Jeremy Pierce: October 2007 Archives

Christian Carnival CXCVI

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The 196th Christian Carnival is up at Participatory Bible Study Blog.

Consider the city of refuge law in Deuteronomy 19:

Here is the law concerning a case of someone who kills a person and flees there to save his life, having killed his neighbor accidentally without previously hating him: If he goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut timber, and his hand swings the ax to chop down a tree, but the blade flies off the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies, that person may flee to one of these cities and live. Otherwise, the avenger of blood in the heat of his anger might pursue the one who committed manslaughter, overtake him because the distance is great, and strike him dead. yet he did not deserve to die, since he did not previously hate his neighbor. [Deuteronomy 19:4-6, HCSB]

Compare Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to our ancestorys, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who says to his brother, 'Fool!' will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, 'You moron!' will be subject to hellfire. [Matthew 6:21-22, HCSB]

Jesus' sequence of "You've heard that it is said" statements and their corresponding "But I say" statements are sometimes taken to be revisions of the Torah or at least revelations of the hidden meaning behind the Torah, which readers couldn't have seen very easily without his aid. Not so. When he refers to the spirit of the law, he doesn't mean just some hard-to-see intent. He means the basic fundamental principles that undergird the specific teachings, and these are usually explicitly taught clearly within the Torah, some of them over and over again.

I just noticed this particular statement yesterday, but it's pretty clear in the Deuteronomy passage that the difference between the murderer and the manslaughterer is that the murderer hates their neighbor. The reason the manslaughterer doesn't deserve death (and by implication the reason the murderer does) is that the manslaughterer doesn't hate (and the murderer does). So it's actually hate, in Deuteronomy 19, deserves death. When Jesus says that anyone who hates deserves hellfire and judgment, he's not going deeper than the Torah's own criterion, which is the heart attitude. There are probably lots of cases of this kind of thing, but this particular one struck me yesterday when reading Deuteronomy 19. I don't think I'd ever noticed it before.

Update

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Since I'm expecting to be done with my dissertation by summer, I've been applying for academic jobs, and deadlines are mostly between this week and early December, with most of them in the middle two weeks of November. I've been spending about half the day each day getting materials together, revising my writing sample, rewriting my writing sample (long parts new from scratch), writing cover letters, figuring out which jobs have the earliest deadlines, and packaging materials for the earliest deadlines. I've gotten so far behind on grading because of this that, even though the job stuff should slow down a little bit now, I've got a pile of papers to grade and will be getting a pile of exams in a few more days.

So I don't expect to be doing a lot of in-depth blogging in the next week or so, although I do hope to have a couple posts of content besides just linking to interesting stuff elsewhere. We'll see. The post I wanted to write today will have to wait until tomorrow.

Oh, and I have no idea where my sidebar is hiding. It disappeared when I updated a couple books last night, and I can't find any problems in the code.

[Supplement 11:36 pm: I managed to fix the sidebar problem by reducing it to nothing and gradually adding each component back in. I used to have to do that when the MTAmazon code used to act up all the time. It hasn't done that in quite a while, but it never had this effect anyway. All it did was stop some of the books from displaying or occasionally all the books from a certain point down. This wiped out the whole sidebar. Anyway, I have no idea what the problem was, because the code I removed was as far as I can tell exactly the same as the code I replaced it with.]

The 196th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Participatory Bible Study Blog. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

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

I'm trying to figure out if aboriginal Australians count as black. I'm not asking if Australians call them black. Australians call people from India black. Aborigines are actually more closely related to Asians than they are to Africans, so even though some Australians, including other aborigines, are happy to use the word 'black' to refer to them, it doesn't tell us if aborigines are black in terms of what Americans mean by the term. I want to know if the word 'black' as it is used in the United States (or perhaps Canada, the U.K., or other places) includes aboriginal Australians among the group it refers to. (In case it turns out that people from different geographical locations would respond differently, it would be nice to know where you're from if you're going to leave a comment.)

Clearly Black Person

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In response to a question a couple days ago about whether he expects to be Swift-Boated, presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama said the following:
I have no doubt there will be some of that — trying to make me into this foreign, odd, clearly black person and to scare people," he said. "When people try to Swift Boat you, you have to respond forcefully, you have to respond immediately and you have to respond truthfully. ... We are prepared for whatever they will throw at us.
I know what I think he means by "clearly black person", and I know what I think he's trying to say. I'm curious what other people think, though. Can you paraphrase what you think he's saying? I'm not so interested at this point in whether this is accurate, appropriate, insulting, or offensive. (If what he's saying is what I think he's saying, it's possible that it's all four.) I'm simply curious what people think he means. What exactly was he trying to say?

A colleague of mine where I teach is sort of a stickler for assigning grades according to the traditional but now completely obsolete approach whereby a C is average. He seeks to have the median student in the class earning grades in the C range, with an equal number of people in the D range as in the B range and as many failing as earning an A. His argument is that this is what these grades have always meant, and grade inflation is a violation of the meaning of the grades.

It struck me today that this argument is very similar to the argument language conservatives give against gender-inclusive language. The English language has changed since the time the ordinary English speaker could hear a sentence like "Surely every moral man must be appalled at the judicial execution of the innocent or at the punishment, torture, and killing of the innocent" and not wonder what the author thinks about moral women and children. (The sentence is from Kai Nielsen's "Against Moral Conservatism" from Ethics 82 (1972), which my students had to read this week.) Gone are the days when a sentence like that could make it into publication in a top philosophy journal.

So too have the standards changed when it comes to what letter grades mean. A grade of a C just doesn't indicate merely satisfactory anymore. Students know this. Most faculty know this. You can pound your fists and complain about this sorry state of affairs, and maybe you're right that it's regrettable (although I see no reason why we should have to stick with any particular arbitrary assignment of letters to standards). What I don't think will ultimately pass muster is sticking to your guns and giving people grades in a way that's wholly inconsistent with what the standards in fact are by basing it on some system of giving grades that hardly anyone follows anymore. Doing so means you're not giving people the grades you think you're giving them. This is why I can't in good conscience follow my colleague's policy.

This is not to say that college students today are as competent as in the past, which may well not be the case. It doesn't mean the work that now counts as satisfactory is what should count as satisfactory. Those are completely separate issues. All I'm saying is that the meaning of the letter grades has changed in a way that those who hold onto the traditianal system of assigning grades have been resisting to the point where the grades they assign are dishonest, even if not deliberately so. Grade inflation may be a problem in other ways, but one element of grade inflation is simply a fact, and resisting it in the way my colleague does seems to me to count as academic dishonesty.

Christian Carnival CXCV

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The 195th Christian Carnival is up at Everyday Liturgy.

It's often said that making abortion illegal won't reduce abortion much because people will be driven to underground abortions, which are less safe and thus cause more damage than legal abortions because they also affect women's health. Suppose this is right (and suppose it didn't contradict the complaint you hear sometimes from pro-choice activists that making abortion illegal will prevent people from exercising what they think is a sacred and fundamental right to kill their fetuses). Does it follow that abortion should remain legal?

Ryan Anderson argues that it doesn't follow [hat tip: Mark Olson], and I think he's right. The argument assumes consequentialism, for one thing, or at least that any non-consequentialist goods will be irrelevant in this issue, and I don't think that's true. The pursuit of justice and punishment of those who are seriously unjust is an important enough consideration that I think the government is violating one of its most basic moral duties if it doesn't have laws against killing fetuses, and that's true even if the consequences of illegal abortion are worse than the consequences of legal abortions.

But Anderson also points out some problems with the assumption. If Roe is ever overturned, and states enact different laws on abortion, you might find underground abortions in states where abortion is illegal, but underground abortions aren't going to be a matter of course in states where abortion is illegal if it's not that hard to go across the border and get a legal abortion. It may have an effect on people without the resources to get somewhere, but those aren't the people who could pay for an underground abortion either. Also, I don't see why it should be considered an injustice against the poor simply because other people can get away with evil when they can't; it's not fair, but I wouldn't say an injustice is committed against me if I'm not allowed to rape someone when someone else is. Remember that this is supposed to be an argument to convince pro-lifers to prefer to keep abortion legal, so we have to assume, even if just for the sake of argument, that pro-lifers are correct in seeing abortion as immoral.

One other things is noteworthy about his response. He notes an eerie parallel with the kind of reasoning used by the defenders of slavery against abolition. They argued, on consequence-based grounds, that releasing slaves would be bad for the slaves. But this seems to be one case where it's very clear that there's a moral obligation to release them (and for those who put them in this position to expend a lot of resources ensuring that the consequences for them wouldn't be bad, although I don't see any parallel here unless the abortion industry can figure out how to resurrect dead fetuses). Isn't the same true with abortion, if the pro-lifer is correct that abortion is immoral?

In case you haven't heard, J.K. Rowling was asked last week if Albus Dumbledore ever experienced romantic love, and Rowling revealed something that never appeared in the books: she'd always thought of Dumbldore as gay. This revelation makes sense of something in the last book that was a little puzzling otherwise, but I won't get into it in case anyone hasn't read the book and wants to get into it spoiler-free. I wish I had the time to write up my thoughts on this, but I'm glad someone has saved me the trouble. Travis at Sword of Gryffindor has already written up most of what I'd want to say:

See also the two comments linked to at the top of his post, in the update. If you haven't read the final book of the series, beware of spoilers in any of this.

 

The 195th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Everyday Liturgy. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals

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

Christian Carnival CXCIV

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The 194th Christian Carnival is up, at long last. John had a significant computer problem that prevented him from getting it online, but it's finally up.

Paul Kengor, author of God and Hillary Clinton: A Spiritual Life, has been defending the senator's faith as genuine in a way that he has done with other presidents whose spirituality has been questioned. His portrayal of her, from what I can tell, is as if she's like evangelicals in a lot of ways. So it's revealing when he would say the following:

I don’t know of any politician who is more uncompromising and extreme on abortion rights than Hillary Clinton. I know this well and don’t state it with anger or hyperbole. Her extremism on abortion rights was the single most shocking, inexplicable find in my research on her faith and politics. I couldn’t understand it. No question. It is truly extraordinary. Nothing, no political issue, impassions her like abortion rights. For Mrs. Clinton, abortion-rights is sacred ground.

By the way, speaking of Catholics, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II saw this abortion extremism in Hillary, and both confronted her on it repeatedly, especially Mother Teresa, right up until the day she died. I have a chapter on this in the book. It’s a gripping story. [hat tip: Justin Taylor]

A lot of people like to describe Hillary Clinton as an opportunist who will say anything to get votes, as having no principles whatsoever except whatever she thinks popular opinion will go along with. I suppose that's possible on some issues, perhaps even some important ones, but it's surely not true with abortion. She's got a very committed view, and if Paul Kengor, who thinks she sounds like most evangelicals when she talks about her faith, can say this about her, then I think it's got to be a pretty deep-seated conviction of hers. But it does undermine any sense in which she could sound remotely like an evangelical, at least on this key issue for many evangelicals.

It's hard to resist comparing Rudy Giuliani, who simply doesn't care about the issue enough to do much either way (as evidenced by his de facto inactivity on the issue as mayor) or to bother having a coherent view (as evidenced by his difficult-to-reconcile statements throughout this campaign). Those who think those two are equivalent on this issue don't seem to me to understand this crucial difference.

A colleague who shares an office with me presented the following argument today (I can't remember where he said he got it from, but I'll try to ask him when I see him next Tuesday so I can give credit to the source):

1. If a complete stranger tells a woman to have sex with him or she'll never see her children again, she should have sex with him (and there's very good reason to believe he's telling the truth), because her children should be more important to her than her preferences about who she has sex with.
2. The issues involved with her decision are parallel to the issues involved in cases of rape and cases of a divorced parent preventing the other parent from seeing their children.
3. Therefore, preventing a parent from seeing their children is worse than raping someone.

Now some people might not accept premise 1. But assume premise 1 is true. I don't think you should have to deny premise 1 to get out of this argument. But the trick is identifying precisely where the argument goes wrong. Its conclusion is certain to be very unpopular. Rape is commonly viewed as one of the most despicable things anyone could do, and we never say anything remotely as bad about a woman who gains custody after divorcing her husband and preventing him from ever seeing his kids. But according to this argument, rape is not as bad as preventing him from seeing his kids. So where does the argument go wrong? Or is it actually true that, as bad as rape is, it's actually worse to rob a parent of access to their kids?

Update 10-23-07 1:17pm: The argument came from someone named David Thomas (not the founder of Wendy's, from a book called Not Guilty: The Case in Defense of Men). Second, I think I was overstating the conclusion a bit. It's not a comparison of the moral badness of the two actions. He was just trying to argue that we should care as much about men being kept from their children as we do about rape, and the fact is that we don't. Third, the cases he has in mind are not custody cases where men aren't granted visitation rights. He's thinking of the many cases when men are given visitation rights legally, but the police and courts won't enforce them, and the men never see their kids.

X-Cons

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I don't normally like to link to things if I have nothing to add or critique, but Joe Carter's post on Generation X conservatives and how they differ from conservatives of the previous generation has a lot of interesting analysis on an issue I've never seen anyone write much about before.

Like Father, Like Daughter

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From a conversation yesterday:

Me: Sophia, do you want to go back downstairs and watch your new Veggie Tales video?
Sophia: Daddy, it looks like a DVD!

If I had any doubts about her biological parentage, I think this would go a long way toward overcoming them.

New Holy Observer

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The latest issue of The Holy Observer is now online. This may well be the first time it's had a church sign based on a real one. I thought this version was better than the real one, though.

The 194th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Brain Cramps for God. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

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

Commentaries on Samuel

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This is part of a larger project reviewing commentaries on each book of the Bible. Follow the links from that post for more information on the series, including explanations of what I mean by some of the terms and abbreviations in this post.

I don't usually give NIVAC volumes pride of place, but Bill Arnold's (2003) really is my favorite commentary on Samuel. He has a great sense of the narrative flow of the book, and he gives arguments for his conclusions, something not all the authors of this series do as well as he does.

The series' strength, when it's done well, is to present the original meaning of the passage, often giving it the length a brief, popular-level commentary will usually give, followed by two further sections. Bridging Contexts looks at the theological, existential, and moral principles behind the text in its original setting in order to abstract away from that setting, which allows the author to move to Contemporary Application to apply those principles in our day. Some authors in this series do not make good use of the format, using the different sections to talk about whatever they feel like but without ever using the format the way it was intended. Others are not careful in their abstracting from the original text or not very thoughtful in how to apply the text.

Arnold is among the best writers I've read for this series so far. (Karen Jobes, who did Esther, and Craig Keener, who did Revelation, are in the same league. Craig Blomberg's I Corinthians would have been if his hadn't been one of the earliest volumes and thus not allowed as much room as the series tended to allow as it went on.) Arnold has a great sense for the narrative flow of the text, and his theological and moral reflections strike me as honest, careful, insightful, and aware of scholarship in not just theology but also ethics, which several authors in the series lack. In other words, he isn't just a linguist or historian, as many biblical scholars are.

I particularly liked his treatment of the problem of lying and the problem of war in Samuel. He raises questions many commentators ignore, and he doesn't try to get around the text but simply faces it. He brings in background work by theologians who have engaged with a larger philosophical tradition on these ethical and theological issues. Several commentators on this book disappointed me greatly in how easily they would avoid what the text says in certain places just so their favored ethical theory might come out true, which strikes me as just eisegesis.

I'd like to make a prediction. If Hillary Clinton becomes the next president of the U.S., I expect we're going to see a parallel to Bush Derangement Syndrome: Hillary Derangement Syndrome. (I'd call it Clinton Derangement Syndrome, except that's ambiguous.)

Anything that's bad will be attributed to her, whether she's responsible or not. Anything she says will be treated as uncharitably as possible, no matter how out-of-context it has to be taken. The consequences of her policies will be greatly exaggerated, and any other contributing factors to bad outcomes will be ignored. And what's worst about this is that the people who will be doing it will be mainly evangelical Christians.

I don't think we've ever seen a phenomenon quite like this until the current president. A lot of people who didn't like Bill Clinton said lots of nasty things about him, especially evangelical Christians who should have obeyed the Bible a little more carefully with regard to respecting those in governmental leadership under God. But I don't think it was anything like the kind of irrationality I've seen over the current president. Nonetheless, I think the standard has been set, and these things tend to cross party lines once control shifts to the other party. I would be very surprised if we don't see many of those who have been so upset at Bush Derangement Syndrome doing exactly the same thing with President Hillary Clinton, if it turns out she ends up holding that position.

James Dobson and other social conservatives have been defending the view that they should vote for a third-party candidate or not vote if the two major party candidates for president are Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. I've been arguing over the course of the last several months (e.g. here, here, here, and here) that this argument assumes the ridiculous premise that a Hillary Clinton presidency is not morally worse on social conservative assumptions than a Giuliani presidency. I thought that point should make a nice reductio ad absurdum argument against Dobson, since it would lead to him accepting a ridiculous claim about the relative value of Giuliani and Clinton presidencies according to pro-life principles.

Keith DeRose left a link in the comments on one of those posts to a post containing video from Dobson's recent appearance on Hannity and Colmes. At the very end of the video, Dobson surprisingly bites the bullet on this. He actually goes as far as claiming that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be far better than a Rudy Giuliani presidency, on socially-conservative, pro-life principles. I guess this is the way things go, then. When there's very little you can say to defend an outrageous view, all that's left is to deny an obvious premise of the argument. Dobson has chosen to take that path.

His claim is that the pro-life movement and social conservatism in general would be ended in this country if the party that has traditionally given the time of day to social conservatism were to nominate a candidate who is not sufficiently pro-life. His claim is that he's got longer-term considerations in mind than those who argue that a Giuliani presidency would be at least enough better than a Hillary Clinton presidency on these issues to be worth trying to elect him over her.

I'm not remotely convinced. Parties often nominate outliers in terms of their views with respect to the party's traditional views. Sometimes those candidates win in the general election. Sometimes those views become the dominant view of the party, as happened when Ronald Reagan transformed the Republican party away from what it had been in the Nixon and Ford years. Most of the time oddball views that are idiosyncratic to a president do not end the party's dominant view on that issue, as is very clearly evidenced by conservatives' responses to President Bush's views on immigration and his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court on grounds that did not convince judicial conservatives of her qualifications. On those matters, he is an outlier in the party. Had John McCain become president in 2000, his views on campaign fincance would surely have had same status, with conservatives largely rejecting them.

So I'm just not convinced that having four or eight years of a moderate pro-choicer in office representing the GOP means the GOP ceases to be a pro-life party or that it means the pro-life movement is dead. That just doesn't follow. Strong activism will continue even if the president's own party will be going against the president, as it has with this president on a number of occasions. So I wouldn't see why it should be a problem for a pro-life social conservative to vote for pro-choicers like Giuliani or Fred Thompson against Hillary Clinton if they were to get the nomination, because I think the differences between them and her are significant even on these issues (never mind on all the others).

Update: Justin Taylor has a nice discussion of this issue that I was going to link to at some point but forgot to as I was writing this. 

Christian Carnival CXCIII

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A few years ago I wrote about the rare occasions when it's legitimate to represent your opponents unfairly, using a passage from Isaiah as an illustration. I thought of a similar issue yesterday in reading the first chapter of Deuteronomy. In the early chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses recounts the events of Exodus through Numbers once again to the Israelites on the eve of their entrance into the promised land. But there are differences, just as there are with the different reports of Jesus' life in the four gospels, the different accounts of the history of the kings of Israel and Judah in Samuel-Kings and Chronicles (as weel as the occasional narratives in the prophets), and the three different accounts of Paul's conversion in Acts.

It's one thing to reorder the events so they aren't chronological but thematic. The order of contact with the nations east of the promised land is different. In the latter chapters of Numbers it looks chronological, and in Deuteronomy 2-3 the nations Israel actually fought end up at the end to be treated together, whereas they probably weren't encountered in that order. But you might argue that anyone aware of the geography would know that this wasn't ordered chronologically or geographically.

But what about the spy report in Deuteronomy 1? It leaves out some important information that Numbers is very up-front about. It's the sort of thing that we might call selective reporting in our day. If you just read Deuteronomy, you'd get the sense that the spies came back with an entirely positive report. All it says is that the spies reported the land to be good and full of good fruit. There's nothing in the report about their being scared of giants or unwilling to go into the land. The only mention of that comes later, when Moses recounts the people's opposition.

Now I think there are some good reasons (which would take too long to list here) for thinking that Deuteronomy's narrative assumes the background knowledge someone who has read Numbers would know. So I'm not inclined to accept that it's all that plausible that a contrary ideology is behind Deuteronomy. Besides, there isn't a huge theological difference between recognizing a bad spy report (representing the majority of the tribes with one person per tribe) and recognizing a bad response from the people as a whole. So I don't accept a source-critical solution to this problem (which I'm not sure would be a solution anyway).

Here's what I propose is going on. I do think there's a theological reason for Moses' reporting things differently in Deuteronomy 1. In Numbers, the concern is largely getting down what happened in order. But in Deuteronomy, Moses is giving a speech to the people on the eve of their entrance to the land. Moses' overall point is that the good report is all they needed, and the false report (not given here as a report by the spies but given in Numbers as exactly that) is irrelevant. Moses' leaving it out in this speech would be glaringly obvious to the Israelites, who had just spent 40 years wandering around because their parents and grandparents had heeded that report.

Ben Witherington had a good review a while back of Tolkien's The Children of Hurin. For those who are completely out of the loop, this is an unfinished novel of J.R.R. Tolkien, parts of which appeared in The Silmarillion. Christopher Tolkien, who edited the last volume, turned what existed of the bulk of this novel into a real story. Apparently it's much easier to read than most of the posthumous publications of Tolkien that Christopher Tolkien has edited, but it's not all that much like the more widely-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
 
The 193rd Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Lingamish. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals.

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

Closed-Minded

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I've decided to begin a running feature on things I discover in students' submitted work that annoy me or amuse me. Usually these will be pet peeves. Sometimes they will just be odd expressions or statements. I'll begin with one that I see very regularly, and it's not just in student papers but all over the internet. It's the expression "close-minded".

It amazes me how common this is, but it doesn't make sense. No one is saying that your mind is close to something, which is what "close-minded" suggests. Even if your mind is a material object (which it isn't), this isn't about having your mind physically close to anything. What people mean is that someone is closed-minded, i.e. their mind is closed. Somehow the 'd' has become elided in how we pronounce it, and people who don't read have spelled it the way they hear it. It has become so common a way of spelling the term that there are more Google searches for "close-minded" than there are for "closed-minded".

Dictionaries do unfortunately include both, and I'm not trying to say that this is incorrect. I think it's reached a point where I can't confidently say that. But it is nevertheless stupid and annoying that it's gotten to that point. The question is whether I can justify correcting it on students' paper.

Here's one suggestion. One of the things a college course involving academic writing should teach is how not to come across as ignorant or as a non-reader. If enough people will conclude that upon seeing someone write "close-minded", then it might be worth correcting for the sake of how viewers of the writing of the student in question will see it. But I think that argument might apply to things I don't think I should correct (e.g. the singular "they", which I eagerly encourage).

There's a debate going on about whether conservatives who refuse to vote for Rudy Giuliani to prevent a Hillary Clinton president are responsible if, because of that refusal, Hillary Clinton becomes president. I would have thought that the answer to this question is an obvious yes. But Joe Carter presents a contrary argument. His argument is basically as follows:

1. Only those who positively vote for someone could be responsible for that person winning.
2. People not voting or voting for a third-party candidate are not positively voting for Hillary Clinton.
3. Therefore, people not voting or voting for a third-party candidate could not be responsible if Hillary Clinton wins.

The first premise is flatly false. If a large enough voting bloc en masse decides not to prevent someone they see as the worse of two evils from being elected, and their influence prevents the lesser of two evils from being elected, then they are indeed responsible for the election of the worse of two evils. They might argue that it's still wrong to vote for the lesser of two evils. They might insist that being responsible for the worse of two evils winning is ok, since it would require doing something they believe to be immoral to achieve a different outcome. But the one position that Jop does actually say is just plain untenable.

Here is, according to the hypothetical, a group who could put Giuliani over the top to win, but because they didn't vote or voted for a third candidate Hillary Clinton wins. In that hypothetical, their not voting or voting third-party does indeed cause the Clinton victory. They are indeed responsible as a group, because the group did have the power to prevent that outcome and didn't use it.

Now it seems the rest of Joe's post is dedicated to defending the following claim. The people really to blame are GOP primary voters who put people like him in a position where both parties have candidates he won't vote for. If they had voted differently in the primary, then that wouldn't happen. Joe is correct, but that doesn't mean that the subsequent act of social conservatives to refuse to do what's now in their power to prevent a Hillary Clinton presidency is free from the same moral evaluation. Just because someone puts you in a tough position doesn't mean you don't have to do what's right in that tough position. You still have to make a moral choice, and you are responsible for your choice and its foreseeable consequences.

In a long post about a lot of unrelated things, Joe Carter includes a quote from Peter van Inwagen's God, Knowledge, & Mystery about philosophers and theologians in terms of citing authorities:

One advantage philosophers bring to theology is that they know too much about philosophy to be overly impressed by the fact that a particular philosopher has said this or that. Philosophers of the present day know what Thomas Aquinas and Professor Bultmann did not know: that no philosopher is an authority. Philosophers know that if you want to pronounce on, say, the project of natural theology, you cannot simply appeal to what Kant has established about natural theology. You cannot do this for the very good reason that Kant has established nothing about natural theology. Kant has only offered arguments, and the cogency of these arguments can be (and is daily) disputed.

It's been a long time since I read that book, and I don't remember this quote. It was at the very beginning of my graduate studies, almost a decade ago. So seeing this quote now, with all I've learned since, makes me cringe in ways I would not have thought to do so when I read that section of the book.

Thomas Aquinas would no more have assumed that you could cite a famous philosopher as an authority in this way than any philosopher today would, and anyone who thinks he would knows very little about Aquinas, with all due respect to van Inwagen. Aquinas' main methodology in his largest and most significant work is to state a question, present objections to his view, some of which are from previous figures, a biblical text, or a contemporary figure, state his own view, often citing a similar authority but not always, and then argue for his view before finally responding to the objections. He did not cite authorities as if that proved anything. He gives reasons. He did not take authorities to be a sign of the truth of anything, since the authorities appear just as much in the objections he's responding to as they do in the statement of his own view.

I don't know about Bultmann, and I don't know which contemporary theologians he has in mind (although the ones I know give actual arguments and don't generally take famous figures as substitutes), but it takes someone very unfamiliar with a giant of the tradition to say this about Aquinas, and it disappoints me to find one of the top philosophers of our day saying it of him.

Christian Carnival CXCII

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The 192nd Christian Carnival is up at On the Horizon.

Numbers 30 deals with Israelite vows to God, i.e. declaring something to be dedicated to God. This would usually involve vowing something to God that one would give to the tabernacle or temple system much later, e.g. a certain percentage of the harvest that hasn't arrive yet or something of that nature. Some of the Pharisees in Jesus' time abused this system by vowing things to God that were necessary for caring for their parents, and thus they used these laws to get out of more important ones like honoring father and mother.

Jephthah in Judges 11 vowed whatever first came through his door, and it turned out to be his daughter. In that case, he tragically honored his vow when he shouldn't have done so, although if he had broken it he would have needed to make atonement. But other vows could be rash and should never have been made that nonetheless have to be honored. Typically if a man made a vow, he would have to honor it even if it was rashly made and burdensome to honor.

The regulations in Numbers 30 relate to girls and women making vows when under the authority of someone else. Normally a man would be responsible for his own vows. A girl under her father's authority would also normally be responsible for her own vows, provided that her father, when hearing about it, said nothing. But he did have the authority to cancel her vow. The same is true of a husband of a married woman. The father or husband would have to cancel the vow immediately when hearing about it, but the authority to cancel the vow came with being the father of a minor girl or the husband of a wife.

What interested me in reading this chapter recently was how it treats widows and divorced women. There were cases of widows and divorced women going back to live with their father, but there were also cases of widows retaining the property their husbands had inherited and serving as a head of household. These cases would have to have involved children, since otherwise the property might leave the clan, and property ties to tribes and clans was a very big deal in ancient Israel. But what's notably absent in this chapter is any statement about such women being under the authority of their father in terms of vows. As far as this chapter is concerned, a widow or divorced woman was simply responsible for her vows, and no one had the authority to cancel them.

Searches

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It's been a while since I've done one of these, but I've had a lot less time lately to check my sitemeter, and I haven't been finding as many interesting searches.

times reverend is mentioned in kjv
Wouldn't that be zero?

do we really have the euthyphro's dilemma in life
I'm not sure what that's even supposed to mean, but I suspect the answer is no.

premarital sex is not fornication

Um, yes it is. Perhaps you meant to find people who think there's nothing wrong with fornication. Such people abound. But pretending a word doesn't mean what it means isn't going to be much help.

I should note something in the definition of 'fornication' in the Cambridge International Dictionary of English. It ends the sentence with a preposition. It's nice to see recognized authorities on the English language keeping up with how the language actually functions rather than adopting artificial rules that don't correspond with how the language really works.

vittner and prostitute
I guess one nice thing about commenters misspelling people's names is that searches that misspell the name are more likely to find your blog.

ARGUMENT FROM EVIL FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
Now I hope that's just the moral argument, since the category of evil only makes sense if morality is real, and according to the moral argument morality only makes sense with God. But that wouldn't be the most obvious way to say this. Otherwise I have no idea what this is referring to.

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