to mature and apply the principles in other ways when circumstances warrant it.

I think it's important to notice that different percentages are given for different things in the old covenant, with one-seventh for rest and completion on a weekly basis, one-seventh for resting the land over seven years, one-tenth for tithes of produce, or the firstborn (whose percentage may be as much as 100% or may be much less) for animals and children. I think that signals that the percentage of time isn't really the issue. It all belongs to God, and we symbolize that by giving him the best and by recognizing that it's not from us but a gift from God. This is true with our work in any sense of the term, including parental responsibilities. Finding ways to take breaks, especially when others are willing to handle those ongoing responsibilities for short times, is indeed an application of this general principle. It's a recognition that it's God who enables, and we're stewards of our children just as much as we're stewards of our possessions. With high-needs kids who need close attention, it's impossible to get a lot of time away from them, so it's important to try to find those opportunities, not just for rest but to demonstrate our recognition that we're only doing a task God has given us. Some people don't want to relinquish control, and being extremely possessive of your kids, including caring for their basic needs (and I would say this includes how they're educated) may show a sign that the principle of stewardship isn't full operative.



The 273rd Christian Carnival is up at The Limitless.

"Of Course"

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One problem any teacher encounters is how to present material that many in the class will be familiar with but others will not. It's one thing to refer back to earlier material in the course, which students should but often won't remember by the time you get back to it when you encounter the same issue from a different point of view. But other background information might not have been covered earlier in the class. When I teach 300-level ethics classes, all my students should have taken the two-semester historical introduction to philosophy classes. But so many people teach those and do them so differently that there isn't any content that I can assume they've covered. It's also taught in such different styles that there isn't any basic philosophical framework that I can assume every member of the class has had.

The same problem arises in preaching. Some people hearing a sermon might know the Bible wel enough that you can refer to the sin of Achan or David's conflict with Absalom without any further information, and they'll know what you're talking about. You can mention a particular, relatively well-known chapter or section such as Romans 8, the Sermon on the Mount, or Ezeiel's vision of the temple, and some people will need no further information to be reminded of the full sense of what occurs in the section in question. At the other end of the spectrum are the biblically-illiterate who don't know that Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, aren't familiar with the biblical concept of a covenant, and would hear the expression "whore of Babylon" and think there must be some biblical character who was a prostitute in Baghdad.

One solution I've seen is to give the hearers the benefit of the doubt. I'll sometimes hear a preacher saying "of course" as an unconscious transitional marker in the middle of explaining something that only some of the people present will probably get without the explanation. It serves to signal to those who don't need the explanation that the preacher isn't treating them as if they don't already know this. The problem is that it makes those who don't know this feel sub-par for not knowing this thing that the preacher says "of course" about, as if anyone should know this. Another way of putting it would be to say, "as you know" before saying something that some people in the room do not have any knowledge of at all.

I find myself cringing inwardly at this kind of language. There's a sense of not treating those who are less-informed as important when you treat them as if the basic common denominator is higher in understanding than they are. There are certainly ways of being dismissive of someone that are worse than this, but there is a kind of insult behind this kind of language, even if it's not intended. Little things like this can have an effect on people, and this is such an unconscious habit that someone can get into when developing public speaking skills that it's easy not to think about what you're actually saying when you say this kind of thing.

In writing philosophical essays for a popular audience, I've had to think very hard about how someone with no philosophy background is going to read something I say. I hear my philosophical colleagues talking to their students with vocabulary and concepts that I can't imagine most undergraduate students understanding. Spending time in places where English isn't the native language and having to have serious conversations about Christianity and philosophy via a translator has certainly influenced my abilities to try to explain things more simply than I would if talking to a graduate student in philosophy.

So I'm at least sensitive to the fact that this is a problem, and I do know a fair number of places where it could arise that I tend to avoid it. But that isn't a solution to the problem, since it doesn't mean it won't occur where I'm not going to notice it, since I won't know sometimes that the terms I'm using have no meaning to the person I'm talking to. It also doesn't solve the problem of how to avoid giving those who do understand more the sense that they're being treated like children. But I do think this is something worth thinking through that I doubt very many people spend much time thinking about.

The 273rd Christian Carnival is coming Wednesday at The Limitless. 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 Christian Carnival archive.
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:

Tea Parties

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Yesterday I watched the Fox News coverage of some of the tea parties for a little bit. I know they have to compensate for the other networks barely touching on a major nationwide event. I know CNN gave it a little attention yesterday morning but only to dismiss a large-scale grass-roots internet-generated movement as if it had somehow instead been a GOP-initiated pretense. [Update: I just saw one clip of a reporter interviewing a protester but then challenging all of his arguments as if she were an opinion columnist before proceeding to walk away with a dismissal of everything he said because Fox News is somehow behind all this (not true), making everyone there anti-CNN justifying a claim that opposition to taxes is automatically right-wing extremism. CNN has apparently defended this reporter for simply doing her job.] But isn't it a bit excessive for Fox to spend almost their entire airtime on it for the whole day? They were treating it the way they cable news networks covered the Obama inauguration, which got record levels of coverage from the media.

I guess it's not a lot more excessive than what cable news channels tend to give to a lot of things, but there are other news stories that deserve some coverage, and sometimes I like to tune in to see some various headlines in a short period of time. For instance, Washington's legislature passed a same-sex civil union law yesterday, and I didn't find out about it until this morning, the Obama Administration is in the middle of deciding how much to reveal from CIA memos during the Bush Administration and how much to reveal about current interrogation practices, there's an ongoing investigation of the Justice Department into violations of the new laws on eavesdropping, and there's a furor rising over Obama's latest lobbyist nominee. [Update: And I notice that Fox News is just getting to the Susan Boyle story today. I've been getting Facebook updates about her since yesterday morning, and it took place five days ago.] I didn't hear about any of these stories when I had Fox News on. The only news not related to tea parties that I got any glimpse of had to do with pirates.

But I am glad at least someone covered these gatherings, so it won't be treated as a non-entity the way the red envelope campaign was. CNN has one link today way down their front page to a story on only one of the gatherings. MSNBC and the New York Times have single stories almost halfway down that at least cover the fact that many of these events took place. The Washington Post only has two links on their main page, and even though they're higher up (but it's a smaller front page), they're both opinion columns that are highly critical of the events. Even the National Review wasn't saying very much about the tea parties yesterday, just a few comments on their blog but no news stories or opinion columns, and today their only mention is a link to a Rush Limbaugh transcript from yesterday. The Wall Street Journal has no reference anywhere on their front page. (Presumably it's too populist for die-hard supply-siders for them to get as much behind it as Fox seems to have done.)

I saw a creative sign at one of these that just made the screen long enough for me to read it, so I may have gotten the last part only mostly right:

Killing Our Economy

But then there were the posters addressing Obama as if he's not a U.S. citizen, and one protester in Texas advocated secession from the union.

It was weird seeing one of these rallies (at the Alamo) led by right-leaning but populist entertainer and would-be commentator Glenn Beck, libertarian rock musician entertainer Ted Nugent (with guitar present and making continued bursts of noise), and conservative entertainer from the world of acting Janine Turner. Then they topped it all off by phoning in a video of entertainer Penn Jillette of the stage magician pair Penn and Teller. I was waiting to see how long it might take for them to involve someone who wasn't just an entertainer who might actually give intelligent commentary, but it was not to be, at least not in that location. (They did have some when they showed the Atlanta tea party when I tuned in a few hours later.)

The Syracuse gathering was right during my classes today, but I'm not sure I would really have enjoyed being at something like this. What I was seeing on TV was too reminiscent of when we went to Manhattan for New Years Eve shortly after we got married. There's nothing fun about standing outside in the middle of a large crowd when everyone else there thinks it's lots of fun to make a lot of noise screaming and clapping, but you can't actually see (and maybe can't even hear) anything that's going on that you're supposed to be watching. It's like going to a concert to listening to the music and finding that the crowd just wants to stand up and cheer and prevent you from paying attention to what you're there to see and hear.


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The 272nd Christian Carnival is up at Fish and Cans.

In Colossians 3:5, Paul lists a bunch of things to put to death in oneself, ending with "covetousness, which is idolatry". He also links the two in a similar way in a parallel passage in Ephesians 5:5. The usual explanation for how covetousness is idolatry is to find elements of idolatry in covetousness. At root, idolatry in the Hebrew scriptures is the placing of anything above God or in the place of God. Having your priorities in the wrong order can be idolatry if it involves moving God to any place lower than the top. So if you're longing after something that's not yours, to the point where you place your desire for it above your desire for God, including the desire to be righteous and to be content with what God has given you, then you are in effect practicing a sort of idolatry.

I was reading John Oswalt's commentary on Isaiah recently (p.499 of his second volume, to be exact), and I discovered that he conceives of the relationship in the other direction, drawing on the self-centered features of pagan idolatry that seek to use religious ritual to get a god's attention for benefit to the person engaging in those rituals:

In what way is acquisitiveness the sum of all sins? Perhaps it is as an expression of all the others. The proud, unbridled self wishes to make the universe center on itself, to draw all things inward to itself, confident that it can amass enough of the power, comfort, security, and pleasure that money and possessions signify it will be secure. Idolatry exists to satisfy these desires, so it is not surprising that Paul should identify covetousness as idolatry (Col 3:5). This may also explain why the prohibition of covetousness is the last of the Ten Commandments. To break this commandment is to break the first, in effect.

So it's not just that covetousness is idolatry because covetousness has features of idolatry. Covetousness is idolatry because idolatry itself stems from covetousness to begin with. My first thought on reading Oswalt is that he had it backwards, but I wonder if what he's put his finger on is actually the more fundamental relation of the two.

Most tests I find to determine how closely one might align with which Supreme Court justices are fairly superficial and don't base their calculation on very many issues. They also usually focus on general issues that don't always line up well with the actual cases that we have justices' votes on. I've found one that's a lot better, although it does have a few problems still. This one is mainly focused on actual cases, although its reliance on mostly hot-button political issues, while providing some familiarity for those who aren't heavy court-watchers, probably skews the results, whereas one that included more mundane issues might lead some to side with justices whose views they disagree with on hot-button political issues.

I have a few comments on the test before I get to my results and question-by-question analysis and explanations. This quiz gets most of the issues right and in some places makes finer distinctions between views than most. As far as I can tell, almost all of the questions (with one exception I can detect) are based on actual votes of justices rather than expected views or general tendencies. I do see two problems, though, and they are substantial.

One is that it does still oversimplify in a few places. It seems to ask questions about the result, which fails to capture the various reasons justices might go for that result. Thus an originalist who supports originalist reasons for a certain result might be on the same side as a non-originalist who picks the same side for living constitutionalist reasons. Someone indicating that choice then gets both names associated with them, and that's unfortunate. I found a lot of these cases put me on the same side as justices whose reasoning I don't support. Most people aren't going to read the cases or even summaries of them, either, and thus they will be going fully on policy preferences. Some justices do that anyway unashamedly, and sometimes the ones who seek not to do that will smuggle policy preferences in without admitting it. But if I want to see if I'm like a certain justice, I should see if I agree with the justice's reasoning, not whether the outcome is the one I'd prefer if I were in a legislative body. Making this quiz result-based masks the real differences between the justices, treats policy outcomes as the only issue of dispute, and thus skews the results.

Some of the questions themselves are not framed correctly at all. For instance, on #10 it asks if suspected terrorists who aren't U.S. citizens have any constitutional rights, and everyone on the Supreme Court would say yes to that. But that issue has never been before the Court. So what's it doing here? What they probably meant to ask is whether they have some specified set of rights (e.g. habeas corpus and related rights to use U.S. courts to challenge their imprisonment, which the Supreme Court did disagree on). On several questions, I thought the question asked about a more minor matter of disagreement than what the main dispute in the case was about. In a few cases, I thought the opinions were so splintered that it wasn't really a good case to ask such a broad question about, as if your view on the issue of the question would tell you much about how much your reasoning or preferences are like those of any particular justices.

But, all that being said, this is still one of the better tests matching your answers to legal questions with justices who voted on those cases, so I thought it was worth spending some time seeing where I really come out, and I decided to look at some of these cases I was less familiar with in more detail to try to overcome some of the problems in how the questionnaire is conducted. Now on to my results and analysis.

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The 272nd Christian Carnival is coming Wednesday at Fish and Cans. 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 Christian Carnival archive.
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:

Rey's Bailout Package

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It's getting to be a while since he posted this, but it's too hard to resist putting a link up to Rey's Insane Bailout Package. He tries to avoid sounding too serious about these, but in many ways they're a good bit better than much of what's in the bill we've actually gotten in terms of actually stimulating individual people to start spending some of their money more.



The 271st Christian Carnival is up at Fathom Deep: Sounding the Depths of God.

I've been thinking for a little while about two related arguments for compatibilism about free will and predetermination based on Christian theology. In this post, I'll look at the implications of the traditional approach to the Incarnation, and in a second post I'll look at what the kind of robust view of inspiration that I favor will require. I'm cross-posting this at Prosblogion.

It seems to me that with the traditional understanding of the Incarnation, something like compatibilism must be true of Jesus' freedom. The traditional view of the Incarnation is that Jesus is fully God and fully human, and his divine nature prevents him from doing anything sinful, but at least in his earthly life he had all the human ability to do so, being fully tempted in every way. This means that we need some sense in which it's possible that Jesus do something wrong and some sense in which it's not. The best way I know of that anyone has captured this is to say that it was possible for Jesus to do wrong in relation to his human nature but not possible in relation to his divine nature.

But what does that mean? You might think it's natural to conclude that if two natures constrain him, and one allows it while the other doesn't, then it just implies that it's not possible for him to have sinned. His human nature would have allowed it, but the divine nature prevented it. But this seems just like the situation for someone with no legs: it's possible for them to walk with respect to their brain but not possible for them to walk with respect to their legs. So it's simply just not possible for them to walk, unless it's ever proper to ignore the obstacle sufficient for preventing that possibility. But it pretty much never is proper to ignore that obs tacle unless you're talking about attaching new legs or something like that. But there's no such analogous possibility with Jesus, as if he could lose his divine nature. So this doesn't well capture the intuition that there's some sense in which Jesus could have sinned, in order to explain the statements about his having been genuinely tempted. This complaint strikes me as much like the complaint that libertarians on free will offer against compatibilism.

If the causes of our actions can be traced back to events outside our control, then incompatibilists will claim that we are not free. They will say that there's no possibility that things will be otherwise. A certain variety of compatibilist, however, will say that there's a sense in which it's not possible and a sense in which it's possible. It's possible with respect to the factors that we usually care about when we consider ourselves free, but it's impossible with respect to the actual past and laws of nature. When we are concerned with our freedom, what we care about is the fact that we consider options, evaluate them based on our own desires and motivations, and act in such a way that our decision-making process is what leads to our eventual choice. If that process can include options to be considered that are not possible in the broader sense, we still call them possibilities in ordinary discourse, because we're restricting ourselves to a more limited sense of what it means to be possible. We can consider it a live option.

The 271st Christian Carnival is coming Wednesday at Fathom Deep. 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 Christian Carnival archive.
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:

March License Plates

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U.S. States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government
Canada: British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario

Not seen since Feb 2009: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana
Not seen since Jan 2009: Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Quebec
Not seen since Nov 2008: Hawaii
Not seen since Oct 2008: South Dakota
Not seen since Aug 2008: Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since Dec 2007: New Brunswick, Puerto Rico


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270 Apr 1 A True Believer's Weblog
271 Apr 8 Fathom Deep
272 Apr 15 Fish and Cans
273 Apr 22 The Limitless
274 Apr 29 RodneyOlsen.net
275 May 6 Minority Thinker
276 May 13 Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus
277 May 20 Boston Bible Geeks
278 May 27 Chasing the Wind
279 June 3 Participatory Bible Study Blog

Bock on Ehrman

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Darrell Bock has responded to Bart Ehrman's latest book. One of the issues he tackles is one of the few things in Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus that I encountered for the first time when reading Ehrman, his odd claim that Luke's theology of Jesus' being in control during the passion doesn't allow for Jesus experiencing pain. I was happy to find someone dealing with that claim head-on, since the one recent book that I've seen that has any response to Ehrman left that issue out.

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The 270th Christian Carnival is up at A True Believer's Weblog.



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