Jeremy Pierce: December 2008 Archives

I recently found this interview with Richard Rodriguez, which raises some interesting suppositions about why social conservatives oppose same-sex marriage, tying it to a desire to maintain a traditional view of the family. On one level, this seems right. Much of the actual rhetoric from socially conservative groups, e.g. the Family Research Council, links same-sex marriage to the breakdown of the family, a claim that on the face of it seems absurd. How does the ability of two gay men to call their union a marriage somehow make my heterosexual marriage more likely to break down? One common argument for same-sex marriage is that it will actually strength the institution of marriage by promoting long-term relationships among a demographic that has a much higher tendency to avoid them.

In some ways the level of vitriol and forcefulness of resistance to same-sex marriage does seem to me to reflect a misplaced set of priorities when there are much more immediate problems within the very communities that oppose same-sex marriage. Evangelicals (as traditionally defined by the media, anyway) have as much of a problem with divorce as the country at large (although if you look at the stricter criteria of George Barna to define evangelicalism, the gap widens considerably). Roman Catholicism still hasn't responded in a way that has satisfied enough people to the priest sex abuse scandal. Mormons still endorse polygamy as in principle perfectly fine and the right way to do things during certain periods. Given their opposition to same-sex marriage on grounds of supporting the traditional family, black Americans have a  disturbingly high rate of single parenthood and, for that matter, abortion with respect to the general population. While we certainly shouldn't assume individual cases are all a result of hypocrisy, Rodriguez is at least prima facie right to raise that spectre as a worry.

Nevertheless, when it comes down to the details, some of Rodriguez's claims seem to me to be so off-base that I find it amazing that someone could put them forward seriously. Is the resistance to same-sex marriage based fundamentally in a desire to prevent women from becoming too dominant in society? After recognizing that society is now at a place where we hardly even wonder where someone's father is when only his mother shows up at the Olympics to see him win medal after medal, he goes on to offer a sweeping generalization to explain the opposition to same-sex marriage:

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.
It's certainly true that some churches want to reassert the view that authority should be primarily in the hands of men. Some extend this to society as a whole, but far more limit it (as the Bible does) to leadership in the family and authoritative teaching and leading in the church. But is that the explanation for opposition to same-sex marriage? It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that a lot of people think same-sex sexual relationships are morally wrong? Rodriguez just seems to me to be confusing two separate issues that don't actually have much in common theoretically. It's true that one argument against homosexuality has to do with how the Bible treats a marriage relationship as reflective of role relations within the Trinity. But if you listen to Rodriguez, you get the sense that all the outrage against gay couples wanting to call their relationships marriages stems from some visceral desire to prevent women from becoming too uppity, which just sounds crazy. I know several people (although it's actually a pretty small percentage of people I know who think same-sex sexual relationships are wrong) who seem to base their opposition on a visceral disgust at the idea of two men having sex with each other. That has nothing to do with women and authority. The more common reason comes from simple observation of biblical texts as traditionally interpreted, and the basis of those interpretations doesn't lie in one's attitude toward women.

Along the way, he gives a similar argument with respect to abortion:
 
Monotheistic religions feel threatened by the rise of feminism and the insistence, in many communities, that women take a bigger role in the church. At the same time that women are claiming more responsibility for their religious life, they are also moving out of traditional roles as wife and mother. This is why abortion is so threatening to many religious people -- it represents some rejection of the traditional role of mother.
It's completely crazy to try to explain opposition to abortion entirely in terms of preventing women from being in control. It's certainly true that arguments within pro-choice feminism see the abortion issue that way, but there's no way that's the important issue for pro-lifers. If Rodriguez doesn't understand that the main reason so many people oppose abortion is because they think it's despicable to take an innocent life for reasons that usually amount to lesser importance than the life issue, then he's living in a bubble. Since Rodriguez is Catholic, he should know better.
 
 










Want this badge?

The 257th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Ancient Hebrew Poetry. The Christian Carnival is a weekly collection of some of the best posts of the Christian blogosphere. It's open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought. This is a great way to make your writing more well known and perhaps pick up some regular readers. For examples of past carnivals, see the Christian Carnival archive.
 
To enter is simple. First, your post should be of a Christian nature, but this does not exclude posts that are about home life, politics, or current events from a Christian point of view. Select only one post dated since the last Christian Carnival (i.e. from the last Wednesday through the coming Tuesday). Then do the following:

Sign on Gas Pump

| | Comments (3)

I saw this posted on the side of a gas pump in Pennsylvania:

If a fire starts, do not remove nozzle then back away immediately.

I'm sure many people will get exactly what this is supposed to be saying. Nevertheless, it doesn't say what it's supposed to say. If just spoken, it's ambiguous between the following two meanings:

1. If a fire starts, what you shouldn't do is remove the nozzle, and what you should do is back away immediately.
2. If a fire starts, here's what you shouldn't do: remove the nozzle and then back away.

The first is the intended meaning. I think the second is the more natural interpretation when spoken. But this is actually written, and there's one thing that settles which meaning it has: whether there's a comma or some other separation marker between 'nozzle' and 'then'. There isn't. That means that, as written, it clearly does mean 2 and not 1.

Christian Carnival CCLVI

| | Comments (0)

        Want this badge?

The 256th Christian Carnival is up at A True Believer's Blog.

Bush's Faith

| | Comments (0)

There's been some attention of late to a recent interview President Bush did with Cynthia McFadden of ABC news. Some of what he's had to say has surprised a lot of people. See links at Daniel Pulliam's GetReligion post for some of that. I have to say that most of what he had to say doesn't surprise me very much. You might be surprised and perhaps skeptical of what he says in this interview if you come with the assumption that Bush is an arrogant, self-absorbed fundamentalist with theologically conservative positions on every religious question, who thinks he can discern God's will obviously and with no hesitation, and who thinks everything he's done is God's will. You'd have to think he's lying about his views and his attitude toward his faith in this interview if you went into it with those assumptions about what he must think. But there was never much evidence to think anything of the sort about him, even though it's a pretty dominant meme on the left (and among some on the right).

Pulliam's post seems a little strange to me, because he talks about how this is true in Europe but doesn't seem to think it's quite as bad in the U.S. Maybe I'm underestimating how bad the coverage in Europe has been, but I'm pretty sure that the coverage in the U.S. has been pretty downright awful. The suggestion that Bush initiated the Iraq war because he heard God tell him to do it is pretty common, even though he never said anything remotely like that. I'm not sure I've seen it asserted in a news story, but opinion journalists trot it out as if it's verified fact, and the quickness of the mainstream media to jump to the idea that Sarah Palin thought such a thing from a sentence that didn't remotely mean that suggests that they were already thinking along such lines with Bush.

Bush all along has given moral reasons for the Iraq invasion and for his opposition to abortion and the killing of embryos for stem cells. He's given secularly-available reasons for his support of the teaching of intelligent design arguments alongside the teaching of standard evolutionary theory. He's given traditional conservative reasoning for the public expression of religious beliefs and public support for faith-based programs and hasn't based it in any claim to special revelation. His resistance to draconian measures to protect the environment and to ward off global warming has largely been because his moderately conservative economic principles oppose such draconian pressure from the government, not because he thinks the Bible says not to care about the environment due to an imminent return of Christ. Yet I've heard some pretty smart people attribute exactly those motivations to him. I do think they'd be surprised by this interview, but I'm not sure it's rational to be surprised by it given that there was never any evidence to attribute the views they attribute to him to begin with.

One genuinely new thing in this interview, as far as I know, is Bush's willingness to say that he doesn't take the Bible literally. As I've discussed before (and see the comments on Pulliam's post for others recognizing the same problem), this is a very unhelpful way to describe things, since there's no one who really takes the Bible entirely literally. When Jesus says he's a vine, he doesn't mean he's a plant rather than an animal. He's speaking metaphorically and thus not literally. When he tells a parable, on the other hand, he's not implying the existence of the characters and events in the parable just because the expressions in the parable are all used literally. I suspect most people who say they don't take the Bible literally are open to seeing some parts of it more like parables. They're not sure Adam and Eve refers to an actual couple when there were no other peopel but might see them as metaphorical for an entire generation of people who rejected God. Or they accept Adam and Eve as a real couple of the first humans, but they don't accept the six-day creation structure as referring to six 24-hour days but rather accomplishing some theological purpose to indicate that God structured creation in certain ways.

Christian Carnival CCLVI Plug

| | Comments (0)

ChristianCarnivalRed150.gif

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The 256th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at A True Believer's 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 Christian Carnival page. Matt hasn't been able to keep his archives since summer 2007, and the one site that had been doing so is now defunct, so if anyone is interested in keeping and updating a page linking to old carnivals after Matt's list, please let me know.
 
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:

Sophia was drawing on our dry erase board. I probably wouldn't have been able to put together the various pieces in any coherent way without her narrative, which was something like this:

This is God, and this is Moses, and this is God's friend Jesus. This is the burning bush, and the burning bush sends God down to earth. And that's the story of Jesus.



This is the latest schedule of hosts for the Christian Carnival. You can find more information about the Christian Carnival here. I will add to the schedule as new hosts volunteer.

If you'd like to host a future edition of the Christian Carnival and have not contacted me about doing so, please let me know at the email address at the top of the sidebar. If you have particular preferences as to when you would like to host, please include that in your message. When possible, I will try to give the earliest spots to new hosts and hosts who have hosted less recently.

255 Dec 17 Parableman
256 Dec 24 A True Believer's Weblog
257 Dec 31 Ancient Hebrew Poetry
258 Jan 7 Fathom Deep: Sounding the Depths of God
259 Jan 14 Parableman
260 Jan 21 5th Anniversary Edition: Fish and Cans
261 Jan 28 Ignorant Historian
262 Feb 4 Participatory Bible Study Blog

Student Exam Answers

| | Comments (1)

Exam question: How does Thomas Aquinas explain contingency in a world completely planned out by God's providence?

Student answer: Human beings act by free judgement because humans are rational unlike animals who are irrational and do not act on instinct. Therefore, humans act on instinct making there their choices free.

My thought: The correct answer has nothing to do with human freedom but is based on an idiosyncratic definition of contingency in Aquinas. But if you're going to bring in human choice, it's probably not best to ground human free choice in mere instinct or to deny that animals ever act on instinct.


Exam question: Why does Thomas Aquinas think everything that has understanding must also have a will?

Student answer: Thomas Aquinas thinks that everything has understanding must also have a will because everything has intellect. God has intellect and his understanding is his existing and therefore so is his will. Since God has intellect, he has understanding, and since he has understanding he has will.

My thought: The correct answer has to do with what Aquinas thinks  it means to have a will and how that comes for free once your understanding can assign degrees of goodness to various options. I expected it to be one of the simplest to answer given some sense of what the answer really is. Yet my best student this semester gave an complex, completely wrong answer involving all manner of irrelevant material. She has Aquinas thinking rocks have intellect. She appeals to his doctrine of divine simplicity, which he doesn't invoke on this question (and I never covered in class). Only a pretty good student could come up with the latter in the absence of knowin the right answer, but where is the former coming from? Everything has an intellect?


Then there was the question about absolute and hypothetical necessity in Aquinas. One student began by talking about "Absolut necessity".

Christian Carnival CCLV

| | Comments (7)
 
 










Want this badge?

Welcome to the 255th Christian Carnival. For those not familiar with the Christian Carnival, it's a weekly collection of Christian bloggers' submissions of their best Christian-related posts from the previous week. I just finished my grading for the semester on Tuesday, but I'd been up almost the whole night and didn't finish until late in the day, and yesterday was a pretty busy day around these parts, so I apologize that this is up a day late, but I would have had to stay up later than I could coherently function if I were to have finished it last night.

As usual, please let me know if I missed anything or got any links wrong. I'm including the submitted posts in the order they were submitted, and at the end I've added a few other posts that weren't submitted that I would consider among the best posts of Christian bloggers in the past week. In the interest of getting this up without further delay, I decided to include authors' own descriptions of their posts if they provided them with their submission (occasionally slightly modified so as not to make it sound as if I wrote them myself), and otherwise I just have the title of the post and the blog name (except for the ringers at the end). Without further delay, let's proceed to the carnival!

Christian Carnival CCLV Plug

| | Comments (0)

        Want this badge?

The 255th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at right here at Parableman. 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 complete list at christiancarnival.com.
 
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:

Miroslav Volf on Glory

| | Comments (15)

John Piper reduces all of God's emotions to God's desire for promoting his own glory. (See the posts linked to in this comment for earlier posts on Piper's view.) Miroslav Volf discusses this view in a new book, as discussed in Henry Imler's post. Henry raises the worry that Volf is trying to have it both ways. I'm not entirely sure that's true. Here are the two (perhaps consecutive, but I'm not sure) quotes from Volf that seem to conflict:

Some theologians claim that all God's desires culminate in a single desire: to assert and maintain God's own glory. On its own, the idea of a glory-seeking God seems to say that God, far from being only a giver, is the ultimate receiver. As the great twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth disapprovingly put it, such a God would "in holy self-seeking... preoccupied with Himself." In creating and redeeming, such a God would give, but only in order to get glory; the whole creation would be a means to an end. In Luther's terms, here we would have a God demonstrating human rather than divine love.
But we don't have to give up on the idea that God seeks God's own glory. We just need to say that God's glory, which is God's very being, is God's love, the creative love that wants to confer good upon the beloved. Now the problem of a self-seeking God has disappeared, and the divinity of God's love is vindicated. In seeking God's own glory, God merely insists on being toward human beings the God who gives. This is exactly how Luther thought about God. So should we.

As I was thinking through this in writing a comment, I realized it was probably worth putting up a post here about this too, since I've written about the issue so many times before. These two paragraphs aren't at odds with each other, if I understand Volf correctly. In the first paragraph, Volf argues against Piper's position by saying that God's motivations do not all reduce to God's glory. In the second paragraph, he argues that God still acts to seek his own glory, as long as we can't make the reduction of other motives to God's glory. In fact, I think the best way to understand his positive proposal in the second paragraph is that he thinks the reduction goes the other way. If you reduce God's pursuit of his glory to God's love instead of the other way around, then you've got some content to why God's glory is so worth promoting for God to care so much about it, and you've also got an other-centered motivation for God to promote his glory, thus easily sidestepping the objection that God's pursuit of his glory is too self-focused.

My thought is that one need not go as far as Volf does. You don't need to reduce God's glory to the aspect of God's goodness that involves bestowing undeserved favor and love, and you don't need to reduce it even to the broader motivation of love in general (including intra-Trinitarian love). All that's required to make the move he wants to make is that God's goodness is the ground for why his glory is so worth pursuing. Why does that goodness have to be restricted to just love, though? It does seem problematic to me to seek one's honor merely for the sake of pursuing one's honor. There must be some reason why that honor is worth seeking. Piper either doesn't see this, or he doesn't recognize that having a basis for honor to be worth seeking means God's motivation to seek his own honor isn't the most basic one after all. But you don't need to reduce God's glory to God's love to avoid the problem Piper's view generates.

Christian Carnival CCLIV

| | Comments (0)

ChristianCarnivalRed150.gif

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The 254th Christian Carnival is up at Chasing the Wind.

Bob Jones and Race

| | Comments (10)

Update: Joseph Celucien has posted this at Christ, My Righteousness as part of a series on racial reconciliation, so it might be worth looking at the comments there as well.

Bob Jones University, founded in 1927 in the nexus of racial segregationism and the religious separatism of the early fundamentalist movement, took until 2000 to revoke their ban on interracial dating. Eight years later, they've issued a Statement about Race at Bob Jones University that reflects a fairly healthy view of race, admits to having based their policies on the surrounding cultural norms rather than the Bible, and admits to the wrongness of their institutional policies on race. I was glad in 2000 when they revoked their ban on interracial dating, and I'm glad to see this statement today.

Not everyone is happy about it, though, and I'm not talking about white supremacists. There are some people who simply refuse to accept this as genuine repentance. See the comments at Justin Taylor's post on this for some examples.

The reactions in that comment thread led me to think about a set of related concepts that people often don't distinguish, sometimes to the point of philosophical confusion on important issues. I've sometimes used a paper by Jeffrie Murphy on forgiveness that draws a four-fold distinction between justification, excuse, mercy, and reconciliation. I would now add to the list mitigating factors, explanations, and what Laurence Thomas calls moral deference. Justification is an an explanation why an action isn't wrong (presumably when someone is assuming or arguing that it is). A justification for killing someone, which is normally wrong, might be that I'm defending my son from a vicious murderer. It's a defense of the rightness of something that would otherwise be wrong. An excuse is an explanation of why we shouldn't blame someone who did something wrong. Someone who does something that's wrong but couldn't understand the relevant moral issues because of a diminished capacity to engage in moral reasoning would be excused. Mercy is the removal or diminishment of punishment. If a judge reduces a sentence or a governor or president commutes a sentence, it's mercy. Reconciliation is the restoration of normal relations, for instance if a divorced couple reinstated their marriage or two estranged friends resumed a relationship of friendship. Murphy distinguishes all of these from forgiveness, which is the willingness to put aside one's resentment.

Two related but yet distinct concepts that occurred to me in reading this discussion are mitigating factors, explanations, and moral deference. Mitigating factors can be the basis for some of the original list. A mitigating factor may explain why something normal wrong is right, or it might explain why someone shouldn't be held responsible for doing the wrong thing. It might make it right to reduce a sentence, or it could be the grounds for forgiveness. But the mitigating factor itself is just a condition that makes it worth considering a situation as more complex than the straightforward case of wrongdoing that deserves a certain simple response. An explanation of someone's behavior is simply an account of what led to it. Sometimes it's helpful to understand what led someone to do something wrong. Sometimes the explanation includes mitigating factors. Sometimes it provides some level of justification or excuse. Sometimes it's an attempt to justify or excuse but one that's not entirely successful. But sometimes when someone offers an explanation all they want is for you to understand how they could have ended up in that position, and it might be useful to know about in order to help prevent the person being in the situation that occasioned their wrong act. So I think this is a distinct category, and it's good to be able to think of it as separate. Someone can offer an explanation without necessarily seeing that explanation as an excuse, justification, or call for mercy. Finally, moral deference is when you admit that you don't have a good grasp of what it's like to be in someone else's situation, which leads you therefore to extend them some level of mercy, forgiveness, excuse, justification, or reconciliation. It's a particular reason for doing one of those things, namely that you can't put yourself in a position to judge as easily because you haven't experienced what they've experienced.



The 254th Christian Carnival will be taking place this coming Wednesday at Chasing the Wind. 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 complete list at christiancarnival.com.
 
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:

Batman sues Warner Brothers

| | Comments (1)

When I read that Batman was suing WB for the use of the name 'Batman', I was sure I was reading a wrongly-timed April Fools joke. But apparently it's true. It's not what you'd think, though. A Turkish town called Batman has sued Warner Brothers for using their name. I'm not entirely sure why D.C. Comics isn't their target, since they've clearly been using the name for far much longer.

Christian Carnival CCLIII

| | Comments (0)
 
 










Want this badge?

The 253rd Christian Carnival: The Advent (conspiracy) Edition is up at Parables of a Prodigal World.

November License Plates

| | Comments (2)

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

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

As I noted in my post last month, as of Oct 31 I had not seen Hawaii or Mississippi since I started this in October 2007. On Dec 1, I saw Mississippi, and on Dec 2 I saw Hawaii. So I've now seen all the U.S. states since I started this in October 2007. Thus I'm switching to a new format, keeping track of when the last time I saw the plates I haven't seen in the month I'm reporting on. So the following plates did not appear in the list above but have been in my lists since Oct 2007, and I've categorized them by when they last appeared.

Not seen since October 2008: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, West Virginia, U.S. government., British Columbia
Not seen since August 2008: Nebraska, Nova Scotia
Not seen since May 2008: Wyoming
Not seen since April 2008: Idaho
Not seen since Dec 2007: Puerto Rico, New Brunswick

Contact

    The Parablemen are: , , and .

    Twitter: @TheParableMan

Archives

Archives

Fiction I've Finished Recently

Non-Fiction I've Finished Recently