Saturday, 30 November 2013

Refusal to receive the greater blessing

When God commands the Israelites concerning warfare he gives them several reasons they are permitted to stay home.
Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Is there any man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. And is there any man who has planted a vineyard and has not enjoyed its fruit? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man enjoy its fruit. And is there any man who has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.’ (Deu 20:5-7)
They are also not to fight if they are afraid, though that is so they do not dampen the courage of the other men.

The list of exclusions are
  • New house
  • New vineyard
  • New wife
These are pleasures that God has given him and he is allowed to enjoy them over going to war else he might die in warfare and never have the opportunity of experiencing these gives from God's hand. When the country is called to war, men who have newly gained a significant blessing are exempt.

Contrast this with Jesus' parable of the Wedding Feast. Jesus said,

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luk 14:16-24)
This is not a command to go to war where a man may lose his life and never enjoy the good things that God has given him: land, oxen or a wife. Rather an invite to join another in his celebration of the good things God has given him.

A man may avoid risking his life in war so he can enjoy his blessings lest he lose his life before he does. A man invited to a banquet is not in danger of losing his life. His refusal to attend in order to enjoy his personal blessings prevents the banquet holder from celebrating. He is choosing a lesser blessing (land, oxen, wife) over the greater blessing: the feast in the kingdom of God. He is using an excuse that is valid in certain situations but not the circumstance he applying it to. It is interesting to note that the result of their refusal to receive the greater blessing (the banquet) means that they can never obtain it. Be wary lest your enjoyment of God's blessings are thorns (Mat 13:7) which distract you from the kingdom (Deu 11:18).

Friday, 29 November 2013

Gratitude in the details

A lot of posts I have read in the last day have focused on blessing because it is American Thanksgiving. This is not a tradition or holiday here, though I wanted to mention how much we can express gratitude to God. Not generalities but specifics. And even within specifics more specificity.

Take a simple pleasure like warmth. I really like warmth. But how many ways does God allow me to take pleasure in this one simple sense. I am grateful for
  • A warm bath
  • A warm fire on a cold night
  • A hot meal for dinner
  • A warm wife to hold in bed
  • A warm spa outside on a snowy day
  • Nerves that sense temperature and a brain that interprets nerve signals as warmth
  • That God invented such a pleasure as warmth so that his creatures can enjoy it
God's gifts are not only expansive all the way up, they are expansive all the way down.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Hobbit may well prove a classic

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was published in 1937. C.S. Lewis wrote a review the same year which you can read here. He makes some interesting comments that Tolkien had created a new world brimming with history, much as authors like Lewis Carroll and George MacDonald before him. Though the most interesting and amusing comment his his final sentence,
Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic.
You think?! Very prescient Lewis.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Monday quote

Man and coyote both eat chickens. But the more coyotes the fewer chickens, while the more men the more chickens.

James Wanliss, Resisting the Green Dragon, p.30

Monday, 18 November 2013

Monday quote

Lawyers and computers have both been proliferating since 1970. Unfortunately, lawyers, unlike computers, have not gotten twice as smart and half as expensive every 18 months.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A casuistry in equivocation and imprecision

The atheists are acclaiming a new book in their armament. Peter Boghossian, a philosopher from Portland State University, has written A Manual for Creating Atheists.

Disclaimer: I have only read the foreword and first 2 chapters of the book.

From the description of the book,
A Manual for Creating Atheists offers the first-ever guide not for talking people into faith--but for talking them out of it. Peter Boghossian draws on the tools he has developed and used for more than twenty years as a philosopher and educator to teach how to engage the faithful in conversations that will help them value critical thinking, cast doubt on their religious beliefs, mistrust their faith, abandon superstition and irrationality, and ultimately embrace rationality and reason.
While I support a more rational approach to theology and encourage Christians to think more deeply, the early parts of this book do not aid this endeavour and I suspect the subsequent chapters will fail also.

I will refrain from commenting in detail on Michael Shermer's foreword here save to note that his understanding of Christianity (despite his previous claim to salvation) is somewhat shallow. The first chapter "Street Epistemology" is a encouragement to fellow atheists to evangelise the world for unbelief and offers hope for a utopia free of religious constraints and political correctness—ironic given Boghossian's use of "she" for the generic person; as well as his promotion of fornication, gay "marriage", abortion, euthanasia, and opposition to (school) corporal punishment, all the trendy ideologies brought to us by the same men who gave us political correctness.

More concerning is the chapter on faith. Faith is a somewhat difficult term in that it does have more than one meaning. But for all his discussion on faith he fails to mention the common meaning attributed to the word by both the Bible and Christian theologians. The closest he gets is the quote from Hebrews which he dismisses as a "deepity"—a pithy phrase that has the appearance of profundity but is in fact meaningless on any level except the surface level. Well, let's take the surface level.
  • Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1 KJV)
  • Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (NIV)
  • Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (ESV) 
Faith is defined here as a confidence or assurance in that which we hope will be the case. Not a hope that is a wish, but a hope that is looked forward to. Not the hope that my stock will rise tomorrow, but the hope an engaged woman has for her approaching wedding day. It is the assurance or conviction of things unseen, or yet to be seen; the certainty of what we know is the case but is not visible, or not yet formed.

The reason men are approved for their faith relates to whom the faith is in, not the mere presence of faith, an attribute that is hardly limited to pious. We can also understand what Christian faith means by the fact that the Bible translates the same word variably as "faith", "belief" and "trust".

Conversely, Boghossian invents meanings for this word. Meanings that "faith" has never had in it long existence are now attached to it. Apparently no human has ever known what he meant by the word "faith", but now we can know thanks to Boghossian's belated discovery of the meanings. Of course this makes dialogue so much easier as the atheist does not need to understand the person they are taking with, the atheist can instead ascribe the new meanings to the word and inform his opponent of what he really means.

The meanings? Faith can either mean
  1. belief without evidence; or
  2. pretending to know things you don't know.
The first is almost the opposite of what faith does mean. The very issue with faith is that there is evidence. Perhaps not evidence of the actual event (which may still yet be future), but evidence of the faithfulness of the person teaching us or making us promises. The child who has faith that his father will buy him a bar of chocolate on the way home from soccer (as he said he would) may not have the evidence of the chocolate bar in his hand but he does have the evidence of chocolate bars after every previous game and probably a thousand other promises besides.

The second definition is just hubris. Perhaps I may be making claims about things I don't know, perhaps not, but how do you know that I don't know? Where did Boghossian gain the knowledge that when he disagrees with the theist that the theist is not only incorrect, the theist cannot possibly know what he claims to know?

We are shown several examples of definition 2 where the atheist can apply the author's rhetoric: "My faith is beneficial to me" can now be understood by the atheist to mean "pretending to know things I can't know is beneficial to me". But the list of examples has at least 2 broad categories of "faith" here. "Faith" is analogous to "trust" or "belief" in several examples but it is also used as a metonymy for "religion". If a word has a definition this does not apply when it is used as a metonymy. That we can use "crown" for "government" does not mean that the definition of "government" is "a jewelled headpiece". For a philosopher this is incredibly imprecise!

Next we are informed that
Faith and hope are not synonyms. Sentences with these words also do not share the same linguistic structure and are semantically different—for example, one can say, "I hope it's so," and not "I faith it's so."
I agree "faith" and "hope" are not synonymous, though they are related. But the rest is just nonsense. "Faith" is a noun in English not a verb. "Hope" is both a noun and verb. Boghossian forms a sentence using "hope" in its verb form then shows that you can't replace a verb with a noun without modifying it. Well no you can't. But convert "faith" to a verb-form and it makes sense. How about
I have faith it's so.
I trust it's so.
These are perfectly fine. Or use "hope" as a noun and change it to faith. Compare
I have hope that you will return.
I have faith that you will return.
Further, these examples show that "hope" and "faith" are related concepts.

There are a couple of other problems in this chapter. Atheism is defined as not having enough evidence to believe in God but be willing to change one's mind if evidence is presented.
[The atheist] simply thinks the existence of God highly unlikely. A difference between an atheist and a person of faith is that an atheist is willing to revise their belief (if provided sufficient evidence); the faithful permit no such revision.
The example of the author of his foreword notwithstanding, why would one stop believing in someone he has met? Does (perceived) lack of evidence really compete with actual evidence. The atheist merely needs evidence that God exists, but the theist needs strong evidence that overrides what he already knows.

Is not this atheism just agnosticism? But the author does not like the term "agnostic", further he considers it superfluous. Yet what to call the person who really does not know? And despite the so-called willingness to change one's mind, do not most atheists assert that there is no God?

Boghossian has some relevant things to say about objective and subjective belief. He rightly notes that religion makes objective claims (which he views as false). He then tries to show how wrong belief, or rather belief based on faith and not reason which he implies will invariably be incorrect, leads to bad consequences. How does he do this? Appeal to the fruit of Islam as seen in Afghanistan and several other states that follow Sharia law. Why Islam? Presumably because he could not do this with Christendom which has led to most of the markers of prosperity that he names: exports, imports, literacy, economic aid, public health, life-expectancy, infant-mortality, household income, GDP. (He also quotes the Happy Planet Index, I had to look that one up). And thanks to the 20th century we have an atheist comparison. The atheist governments killed millions of their own people, fared poorly on Boghossian's markers of prosperity, and were failed states, or escaped demise by abandoning their economic policies.

I realise that it may seem unfair to review a book that remains partially unread. There is some merit in this complaint. Unfortunately I am not particularly willing to commit my money and time given the significant faults in the opening chapters.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Monday quote

Self-appointed expert groups tend to preferentially include members who agree on central issues. While this increases the chance of reaching consensus, it is more doubtful whether it increases the chance of reaching correct conclusions.

Peter C G√łtzsche

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Beaten for receiving communion

Iranian Christians punished for drinking wine in communion.
A court in the Iranian city of Rasht has sentenced four members of the Church of Iran denomination to 80 lashes each for drinking wine during a communion service.
What the punishment is is not completely clear as the sentence was for drinking alcohol and possession of a receiver and satellite antenna. Even the Torah limited lashes to 40 for serious crimes (Deuteronomy 25:3).

Though switching to grape juice would be permissible and not a denial of Christ, this is still persecution of those who are walking in obedience to Jesus. Wine was given for man and men should not forbid what God has permitted.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man's heart. (Psalm 104: 14-15)

Monday, 4 November 2013

Monday quote

This war is not an option we can make disappear by visualizing world peace. Christ alone can usher in peace.

Douglas Jones, Angels in the Architecture.


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