Jeremy Pierce: December 2007 Archives

Holy Observer Church Signs

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The Holy Observer has posted its Church Sign of the Month Christmas Special 2007.

Christian Carnival CCIV

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The 204th Christian Carnival is up at Participatory Bible Study Blog.

Some Christians have argued that the ancient Hebrews took marriage to be nothing more or less than a relationship instituted by consummation, i.e. by sexual relations. My understanding of Gordon Hugenberger's view in Marriage as a Covenant is that he takes the sexual act to be the initiation of the marriage, with the ceremony leading up to it counting as only a formality. The vows serve an important foundation of the comittment in marriage, but those vows are contingent on actually consummating the marriage. So a couple legally married who never consummate their marriage are not biblically married on his view. This is why Christians have often had no problem with divorce in such cases, and some even insist on calling it annulment, which means the marriage is treated as if it never really occurred. On Hugenberger's view, it never really did.

I've been inclined toward thinking that this was the view the ancient Hebrews assumed. After all, the marriage ceremony lasted something like a week, and during it the bride and groom are not married until the groom took the bride to his tent for their first sexual intercourse. However, if you assume this view and then read the Christmas narrative in Matthew, something doesn't seem right about Joseph's interaction with Mary. The text seems to indicate that he married her but didn't have sex with her until after Jesus was born. So what did their marriage consist of? What event initiated it? Not sex. On Hugenberger's view, sex is what makes it marriage. It's hard to see how that's consistent with this text.

Now this is surely an extraordinary event, since it involves a pregnancy that is itself an extraordinary event. Maybe that's enough to allow this to be an exception to what's generally true. But it still doesn't sit right with me, because it means marriage can't be defined the way Hugenberger defines it. In at least one instance a marriage is not initiated in the way his view requires. This is consistent with his view that any sexual interaction involves an implicit lifelong commitment. It's also consistent with the view that a marriage without consummation can be annulled. But it does seem to show that marriage can't be defined as a relationship initiated by sex.

I was looking at the delegate selection process for the Democratic National Convention. One interesting thing about the Democratic delegate selection process that isn't true of the GOP process is that they have an affirmative action program to increase the number of minority and women delegates. I was curious how that process worked, but apparently it's different in each state, so I wasn't able to find any details. I did, however, notice that they make the following two statements, both on the same page:
This goal shall not be accomplished either directly or indirectly by the Party’s imposition of mandatory quotas at any level of the delegate selection process or in any other Party affairs.

State Delegate Selection Plans shall, as far as mathematically practicable, also provide for equal division between district-level delegate men and delegate women and district-level alternate men and alternate women.
As these terms are ordinarily used, how is the second quote not imposing a mandatory quota? Doesn't telling them that they have to seek to have equal numbers of women and men among the delegates count as imposing a mandatory quota?
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The 204th 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:

What Could This Mean?

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Consider the following words from Rudy Giuliani (hat tip: DaveG):
Giuliani, who appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said in response to a question that he did not believe homosexuality was aberrant.

“The way somebody leads their life isn’t sinful. It’s the acts,” said Giuliani, who supports gay rights and lived with an openly gay couple after separating from his second wife while mayor. “It’s the various acts that people perform that are sinful, not the orientation that they have.”

What could that possibly mean? Here are the three main views on this issue:

View A: There's nothing wrong remotely in the area of homosexuality.
View B: Homosexuality (as a sexual orientation) is involuntary (or largely involuntary), but homosexual acts are immoral.
View C: It's morally wrong to be gay, even if you're celibate.

Now I think Giuliani has ruled out all three views. There are acts that he thinks are wrong that are remotely related to homosexuality. So it's not A. It's clearly not C, since he says a homosexual orientation isn't a sin. B might seem the most plausible, and it does seem to follow from his denial of the other two, but he does say that "the way somebody leads their life isn't sinful". Unless he means that in a way that isn't its most natural meaning, I think he's just contradicted his statement that various acts are wrong.

I have two overly charitable interpretations that might make sense of this.

1. View B is his view, and when he refers to the way somebody leads their life he's not talking about acts but orientation. In favor of this is the parallel between his contrast between how you lead your life and your acts and his second contrast between orientation and your acts. But it's extremely strange to talk about orientation as equivalent with how you lead your life. How you lead your life seems more akin to acts than it does to orientation.

2. DaveG's interpretation is correct, and View A is what Giuliani meant to say, which means the acts he refers to have nothing to do with homosexuality. He's making a general claim that sins are acts, and homosexuality isn't an act, so it can't be a sin. The problem with this is that there are acts associated with homosexuality, and his point doesn't say anything against View B, which is an extremely common view. Also, his contrast between acts and orientation does seem to be parallel to the contrast between the way you lead your life and your acts, which would suggest some connection between the acts and the orientation.

I also have a somewhat uncharitable interpretation that might make some sense of it:

3. View A is his view, and the acts he has in mind are ones that don't actually have to do with homosexuality but are commonly associated with it anyway, e.g. male-male incest, paedophilia/pederasty, male-male rape, etc. Homosexuality entails none of those, but they are male-male, and thus they are technically homosexual. What's somewhat uncharitable about interpreting him this way is that it makes him out to connect homosexuality with such acts even when he's trying to defend it. It wouldn't be my first choice to attribute such a view to someone just to try to make sense of what seems to be a contradiction. But I'm not happy with any of the above options, either.

December Holy Observer

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The latest edition of The Holy Observer is up.

Christian Carnival CCIII

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The 103rd Christian Carnival is up at Bounded Irrationality.

A recent update from the Family Research Council takes an interesting tactic from the point of view of bad rhetorical moves. What do you do if you want to convince people that you're on the side of families? Probably not word things in such a way that you sound as if parents of adopted children aren't parents. Not a good idea. Yet this is exactly what the FRC has done (and I must say it's not the first time I've seen this from mainstream opposition to gay marriage).

It is outrageous that courts in some states have become complicit in this denial of biological reality by allowing homosexual couples to have custody of newborns and birth certificates that mislead about the true parentage of the child. 

So what counts as true parentage? I accept that birth certificates of adopted kids ideally ought to list the biological parents, for a lot of reasons. But I would never in my right mind suggest that this is the same thing as saying birth certificates ought to list the true parents, as if adoptive parents aren't the true parents of the child. So here's a hint to the FRC. If you're going to argue against adoption by gay people, it's not going to endear people toward thinking of you as a legitimate family advocate if you also in effect include adoption by straight married couples as part of your target by speaking of them as if they're not real parents.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The 203rd Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Bounded Irrationality. 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:

Jim Geraghty points out that Alan Keyes was invited to the last Republican debate but was ill-treated, while similar-polling candidates on the Democratic side (e.g. Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel) were not invited to the Democratic debate. He doesn't mention that Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo were also invited despite not performing well in polls, but that further confirms his point.

His explanation is that they wanted to make Republicans look bad by including the more radical elements but without doing so with the Democrats. While I'm certainly open to such an interpretation (bad motives abound in this world), I'm curious if there are more charitable explanations of why they would have treated the two parties differently on this issue. I can't think of any, but I'm curious to hear any plausible suggestions, because I do think it's a bit strange.

I read a lot of student papers and exam essays. I see a lot of repeat errors. It gets really annoying after a while, but one interesting fact about language acquisition becomes pretty clear after a number of instances of the same error. Some of these errors seem to be a result of people learning vocabulary by hearing without ever reading the term in question.

One common error I see (and I see it online quite a lot also) is referring to a transition between one subject and another as a segway. No, a segway is a two-wheeled device that moves around while you stand it. A transition between two subjects is a segue. But you don't have to be a non-reader to make this mistake. It took me until well into my undergraduate years to figure out that the word that I thought was pronounced "seeg" was the same word that people kept pronouncing "segway". I don't know how anyone ever does figure this out, in fact, including me.

But not every instance of what I have in mind is like that. For instance, I sometimes see people referring to the "rank-in-file", which is not a normal English expression at all. They meant to be talking about the rank-and-file. One of the most annoying is one I see extremely frequently in philosophy papers, especially on issues in metaphysics. Spiderman and Peter Parker are one and the same person. It's sort of an old-fashioned expression (which I sometimes see written as "old-fashion", a bothersome construction in itself). I would never use it. But if I were to use it, I'd get it right and not speak of Spidey and Peter being "one in the same".

I'm convinced that these mistakes result mostly from people who never read (or perhaps only read people writing on the internet who never read). There are certain mistakes that people who read would never or almost never make. These students are basically signaling to me that they hardly ever read anything when they do this sort of thing. Yet they have no idea that they're doing it, and they wouldn't be in a position to know that unless they read more.

April DeConick, a scholar of biblical studies at Rice University, has published The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says, criticizing the National Geographic translation of The Gospel of Judas for getting the role of Jesus entirely backwards. She has an op-ed in The New York Times summarizing some of her arguments. [hat tip: Jollyblogger]

According to DeConick, Judas isn't in fact the hero of this late Gnostic "gospel". He's a demon sent to betray Jesus and have him killed. The intent is still to undermine orthodox Christianity. It just isn't by making Judas the hero who frees Jesus from his physical body and then rewarded for it in heaven. It's by making Judas a demon whose plot to kill Jesus makes fun of the historic doctrines of the atonement through Jesus' death, and Judas is punished with no place in heaven.

A couple people associated with the criticized translation have responded, and DeConick addresses some criticisms she's received. [hat tip: Mark Goodacre] I'm sure there will be some good discussion of this among the bibliobloggers. I intend to update this post with anything that I think is worth directing attention to.

Christian Carnival CCII

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The 202nd Christian Carnival is up at Lo-Fi Tribe.

Kant Attack Ad

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I've got way too much grading to do to do any serious blogging, but this Kant attack ad has been making the rounds in philosophy blog circles. If you know anything about Kant, you should find it pretty hilarious. Even if you don't, you might think it's funny.

I've been in news isolation for the last week or so due to a huge stack of grading that's still almost half as big as it was a week ago. But apparently there's been a furor over a remark by Mike Huckabee that his recent upturn in the polls is (among other explanations) a result of divine providence. I haven't been able to find exact quotes, but from this post it seems as if Huckabee said two things.

1. He has offered several reasons for his rise in the polls, and one of them is divine providence. That means that he isn't ruling out perfectly natural explanations, but he has a strong enough view of divine providence that he's willing to say that his rise in the polls is in  God's ultimate plan (whether that means God's plan includes him becoming president is another matter that he doesn't seem to have commented on at all).

2. He's surprised enough that he's willing to speak of his rise in the polls in miraculous terms. The reason this can't be taken too far is that he has provided other explanations besides providence. So he must simply be expressing the unlikeliness of this in attributing it to divine providence in this sense, even if there are perfectly natural descriptions of the means God has used to bring this about.

Now I'm trying to think of what's remotely objectionable about any of this. I've turned up nothing. With any robust view of divine sovereignty, anything that happens is at least foreknown and allowed by God, and this doesn't happen unless God has specific reasons for allowing it or causing it. That doesn't mean the reasons are the ones we expect, but Huckabee seems careful as far as I can tell not to say that God has caused this surge in order to win him the nomination, never mind any claims about God wanting him to be president. All he's said is that God is behind the surge in the polls, which any Christian with a robust view of divine sovereignty should say, even if the person saying it is one of the other candidates or someone who very much doesn't want Huckabee to be president. If it happens, then it's in God's will in at least some sense, and that's what it means for something to happen by providence.

I see nothing in Huckabee's comments at this point that mean any more than what most Christians throughout history have believed about every event that ever occurs. That makes me think those making a fuss about this must be taking him to say something very different from what he's actually said. Either that or they think our political discourse (or, more precisely, our meta-political discourse) should include debates about the traditional Christian picture of divine sovereignty. I'm a bit skeptical that that's the place to debate theology.

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The 202nd Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Lo-Fi Tribe. 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:
 

This is the current Christian Carnival hosting schedule. If you'd like to be added as a future host, please send me an email at the link in the header above.

201 Dec 5  Thinking Christian
202 Dec 12 Lo-Fi Tribe
203 Dec 19 Bounded Irrationality
204 Dec 26 Participatory Bible Study Blog
205 Jan 2   Ancient Hebrew Poetry
206 Jan 9   Parableman
207 Jan 16 Diary of 1
208 Jan 23 Chasing the Wind
209 Jan 30 Everyday Liturgy
210 Feb 6  Imago Dei
211 Feb 13 Brain Cramps for God

As usual, I'll update the list as I schedule people, but (in the event that I get several requests at once) I give new hosts and hosts who haven't done it in awhile some priority over those who have done it more recently.

A week ago, I posted about J.K. Rowling's views on destiny, taking my starting point from this interview that she gave a few weeks ago. I ended with the thought that Rowling's own interpretation of what was going on wasn't the best interpretation of her actual text. That raises questions, however, about how an author might not interpret her own work correctly. She created it, after all. Does authorial intent have no bearing on these kinds of questions? [As with the previous post and the interview, there may be spoilers in this post, so don't read it if you don't know how the series concludes and want to find out in chronological order as the author intended it.]

So what does authorial intent contribute to the story when the text itself can be interpreted in several ways? Can an author determine that a character is, for example, gay even if the text itself doesn't make that clear? Can an author declare the character's motivations even if the text itself doesn't make them clear? This arises in the interview when it comes to the motivations and moral character of Albus Dumbledore in his various machinations in the war against Lord Voldemort.

I say the author can declare the intent of the character, even if the text doesn't, but I know some people make the text fundamental rather than the author. But even if that's right, it doesn't follow that everything an author says in interviews after the fact are canon. There's a debate over whether Dumbledore is a bit too manipulative. Apparently Rowling herself thinks so, judging by this interview, while many fans don't (or at least think he's less so than she seems to think; I'm one of those fans, by the way).

She can tell us what a character did and what the character's motivations were. She doesn't, however, have the power to determine whether those actions and motivations count as manipulation or whether they are immoral. Whether the word 'manipulation' applies is a matter of linguistic fact, and authors of a fantasy world can't determine by themselves what the word 'manipulation' means in English.

By the same token, whether what Dumbledore does is wrong is a matter of moral truth. Whatever determines morality (and views on that abound), it's certainly not authors of fantasy novels by themselves. I can't just write a novel where killing innocents for fun is morally ok. That can't be part of the stipulation within the novel. I can write a novel in a world where people think that, but I can't as an author make their beliefs true. I can write a novel whose characters speak a language slightly differently from English, where the word 'manipulation' means something different from what it means in English, but that doesn't change what we who speak English mean by the word when we apply it to those characters.

So there's room for debate over whether a character really is manipulative even if the author takes a side on the issue, and the same goes for whether what the character did (whether you call it manipulative or not) was morally wrong.

Lying By Imperatives

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I'm stuck in grading and can't get finish off a post I'm pretty excited about but am not ready to post yet, so here's something in the meantime from a while back: lying by imperatives. I saved this and never got around to posting it, probably because I had something to say about it, but I don't have the time to read it carefully again and see what that might have been. I suspect it had something to do with the ethics of lying. Maybe I'll post an update tomorrow if I come up with anything once I'm through my last class of the semester.

Update: I think I remember what I might have wanted to say, but I'm not entirely sure this is exactly the point I had in mind. The lying guard says. "Don't bite me" in place of the usual "Bite me", as if the imperative has a truth value, which it doesn't if you're actually going to be precise about the semantics. But we understand what's going on here when someone commands the opposite of you want to do as an instance of being a complete liar, because there's something truth-related about imperatives. Imperatives often assume propositional content that does have a truth value, and they communicate propositional content that does have a truth value.

Another example would be if I tell you to stop poking me. That's an imperative, but the act of saying the imperative, even though it has no semantic truth value, does pragmatically convey the information that I think you're poking me and the information that I want you to stop. So whether a speech act counts as lying might depend not just on whether you deliberately communicate false semantic content. Deception can occur when you communicate false information pragmatically, and the cartoonist seems to understand that in having a lying guard present the opposite imperative of what the guard wants the person to do. It doesn't even have to be a speech act. It can simply be an act. You try to communicate that you're home by leaving the lights on when you're out. If lying is a deliberate attempt to deceive by communicating false information, then you don't need to say something that's semantically false to lie. You can say something semantically true but misleading, expecting to communicate an additional falsehood. You can say nothing at all but by your actions intentionally communicate something false.

This has implications for the moral issues involving lying. Some people hold that lying is always wrong no matter what. I know people who hold such a view but then stick to the letter of the law about not expressing falsehoods semantically while being fine with deliberately deceiving people pragmatically. I would suggest that what's bad about lying is still present in such cases, whether we call it a lie or not (but I would prefer to call it at least a lie of sorts). If any case of deception is ok, why shouldn't it be ok to lie semantically in such cases?

[For more on the ethical issues, see my earlier post on the ethics of lying.] 

Christian Carnival CCI

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The 201st Christian Carnival is up at Thinking Christian.

It turns out divorce is bad for the environment. So is breaking up any cohabitation. I guess marriage and cohabitation are good for the environment, then. It's interesting that they worded the headline to emphasize the negative rather than the positive, though. [hat tip: Jonathan Adler]

Chessboxing

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Have you ever heard of chessboxing? [hat tip: GeekPress] Neither had I. I'm not sure what would motivate someone capable of competitive chess to put themselves in a position of diminishing that capacity so easily, but I guess some smart people are pretty stupid.

 
The 201st Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Thinking Christian. 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:

November License Plates

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Another month has gone by, and I'm now up to my second monthly post recounting the license plates I've seen within the last lunar cycle (or so). Here are all the license plates I saw in November 2007:

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennesee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, District of Columbia, Ontario, Quebec

new from last month: Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Montana, Oregon, Tennesee, Quebec
not present from last month: Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, Washington

I don't know if I should be disappointed that our trip to NYC for Thanksgiving yielded only Georgia (all the others I noticed on the trip were already on my list or appeared again after our return). It means the motherlode I expected didn't come in, but it also shows how rich the Syracuse license plate hoard really is.

I was impressed that I already had eleven for November at the end of Nov 1. Well, I've already got eighteen for December. That's right. I saw eighteen different license plates just today. It's amazing what you notice if you just look.

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