Jeremy Pierce: October 2009 Archives

Christian Carnival CCC

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The 300th Christian Carnival is up at Brain Cramps for God.

President Obama is putting aside politics-as-usual to honor a black Republican former senator today. Edward Brooke was the first popularly-elected black Senator (Reconstruction doesn't count) and the only black Senator since Reconstruction from a state other than Illinois (the others have been Carol Mosely-Braun, Barack Obama, and Roland Burris). He was elected as a black Republican in an overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly Democratic state and was reelected to a second term, allowing him to serve in the Senate for over a decade. Today he's receiving the Congressional Gold Medal.

Redistricting in favor of majority-black districts has effectively created an environment that makes black senators much more rare than we would expect, since it tends to produce candidates who are focused on issues that energize black voters but who seem out of the mainstream enough to be much harder to win elections in statewide races. Democratic redistricting that relies on artificial lines to ensure majority black districts has ironically made it much more difficult for black politicians who are more electable statewide (and thus get into the Senate) from getting into the positions that very much help you to make such a statewide run. I've even seen conservative pundits (e.g. Abigail Thernstrom) claim that Republicans have gone along with this kind of gerrymandering because they knew it would ultimately favor their own party.

See Nate Silver's Why Are There No Black Senators? for a more substantial argument for the claim that gerrymandering of this sort is counterproductive to racial progress in the U.S. Senate. I think he's right.

Fate Without Providence

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It's pretty common to find unlikely occurrences in fiction, where the one-in-a-million chance just happens to occur, and our heroes are saved. Terry Pratchett makes fun of this in one of his Discworld novels, where the characters assume that something that unlikely has to happen precisely because it is a one-in-a-million chance.

J.J. Abrams was recently asked about such an occurrence in the latest Star Trek movie. I think his response is revealing. Kirk ends up being beamed down to the same ice world that the future Spock from the original Trek reality happened to have been exiled on, and he happens to be beamed to a spot on that world right near where Spock happened to be, which also happened to be right near a Federation facility that Scotty was on, and Scotty just happened to have been the person doing the research Spock with his future knowledge could capitalize on to get Kirk and Scotty to the Enterprise.

Abrams accepts the radical unlikelihood. His excuse? He says it's the timeline attempting to repair itself and that the movie is about fate. The kind of friendship that these people (or rather their counterparts) in the original timeline had been part of somehow created itself again (actually not again but simply in parallel) in this other timeline.

It's hard to know how to respond to this. One the one hand, this is so ludicrous as to be unworthy of comment. Does Abrams really think it's plausible to respond to the claim that something is incredibly unlikely by asserting that his audience should just accept it as fate? If so, what mechanism of fate does he imagine here? What he seems to be saying is that the friendship itself is making itself happen, when at the time of these events there is no friendship yet. Or maybe he means the friendship in the original reality is causing the new friendship among these different individuals who are very similar, in which case it's backward causation from some future alternate reality. What he's saying just sounds crazy.

On the other hand, there is something that could make sense of this, something he's resisting bringing in. What wants is something like providence. He wants something that could only occur with intelligent guidance of events. When it's writers who have some level of intelligence who are guiding the events, you can get things like this, but Abrams seems to want to accept something like this as if it's plausible, and I have trouble seeing how that could be without a providential hand guiding things along. He apparently doesn't allow for that and has to attribute it to being caused by the friendship or something. I wonder sometimes if the desire for fate without providence is really a longing for providence or perhaps even an assumption that there is such a thing without an admission that there's any such thing.

[cross-posted at Evangel]



The 300th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Brain Cramps for GodThe 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:
One reason I read the LTI Blog is because I regularly come across important information there that I've never noticed in any of the abortion discussions in the philosophical literature or in any political blogs not focused on abortion. (This isn't the only reason. It's the only pro-life blog I've ever found focused mostly on abortion that is pretty well-informed philosophically. Several key contributors there are well-read in the philosophical literature and are pretty good at explaining the difference between good and bad arguments.)

In a post mostly about how to argue with those who disagree in a way that doesn't shut down discussion (which would be good for anyone to pay heed to), Jay Watts points to two documents I was unaware of. Both have to do with the common pro-choice argument that if abortion is made illegal again it will lead to lots of deaths from back-alley abortions.

The first document is an excerpt from material written by the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood in 1960, stating quite plainly that 90% of illegal abortions at the time were done by physicians in their offices in a way that was as safe for the mother as it would have been if it were legal. [The Wikipedia entry for "Unsafe Abortion" includes a key quote from this excerpt also, for those who don't want to trust the PDF. So this is out there for those who know what to look for, but I'd never been directed toward it before.]

The second is from NARAL founder Bernard Nathanson, admitting that the pro-choice arguments before Roe v. Wadeabout the numbers of deaths from illegal abortions were simply fabrications on the order of 10-20 times the amount that an accurate assessment could have produced.

I've always thought this argument was pretty ineffective anyway except for someone who is already pro-choice, for reasons Jay mentions at the end of the post. If you're open to the possibility that the fetus has significant moral status, then the fact that killing a fetus illegally might also produce a death of the mother is irrelevant. If you're going to legalize a particular kind of murder (or even something that, for all you know, might turn out to be murder but you're not sure) then legalizing it just because it produces a second death when illegal turns out to justify a lot of acts that are unquestionably murder by anyone's standards.

It's one thing to offer an argument that should only convince those who are already on your side but is a little deceptive because it makes an emotional appeal that isn't really all that rational on pro-life premises. It's quite another to use deliberate deception just the get the political result you want. A lot of misrepresentation happens in politics, and that includes misrepresentations of those who hold contrary views, abortion included. That's politics as usual. I try to resist it, and I hope I'm better than most at stopping it, but it's not the worst kind of dishonesty, since most of the people who do it simply assume the worst of their political opposition or of those who take contrary moral stands, and they at least think what they're saying is true, even if their standard of proof is pretty low in many cases. But simply making up numbers to argue for a policy change is much worse than politics as usual, and that's what these two leaders of the pro-choice movement admitted that the movement had done to get abortion legalized.

Like politics as usual, this happens on both sides of the aisle. But I think we have a much more significant duty to point it out and criticize it when it's this sort of deception, because this is a knowing twisting of the truth merely to get a certain result rather than simply assuming the worst of your opponent. We should avoid both, but it's worth distinguishing between the two and placing an even stronger emphasis on the avoiding the second. I will sometimes point out when I think one side misstates the other's position or ignores how an argument will fail given the assumptions of the other side. It's a lot less common when we can be sure that they're outright lying, though, and it's even more rare to find someone admitting it after the fact. It's kind of sad that this outright lie has become the basis of a fairly common pro-choice argument for retaining the status quo in abortion laws.

[cross-posted at Evangel]

Christian Carnival CCXCIX

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The 299th Christian Carnival is up at The Minority Thinker.


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First Things has started a new blog called Evangel with all evangelical contributors. I wasn't all that surprised to get Joe Carter's invitation to take part, because he's tried several times to get me to join a team of evangelical bloggers, but most of the time no one was interested (including me). So I was indeed surprised at what this blog has become in such a short time. Joe has tried several times to get together a team of evangelical bloggers like this, and I guess the First Things name has served as part of the motivation this time around. (It certainly was for me. That part of his invitation did surprise me.)

I'm pretty impressed at the team Joe has managed to assemble, and I'm glad to be a part of it. I don't know all the names in the list, but I've follwed the blogs of several for quite a while, and I've been aware of others on and off but enough to keep tabs on what they're doing. A number of them very much have my respect. We'll see if I can keep up with them, because over 50 posts appeared there since this weekend while I was deliberately staying away due to the kids being home (and it was a four-day weekend through today in our school system).

While I'm writing about what I call meta-blogging issues, I thought I'd mention that I've reworked one of my RSS feeds. If you read my blog via RSS, you might be reading the feed that no longer picks up any posts with the meta-blogging tag. All my carnival announcements have that tag, and anything about the blog itself or some other blog connection like this will be excluded from that feed, because that's the feed that imports into Facebook, and I don't want all my Facebook friends (who number over 600, to give you an idea of how many people would be inundated with Christian Carnival announcements that they won't remotely understand) to have to see all that. Of course, if you read that feed you won't see this announcement either, since this post is tagged with the meta-blogging category. But maybe someone who reads that feed will end up on the blog site for some reason and will notice this post.

The 98th Philosophers' Carnival is up at

Puddleglum's Wager

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We've been listening to C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles on CD. I read them when I was about ten years old, and I never got around to re-reading them, so some of it is almost as if I'm experiencing them for the first time. When I got to the following scene from the Silver Chair, it struck me as a strange argument, sort of like Pascal's Wager, but something rubbed me the wrong way about it. The main characters were in the Green Witch's underground domain and had fallen under her influence, which was causing them to lose their belief in the above-ground world. Puddleglum the marsh-wiggle then gives the following speech:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things-trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say.

What rubbed me the wrong way was that it sounded as if he didn't care whether the world was real. He was going to believe in it anyway, because it's more pleasant to believe in it. How can the upper world be so much better than the underground world that its mere finite value of being better would be worth believing in a lie if it's not true?

When I raised this issue with a friend, he said, "But it's Pascal's Wager!" I said, "No, it's not!" He insisted that the upper world is Aslan's world, which I'd been thinking of as the place at the end of the world that they went to in the previous book, and the upper world was just Narnia, which is the analogue of Earth. But we were interrupted and never managed to finish the conversation.

I realized later, when teaching Pascal's Wager, what Lewis must have been up to, and it's actually a neat trick. If he was seeing Narnia as a placeholder for the eternal reward of Pascal's Wager and the underworld as a placeholder for this life, then you have an interesting argument that isn't quite Pascal's Wager. Pascal's Wager concedes for the sake of argument that life in this world is more pleasant if you don't believe in God but then argues that the chance of eternal reward in heaven compensates for that in terms of rational decision theory. You shouldn't even need 50% likelihood of God's existence for the wager to be worth it given that the reward is infinite and the cost merely finite if you bet wrong. But Lewis' Wager is different in exactly one way: it doesn't make the concession. It takes the finite value of life in this world to be better if you believe in God than if you don't. So life is finitely better if you believe in God, and the afterlife is infinitely better if it turns out there is one. Therefore, it's a no-brainer. You might as well believe in God. If it turns out you lose the bet (i.e. God doesn't exist), you still end up finitely better off, and if you win (i.e. God does exist) then you get an infinitely better result.

One interesting result of Puddleglum's Wager is that it easily avoids the problem Mike Almeida raises against Pascal's Wager. Mike's problem (which I'm not taking a stand on at this point) relies on its being better in this life not to believe.

[cross-posted at Prosblogion]

The 299th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at The Minority Thinker 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:

It occurred to me while teaching Nietzsche yesterday that the use of Nietzsche to motivate antisemitism by the Nazi regime is pretty much the opposite of contemporary antisemitism, at least in one key respect. Hitler's use of Nietzsche capitalized on the idea of Jewish inferiority. If it's perfectly fine for the strong to trample the weak, then all it takes is finding a group that can be taken to be weak, and then you can trample away.

The problem Nietzsche would have is that you can't really demonstrate that Jews are the weak. In fact, the history of Jews in the United States seems to demonstrate otherwise. Before Hitler's time, Jews in the United States tended to do worse on IQ tests than the majority population. After WWII, they tended to do noticeably higher than average. The best explanation for that seems to be that Jews were sidelined more often and had become mainstreamed in a way that allowed them to develop the cognitive skills that they already had potential for but hadn't been developing as strongly. Even with the problems in using IQ tests to identify intelligence plain-and-simple, it's certainly true that there are skills that IQ tests measure, and the Nazis would have been happy to accept IQ scores anyway. So it seems as if the facts are just against their claim.

Contemporary antisemitism has to take a different stance. Not only is it ludicrous to take Jews to be inferior in terms of any important skill set for success in life, but Jews have in fact been much more successful in most of the ways people who make such judgments would actually care about than the average for the non-Jewish population. So the narrative is no longer that Jews are inferior and thus need to be trampled because of some Nietzschean mission to lift oneself up by taking advantage of the weak. Now it's almost a reversal. Jews have assumed control of society in some massive conspiracy, and the rest of us are the victims who need to resist the collective strength of the Jewish conspiracy.

Now I guess the two views are compatible. Someone could think that Jewish success is merely due to conspiratorial measures implemented by idiots who succeed only because a few of the relatively smart ones have gotten enough Jews into influential positions to prevent anyone from overcoming their collective strength. But I don't think the idea of Jewish inferiority among such conspiracy theorists is really about intellectual inferiority anymore. It's not clear to me exactly what kind of inferiority it's supposed to be, though. It clearly has some normative element, but I'm not sure it's even thought-out enough for there to be a real answer to that question.

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The 298th Christian Carnival is up at The  Bible Archive.

Bill Mounce on Translations

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I really like Bill Mounce's attitude toward Bible translation. He recognizes different translation philosophies for different purposes, something I've consistently defended on this blog for over half a decade. He's been discussing the TNIV, ESV, and some of the debates among supporters of those translations, and I thought it would be good to direct those interested in such issues to his posts.

Luke 17:35--The ESV and Dirty Dancing makes two observations that I think are worth recognizing. First is a short discussion of colloquial translation. I frequently see complaints about certain translations not being English, and some people who know English pretty well will sometimes make such claims about things that seem very much English to me. (For an example from Wayne Leman, whose work on such matters is often very good, see this post and the comments on the issue of "in the days of".) Mounce's discussion of "grinding together" seems to me to get to the same kind of issue.

Then Are Ants People? looks at a very interesting ESV translation in Proverbs 30. The ESV uses the term "a people" to describe ants (and then again for badgers). A critic of the ESV considers this an error. Mounce defends it as getting the point of the passage much more strongly than the more dynamic translations can do and sees it as a weakness of dynamic translations.

Then I Tim 3:8 -- Double-Tongued Deacons looks at the tendency of the more formally-equivalent translations to leave ambiguities of the original language in the translation. His example is a Greek term that seems to appear nowhere else in Greek literature before this point. We're not sure exactly what it means. You can make a decision on what it might mean and get a specific meaning in your translation, but that relies on speculation. Alternatively, you can retain the sense of the original (which may have been a new word to its original hearers) by translating the components of it literally and getting "double-tongued". This may actually convey better what someone would have heard it as if it really was a newly-coined word. This isn't Mounce's preferred translation, but what he's drawing attention to is that a translation of this word the way the ESV does it should be perfectly fine, and critics who make fun of it are missing something important. He points out that you'd have to think you're reading a Harry Potter novel or something to think it means someone really has a forked tongue.

Today Mounce has announced that he will be serving on the translation committee for the revision of the NIV. I think that's an excellent move on the part of those selecting the members of the committee. Mounce understands the reasoning behind ESV decisions, since he was a member of that committee, but he's also committed to there being good reasons for different translations that use different translation philosophies, and he accepts the TNIV policy as not generally problematic. He does see specific problems in some of the ways they implemented it, but I do too. I haven't seen anything from him before on gender translation issues, so it was nice to see some of what he has to say about that in this post.

It sounded to me as if he intends to continue his series looking at these issues, so I wanted to recommend it to those who, like me, really enjoy reflecting carefully on them. The Koinonia blog in general often has good stuff (but I also find stuff there that's a lot less interesting or helpful to me, as often happens with multi-author blogs), but I think Mounce's contributions have often had some of the highest-quality content.



The 298th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at The Bible ArchiveThe 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:

Last night I was catching up on PEA Soup, and this excellent post by Jussi Suikkanen caught my attention. It's about the harm of rape (in particular of men raping women), not just to the woman being raped or even to all women but even to all men, including the rapist himself. One thing I appreciate about the post is a pretty clear listing of ways that rape causes harm in a much broader way in society than it might seem if you just focus on the act of rape itself.

One key element is missing, though. The most significant way that a man harms himself by raping a woman is the harm caused to himself merely by doing such an immoral thing. By committing such a terrible act, he diminishes his well-being in unmeasurable ways. A crucial element of experiencing the good of this life is being a good person. Without good moral character expressed through good actions, no one can live the best life available to us in this life. It would be much better to lack all the kinds of goods that Suikkanen focuses on if having them meant being an evil person.

On a different note, I want to affirm Suikkanen's overall point and expand it a bit. I appreciate Suikkanen's resistance to the common treatment among some feminists of rape as a zero-sum game that sets up social structures to benefit men at women's expense. I have similar resistance to the parallel reasoning that treats anti-black racism as benefiting white people at the expense of black people. There certainly are social structures that harm black people in ways that few white people experience. If you want to call this white privilege, I have no objection to that, as long as it's clear that the racist structure isn't giving whites a boost. Even if there's some boost from it in one respect, the harm to everyone from the existence of such racist structures has become so obvious to me that I can't see privilege of this sort as a real privilege.

If I have an easier time getting a certain kind of job compared with black applicants because of unconscious anti-black bias on the part of the hiring committee (e.g. they have lower expectations for black applicants without having an explicit view that black people are less intelligent or less capable), then I guess there's some sense in which I can benefit from white privilege. But the existence of that sort of privilege is itself a negative, not just for the black people who have a harder time getting a job because of it. It's a harm to me too (and not just because my wife is white and my kids mixed race). It's a harm because it diminishes my interaction with those who might resent me because of my race. It's a harm because the kinds of cooperation and mutual trust among members of the same society is weakened. It's a harm because it makes it takes more work and more thought to be a good person with respect to those of other races. It's a harm because "keeping blacks down" in any sense and to any degree will weaken the good contributions of black people to society as a whole, of which I'm a part. Much will slip through (e.g. much of what some call "white culture" has been so strongly influenced by black culture over more than a century of mass media that has included black entertainers that there's really no such thing as white culture). But the fact that it's still seen as "white culture" and therefore "other" by many black Americans is not just unfortunate for people who have that attitude but for the enrichment of all Americans. I could go on and on.

This is at least one reason for resisting the narrative that paints white privilege as almost a conscious cause of all structural and institutional racism in society. It's common, especially among this influenced by Marxian analyses, to think of power structures in society that perpetuate themselves. I have no problem with this. It seems obvious to me on reflection that there are such self-perpetuating structures. The key objection I have is that many who hold such a view attribute a rational character to these structures, as if white privilege is perpetuated by deliberate choices by those in power (which in this case might not just be heads of corporations or politicians but in some cases might be every white person who benefits), with the goal simply of maintaining that power.

This was true enough with Jim Crow, and it makes the best sense of some really crazy historical moments (like the Supreme Court definition of Mexicans as white that allowed systematic exlusion of Mexican-Americans from juries even though it was already accepted as unconstitutional to exclude blacks from juries systematically). But does it explain why generational welfare inheritance is more common among blacks than whites? Did the white liberals who concocted welfare intend it to be a way to keep black people dependent on the government in order to preserve white privilege? Even my most cynical moments don't go that far. (They only go as far as suspecting that politicians knowingly put band-aids on problems that they know will not solve them in order to appear to be doing something, but the goal there isn't to keep black people down and preserve white privilege but rather a very different selfish motive -- an individual motive to maintain one's political position, completely independently of race.)

Most of the time I'm not so jaded about people's motivations, though. Welfare was never really seen as a political move to try to gain points while doing nothing. Most supporters of particular welfare policies have genuinely seen it to be a good thing, something to help those who are less fortunate and could use a leg up. It wasn't until the Clinton-Gingrich welfare reform that we had a distinction between (1) those who rely on welfare because they can't work or are temporarily needing assistance while they seek a job or seek education for a job and (2) those who seek assistance merely to avoid working. That welfare reform brough some problems with it, but it fixed something the original creation of welfare created that was probably unintentional but was an unfortunate consequence. When welfare was massively expanded in the 1960s in a way that got self-sufficient black Americans to become generationally dependent on welfare, which in turn caused many of the more serious inner city problems in many predominantly-black neighborhoods, I don't think many if any of its original supporters had any clue what kind of serious consequences the program would lead to. They just rightly saw that some people in need would be helped (and probably wrongly saw that some who didn't need help should be ushered into that help as well).

There's no need to impugn the motives of such people. But I think it's that kind of inference that the usual narrative of white privilege often involves. It doesn't follow from the facts about how these self-perpetuating social structures work, even apart from its dependence on false judgments about harm and benefit.

Christian Carnival CCXCVII

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The 297th Christian Carnival is up at Thinking Christian.

Signs of Forgiveness

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In a conversation this evening about the call to forgive in such passages as Matthew 5:21-26; 6:14-15; 18:21-35, one of the participants raised some good questions about what exactly forgiveness requires. My initial thought was to make a bunch of distinctions between things in the neighborhood of forgiveness that might be easily confused with it and then make it clear that not all of them are presumed under the command to forgive. See, for example, my post on the Bob Jones University policy changes on race for a fuller account of the distinctions between forgiving, excusing, justifying, showing mercy, finding mitigating factors, reconciling, showing moral deference, and explaining how an action came about. Some of these are less than forgiveness, and some go beyond it. Some are compatible with it and often go together with it but not required for forgiveness, while others are necessary for forgiveness, and others are quite distinct from forgiveness.

A number of things came out of the discussion, but one thing that I think was very helpful was along completely different lines. Instead of separating all these different concepts and figuring out which are required for forgiveness, someone suggested looking to other biblical commands that are in the neighborhood of forgiveness to see if those are present. It doesn't matter so much (a) which particular things we're going to call forgiveness as (b) whether we actually do those things. If I have not forgiven someone, I won't be likely to turn the other cheek or go the extra mile for the person. Philosophical distinctions can be important, and we do need to think wisely about different categories of action or states of mind, but the more important think is not to let someone's offense against me, however legitimate, to prevent me from seeking the other person's good. If this person is hungry, will I feed them, entirely at my own cost. If they need something, will I provide it? This is a radical lifestyle, but it's what Christian teaching requires.

So if we have a test like that, some of the questions that might arise can be answered pretty easily. Someone might have broken some promises to me. Have I forgiven them? It's not necessarily a good test of it to ask whether I believe they're going to do something they tell me they're going to do. They do have a track record of dishonesty in their promises, or at least unwillingness to follow through on what they said they'd do. But am I willing to take the loss by helping them out when they really need it? Even if I know the person is unlikely to return the money they ask for, the issue isn't whether I trust them to return it. It's whether I'm willing to seek the person's best, and that might (in a particular case) involve giving them the money they want to borrow. On the other hand, it might (in a different case) involve telling them that they can't take my money.

What it depends on is whether I can carefully conclude what's in their best interests and make my decision on those grounds, not on whether I can trust them to return the money and make my decision on those grounds. That's a test of whether genuine reconciliation has occurred, and even if we want to distinguish forgiveness and reconciliation as two separate states it's hard for me to see genuine forgiveness in a case where there's no attempt to reconcile and restore some kind of relationship, at least of the sort where the wronged person is willing to put aside the wrong to the degree required for wanting what's best for the other person rather than wanting what's bad for the person or even simply not caring what happens to the other person, even if not everything goes back to the way it was before.

I think the short way to think of this is that it's probably not Christian forgiveness if there are significant violations of other Christian commands about interacting with other people. Christians are called to love others with a self-sacrificial love, and if someone else's wrongdoing prevents you from doing that then you probably haven't forgiven them. Christians are expected to treat everyone according to a higher standard, including enemies. So if a fellow believer or friend doesn't even get that treatment, then surely something's wrong, and it's not just the original wrong that needs to be forgiven. It's also a wrong attitude on the part of the wronged party. It's easy to try to hide behind a component of forgiveness, perhaps a putting aside of some resentment or a somewhat more tolerant attitude toward the person, while not fully bringing yourself to a position where you're following the radical call of placing the other person's interests before your own.

The 297th Christian Carnival will be hosted this coming Wednesday at Thinking ChristianThe 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:

Statute of Limitations

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As you might be able tell from my sidebar, I've been watching a lot of Law & Order lately (all three series that play regularly), and one thing that I've found myself thinking in a number of episodes is that statute of limitations laws often serve injustice more than justice. A serial rapist will go free if they discover who he is one day beyond the five-year statue of limitations. Some crimes don't have a statute of limitations, but a five-year statute of limitations for rape sounds pretty unjust to me given how serious a crime rape is.

I had similar thoughts when we heard about the string of Obama appointees earlier this year who had committed federal crimes by lying on tax forms, sometimes for serious amounts of money, but it was long enough ago that there were absolutely no legal consequences or even requirements to pay up. It just strikes me as unjust. They're criminals, but it's illegal to prosecute them. They ought to be held accountable. So the law seems unjust.

Without doing any research on the history of statutes of limitations, I'd been having that thought. I never got around to exploring the justifications for such laws, though, but I finally did get an explanation on a Special Victims Unit episode (season 1 episode "Limitations") of why there are statutes of limitations. I'd seen this episode years ago, but I guess I hadn't been paying attention well or maybe wasn't raising the question, because a judge explains the original reasoning for such laws in an explanation for how he decides an issue:

The statute of limitations has a long history in common law. It exists to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial, to make sure that the recollections of witnesses, if any, are fresh, to pressure the government to file charges in a timely manner, and so that, rightly or wrongly, accused citizens need not live their life in fear of the government pursuing them after a long delay.

There seem to me to be three arguments there.

(1) Fair trials require witnesses to have fresh recollections, and a statute of limitations decreases the chances of too-old memories from being used to convict someone unfairly.

(2) Delay in filing charges is bad, and it's good to motivate the government to do so quickly. Statutes of limitations motivate the government to do so quickly, or they'll lose the chance.

(3) It's bad to let the accused live a life of fear of being pursued for a crime after a long delay, and statutes of limitations prevent that.

I have to say that I find these reasons wholly unconvincing. The first one has some merit. The problem is that we don't apply this consistently. Some crimes have no statute of limitations. Maybe it's supposed to be a balancing act, where crimes that are more severe are important enough to allow delayed prosecution in cases where they discover better evidence much later. But if so, why is rape one of the less severe crimes? It shouldn't be. So if this line of reasoning is going to justify some crimes having statutes of limitations but not others, I think we need serious revision of which crimes have them and which ones have longer or shorter limitations. Five years for rape but none for murder seems grossly unjust.

The only other justification I can think of if that rape somehow by its very nature has more risk of unfair trials if there's a delay. Is that so? It's true that rape more often has "he said/she said" kinds of considerations, but it's not more often dependent on testimony than murder. They like to have testimony in both cases, and "he said/she said" testimony should never be enough to convict someone of any crime without further evidence or further testimony. That goes for murder too. It's more difficult to reconstruct motives later on, and that applies to murder too. So I'm not sure this saves the argument.

The second reason also has something going for it. I can understand incentives to get the government to file charges in a timely manner once they have enough evidence to do so. On the other hand, the U.S. Constitution has a double jeopardy prohibition (which I also think can serve injustice often enough, but I doubt it's going away any time soon). If prosecutors bring charges when they can't win a case, and they could have waited until they had a better case, then they might lose the chance to get a conviction. So there might be legitimate reasons to delay even if the person is guilty. If they're not sure who is guilty, then of course they should delay. But is the statute of limitations of five years for rape going to make much difference here? Presumably if they haven't filed charges in five years it's not because they're dilly-dallying. It's because they don't have the evidence. But then when you get the evidence, shouldn't it be fine to pursue it even if it's six years from the crime? So I don't see how this really discourages incompetent delaying enough, and it does prevent morally legitimate pursuit of prosecution.

I have even less sympathy for the third argument. It's true that I wouldn't want the government potentially after me my entire life to prosecute me for something I didn't do or even something I did do, but why should that affect whether we allow it? No one wants to be prosecuted. If they didn't do it, we can hope the process allows enough reasonable doubt, and that's no different with a trial 20 years later than it is with a trial the same year as the incident. If they did do it, then the fear is about avoiding something the person deserves, so we shouldn't cater to that. I don't see how this is all that good a reason. Maybe there are some negatives, but does it justify not being able to prosecute a rapist for a crime committed six years ago when new evidence identifies the perpetrator when it was unknown previously? I don't think so.

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