August 2010 Archives

Rant About Worship Songs

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Here are some of the things I really hate in a worship song.

1. Too simplistic, banal, lacking in depth, shallow, doctrineless: Consider that one that just talks about unity among brothers that only mentions God in passing at the very end.

2. It's so repetitive. I mean, come on, how many times can you repeat "His steadfast love endures forever" before you start thinking the song is going to go on forever? Examples: here and here

3. For some songs, the focus is too much on instruments, and the sheer volume leads to its seeming more like a performance than worship and prevents quiet contemplation.

4. There might be too much emphasis on too intimate a relationship with God, using first-person singular pronouns like "me" and "I" or second-person pronouns like "you" instead of words like "we" and "God". This fosters a spirit of individualism, and it generates an atmosphere of religious euphoria rather than actual worship of God. Worship should be about God, not about us. Or what about the ones that use physical language to describe God and our relationship with him? Can you really stomach the idea of tasting God?

5. Some songs have way too many words for anyone to learn.

6. It patterns its worship on experiences that not everyone in the congregation will be able to identify with. If you're not in the frame of mind or don't have the emotional state in question (e.g. a desperate longing for God. Then what are you doing lying and singing it? Worship leaders who encourage that sort of thing are making their congregations sing falsehoods.

7. Then there's that song with the line asking God not to take the Holy Spirit away, as if God would ever do that to a genuine believer.

8. Then there's that song that basically says nothing except expressing negative emotions.

At this point I'm so outraged that people would pass this sort of thing off as worship that I'm almost inclined to give in to the people who think we shouldn't sing anything but the psalms. Oh, wait...

[cross-posted at Evangel]

The 342nd Christian Carnival is up at You Can't Mean That!

When Sharron Angle won the GOP Senate nomination to run against Harry Reid, the tea party movement rejoiced. Then the post-primary polls came in. Instead of the pre-primary sense that Reid would no longer be a senator as of January, it looked as if he'd hold his own against that particular candidate. I think the polls are still bearing that out, although that sort of thing can change in a few months. The tea party movement endorsed someone who may well be incapable of beating Harry Reid, whose popularity is very low right now, even in a very Republican year.

The Arizona primary produced several similar situations. Consider Scott Elliott's preview of four House GOP primary races on Monday (the primaries were held on Tuesday).

AZ-1: "Ann Kilpatrick is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country" but "If Dr. Gosar wins, however, there will be some from the "McCain/Establishment" side that vote against him in November out of anger. In that case, we'll have to see whether their votes will be enough to cost him the victory." Gosar won.

AZ-3: "Ben Quayle has never had any major support from any Arizona politicians. He has sold himself as the Tea Party candidate. A strong front-runner at one point, Qualye has fallen sharply after several major debacles (i.e. borrowing kids for paid media photos, admitting to writing posts for a female-bashing website) .... should Quayle win this race, his baggage will make it hard for him to keep conservative Democrat and father-of-five, John Hulburd from taking this one for the Democrats." Quayle won.

AZ-5: "David Schweikert has ran for office twice before and lost, and Susan Bitters Smith was the 2008 nominee that Mitchell easily defeated.... If either of these candidates wins the primary, it's not likely they can unseat Mitchell." Schweikert won.

AZ-8: "Kelly was an early favorite, and attempted to define Paton as the "establishment" Republican. However, Paton's record as a legislator proved him to be a strong conservative, who continually takes on the governor and the leadership of both parties. The race between Kelly and Paton is very close, and either could win the primary. However, while Paton almost certainly will defeat embattled Democrat incumbent Gabrielle Giffords in November, Kelly may have a tougher time. He'll have to prove he's about more than just border security." Kelly won.

Now not all of these are tea party victories over establishment or moderate opponents (and the Florida primaries the same day had several GOP winners who would be easier winners in November than their opponents). But all of them were the choice Scott predicted would make it harder for Republicans to win the seat, and I think the tea party movement played a big role in the win of at least three of the four. It's clear that the tea party movement, while helping Republicans regain some ground against Democrats, may also prevent them from gaining as much as they otherwise might.


The 342nd Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at You Can't Mean That! 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:

Justin Taylor has reposted David Powlison's critique of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Powlison is the author of the so-called Biblical Counseling chapter of the IVP Five Views book on psychology and Christianity.

I'm not going to worry about the issue, pointed out several times in the comments, that the Bob Newhart video has pretty much nothing to do with CBT. I have two main things to contribute to the discussion, (1) as a philosopher and (2) as a parent of a child who has taken part in cognitive behavioral methods.

Powlison bases a lot of his critique on the fact that CBT uses (sometimes consciously) methods that can rightly be described as Stoic in that they do have a strong enough similiarity to key ideas of the ancient Stoics that I don't think the comparison is inapt. Stoicism, at least on the issues relevant here, involves one key claim. The Stoics didn't think it's worth worrying about something outside your control. The reason is that your life is made worse off by your worrying, but you can do something about the worry. You can't do anything about the fact that George W. Bush won the presidential election in 2004 or Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008. You can't change the fact that lots of people died recently in China from landslides. You can do something to help those who remain, and you can do something to change people's minds on policy issues and perhaps help elect a different sort of person next time, but there's no point in worrying about something you can't do anything about.

That element of Stoic philosophy seems entirely reasonable to me. The Stoics do go on to say that we should remove all emotions, but it's important to be clear on what they meant. They defined emotions more or less as bad reasoning. Things we call feelings that aren't bad reasoning and are compatible with good reasoning would not be emotions for the Stoic. So there's no reason to complain about that view on the ground that it's healthy to have emotions and inhuman not to. We should eschew the things they called emotions without actually eschewing emotions as we understand the term. They had a strange view about what we should call emotions, but the substance of their view is mostly right, as Augustine so deftly argued in his critique of the Stoics. Feelings of any sort should be submitted to reason, and those that are irrational are best removed. Augustine shows that the Stoic view, when reworked into ordinary language without their odd view of what counts as an emotion, is largely correct and fully compatible with Christian teaching.

Where the Stoic goes wrong, as far as Christianity is concerned, is in not submitting things to the lordship of Christ. I can't even say that they don't equate submission to reason with submission to God. They do. They just have a false view of what God is like. Does that affect the practical level? Not so much. Does it affect CBT? Not remotely. The reason is that CBT is really a method, a placeholder in which you insert the content you intend to replace the unhealthy and irrational beliefs. The Stoics insisted that irrationality comes from false thinking. They may have been wrong about that as a fully adequate explanation of all irrationality. But they were certainly right that a whole lot of irrationality comes from false beliefs. I know at least two cases of chronic depression that in large part involves flat-out false beliefs, even if there may also be neurological causes. In one case it's someone who consistently interprets any possible information that could be stretched to show that people don't like him or that he's a failure as if everyone doesn't like him and as if his abilities are the problem, when in many of these cases no one is even evaluating him negatively, and often enough their evaluations aren't seen that way by the people doing the evaluating. Such a person might benefit from neurochemical supplements, but CBT would encourage him to replace those false beliefs with a more hesitant approach to such negative interpretations, one much more like how most people would respond.

CBT is offered as a correction to the biggest problem Applied Behavior Analysis therapy. ABA insists on treating only behavior without dealing with anything internal, e.g. unhealthy beliefs. It stems from the behaviorist model of psychology, according to which we shouldn't postulate anything internal that can't be measured empirically, and thus any psychologist who talks about beliefs, desires, and so on is engaging in unscientific behavior (notice that even the way I've constructed that sentence admits only to the behavior of such a psychologist; a behaviorist shouldn't even say that such a psychologist has false beliefs about how psychology should be done, just that the speech and methods of such a psychologist are unscientific).

Behaviorism is crazy, and CBT is an improvement. It seeks causes in wrong thinking rather than trying to do psychology by ignoring its existence. Doing psychology by dealing only with behavior and ignoring the cognitive elements that lead to the behavior seems to me to be closer to the Bob Newhart video that Powlison holds up as an example of CBT, where the major therapy technique is to tell people to stop it. But CBT insists on changing false and harmful beliefs and replacing them with true and beneficial beliefs. It's a methodology, not a comprehensive theory of which beliefs are good and healthy. The trick is getting the beliefs right.

Not all CBT therapists will, but some will do much better than others, even if the ones who aren't believers won't be going fully deeply enough when the issues that come up are ones that Christians have deeper insight into (and not all issues are like that, e.g. dealing with my autistic son's attachment to his hat or his collection of pocket lint that he calls his fuzzy. It's hard for me to imagine a serious effort trying to make such issues out to be primarily about sin, and Powlison's critique of CBT as avoiding the sin issue in order to make people feel better misses the point. The point, at least sometimes, is simply to remove an irrational anxiety. CBT isn't comprehensive, because sometimes the problem is just a neurological malfunction that can be corrected with medication that doesn't have significant enough side-effects to be worth worrying about. In other cases, the problem is largely due to false and harmful beliefs that CBT can help someone to remove via unproblematic methods. The Christian should only worry about cases where actual sin is involved and the CBT therapist is pretending no one is doing anything wrong or elements Christians might disagree with the general populace would cause disagreement between a Christian receiving CBT and the therapist about those particular beliefs that the CBT therapist is encouraging to use as replacements for the unhealthy ones. But those are particular problems in how CBT might be practiced by an individual, not inherent difficulties with the model itself.

But what about cases where there really is a deeper issue that the CBT therapist is ignoring due to an attempt to be neutral on religion? Is it a band-aid if there's a deeper solution? As Powlison says near the end, it might be. But he also says it's better than nothing. I would say that it may be just what you need. If my autistic son is having fits over losing his hat, and he's not at a point where telling him to trust God will do a thing, then CBT may be the band-aid that helps him handle the symptoms and stop worrying about it. If that's the best that's neurologically possible at his developmental level, then I would argue that it's unbiblical to insist that counseling not use CBT methods, I would even say that such insistence would itself contradict more general biblical commands.

I would say, similarly, that ABA is wrong much of the time for ignoring the internal, but with a kid who is so impulsive and unable to communicate as my other autistic son it might actually be the only thing that will help him, because even CBT doesn't work if you can't talk about your thoughts, never mind the so-called biblical counseling that doesn't work when you've got someone with severe enough disabilities to prevent understanding of what sin even is. I sure hope no one tells me to tell my two-month old to stop crying because it's sinful not to appreciate his parents enough to wait patiently for that diaper change. It's not much different when you've got an eight-year-old with severe enough impulsivity issues that much of his behavior is more like what you would expect of a toddler, just with the physical capabilities of a much older child and thus a much greater level of danger.

Reductionist approaches don't capture the variety of causes of problems that people might want counseling or mental health professionals for. You could be reductionist about any of these methods. Many ABA practitioners won't consider other methods worthwhile. Many MDs won't consider non-pharmaceutical solutions. Sometimes medication helps a neurological deficiency enough to be worth it. With genuine cases of the overdiagnosed condition of ADHD, sometimes a stimulant is exactly what's needed, because the frontal cortex functions much more healthily when it can be stimulated, and you get much greater ability to attend to tasks. Sometimes that approach can be disastrous. Sometimes false beliefs are operative in such a way that some CBT can help someone remove them without necessarily inputting anything differently-harmful. Sometimes ABA is what's needed when physical impulsivity is the driving force, and physical changes are needed to habituate different responses to certain stimuli or to control for sensory integration problems or high sensory input needs. Sometimes someone just needs to repent of wrong behavior, but sometimes it's tied up with some of these other things, and it's worth considering different methods for dealing with these problems in different cases. It doesn't seem to me that Powlison recognizes this.

[cross-posted at Evangel]

The 341st Christian Carnival is up at Thinking in Christ.

Matt Skene has a very thoughtful post on the intersection of issues related to rights and obligations and recent health care debates. I disagree with a number of Matt's assumptions. I think we do have positive obligations, and I do think they simply are there without our taking them on. I don't think rights determine obligations but the other way around. Perhaps most salient, I don't think we can distinguish between obligations and moral goodness. I think we simply have an obligation to do what's morally best (and yes, I know that that means that pretty much everyone on this planet is thoroughly immoral, but that's not exactly a new view; it's historic Christian doctrine).

But I think there's a lot worth thinking about in Matt's post. His general approach is libertarian. He starts with natural negative rights and argues for no positive rights. In other words, certain things are wrong to do to me, because I have a right for you not to do them, but I have no rights for you to do positively good things on my behalf, just for you not to do bad things to me. But such a view doesn't imply that there aren't moral reasons to do positive things on behalf of other people.

In particular, there are reasons why it might be the morally best thing to do to help those who are less fortunate to obtain good medical care. Matt doesn't think I have an obligation to alleviate the suffering of people I have no other connection with, but he does think it's morally good to do so. It's also self-interestedly good for me to develop the character traits that such acts help develop in me. He's open to, but not convinced by, the argument that it would be in our best interests to contract with one another to institute such obligations by common consent, as we do with building highways. It depends on whether we'd all be better off with it.

Matt suggests an interesting possibility, though. You can donate money to your utility company to offset the costs of low-income utility customers. Presumably this goes to heating assistance aid, which is given to recipients of food stamps once a year and paid directly to the utility company. I'm not sure how else the utility companies would know who counts as low-income. But if we did a similar thing with insurance companies, there might be enough money from those who, like progressives on this issue, think they have an obligation to pay for others' insurance and from some of those who, like Matt, think it's a morally good thing to do. Could that cover everything Medicaid and other public health insurance does? It's worth seeing how much it covers.

I tend to doubt it, since most people who think the government should tax us more to pay for benefits to low-income people are not inclined to give money when it's voluntary (consider our current president as a prime example), but maybe enough people who don't share such views will give the money voluntarily while resisting it when it's government-controlled (as, apparently, Dick Cheney does with a huge percentage of his income). But it's being done with utilities. Why not try it with health insurance and see where it goes? There might even be enough votes in Congress after the 2010 election.


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Joe Carter points to an interview with sociologist Rodney Stark (who is not a historian, despite often being called a historian of religion) that complains about the use of the word "mainline" in the expression "mainline Protestant denominations". This term usually refers to the more liberalizing denominations within each major Protestant grouping. So for Presbyterians, it means the PC-USA. For Methodists, it's the United Methodists. For Baptists, it's the American Baptists. For Lutherans, it's the similarly-ironically-named Evangelical Lutherans (who are much less evangelical than the Missouri Synod). Episcopals are usually seen as part of this group, and the United Church of Christ is also commonly included.

Stark's point, which Joe agrees with, is that these groups aren't really mainstream anymore. They're dying off. As they shed central and historic beliefs of Christianity, they become less mainstream within Christianity. I fully agree with that observation, but I think it's a mistake to complain about the use of the term "mainline".

What's going on here, as I see it, is that the term "mainline denominations" no longer functions as a description. It functions as a name. So in terms of the semantics of the expression, it doesn't really matter that it's ceased to be informative. It's like complaining that you park in driveways and drive on parkways. It's an interesting irony in the etymology of such terms, but it's not a problem with the language. Names often originate in circumstances that make their etymology seem ironically opposite to their current reference. The problem is not that anyone uses the term to refer to the groups it refers to. The problem is if they, in so doing, think they're using the name as a description rather than as a name.

It's wrong to think the mainline denominations are all that mainstream. I suppose it's true that they're closer in their ethical and theological outlook to secular America than the more evangelical congregations and denominations are, but there's enough counter-cultural Christianity present that large swathes of them are not mainstream in that sense. But they're not as mainstream Christianity as the more evangelical congregations and denominations are (and when I say "more evangelical" I mean it; it comes in degrees). Stark is right about that. But that doesn't make it illegitimate to continue to use the name for the group it's come to refer to any more than it's wrong to continue to use the name "Rhode Island" to refer to the entire state, even though it originally was only ever meant to refer to the island that constitutes Newport, Portsmouth, and Middletown. The name has come to refer to the entire state, and its inaccuracy as a description doesn't change the fact that it does refer to the whole state.

Christian Carnival CCCXL

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The 340th Christian Carnival is up at Jevlir Caravansary.

Attorney General

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from Wikipedia on Attorney general, commenting on one of my pet peeves:

Some people think the word "general" used in that way entitles the official to the honorific "general", but this is strictly only appropriate for military generals. The word "general" in "attorney general" is an adjective modifying "attorney". However, in the Supreme Court of the United States, the Attorney General of the United States and Solicitor General of the United States (for which office the same rule applies) are addressed as "General" by the Chief Justice. The plural of "attorney general" is "attorneys general." The history of the term dates back to Norman England when many of the French legal terms were imported into English common law. In French, the adjective often comes after the noun and so Attorney General meant General Attorney.

It's maddening that so many people insist on treating this as a rank like in the military, just because the word adjective "general is used". It makes no sense to address the U.S. Attorney General as General Holder, for example, given that he isn't being said to be a general of the U.S. attorneys but rather simply to be the U.S. attorney responsible for the government in general. You'd think the plural form "attorneys general" would signal to people that the word "general" is an adjective here.

But I think this is one of many cases where people are trying so hard to do something they see as correct but largely unrecognized that they end up being incorrect. (Another example would be those who use expressions like "Phil and I" as the object of a sentence after being told that you don't say "me and Phil", not realizing that it's only in a subject that you don't say "me and Phil" and that it's actually correct to say "me and Phil" in standard English.)

The 340th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Jevlir CaravansaryThe 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:

Justice Elena Kagan is now the junior-most justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor no longer has to get the coffee and answer the door when the justices are in conference. It occurs to me that an interesting dynamic will now be taking place on the Supreme Court. With Justice Stevens' retirement, Justice Scalia is now the senior-most associate justice. This means, for the first time since 1969, the Chief Justice and the senior-most associate justice tend to vote together more often than not. Indeed, the next in line is Justice Kennedy, usually seen as a swing vote on the current Court, and then Justice Thomas, who also often votes with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia. It isn't until Justice Ginsburg, who comes next, that you get someone who typically votes on the other end from the Chief Justice.

Does this dynamic have any ultimate significance? Not immediately, since each vote counts just once. But the senior-most justice in the majority determines who writes the majority opinion. Usually that will be the Chief Justice in cases divided along ideological lines when Justice Kennedy sides with the conservatives. It's usually been Justice Stevens in cases when Kennedy sides with the liberals. So who will do so now? Not Justice Ginsburg. She's the senior-most among the four clear liberals. But four votes does not make a majority. She'd need a fifth vote to get a majority in cases involving all the justices, which would be most of them. That fifth vote will either be Justice Alito, who comes after her, or someone ahead of her in seniority, most often probably Justice Kennedy. In the 5-4 cases where Kennedy sides with the liberals, it will be Kennedy himself who determines who gets to write the majority opinion.

Before Justice Stevens' retirement, Justice Kennedy had a lot of power in ideologically-divided cases along the more typical lines. There are plenty of cases that don't go along such lines, but a good deal of the hot-button issues people who aren't serious court-watchers pay attention to involve 5-4 splits with Kennedy joining either the liberals or the conservatives. His power has come in being able to determine which side in such cases will win, sometimes using it to side partly with either side. But now he'll even get to decide who writes the opinion, and that gives him further power. Sometimes who writes the opinion affects quite a lot. It might affect which justices sign on to how much of the opinion, which doesn't usually affect the result but does often affect how much of the opinion becomes precedent for further cases and how broad a scope the opinion will be to affect other cases.

Sometimes it's in the best interests of ideological achievement of a majority to have the most moderate member of the coalition write the opinion. When Justice Breyer or Justice Ginsburg joins the conservatives, Chief Justice Roberts often will assign them the opinion, and he did the same with Justices Souter and Stevens. Justice Scalia has written several opinions when he's joined the liberals, and that would have been Justice Stevens' decision. But Justice Kennedy loves to write the hot-button opinions himself, so maybe he won't use this ability as fully as he could. Nonetheless, the justice who I happen to think is the most judicially-activist has been the most powerful member of the Supreme Court since Justice O'Connor retired, and now he's gained an ability that increases that power.



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395 Jun 29 INSPIKS
396 July 6 Fish and Cans
397 July 13 Beyond Belief
399 July 27 Jevlir Caravansary
400 Aug 3 Parableman
402 Aug 17 The Bible Archive
403 Aug 24 INSPIKS
404 Aug 31 MandM
406 Sept 14 Beyond Belief
407 Sept 21 Possible Worlds
408 Sept 28 All Things New
410 Oct 12 Fish and Cans
411 Oct 19 who am i?
413 Nov 2 Codex
414 Nov 9 Ichthus77
415 Nov 16 Jevlir Caravansary
416 Nov 23 INSPIKS
419 Dec 14 Beyond Belief

423 Jan 11 Ichthus77
424 Jan 18 Fish and Cans
425 Jan 25 Possible Worlds
426 Feb 1 All Things New
428 Feb 15 Codex
429 Feb 22 who am i?
432 Mar 14 Jevlir Caravansary
433 Mar 21 The Bible Archive
434 Mar 28 MandM
436 Apr 11 Beyond Belief
439 May 2 INSPIKS
441 May 16 Ichthus77
442 May 23 Fish and Cans
443 May 30 Possible Worlds
445 June 13 Codex
446 June 20 who am i?
449 July 11 MandM
450 July 18 INSPIKS

Direct discourse reports what someone said with an exact quote. Biblical authors almost always never intend exact quotation. They use indirect discourse, reporting the basic content of what's said rather than the actual words used. When the biblical author is reporting in translation (as most of the gospel accounts do), this is even a translation of a summary of the actual words.

There's a common way of reporting indirect discourse by summary in the Hebrew scriptures that the ESV handles by expressions like "thus and so". It usually occurs to avoid repetition. Biblical Hebrew often reiterates something very closely for emphasis or for structural reasons. Sometimes it does so to show that a prophecy or command is being fulfilled exactly as given. But sometimes the author sees no need to repeat everything again. So you'll see these cases where someone will be told something who then reports it to someone else, and the second occurrence is something like, "and he told me thus and so". I noticed an interesting occurrence where that may be going on, but it may be something else.

1 Then Elisha the prophet called one of the sons of the prophets and said to him, "Tie up your garments, and take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth-gilead. 2 And when you arrive, look there for Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi. And go in and have him rise from among his fellows, and lead him to an inner chamber. 3 Then take the flask of oil and pour it on his head and say, 'Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel.' Then open the door and flee; do not linger."

4 So the young man, the servant of the prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead. 5 And when he came, behold, the commanders of the army were in council. And he said, "I have a word for you, O commander." And Jehu said, "To which of us all?" And he said, "To you, O commander." 6 So he arose and went into the house. And the young man poured the oil on his head, saying to him, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel. 7 And you shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord. 8 For the whole house of Ahab shall perish, and I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. 9 And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. 10 And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her." Then he opened the door and fled.

11 When Jehu came out to the servants of his master, they said to him, "Is all well? Why did this mad fellow come to you?" And he said to them, "You know the fellow and his talk." 12 And they said, "That is not true; tell us now." And he said, "Thus and so he spoke to me, saying, 'Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel.'" 13 Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, "Jehu is king."[II Kings 9:1-13, ESV]

In verse 12, Jehu uses an expression that for all I can tell can be an instance of the above phenomenon. The author may simply be saving us some time by not reiterating everything the prophet had told Jehu, and the sense is that Jehu explained it all to them but that we're not going to have to hear it all explicitly. So when he says, "Thus and so he spoke to me" it means he actually told them the prophet's words or summarized them more fully than we see, but we only get "Thus says the Lord, I anoint you king over Israel". We're getting discourse within discourse. The author is reporting what Jehu says, and Jehu is reporting what the prophet had said, and it's possible the "thus and so" is an abbreviation of what Jehu says.

On the other hand, it seems just as possible to me (and perhaps the Hebrew precludes either option, but I don't know enough to know about that) that the "thus and so" is intended more like a direct quote from Jehu, and he is using it himself to abbreviate what the prophet said. Jehu has already shown his reluctance to tell his army buddies what went on, so it wouldn't be surprising for him to brush off their question by a quick summary, giving them the basic point that he's now been anointed king but leaving aside his responsibility to eliminate Ahab's house and the specific details of what will happen to Jezebel.

So if this expression is functioning the way I think it's functioning, then there's no semantic reason to prefer seeing it as Jehu's abbreviation of what the prophet said in order to brush off their question or the author's abbreviation of what Jehu said in order to spare us the repetition. There may be contextual clues that make one more likely, but it seems to me to be a semantic ambiguity that stems from the particular way this expression functions, and the Hebrew language (as far as I know) lacks a modifier to tell us whether direct or indirect discourse is going on, and so we can't (again, as far as I know) be sure just from the grammar which is intended. It does slightly affect the interpretation of the passage, since it may be another instance of Jehu's reluctance to embrace the kingship and/or his mission to eliminate Omri's dynasty, or it may just be an instance of the narrator sparing us a speech that repeats what we'd just heard.

If anyone who knows Hebrew has any information that helps here, I'd love to hear it.

The 339th Christian Carnival is up at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet.

I received a forwarded email about the various ways Obama is increasing taxes on all the people he said he wouldn't raise taxes on, and I'm curious if someone who actually knows something about the details of this stuff could confirm or refute any of it. Some of this is from not getting the Bush tax cuts renewed, but some of it is just plain new taxes, even on some things never taxed before.

According to the email, the inheritance tax, called by its opponents the death tax (which I think is an apt name, because you're basically being taxed for dying and ceding your money to your heirs) is returning in full force. I pretty much knew that already. I didn't know any of the other things (assuming they're true).

I'm not surprised to see the top tax rate increasing from 35% to almost 40%. But increasing the lowest rate from 10% to 15%? Surely there are people who make less than $200,000 a year who are in the lowest tax bracket. In fact, many people in the lowest tax bracket struggle to make ends meet and now are being expected to carry even more of the load, something that goes against the tax philosophy of both the Republican and Democratic parties. If the current president and congressional leadership are behind tax increases for the poor, then it's almost fair to say that Obama and company are inviting the tea party to unseat the Democratic congressional leadership, even aside from his campaign promises not to raise taxes for anyone earning under $200,000 and their repeated insistence that the stimulus package could be paid for without increasing taxes.

Another item is that the so-called marriage penalty is returning. You basically pay higher taxes for being married, in effect, at least if certain conditions are also true, since there are a couple things that in some cases counterbalance the marriage penalty (e.g. if only one spouse receive income, the spouse with no income significantly lowers the taxes of the working spouse, but the conditions where the marriage penalty increases the taxes of a couple are common enough, as I understand it).

The child tax credit is being halved.

Dependent care and adoption tax credits are being removed.

Tax-free accounts for medical care or special needs children will be removed or significantly diminished. The special needs trusts we're planning to get for the boys will be capped off at $2500. According to the email I received, this will be especially cruel and onerous for parents of special needs children. We're in fact pursuing getting accounts for the boys so we can earmark tax-free money that won't count against them for qualifying for SSI.

The alternative minimum tax is expected to kick in for 28 million families next year instead of the 4 million who had to pay it last year. These are people who didn't make enough money to pay any taxes last year. In other words, it's a tax on the poor. I've seen bi-partisan complaints about this tax, insisting that it simply be removed, and yet somehow they've snuck in provisions to expand it sevenfold?

There are lots of tax hikes and removal of tax breaks on small businesses, not the big business Obama keeps saying he wants to "get" (all the while secretly giving them a lot of what they want).

Education deductions from tuition and fees will be removed, and student loan interest deductions are being cut.

You will no longer be able to pay money from and IRA to a charity and have it be a tax deduction.

Health insurance benefits paid by an employer are going to count as income and be taxable. This will be enough to bring many people up a tax bracket, but it will increase the gross income significantly even if it doesn't.

Now this is a forwarded email, so it's almost certain that not everything in it is correct, but I'm curious exactly which things are and which aren't and if I'm interpreting them correctly. I didn't expect he would even have a remote chance of keeping his campaign promises on taxes, and I never thought he intended to anyway, but this goes significantly beyond what I expected. If this is all correct, then President Obama is just asking for people who voted for him to complain that he betrayed them. His chances at another term would be nearly zero if the 2012 election were going to be in April instead of November. This may not turn out to affect the 2010 elections as much, since they conveniently delayed the effect until 2011 for most of these changes.

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I anoint you king over the people of the Lord, over Israel. And you shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the Lord. For the whole house of Ahab shall perish, and I will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. And I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her. [ESV, II Kings 9:6b-8]
These are the words of an unnamed prophet to Jehu, the first king in the last dynasty of the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophet instructs Jehu to supplant Ahab's heir and kill of the remaining heirs. Every male of Ahab's house will perish. This isn't just a command. It's a prediction.

The only problem is that Ahab's daughter Athaliah was married to King Jehoram of Judah, and Jehoram's son Ahaziah was also killed off in Jehu's purge as a descendant of Ahab. In fact, all of Jehoram and Ahaziah's children were killed, except Jehoash, who would eventually become the next king of Judah, thus preserving the line of David. But isn't Jehoash a male descendant of Ahab? Do we actually have conflicting prophecies here, one confirming the Davidic dynasty in perpetuity and the other confirming the dying out of Ahab's dynasty? If so, then there's no way they could both be fulfilled, but even one false prophecy disqualifies a prophet. The author of Kings seems to treat this prophecy as fulfilled, however. So what's going on?

It doesn't do to treat the text's author as a bunch of unrelated, ignorant buffoons who edit a text without allowing for quality control enough for the text to be consistent with some of the driving ideology purposes of the very book itself, which would include the 100% reliability of prophecy from genuine prophets. I haven't seen anyone do that in this case, though. (Not to say that I've never seen biblical prophets make that kind of mistake. They often do. I just didn't see anyone doing it here.) Surprisingly, I couldn't find any commentary that raises this issue at all. I looked at several. Someone whose work I didn't look at might have raised it, or maybe one of the commentaries I looked at raises it in a different place (there are other prophecies about this transfer of power and references back to it later on). But it apparently never occurred to any of them that there might be some issue with a prophecy here that seems to conflict with a different one (and indeed seems not to have been fulfilled if taken the way I took it above).

So what might the author or final editors of this text have taken this text to mean if they obviously did think it fulfilled? If Ahab's line was preserved in the very line of David that was prophesied to go on perpetually (and on the Christian view leads to Jesus Christ as great David's greater son), then the prophecy must not mean "every male descendant of Ahab". This expression is literally something like "everyone of Ahab who urinates on the wall", and it's possible but unlikely that it means something else besides "every male of Ahab". Nonetheless, I find those proposals much less likely than just the males of his household. But that's the key, I suspect. Perhaps the males descended from Ahab aren't included among the males of his household that this passage refers to. So Jehoash would then not have been part of the intended end to Ahab's house, since he's not actually of Ahab's house but David's.

So it turns out this isn't that difficult question. It just surprises me that no one whose work I looked at on this verse had even raised it.


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