Jeremy Pierce: March 2008 Archives

Michael Stickings of the Moderate Voice has a very puzzling post. Apparently Hillary Clinton has been participating in an evangelical Bible study group for Congress that encourages Christians to influence those around them for good, including sharing their faith with those who aren't believers. Stickings seems to think this is really disturbing for some reason, and the only sense I can get of why is that he must think this group is a front for a radical, theonomistic agenda. But I don't see any real evidence in anything he links to that it's even close to that. I posted the following comment several days ago:

I'm wondering what the fuss is supposed to be about. This looks like a typical evangelical group. They study the Bible and believe in influencing those around them (and therefore indirectly the world) through personal relationships infused with godliness and what they as Christians believe to be the truth. I realize that some conspiracy theorists associate any language about influencing the world with conspiracies about controlling people through theonomistic enforcement of Christian beliefs on those who reject such teachings, but anyone remotely familiar with evangelicalism should know that this is simply standard salt and light kind of stuff from the Sermon on the Mount. So what is it exactly that Hillary is supposed to explain? She is a Christian. Is it surprising that she wants to live her beliefs rather than pretending they don't influence her life?

As of this writing, there's been no response.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The 218th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at A Kiwi and an Emu. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the not-recently-updated Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals or the up-to-date but less-informative christiancarnival.com list.
 
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Sophia Gets Into Makeup

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On Sam's picture blog.

Fetal Skin Cells

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Jay Watts, in the midst of saying a lot of other things, argues against using the skin cells from aborted fetuses for research. I'm not convinced that there's a strong pro-life argument against this practice, though. What follows is my comment on Jay's post:

I think we need to separate the following acts:

1. Taking skin from a dead human being in order to save thousands of lives.
2. Killing someone in order to save thousands of lives by using their skin.

There might be general moral disagreement over 2 among different ethical theories, but I don't think most views have problems with 1 unless they assume the libertarian premise that people's body parts shouldn't be used without permission, even if the person is dead. I generally share that premise when it comes to something on the level of whole organs, but I don't think it's a big deal if the government scrapes some skin off me without my permission after I die and then uses it for saving thousands of lives.

So what's different with abortion? The only difference I can think of is that these fetuses are being killed immorally, even if it's legal. But suppose it were even illegal. Once you allow what I allowed for in 1, it shouldn't matter if I happened to have been murdered or if I died of a disease in the hospital that no one was morally responsible for giving me. So why should it matter with aborted fetuses?

I'm not seeing a strong pro-life argument against this except maybe on consequentialist grounds, and that would only be because people might improperly draw the wrong conclusion from allowing this to the view that the killing itself was justified. But is that a good enough reason to avoid saving thousands of lives?

Kid Sayings

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Sam has been constructing a list of some cute things the kids have said in the past few weeks. If I'd known, there would be several more that I would have written down.

Kevin Drum had a very helpful discussion of the charges the Obama campaign and its surrogates have been leveling against Hillary Clinton. I'm not sure I agree with him in every case, but it's one of the best things I've seen on the subject. Any claim that it's Hillary who's really driving the racial overtones of the Democratic race is just ignoring a lot of what's out there. Some on her side have surely said things intended to be taken in a racially-negative way. But the examples he gives (and see the discussions he links to for arguments why the criticisms are indeed over-the-top) show that it's not simply an example of the Hillary side raising racial issues and the Obama side ignoring them and not making anything of race.

I had to take interest in the first two comments mentioning Geraldine Ferraro, who didn't come up in the post. What interested me most about their appearance is the assumption that that's a genuine case of racism that they must be taking to undermine his whole argument. First of all, if it's genuine racism that doesn't undermine his argument. His point is that many of the accusations of racism are going way too far. One case that is racism doesn't undermine that claim.

Second, I don't think it's fair to describe that as racist. If the same person who says Barack Obama's race has helped raise interest from the media and the Democratic higher-ups to jump-start his campaign also says of herself that the same is true from her being a woman, it strikes me as very unlikely that she's saying the former out of racism but is rather just acknowledging that the Democratic party is more likely to use affirmative action considerations for selecting presidential and vice-presidential candidates, something Democrats aren't generally opposed to and don't generally consider racist. (It's Republicans who are more likely to level that charge.) So why is it racist to point out that affirmative action techniques on that level might put someone in a position to get more attention than they could have gotten otherwise?

[I do realize that some people think Ferraro was saying more. According to them, she was claiming that no one would now support Obama if he weren't black. But I think that's a very unlikely interpretation. It's so radically at odds with the exit polls that I don't know how she could have thought she'd get away with saying something so empirically false.]

Update March 29: Is it racist for Obama to say the things of himself that Ferraro said of him?

Trust Without Action

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Kenny Pearce looks at the famous statement in James 2:20, usually translated as "faith without works is dead". He suggests a better translation, because 'faith' means a lot of different things, often something very different from what the biblical authors meant by 'pistis', and because 'works' isn't exactly ordinary English among those not raised with church language. (Neal Morse, formerly of Spock's Beard, expresses in one song that his response to this statement was that it was good, because he hadn't worked in a year.)

Kenny's translation: "Trust without action is dead." That does seem to me to be a lot better than the traditional translation.

Some might push replacing "is dead" with something more clear, and that might be fine according to a dynamic-enough translation principle, but I don't think this is a case where that's needed. The metaphor of something accomplishing nothing or being worthless because it's dead isn't exactly unclear in English, and I doubt it's less clear in English than it would have been to Greek-speaking people in the first century. This is one place where I'd argue for retaining the metaphor rather than translating it to what it's a metaphor for. It's things like that that lead me to avoid the more dynamic translations, even though I've got problems with the more formally-equivalent translations being too formally-equivalent. I'd rather not lose metaphors in general. But you can still translate clearly with contemporary English without translating away all the metaphors that do translate well into English metaphors, as Kenny shows. This is what I'd really like to see in a contemporary translation, and I don't think anyone has really done that at this point.

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The 2
17th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Diary of 1. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the not-recently-updated Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals or the up-to-date but less-informative christiancarnival.com list.
 
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In my last post on this subject [see links to all the posts here], I said I was covering the first of two posts that have seriously challenged the thesis I've been defending about the God of Christianity and the God of Islam. This post looks at the second post, Who's Allah? by Kevin Courter.

Kevin's argument is much more difficult for the position I've been taking than any of the other arguments I've been responding to. I actually think it's devastating to the position as I've sometimes stated it, but it shows that taking the biblical data seriously requires a position that's neither exactly what I've stated nor what the other side is saying. I do think my position is revisable to deal with the text he points to, and I don't think the other side is revisable to deal with the texts I've mustered or the arguments I've put forward.

Kevin presents two biblical arguments. The first is from II Corinthians 11:4:

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. [ESV]

This way of speaking shows that Paul thinks someone who teaches a different gospel is teaching a different Jesus. Kevin also points to the discussions in I Corinthians 8 and 10 about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul speaks of such idols in two ways. At one point, he flat-out says that the idols are nothing, and there's nothing in principle wrong with eating meat sacrificed to non-existent beings (unless there are weak brothers or sisters around who would be led back into a life of idolatry if they saw mature believers doing that).On the other hand, Paul insists that there are demons standing behind them, and involvement in idolatry is involvement with demons. Kevin thinks that's a good reason to think false worship involves inadvertent demon-worship, and thus there must be some being Allah who is a demon rather than the word referring to God or not referring to any being. My argument assumed that the word 'Allah' either refers to God or does not refer to anything.

I'll come to the demon argument at the end. I think the more serious difficulty comes from the other issue, so I'll look at that first. I want to narrow my view down to its fundamental root. My original point in all this was twofold. One side of it is that you can speak of Muslims talking about God, and they do talk about God, the actual God that I believe in as a Christian. The other side of it is that they're getting it so wrong that it's wrong to speak of them as worshiping God if you mean a certain thing by that. I don't think any of what Kevin has said threatens either of those points, although I do think I need to modify how I put it to account for the two points he makes. There's a tension in scripture between (1) passages that speak of false worship as wrong worship of God and (2) passages that speak of false worship as not worship, false worship of God as not being about God, and false views of Jesus as not being about Jesus.

 
The 216th Christian Carnival is up at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet.

Pictures

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We've got a working digital camera again, so Sam's uploaded some pictures from Ethan's birthday Tuesday. I also discovered that I'd saved a couple posts from her picture blog to post links to and then never did, of Sophia and Ethan from the summer.

I wanted to write up a careful argument about this, but I've got enough things to blog about that take time that I'll just post this now with a question. A couple weeks ago Eugene Volokh pointed out a case where two lawyers' insistence on attorney-client privilege allowed someone to go to prison for 26 years. They knew their client had done it, but someone else was tried, and they couldn't bring the information forward by the ethical standards of their profession. It sounds as if they would have come forward if it had meant saving his life but not in the case of a very long time in prison.

Is this a case where the prevailing ethical norm is just wrong? Is attorney-client privilege isn't worth allowing someone to go to jail for 26 years (as it turned out; it was a life sentence, but they didn't know if their client would even die before the innocent guy who was convicted, so it could have been the rest of his life for all they knew). Perhaps this is just a case where you have a moral obligation to break the ethical rule of the profession and take the consequences of disbarment. A lot of commenters on the post seem to think that, anyway. If so, it's a nice case of a very strong prohibition on something that nonetheless is not absolute. (Even on the view of these lawyers, there was at least one exception, the case of capital punishment. But if there are more exceptions, then I think it's a nice case of a difference of degree making an ethical difference.)

The discussions of whether Muslims worship the same God as Christians have continued in a few places since my recent post. Two posts in particular deserve some attention, raising issues that didn't really come out well in my own post or in my previous discussions of this subject. I'll treat them in separate posts. The second one will probably appear tomorrow.

The first is another Justin Taylor post. Justin quotes a section of a book by Timothy Tennent, in which he argues that 'God' in English is a descriptive term, while 'Allah' in Arabic is more like a proper name. I disagree. He's right about 'Allah', but I think 'God' in English also functions like a proper name. Otherwise we shouldn't capitalize it as a name. We should speak of the god but not of God. So the two are used similarly. But there's a more interesting argument that I thought was worth responding to:

The phrases "God of Muhammad" and "Father of Jesus" are spoken by communities of faith with important books of revelation that provide hundreds of predicates, all helping to set forth the full context for the meaning of thee two phrases. From the perspective, I must conclude that the Father of Jesus is not the God of Muhammad.

I'm with Tennent that it sounds so wrong to say that the God of Muhammad is the Father of Jesus. I'm even close to him on why it sounds so wrong. But I don't think he's quite clarified what the problem is. That sentence involves two terms that aren't mutually acceptable. No Christian will say that God is the God of Muhammad, since that means he's a true follower of God. No Muslim would say that God is the Father of Jesus in the way Christians mean that. So putting the two expressions together in an identity statement is extremely funny, linguistically speaking, and it's strange to affirm such a sentence. Affirming the sentence seems to amount to affirming that both descriptions apply, and no faithful Christian or Muslim would do that.

But you can say all that while still thinking that the referent of the two funny statements is God, even if in one case you think the expression gets something fundamentally wrong about him (just as I can refer to the red-haired man across the room drinking champagne when the guy is actually a bald woman in drag drinking wine in a champagne glass while wearing a red-haired wig). It's technically false that the guy with red hair across the room drinking champagne is my English teacher, even if the woman I'm referring to is my English teacher, and I don't know she's a woman. I still refer to her when I describe her that way. So I don't think this argument counts against the view I've been defending.

One of the most irksome things about the fascination in cable news with certain missing persons cases is that virtually all of the cases they pay any attention to are of blond, white girls or young women, and they pay absolutely no attention to the vast majority of missing persons cases, and yet the few they can find with an attractive blond girl will get hours a day for months. It's such a clear example of a kind of white racism that isn't what most white people think of when they hear the word 'racism'. White people think of negative, overt, conscious attitudes against non-whites when they hear that word. This is clearly not that, and yet there's no way it's not a kind of racism.

In light of that, see this interesting poster campaign. [hat tip: Racialicious]


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The 216th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the not-recently-updated Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals or the up-to-date but less-informative christiancarnival.com list.
 
To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

In a recent case, the California Supreme Court affirmed a 1955 law that requires teachers to have proper credentials, even if they're homeschooling their own children. Some conservatives are up in arms. But it's important for conservatives to locate their criticism properly.

As far as I can tell, this was a judicially conservative decision. The law in California is that teaching requires certain qualifications. The only question was whether you can find a right in the Constitution to homeschooling, and they concluded not, which is actually a more judicially conservative position. See Eugene Volokh for more details.

Now I'm open to a judicially conservative argument that this case was wrongly decided, but I've been seeing people upset merely because of its being a bad policy decision. Well, don't complain to the court. Complain to the people who wrote the law to begin with (except they're probably dead), and seek to get the law changed. That's the normal process for this kind of thing, and it's not conservative to expect a court to find new rights in the Constitution that conservatives would prefer to have constitutionally guaranteed. This is a case of conservatives expecting judges to enact their policy preferences, which is the very thing conservatives usually complain about and call judicial activism when they see liberals doing the same thing.

Sam: Hey, stay out of that box!
Sophia: I did.

Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. Apparently Barack Obama has figured out (it took him a while, at least to say it) that Hillary Clinton's repeated claims that he's not ready to be president are slightly at odds with her suggestion that maybe he could be vice-president. Probably the most crucial role of the vice-president is to take over the responsibilities of the president if the president becomes unable to perform them.

But see her response. So he's not ready now, and therefore the Democrats should nominate her. But maybe he'll be ready by August, so she can float the idea of choosing him as a running mate? That see s to be how she's explaining both statements.

How isn't that an admission that her initial comments are wrongheaded? Well, here's the one path to consistency that I think she can trod. He isn't ready now, and there's no guarantee that he will be in January, so we shouldn't nominate him. Maybe some miracle will occur, and he'll be ready enough by August that he could run on the ticket as VP, so she won't say he's now ready even to be a running mate (not that she's in a position to offer it to him), but she'll float him as a possibility in case the miraculous occurs and he gets all this experience that he doesn't now have.

I suppose that's consistent. It's just a huge stretch.

Christian Carnival CCXV

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The 215th Christian Carnival is up at Fish and Cans.

Bible Meme

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Kevin Sam tagged me with this meme. I don't always get around to following up on these things, but this seemed like less work than the post I'm working on that I'd otherwise be completing right now.

1. What translation of the Bible do you like best?

I probably use the ESV more than anything else.

2. Old or New Testament?

Uh ... they're both the Bible. I spend more time in the Old Testament just because it's bigger and takes longer to get through.

3. Favorite Book of the Bible?

I can't name a favorite, but some favorites are (in one particular order) Philippians, Isaiah, Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, II Peter, and Habakkuk.

4. Favorite Chapter?

Again, I have to list several, but near the top would be Psalm 139, Philippians 2, II Peter 1, Genesis 50, Isaiah 10, John 17, Acts 17, Zechariah 14, and Genesis 5 (I'm not kidding about the last one, either; it's the key to a major theme of the book and of the entire Bible).

5. Favorite Verse?

Phil 3:12-14 isn't one verse, but it's one sentence that would be hard to break up.

6. Bible character you think you're most like?

Moses

7. One thing from the Bible that confuses you?

I don't know if it's really confusion, but one recent wondering that comes to mind is how the Ithamarites ended up with the high priesthood by the time Samuel was born given that the descendants of Phinehas the son of Eleazar should have had the high-priestly role.

8. Moses or Paul?

After my answer to #6, I can't resist saying Paul.

9. A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don't get?

I'm currently working on the fact that Paul can see the unknown God in Acts 17 as God, but he doesn't think someone believing a different gospel believes in the same Jesus as he does. He's got to be working with two different senses of "the same as", but I need to figure out what those two senses might be exactly. What's worse is finding the same phenomenon going on within one text in II Kings 17 with the syncretistic practices of the resettled peoples in the former northern kingdom counting as both fearing and not fearing YHWH.

10. Coolest name in the Bible?

Melchizedek is one of my favorites, but it's hard to resist mentioning Maher-shalal-hash-baz. I'm sure there are a few that I might like even more, but I won't be able to remember them now. Or is this a trick question, and it's supposed to be the tetragrammaton?

I have to tag five people, so here they are: Mike, Danny, Mark, Sam, and Nobody.

A janitor at the University of Indiana at Purdue is in their continuing education program, trying to improve his lot in life on the side. He reads during his break time. One book he reads is called Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan. It's not exactly favorable to the KKK, but it does include their name in the title.

Somehow the university thought it was ok to ban him from reading this book during his breaks [hat tip: David Bernstein], because there were black people around him, and they were offended that the book mentions the KKK. Here is the statement from the affirmative action office on why this counts as racial harassment:

"You demonstrated disdain and insensitivity to your coworkers who repeatedly requested that you refrain from reading the book which has such an inflammatory and offensive topic in their presence...you used extremely poor judgment by insisting on openly reading the book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject in the presence of your Black coworkers."

First of all, how could someone possibly think that it's immoral to read a book that's highly critical of the KKK while in the presence of a black person? Second, it's not as if he was reading it aloud. All they had any access to was the fact that he was reading it. Third, even if it's immoral to read something in the presence of someone else, how does that give the university a good reason to ban it. It's not as if he was waving the book around and saying anything to anyone else about it. He merely had the book and was reading it. Fourth, why would they want to give the appearance that they're hindering a janitor, who does some of the dirtiest jobs at the university, from getting his education? It doesn't reflect all that well on them. Fifth, they accuse him of being insensitive and expressing disdain for his co-workers, when he's the one who tried to explain the book's content to several people who refused to listen to him and insisted that anything even remotely discussing the KKK is offensive. How backwards is that?

Well, they recanted while pretending to clarify their position. Some higher-up must have realized how silly the whole thing was.

I don't spend a lot of time harping on this point, but this is a pretty good instance of something I've tried to motivate a few times before. There is certainly plenty of room for improvement in how sensitive white people are to black people's experiences, and a lot of offense can occur that isn't intended. Nevertheless, it only hurts that cause to insist on offense over stupid things like this. The guy was reading a book whose very title shows that it's not in support of the KKK. It's not a good idea to try to get your employer to ban someone from becoming educated about the realities of race relations, something white people certainly need more of.

John McWhorter's stuff on victimology is often dismissed among those on the left who recognize real racial problems (not that McWhorter ever denies those, of course). But he's surely right that there's a culture of complaint about relatively trivial offenses and in many cases immoral complaints about non-offenses like this one. This kind of reaction only fosters the attitude among many on the right that racial problems are caused by black (or in general non-white) people who won't learn to get over it, because it confirms that at least in some cases there's some truth to that.

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The 215th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Fish and Cans. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the not-recently-updated Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals or the up-to-date but less-informative christiancarnival.com list.
 
To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Obama on Homosexuality

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A lot of people are discussing Barack Obama's recent off-the-cuff remarks about the Bible and same-sex civil unions. I want to delve a little bit into the contrast he draws between the Sermon on the Mount and Romans 1. The gist of his statement is (1) the Sermon on the Mount is more central to Christian faith than an "obscure" passage in Romans, and (2) the Sermon on the Mount should influence our attitudes toward civil unions in some positive way.

1. I don't think Romans 1 is all that obscure. I think he means that it's difficult to interpret, but there actually isn't all that much disagreement among serious biblical commentators who have bothered to connect their exegesis with a serious study of the whole book. Virtually everyone in that category acknowledges that Paul saw male-male and female-female sexual acts as bad and as the consequence of sin, and most recognize that he saw them as immoral. That doesn't count as obscure in my book, even if a few of the details in the passage might be debated. It's certainly no more obscure than the Sermon on the Mount, which has plenty of contested questions.

2. Romans 1 is not the only passage relevant to homosexuality. The Torah expressly forbids the same thing Romans 1 discusses, and it does so in pretty clear terms in two places in Leviticus and by implication in Genesis 19. I think the prophets may refer to it once or twice, too. In any case, just dismissing Romans 1 wouldn't be enough, but he treats it as sufficient.

3. Romans 1 isn't even the only New Testament passage relevant to this issue. Terms used for the passive and active partners in male-male sex appear in a vice list in I Corinthians (and one of those words appears in I Timothy). Jude 7 also assumes the Torah background.

4. What in the Sermon on the Mount does he mean? His argument seems to be that he's more willing to go with a passage he sees as more important over one that's "obscure" (and thus less important?). But what important passage in the Sermon on the Mount does he mean? It has to be a clear enough implication from what Jesus says that it's strong enough to outweigh all these other parts of scripture. Does any part of the Sermon on the Mount have such a clear implication for the issue of civil unions?

Some have suggested that he means the command not to judge, which of course is not a command not to call wrong things wrong, or else the biblical authors would all violate it repeatedly.

Others have put forth the many aspects of the Sermon on the Mount that have to do with loving your neighbor. I wonder if that would be question-begging. Some of the people he is taking issue with do not consider it loving to support same-sex unions, because they see such support as endorsing something immoral and in fact against the well-being of all involved.

Site Problems

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The server that hosts this blog has had an awful lot of spam attacks recently, and when I call them attacks I mean it. The people doing this know full well that the spam isn't getting accepted. It's purely malicious, and it's designed to shut down the server. This has been a long-standing problem, but it hasn't usually been so concentrated in its intensity. In some cases, I think it's motivated by spite, simply because they can't get their spam through due to the pretty effective means of preventing spam in the new version of Movable Type. In others, it might be politically motivated. I have no idea if the latest attacks have been from one person or many, but in any case it's been shutting down any operation that requires making changes to the way the blog appears, including comments. It requires someone noticing and contacting the right people and then waiting for them to kill the process that's hanging up, and sometimes that takes a while, particularly if it happens at night.

So if you find that you can't leave a comment, that's why. Please be patient. Rest assured that I'm far more frustrated by this than you are. If you'd like to leave a comment and can't, I'd appreciate you writing the comment and saving it somewhere and then submitting it later at a time when the server isn't hung up, rather than not submitting it at all. If you have a blog, you can always respond to something with a post of your own (especially if you'd like to let me know about it, and I can continue the discussion there), but I'd actually prefer in general that you continue the conversation on the post in question when the comments are working, even if that takes waiting a bit sometimes.

Update: I believe the spamming issue has been resolved now, but there's a different problem. Many of my old posts have been renamed for the new format but still exist with the old format and don't allow comments. I'm trying to figure out what I can do about this. For now, if you end up on any page that shows the old format, and you'd like to leave a comment, just replace any underscores with hyphens, and it should show it with the new format and allow you to leave a comment.

Update 2: I think the renaming problem is resolved now. If you discover anything funny about posts not showing up, showing up with the old template, or something like that, please let me know.

I was declared the winner of this contest, but I'm not sure I really won for reasons I explained in the comments. Should I claim the graphic for my sidebar on the grounds that I did better than anyone else, or should I refrain because I simply did not win despite being declared the winner?

Update: I've officially won despite my objections. See the comments.

 
The 214th Christian Carnival is up at Thinking Christian.

Rick Love and John Piper have reinvigorated the debate over whether Muslims worship the same God as Christians. See Justin Taylor's summary of the reasons for the Piper position. I'm of course on record taking the opposite view (see here), but in contributing to the comments on Justin's post I ended up putting my reasoning in a different enough way that I wanted to post it here as well. What follows is a slightly modified version of my comment on Justin's post.

First, let me present an issue in the philosophy of language. There's some difference of opinion about how words acquire their reference, i.e. how it is that a word comes to refer to the thing that it does. The dominant view in philosophy of language today is that a word comes to refer to what it refers to because of an initial "baptism" that declares what it refers to, along with various processes that happen along its continued usage. But there's a causal chain back to the original "baptism".

The name "George W. Bush" refers to the guy who happens to be the current president because his parents gave him that name and continued to use it to refer to him without changing it, and he continued to use the name without changing it. Its reference is because of that causal chain back to when his parents declared it to be his name.

Now suppose someone comes along and enters into the causal chain, calling him George W. Bush and engaging in the normal process of using the name. But this person starts claiming that the guy called George W. Bush is a clone of the original and has only existed for a few years. That amounts to denying an essential property of George W. Bush, i.e. his origin. Someone can't be him without having that origin. Nonetheless, the person with the cloning theory successfully refers to the real George W. Bush, despite having a view that denies one of his essential properties. So it can't be that denying an essential property of a being means you're not referring to that being. Some claim that because one of God's essential properties, according to Christianity, is his existence in three persons, then someone who denies that element of God's nature must be talking about a different (and non-existent) being. Not so. That's not how language works.

Muslims use certain words to refer to the being they worship (to remain neutral at this point). The linguistic practice that involves those words referring to the being they worship traces back to the time of Muhammad, who wrote a series of Surahs that ended up becoming the Qur'an. In these writings, Muhammad claimed to have received them from an angel, and they spoke of the being worshiped by the Christians and Jews. The word 'Allah' was initially a description for a divine being in Arabic, not a name, although perhaps it now functions in a namelike way, much like 'God' in English. 'Allah' thus referred explicitly to the God that so far had been worshiped by Jews and Christians. Muhammad went on to say a whole bunch of things about God that Christians would deny, including some things that amount to denying some essential properties of God. Islam is a false religion that is worthless in terms of knowing God, according to Christian teaching, and the worship of this being under Islam does not count as genuine worship.

Nevertheless, it seems completely ludicrous to me to claim that this being that is falsely and ungenuinely worshiped by Muslims is not God. Muhammad intended to refer to the God long worshiped by Jews and Christians that Muhammad when he said all those false things about God. The being he misrepresented and twisted all sorts of things about is the God of the Bible. I don't know how the historical facts can get around that.

There is an issue of how a Christian should make this point. Perhaps Love didn't go far enough in distancing himself from how people might hear it. But that doesn't mean what he says is false.

Hermeneutics Quiz

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This hermeneutics quiz [double hat tip] is actually not so bad when compared with most of the theology or politics quizzes I've found online. It allows for a lot of wiggle room and doesn't have terribly loaded questions.

Unsurprisingly, I came out as a hermeneutical conservative. The range for conservatives runs from 20 to 52, with 20 being the most conservative (there is no lower score), and I scored 39, which puts me closer to the beginning of the moderate range than I am to the most conservative end of conservatives.

For the record, here are my scores on the individual questions:

11111 21112 11252 11524


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The 214th 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 the not-recently-updated Matt Jones's list of previous Christian Carnivals or the up-to-date but less-informative christiancarnival.com list.
 
To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view.

Important note for this week only: Tom Gilson works for a non-profit organization and has convictions against posting links to anything that takes a stance on political candidates. Please do not submit posts this week that related to particular comments on particular candidates. You can discuss the moral issues behind political debates as moral issues, but stay away from actual politics if you'd like your post included this week.

Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

February License Plates

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It's now March, so I've got another set of license plates to post from what I saw during February.

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

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

Canada: Manitoba, Ontario

Lost from January
: Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota

Gained (not in January): Kentucky, New Mexico, Washington, West Virginia

I still haven't seen Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, and Wyoming since I started this in October. I've seen all the other U.S. states. I've seen four Canadian provinces (the other two are New Brunswick and Quebec) and two U.S. territories (D.C. and Puerto Rico).

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