March 06, 2005

Augustine on Knowledge and Multiple Biblical Meanings

I came across a good passage on Knowledge in Augustine's Confessions, Book 11, chapter 25. He is using the example of interpreting the Book of Genesis.

Let no man fret me now by saying, "Moses did not mean what you say, but what I say." Now if he asks me, "How do you know that Moses meant what you deduce from his words?", I ought to respond calmly and reply as I have already done, or even more fully if he happens to be untrained.

But when he says, "Moses did not mean what you say, but what I say," and then does not deny what either of us says but allows that both are true--then, O my God, life of the poor, in whose breast there is no contradiction, pour thy soothing balm into my heart that I may patiently bear with people who talk like this! It is not because they are godly men and have seen in the heart of thy servant what they say, but rather they are proud men and have not considered Moses' meaning, but only love their own--not because it is true but because it is their own. Otherwise they could equally love another true opinion, as I love what they say when what they speak is true--not because it is theirs but because it is true, and therefore not theirs but true. And if they love an opinion because it is true, it becomes both theirs and mine, since it is the common property of all lovers of the truth. But I neither accept nor approve of it when they contend that Moses did not mean what I say but what they say--and this because, even if it were so, such rashness is born not of knowledge, but of impudence. It comes not from vision but from vanity.

And therefore, O Lord, thy judgments should be held in awe, because thy truth is neither mine nor his nor anyone else's; but it belongs to all of us whom thou hast openly called to have it in common; and thou hast warned us not to hold on to it as our own special property, for if we do we lose it. For if anyone arrogates to himself what thou hast bestowed on all to enjoy, and if he desires something for his own that belongs to all, he is forced away from what is common to all to what is, indeed, his very own--that is, from truth to falsehood. For he who tells a lie speaks of his own thought.

I read this to say that some passages admit of more than one equally valid interpretation. Both may be true (as Augustine says), or it might be that one is true and one is false but we cannot say which is which with reasoning and available evidence. If so, we should not puff our own opinions as the only valid ones.

In fact, to do so would be folly as well as sin. For if my opinion is the only true one, then it is also not special to myself, but is true for everybody else too, and is a discovery of mine, not an invention. I can lay claim to it only if I invented it-- but in that case, it is false. The scientist cannot be as proud as the artist, because he only discovers what already existed and what somebody else would discover at some point if he did not. At most, the truth can be his sole possession only temporarily.

Creativity is bad in science. The idea is not to be create the truth, but to discover it.

A little later Augustine says more:

Let us not, then, " go beyond what is written and be puffed up for the one against the other." Let us, instead, "love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and our neighbor as ourself." Unless we believe that whatever Moses meant in these books he meant to be ordered by these two precepts of love, we shall make God a liar, if we judge of the soul of his servant in any other way than as he has taught us. See now, how foolish it is, in the face of so great an abundance of true opinions which can be elicited from these words, rashly to affirm that Moses especially intended only one of these interpretations; and then, with destructive contention, to violate love itself, on behalf of which he had said all the things we are endeavoring to explain!

This gives some Biblical authority for not pushing the text further than it can yield truth. Also, it makes the good observation that God's Word is carefully written, and if it seems to have two meanings, it probably does have two meanings. One might go even further, and say that if it misleads a lot of people, it is intended to do so. Jesus says more than once that his parables are not meant to be understood properly by everyone, and we know that many prophecies were rightly understood only after they were fulfilled, not before.

Permalink: 09:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 05, 2005

Translating "Brothers" in the Bible: Anti-Feminist Doctrinal Implications

The Baylyblog has an interesting discussion of whether it is correct to change "brothers" to "brothers and sisters" in translating the Bible.

Tim correctly boldfaced this part of his post:

"But remember, it's not my usage under debate, but the usage of the Holy Spirit."

Suppose a person believes the following two things: (a) "brothers" is not inclusive of females, and (b) the Bible is the Word of God, correct as a guide to doctrine.

That person's conclusion should not be that wherever "brothers" appears in the Bible it should be replaced by "brothers and sisters".

Rather, his conclusion should be that God means to exclude females in all those passages. Thus, anyone who takes the Bible seriously has to realize that believing "brothers" is noninclusive will take him away from political correctness, not towards it. This isn't just important for translation; it has much more important implications for doctrine.

That is a surprising conclusion, but if whenever the Bible says something we disagree with we conclude that the words of the Bible should be changed, we aren't going to learn anything from it.

Under that philosophy, the reader can't take out anything more than he puts in.

Permalink: 09:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 27, 2005

The 23rd Psalm: A Children's Book for Drawing:

Pastor Whitaker preached one of his best sermons ever today, on forgiveness. He gave three rules from marital forgiveness from Pastor Wangerin or some such person-- (1) Focus on the exact sin, not on deductions one makes ("He forgot my birthday" rather than "He doesn't love me, because he forgot my birthday."). (3) I forget this one, but it was good. (3) Realize that if you say "I never ..." or "He always..." it is almost always a lie. One of the readings was the 23rd psalm, and that inspired me to write up a drawing book for my 4- and 6-year-old daughters. It is in beta-testing, and I have posted the instructions in MS-Word and PDF.

Permalink: 03:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

Church Corruption in Practice and Doctrine; Protecting Homosexual Priests

The Catholic Church continues to amaze me with its tolerance of homosexual and pedophile priests. The latest I see is a report that convicted pedophiles in at least one diocese are not defrocked and continue to get paid and a report that in another diocese a priest has been removed from ministry (though not defrocked) for whistleblowing. The first story is from this New Hampshire article.

. . . . . .

Last week, the Archdiocese of Boston defrocked four more priests who'd been accused or convicted of child sexual assault. There's no harsher punishment because it eliminates a priest's financial support from the church and his right to minister to people.

Here, the Catholic Church has retired or suspended accused and convicted priests, but it has not defrocked them. And some priests put on administrative leave or forced into retirement continue to receive pay and benefits from the diocese. Bishop John McCormack asked his staff in 2001 to increase the monthly allowances sent to incarcerated priests. As recently as 2003, the diocese was sending retirement pay for one suspended priest to New Mexico, where he lives with a woman who was his lover in Keene.

The second story is in Virginia.

Bishop Loverde has lodged several charges against the priest for sexual misconduct in a case that began in the fall of 2001. He ordered Father Haley silenced and removed him from parish ministry.

The priest denied the sexual-misconduct charges, then revealed in a July 24, 2002, deposition filed in Arlington County Circuit Court a lengthy account of adultery and homosexual affairs among certain priests in the Northern Virginia diocese.

Bishop Loverde then charged Father Haley with wrongfully revealing information to the press, and turned over the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

I recognize that it is not inconsistent to believe that the Church is infallible in doctrine even if it is corrupt in practice, but it does weaken the argument, doesn't it? Applying the usual economic analysis of organizations, I would conclude that an organization whose primary interest is to protect its management (i.e., the priests) would pervert doctrine to achieve the same end. Thus, I would predict that a corrupt church would teach the importance of hierarchy and the special status of priests--which, indeed, the Roman Catholic Church does. Papal infallibility fits the same pattern. To avoid the corrupt members of the Church from using their positions to pervert doctrine as well as practice would require continual supernatural intervention, something I think implausible, especially since nobody claims the supernatural extends to prevention of corrupt practice.

Permalink: 09:24 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 20, 2005

Thinking, Feeling, and Doing Churches

There are a number of ways into which churches may be divided into three categories. Here they are.

1. God the Father. Ectomorphic/Cerebrotonic. Thinking. Right Belief. Theology. Fatalist. Deterministic. Calvinist. Preaching.

2. God the Son. Mesomorphic/Somatotonic. Doing. Right Actions. Legalist. Free Will. Methodist or Roman Catholic. Song and Ritual.

3. God the Holy Ghost. Endomorphic. Feeling. Right Sentiments. Antinomian. Unconcerned about Free Will. Baptist or Pentecostal. Praying.

. . .

. . . The Thinking church emphasizes having the correct beliefs about God, which involves both correct reasoning and God's grace in helping us come to the correct beliefs. Correct behavior would flow naturally from correct belief, except that we are Fallen and do not behave as we ought. Instead, we must rely completely on God's mercy. It is hopeless to expect a Christian to behave perfectly, and our actions cannot satisfy God in any case, so ceremony is unimportant. The gap between the Saved and the Fallen is important, but it is a gap due entirely to God.

The Doing church emphasizes correct behavior in daily life and correct behavior in religious service to God. These are distinct behaviors, so this kind of church may emphasize morality (as the Methodists traditionally did) or ceremony (as the Jews and the Roman Catholics did). Belief is de-emphasizes, as being too abstract and, in the extreme, ultimately unimportant. Free will is emphasized, and it creates the gap between the Saved, who choose to behave well, and the Fallen, who choose to behave badly. There are gradations in this, however, since behavior itself has gradations. Thus, the Roman Catholics include in the Saved both the Saints, who have an excess of good works, and the ordinary members of the church, who do enough but who must go through Purgatory before they are fit for Heaven.

The Feeling church emphasizes correct feelings towards God. Belief is too abstract to matter, and behavior is less important than motive and general attitude. Correct feelings are a gift of the Holy Spirit, which is given to some people and not given to others. A person can tell if his feelings are correct or not, and others are able to observe them in a Saved person also, but this kind of church, by its nature, is less specific as to what is good and what is bad.

The ideal church balances the three attitudes, as does the ideal Christian. Each of us is naturally attracted to the church type that matches his individual type. I, for example, am at ECC, which is a mix of the Doing and the Thinking, and I often wish the church were more Thinking. This kind of matching might be good, because it does match strengths. On the other hand, balance might (or might not) be more important. Perhaps I should be attending a Feeling church. But I think not-- in my imperfection, I would be more alienated than taught.

Permalink: 10:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 18, 2005

Ecclesiates on Lockean Property, Darwinian Fitness, Modern America, and Wisdom

I went to a grad student Bible study today and had 4 insights into Ecclesiastes that I had never had before: (1) It supports the Lockean/free-market theory of private property; (2) It attacks the Darwinian fitness idea of the summum bonum; (3) It attacks the modern American idea of the summum bonum as living a long time and satisfying appetite; (4) It starts from the premise that wisdom is good, rather than saying wisdom is vanity. Here are the passages: . . .

. . .

Ecclesiastes 5 says

18 Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.

19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.

Thus, it seems that if a man acquires riches by his labor, they are his to enjoy. To be sure, some duty of charity is required too, but that is a separate issue from ownership.

Ecclesiastes 6 says:

3 If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.

4 For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.

Darwinian fitness has two components: (1) having lots of offspring, and (2) having a long lifespan. Happiness and virtue are irrelevant. Ecclesiastes 6:3-4 says that fitness is a foolish goal.

Ecclesiastes 6 also says:
7 All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.

8 For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?

9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.

This passage attacks the goal of satisfaction of the appetite-- which is uncomfortably close to the economist's goal of value maximization. Modern America emphasizes two somewhat contradictory goals as the summum bonum: long life, and satisfaction of the appetites (though perhaps the appetite for life, distinct from any happiness, is part of that).

Note, however, the interpolation of verse 8, comparing the wise and the foolish. In isolation, this would seem to say that wisdom is useless. Since the verses before and after it are about appetite and desire, however, there is a different, opposite interpretation. Suppose we take as a premise that wisdom is essential for the good life. We then can construct this syllogism:

1. Wisdom is essential for the good life.

2. The fool can satisfy his appetites just as much as the wise man can.

3. Therefore, satisfaction of the appetites is not part of the good life.

Similarly, the wise and the fool both die, so living forever (or even longer, perhaps) is not part of the good life.

What, then, is part of the good life? Virtue, piety, and satisfaction, all of which are inaccessible to the fool.

Permalink: 09:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 13, 2005

Bayly's Recommendations for Books on Religion

Pastor Tim Bayly's list of recommended Bible translations and references is worth reading. He gives a detailed list (recommending the New American Standard Version of the Bible) and then says,
Finally, if I were to spend around $250 for a basic library to help with the study of Scripture, I would narrow the above recommendations down to the following:

New Bible Dictionary (around $30)
Francis Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology or Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion ($50-$75) Calvin's commentaries on the Bible (around $125) Matthew Henry's unabridged Commentary on the Bible ($25-$50) Spurgeon's Treasury of David ($30)

The list tempts me to buy Turretin, the classic Calvinist theology summa, and Spurgeon's Treasury of David. I have Calvin's commentaries already, though, and have been disappointed in them. The only one I've read through is his commentary on Jonah, which is pretty good but inferior to Luther's. I've dipped into others, but Calvin tends to be boringly correct rather than insightful and interesting (something true of the Institutes too). But I will restrain myself, I think, because I ought to read, or, better yet, re-read the books I already have rather than buy new ones.

Permalink: 05:54 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 06, 2005

Four Types of Prayer; God as Friend

Pastor Whitaker's sermon today was good, if too long. He shouted a bit, which I think is good, if inelegant, because we really do need to be woken up. The subject was prayer and the Problem of Evil, as the "Thy Kingdom Come" part of a series on the Lord's Prayer. Here is one quote, verbatim:
"We've reduced Him to our friend,who does whatever we ask."
Quite so. And we feel wronged when our pal doesn't put Himself out for us. The sermon made me think of four types of prayers:
1. "God, why are You thwarting my plan?" 2. "God, can You help me with my plan?" 3. "God what is Your plan for me?" 4. "God, how can I be part of Your plan?"
The last is the attitude we should take. My prayer is most commonly (2), and I often lapse into (1). I suppose I should cut this list out and paste it over my bedstead.

Permalink: 07:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 30, 2005

Sider on the Immorality of Self-Identified Christians

Ronald J. Sider's 2004 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, sounds interesting. The book's theme is that most nominal Christians (a large proportion of the American population-- and about 40% say they are "born again") do not live according to their purported beliefs. It is excerpted here, and I've excerpted the excerpt at length, dropping footnotes and some formatting. ...

...In a 1999 national survey, George Barna found that the percentage of born-again Christians who had experienced divorce was slightly higher (26 percent) than that of non-Christians (22 percent). In Barna's polls since the mid-1990s, that number has remained about the same. In August 2001, a new poll found that the divorce rate was about the same for born-again Christians and the population as a whole; 33 percent of all born-again Christians had been divorced compared with 34 percent of non-born-again Americans ---a statistically insignificant difference. Barna also found in one study that 90 percent of all divorced born-again folk divorced after they accepted Christ .

Barna makes a distinction between born-again Christians and evangelicals. Barna classifies as born-again all who say "they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today" and who also indicate that they "believe that when they die they will go to heaven because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior." In Barna's polls anywhere from 35 to 43 percent of the total U.S. population meet these criteria for being born-again.

Barna limits the term "evangelical" to a much smaller group--just 7 to 8 percent of the total U.S. population. In addition to meeting the criteria for being born-again, evangelicals must agree with several other things such as the following: Jesus lived a sinless life; eternal salvation is only through grace, not works; Christians have a personal responsibility to evangelize non-Christians; Satan exists. Obviously this definition identifies a much more theologically biblical, orthodox group of Christians.

What is the divorce rate among evangelicals? According to a 1999 poll by Barna, exactly the same as the national average! According to that poll, 25 percent of evangelicals--just like 25 percent of the total population--have gone through a divorce. ...

In many parts of the Bible Belt, the divorce rate was discovered to be "roughly 50 percent above the national average" (italics mine). Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma pointed out the irony that these unusually high divorce rates exist in his state, where 70 percent of the people go to church once a week or more. "These divorce rates," Gov. Keating concluded, "are a scalding indictment of what isn't being said behind the pulpit." ...

The Ronsvalles compare the giving in seven typical mainline denominations (affiliated with the National Council of Churches) with the giving in eight evangelical denominations (with membership in the National Association of Evangelicals). In 1968 the eight evangelical denominations gave considerably more than the seven mainline denominations. While the mainline denominational members gave 3.3 percent of their income, evangelicals gave 6.15 percent. While this is significantly more, the evangelicals on average still gave less than two-thirds of a tithe. By 1985 mainline folk had dropped their giving to 2.85 percent of their income and evangelicals to 4.74 percent. By 2001, mainline members had recovered slightly to 3.17 percent, but evangelical giving kept dropping and was at a mere 4.27 percent. ...

Since 1993, about 2.4 million young people have signed a pledge to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse. Are these young evangelicals keeping their pledges? In March 2004, researchers from Columbia University and Yale University reported on their findings. For seven years they studied 12 thousand teenagers who took the pledge. Sadly, they found that 88 percent of these pledgers reported having sexual intercourse before marriage; just 12 percent kept their promise . The researchers also found that the rates for having sexually transmitted diseases "were almost identical for the teenagers who took pledges and those who did not."

... Nationally, 33 percent of all adults have lived with a member of the opposite sex without being married. The rate is 25 percent for born-again folk.

Is the South and are Blacks more Christian because they feel more need of the support of religious morality? It would be interested to do paired comparisions (or regressions) to sort out the South effect from the Religion effect, but even if they are distinct, it is noteworthy that the higher percentage of Christians in the South has not produced a more moral society. Rather, at first glance it seems that the immoral society has produced a less moral Church.

In 1992, George Gallup Jr. and Timothy Jones published a book called The Saints Among Us. They used a 12-question survey to identify what they called "heroic and faithful individual" Christians. Some of the questions identified people who believed in the full authority of the Bible and practiced evangelism. But others identified costly behavior: "I do things I don't want to do because I believe it is the will of God" and "I put my religious beliefs into practice in my relations with all people regardless of their backgrounds." They labeled "saints" those who agreed with every question. And they called "super-saints" those who agreed strongly with every question.

The good news is that the "saints" lived differently . Only 42 percent of the strongly uncommitted spent "a good deal of time" helping people in need, but 73 percent of the "saints" and 85 percent of the "super-saints" did. Only 63 percent of the spiritually uncommitted reported that they would not object to having a neighbor of a different race. But 84 percent of the "saints" and 93 percent of the "super-saints" said they would not object. Interestingly, a disproportionate share of the saints were women, African Americans, and persons earning less than $25,000 per year ....

That's not too persuasive, actually. I'd be more interested in the divorce statistics than in their claims and opinions. But the defining questions are interesting.

It also turns out that the fraction of people who hold even basic orthodox beliefs-- the kind held by Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin-- is extraordinarily low, only 9% of the self-identified "born again". But at least these peple do behave differently, as explained below.

George Barna has developed a set of criteria to identify people with a "biblical worldview." These people believe that "the Bible is the moral standard" and also think that "absolute moral truths exist and are conveyed through the Bible." In addition, they agree with all six of the following additional beliefs: God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator who still rules the universe; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; Satan is a real, living entity; salvation is a free gift, not something we can earn; every Christian has a personal responsibility to evangelize; and the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches.

Barna's criteria for identifying people with a biblical worldview are not identical to his criteria for identifying evangelicals. Barna's "born-again" category is much broader; about 40 percent of the total population are born-again, but only 7-8 percent are evangelicals. Using his definition of those with a biblical worldview, Barna has discovered that only 9 percent of all born-again adults have a biblical worldview and only 2 percent of born-again teenagers. That is the bad news.

The good news is that the small circle of people with a biblical worldview demonstrate genuinely different behavior. They are nine times more likely than all the others to avoid "adult-only" material on the Internet. They are four times more likely than other Christians to boycott objectionable companies and products and twice as likely to choose intentionally not to watch a movie specifically because of its bad content. They are three times more likely than other adults not to use tobacco products and twice as likely to volunteer time to help needy people. Forty-nine percent of all born-again Christians with a biblical worldview have volunteered more than an hour in the previous week to an organization serving the poor, whereas only 29 percent of born-again Christians without a biblical worldview and only 22 percent of non-born-again Christians had done so.

Thus, it seems there is a strong connection between a person's theology (which is distinct from moral beliefs) and his moral behavior. I find that more interesting than the connection between claims about one kind of behavior and claims about another kind of behavior.

I'd like to know how many people hold a biblical worldview but do not describe themselves as born again, and how those people behave. Perhaps they are included in the statistics above.

Permalink: 09:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 16, 2005

Understand the Trinity: Mysteries and Contradictions

Last week I posted Biblical references in support of the doctrine of the Trinity, but without much comment. Today I'll comment.

My position is that we can't know much about the Trinity. I will call it a "mystery": a concept that has truth or falsity, but which we cannot hope to understand in any depth given our current information. A great number of Biblical passages cannot be understood except by some doctrine of the Trinity-- some idea that God is both single and has two or three parts, and that Jesus is God (I'll leave aside the question of the Holy Ghost for now). But I don't think we can understand the Trinity in the detail Church tradition has given us, even at the level of the Nicene Creed. It is not that I disbelieve the Nicene Creed; rather, I doubt that its expressions have much content.

First, though, let me explain that in saying that I believe God is both one and three, and that Jesus is God, and that we must believe that as a mystery, I am not saying that we should believe impossibilities. Let me distinguish between a mystery and a contradiction.

An example of a mystery is a miracle-- say, Jesus healing a blind man. We cannot understand how He did that, given our available evidence. It is not at all hard to believe, though, for someone who accepts Jesus as the Christ and the Bible as even mostly true. The miracle does not involve any logical contradiction, it is perfectly consistent with the idea of a powerful Christ, and has no implications that are falsified by current facts. We cannot hope to know how the miracle was performed, given our available information. But this no more puts it in doubt that does our inability to explain how the Druids moved the stones to Stonehenge. Historical events are often hard to explain.

On the other hand, the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation requires a contradiction. It says that the Communion bread is simultaneously bread and human flesh-- the flesh of Jesus. Putting aside the sacrilegious aspect, this doctrine violates logic and evidence. Something cannot be both entirely bread and entirely flesh. We *can* test the bread, and it is just bread. Wiggling around this with talk of substance versus appearance is pure sophistry. Moreover, nothing in the Bible requires us to believe in transubstantiation; the passages commonly given are clearly metaphorical and the Roman Catholics rely on tradition to support the doctrine.

The Trinity is a mystery, not a contradiction. It is an idea needed to reconcile Biblical passages that otherwise would contradict each other. The idea itself, however, does not involve contradiction. Plenty of things can be said to be three and one simultaneously. The three-lobed shamrock is an example. A corporation can be thought of as ten thousand shareholders, ten directors, or one corporate person. Scientific theories do this kind of thing all the time-- looking at light as a wave sometimes and a particle other times, for example.

What, then, can we say about the Trinity? What parts of the doctrine are really required by Scripture and logic, and what parts are added by tradition or by theory reaching beyond evidence into the realm of the unprovable? I'll leave that till another day.

Permalink: 07:32 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 09, 2005

Bible Passages on The Trinity

I've been starting to investigate the Trinity. The importance of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it solves the puzzle of what to do with the many passages in the Bible which seem to equate Jesus and Jehovah. Fully understanding it is, I think, impossible. It is a mystery in the same manner as the Atonement: we can see various features of the doctrine from the Bible, and those features are not contradictory to each other or any other doctrine, but it is beyond our mental capabilities to come up with a single good theory to explain the various features. We have to accept them separately.

Here are a few of the facts we have to deal with.
1. Jesus was worshipped by people, and neither He nor the Bible's authors object to this.

2. He was criticized for putting himself on a level with God and did not reply by denying it.

3. He claimed that the books of Moses taught things concerning Himself.

4. He helped create the world. "the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John)

5. "...and the word was God." (John 1)

6. He said, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John)

7. "I am in the Father, and the Father in me" (John)

8. "Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:" (Philippians)

9. "him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things" (Hebrews)

10. "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus)

11. Various New Testament passages describe Jesus quoting Old Testament passages that describe God.

Here is a list of relevant passages. The following web source may also be useful: The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity by Robert Bowman.

Matthew 8:2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. 3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Matthew 14:30 But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. 31 And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? 32 And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. 33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

Mark 2:5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. 6 But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? 8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? 9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? 10 But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) 11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. 12 And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.

Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

John 2:18 Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? 19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. 20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? 21 But he spake of the temple of his body.

Only God dwells within a temple.

John 8:57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? 58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

alluding to

Exodus 3: 14 And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM : and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

John 9:30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. ... 35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? 36 He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? 37 And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. 38 And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. 39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.

John 10:31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? 33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God. 34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? 35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; 36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? 37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. 38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.

John 14:8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. 9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father? 10 Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake.

John 17:5 And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

John 20: 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

Romans 10: 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

This alludes to:

Joel 2: 32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

Romans 14:10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

This alludes to:

Isaiah 45: 23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. 24 Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. 25 In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.

I Cor 8:5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) 6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

1 Corinthians 10:1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

Philippians 2:5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is another allusion to:

: Isaiah 45:22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

Colossians 1:13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: 14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: 15 Who is the image of the invisible God , the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

I Timothy 3:15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. 16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

Hebrews 1:1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. 5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him. 7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. 8 But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom. 9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. 10 And, Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands:

Hebrews 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, 12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. 13 And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. 14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

I John 3:16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. Revelation 1: 17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

This alludes to:

Isaiah 44: 6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.

Permalink: 01:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 02, 2005

The Problem of Evil

Midwest Conservative Journal alerted me to an erroneous Wall Street Journal op-ed by David Hart, and Eastern Orthodox theologian:
The Christian understanding of evil has always been more radical and fantastic than that of any theodicist; for it denies from the outset that suffering, death and evil have any ultimate meaning at all....

When confronted by the sheer savage immensity of worldly suffering--when we see the entire littoral rim of the Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children's--no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends. We are permitted only to hate death and waste and the imbecile forces of chance that shatter living souls, to believe that creation is in agony in its bonds, to see this world as divided between two kingdoms--knowing all the while that it is only charity that can sustain us against "fate," and that must do so until the end of days.

David Hart has it backwards when he says, "The Christian understanding of evil ... denies from the outset that suffering, death and evil have any ultimate meaning at all." In fact, Christianity gives the only possible dignity to suffering: it claims that it is part of God's plan, deliberate, purposeful, and, since God is good, useful, even when we cannot see the use.

I got this idea from Perry Miller's excellent old bio of Jonathan Edwards, where he contrasts this with the liberal view that suffering is not part of God's plan-- in which case the sufferer has the extra indignity of knowing that he is involved in a thwarting of God's will. This seems to be Mr. Hart's position-- that the world is fallen, and the Fall is no part of God's plan. God, for him, is not powerful enough to save those dead children in Sumatra. This makes for a weak God indeed, since even Man could have saved some of those children if we'd cared to. A few billion dollars in tsunami warning stations in 2000 would have done it, and we, like God, knew that a tsunami would come sooner or later.

For the atheist, suffering similarly lacks meaning, though the atheist does not have to deal with the impotent god that the liberal theist does. Suffering is bad, pure and simply, and the sufferer has zero possibility of comforting thoughts that his suffering might be for some greater good he cannot see.

Contrary to Hart, those who believe in God's power and purposefulness are not blasphemous. We are humble. We do not think that we know how the world should be run in all its details. Hart is like those people who think the world would be better off if there were no death-- but forget about the mass senility and overpopulation that would be the result. The best metaphor I've found for the Problem of Evil is that I am like a toddler who is taken away from my mother by men in white coats who stick me with needles, suffocate me with a mask, and cut me with knives while I'm asleep. To the toddler, this is pure evil. To the adult, it is an operation necessary to save the child's life. The wise toddler trusts his parents, even when he cannot understand why they are hurting him.

Permalink: 09:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 05, 2004

The Fifth Day of Christmas: Jonathan Edwards by Perry Miller

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

5. Jonathan Edwards by Perry Miller, 1949. The subject's ideas are the focus and events weave in and out to illustrate them. Edwards's project was to combine the new philosophy of Locke with the data of the Bible and human behavior to find the truth and apply it to daily life.

I've written a number of webposts inspired by this book, including "A History of the Work of Redemption" and "Jonathan Edwards on True Virtue" and " Edwards on Perceiving God's Excellency" and "Perry Miller on Jonathan Edwards; Making God in Our Own Image; God's Morality versus Ours; The Mystery of Suffering and Predestination". I'll quote a passage from page 66 of Miller's book that is on the subject of "perceiving God's excellency":

Locke constructed mankind out of sensations in order to rebuke the passions of zealots... his frontier disciple [Edwards] remodeled the Lockean man into a being radically passionate in religion, and then made him available to the democracy: "persons with but an ordinary degree of knowledge, are capable, without a long and subtile train of reasoning, to see the divine excellency of the things of religion." All a man needs is his senses, which no one in Northampton was lacking; then perforce he perceives, and perception depends not on social status or a Harvard degree, it "depends on the sense of the heart."
I am intellectually persuaded of the truth of Christianity, but I keenly feel a lack of the sense of the heart. I have it to some degree, I suppose-- or I would not be a Christian, since the intellectual arguments do not convince everyone, but others perceive much better than I do even with my eyeglasses of the intellect. That, perhaps, is God's way of keeping me humble.

Permalink: 12:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 01, 2004

The First Day of Christmas

Every year I send out with my Christmas cards a list of good things I have come across during the year. I'll post these one by one here.

1. The Companion Bible, a study Bible by E.W. Bullinger (1837-1913). Scholarly and opinionated, with lots on the Masorah and acrostics. Sometimes wrong, but always clear. The 198 appendices, essays on topics such as "the genitive case" or "words for repent" are up on the web, as is a sample page.

Permalink: 10:29 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving History, Proclamatinos

Today, I will just post what I posted last year at Thanksgiving. I think I ought to do more re-posting. Some weblogs are for journalism-- and beat the magazines at that-- but this one I think is better suited to items of permanent interst.

This website contains information about the Thanksgiving holiday. For some well- researched facts ( but undue hostility to the Colonial side in King Philip's War), see Karen Knelte's "History of the Modern American Thanksgiving", August 9, 2001 (viewed November 26, 2003).

Thanksgiving Proclamations Here are excerpts from some Thanksgiving proclamations from across American history. When a person is thankful, he is of course has to thanking someone---"to thank" is a transitive verb, requiring an object. Thanksgiving is a time to thank God, as the government proclamations traditionally say. These proclamations make nonsense of the claim that the American Constitution forbids a place for Christianity in public affairs, though it is noteworthy that Thomas Jefferson, unlike his two predecessors, refrained from issuing any Thanksgiving Proclamations.

The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God's Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and soulds as a living and acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ. (1676, Connecticut)

"Forasmuch as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for benefits received, and to implore such further Blessings as they stand in Need of: ...(1777, Continental Congress)

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:... (1789, Washington)

Deeply penetrated with this sentiment, I, George Washington, President of the United States, do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever, within the United States to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, and on that day to meet together and render their sincere and hearty thanks to the Great Ruler of Nations for the manifold and signal mercies which distinguish our lot as a nation,... (1795, Washington)

As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and the blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety without which social happiness can not exist nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed; and as this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty or of danger, when existing or threatening calamities, the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity, are a loud call to repentance and reformation;... (1798, Adams)

As no truth is more clearly taught in the Volume of Inspiration , nor any more fully demonstrated by the experience of all ages, than that a deep sense and a due acknowledgment of the governing providence of a Supreme Being and of the accountableness of men to Him as the searcher of hearts and righteous distributer of rewards and punishments are conducive equally to the happiness and rectitude of individuals and to the well-being of communities;.. (1799, Adams)

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union. (Lincoln, 1863)

Let us now, this Thanksgiving Day, reawaken ourselves and our neighbors and our communities to the genius of our founders in daring to build the world's first constitutional democracy on the foundation of trust and thanks to God. Out of our right and proper rejoicing on Thanksgiving Day, let us give our own thanks to God and reaffirm our love of family, neighbor, and community. (1996, Clinton)

Each year on Thanksgiving, we gather with family and friends to thank God for the many blessings He has given us, and we ask God to continue to guide and watch over our country. (2003, Bush)

From: Plimoth-on-Web Plimoth Plantation's Web Site (as of 2003 a dead link)
In 1777, the Continental Congress declared the first national American Thanksgiving following the providential victory at Saratoga. The 1777 Thanksgiving proclamation reveals its New England Puritan roots. The day was still officially a religious observance in recognition of God's Providence, and, as on the Sabbath, both work and amusements were forbidden. It does not resemble our idea of a Thanksgiving, with its emphasis on family dinners and popular recreation. Yet beneath these stern sentiments, the old Puritan fervor had declined to the extent that Thanksgiving was beginning to be less of a religious and more of a secular celebration. The focus was shifting from the religious service to the family gathering. Communities still dutifully went to church each Thanksgiving Day but the social and culinary attractions were increasing in importance.

A contemporary account of a wartime Thanksgiving provides us alternative testimony to the austere official proclamation. Juliana Smith's 1779 Massachusetts' Thanksgiving description, written in a letter to her friend Betsey Smith (and recorded in her diary as well) provides a good example of what the late 18th century celebration meant to the participants.

National Thanksgivings were proclaimed annually by Congress from 1777 to 1783 which, except for 1782, were all celebrated in December. After a five year hiatus, the practice was revived by President Washington in 1789 and 1795. John Adams declared Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799, while James Madison declared the holiday twice in 1815; none of these were celebrated in the autumn. After 1815, there were no further national Thanksgivings until the Civil War. As sectional differences widened in the Antebellum period, it was impossible achieve the consensus to have a national Thanksgiving. The southern states were generally unreceptive to a "Yankee" custom being pressed on them by the federal government. If the federal government neglected the tradition, however, the individual states did not. The New England states continued to declare annual Thanksgivings (usually in November, although not always on the same day), and eventually most of the other states also had independent observations of the holiday. New Englanders were born proselyters and wherever they went during the great westward migration they introduced their favorite holiday. Thanksgiving was adopted first in the Northeast and in the Northwest Territory, then by the middle and western states. At mid-century even the southern states were celebrating their own Thanksgivings.

By the 1840s when the Puritan holy day had largely given way to the Yankee holiday, Thanksgiving was usually depicted in a family setting with dinner as the central event. The archetypal tradition of harvest celebration had weathered Puritan disapproval and quietly reasserted its influence. Newspapers and magazines helped popularize the holiday in its new guise as a secular autumn celebration featuring feasting, family reunions and charity to the poor. Thanksgiving became an important symbol of the new emphasis on home life and the necessity of enforcing family virtues against the coarse masculine style and cutthroat business practices of the day. This "cult of domesticity" found Thanksgiving a valuable element for promulgating the feminist goals of social reform and the role of the (extended) family as a bastion against the callous workaday world. The holiday focused on the home and hearth where it was hoped a revolution in manners would begin to restore the civilized virtues which had been lost in the new commercial and industrial society.

It is interesting that the same person who was a leading figure in the domesticity movement, Sarah Josepha Hale, also labored for decades to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. A New England author and editor of the influential Godey's Ladies Book, Hale lobbied for a return to the morality and simplicity of days gone by. Each November from 1846 until 1863 Mrs. Hale printed an editorial urging the federal government to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She was finally gratified when Abraham Lincoln declared the first of our modern series of annual Thanksgiving holidays for the last Thursday in November, 1863. Lincoln had previously declared national Thanksgivings for April, 1862, and again for August 6, 1863, after the northern victory at Gettysburg. The southern states had independently declared Thanksgivings of their own, unsullied by Yankee influences, but would later resent the new national Thanksgiving holiday after the war.

Lincoln went on to declare a similar Thanksgiving observance in 1864, establishing a precedent that was followed by Andrew Johnson in 1865 and by every subsequent president. After a few deviations (December 7th in 1865, November 18th in 1869), the holiday came to rest on the last Thursday in November. However, Thanksgiving remained a custom unsanctified by law until 1941! In 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt departed from tradition by declaring November 23, the next to the last Thursday that year, as Thanksgiving. Considerable controversy (mostly following political lines) arose around this outrage to custom, so that some Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the 23rd and others on the 30th (including Plymouth, MA). In 1940, the country was once again divided over "Franksgiving" as the Thanksgiving declared for November 21st was called. Thanksgiving was declared for the earlier Thursday again in 1941, but Roosevelt admitted that the earlier date (which had not proven useful to the commercial interests) was a mistake. On November 26, 1941, he signed a bill that established the fourth Thursday in November as the national Thanksgiving holiday, which it has been ever since.

Both the North and South maintained the tradition of independent state Thanksgivings into the Civil War period. The Confederate Congress declared a Sunday thanksgiving service for July 28, 1861 after their victory at Bull Run, and another for Thursday, September 18, 1862, for the Second Battle at Bull Run. The first national Thanksgiving holiday to be declared by the U.S. government since 1815 occurred in 1862 when President Lincoln declared a Thanksgiving holiday for Sunday, April 13, following the Union victory at Shiloh. Lincoln declared another national Thanksgiving for August 6, 1863, in recognition of the victory at Gettysburg.

On October 3, 1863, President Lincoln declared a second national Thanksgiving that year for the last Thursday in November which followed the Yankee practice of a general November holiday giving thanks for "general causes" rather than "special providences" such as wartime victories. This Thanksgiving became the first in the unbroken series of our modern holiday tradition. Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving for the last Thursday in November, 1864. Andrew Johnson followed with a Thanksgiving on December 7, 1865 (celebrating the Union victory), and each President since then has declared an annual national Thanksgiving.

It might also be noted that none of the presidential declarations of Thansgiving mention the Plymouth Pilgrims or the "First Thanksgiving" until Herbert Hoover's proclamation of 1931 (with the possible exception of Roosevelt's 1905 mention of the colonial custom).

Permalink: 11:51 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 07, 2004

Wesley's "I Want a Principle Within"; Sensitivity to Sin

We sang the Wesley hymn, "I Want a Principle Within," at church today. It's a good one, because its theme is that it is good for us to be sensitive to sin, not calloused. "I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear, a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near." A contrary desire is also common: to numb oneself to sin. Mark Twain had a funny story on this topic, "The Facts Concerning The Recent Carnival Of Crime In Connecticut," in which he meets and strangles his conscience, after making it heavy enough to sink to the floor and catch. But it is usually not so funny. We want to do evil, but we dislike guilt and shame.

There is another danger, too: losing sensitivity to sin in other people and in the world. I feel this loss keenly. I do not think I am a better person for having grown more calloused in my maturity, even though I am perhaps better able to deal with the world. I have grown much harder to shock. Perhaps my children will teach me how to again be sensitive.

I Want a Principle Within

Words: Charles Wesley, 1749
Music (via here: Louis Spohr, 1834; adapt. by J. Stimpson, but there's a better "Welsh melody" tune we sang at ECC)

I want a principle within
of watchful, godly fear,
a sensibility of sin,
a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel
of pride or wrong desire,
to catch the wandering of my will,
and quench the kindling fire.

From thee that I no more may stray,
no more thy goodness grieve,
grant me the filial awe, I pray,
the tender conscience give.
Quick as the apple of an eye,
O God, my conscience make;
awake my soul when sin is nigh,
and keep it still awake.

Almighty God of truth and love,
to me thy power impart;
the mountain from my soul remove,
the hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain
my reawakened soul,
and drive me to that blood again,
which makes the wounded whole.

I'll repeat a post from June 12, 2004 that is related.

06.12b. Pope: "Vice is a monster of so frightful mien". . Alexander Pope makes a good argument for not talking too much about vice, even to condemn it, as Pastor Timothy Bayly said to me at lunch yesterday at Noodle Town. From Essay on Man (ep. II, l. 217) (1733):

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated need but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

Permalink: 07:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 24, 2004

A Home Church Service

Today I was at my parents' farm and we had church at home, using Luke
16:19-29 and I Corinthians 1:20-27. Luke 16 is the story of Lazarus and
the Rich Man, and I Corinthians 1 is about "The Foolishness of This
World". I've copied both at the end of this post. The order of service was like

Invocation >
Singing "Jesus Loves Me"
Reading I Corinthians 1:20-27 (Uncle Scott) .
Singing "Trust and Obey" (first verse only)
Prayer (Grandpa)
Reading Luke 16, Lazarus and the Rich Man (Grandma)
Acting out Luke 16 (Elizabeth as the Rich Man, Grandma as Lazarus, Amelia as Abraham, Benjamin as the Dog, Jacob as the Angel and the Gravedigger, Uncle
Eric narrating.
Sermon: "Simple Faith" (Uncle Eric)
Singing "Trust and Obey" (first verse only)
Singing "Jesus Loves Me"

It worked out well. Lazarus and the Rich Man is easy to dramatize, and the two passages work well together for a sermon on the Gospel and Pride. Two things I'd remember for next time are: (a) Prepare a passage for a benediction, and (b)Sing hymns like "Trust and Obey" out one line at a time, with the congregation then repeating them. That's better for kids who can't read, and eliminates the need for hymnbooks.

I Corinthians 1 says

20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?
hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it
pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the
Greeks foolishness;
24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of
God, and the wisdom of God.
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is
stronger than men.
26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the
flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;
and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which
are mighty;

Luke 16:19-31 says

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and
fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate,
full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table:
moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels
into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar
off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus,
that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am
tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good
things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that
they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us,
that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to
my father's house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come
into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead,
they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will
they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Permalink: 09:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 17, 2004

Faith-- A Decision Theory Analog

I thought of an analogy for faith today that may be helpful to people who think in terms of economic models.

Imagine that you have 100 hours to devote to a project that will yield a million dollars if successful. If you devote 0 hours to the project, it will have a 10% chance of success. Spending an hour on the production side of the project, you will increase its chances of success by either 0% or 0.4%, with equal probability. Spending an hour on the marketing side of the project, you will increase its chances of success by either 0.1% or 0.2%, with equal probability.

What should you do? You should spend all 100 hours on production, for an expected 40% increase in the probability of success, compared to 15% for marketing. You should resist the temptation to "split the difference" and spend some time on production and some time on marketing. You may be wrong-- and production time may be completely useless-- but you need to make that leap of faith.

The same goes for religious faith. I have my life to spend on attaining The Good. If I just avoid thinking about Big Things, I might still succeed. If I think a little, I will realize there are certain paths which are most likely to help. Christianity has, perhaps, a 0% or a 40% chance of being correct. Atheistic hedonism has, perhaps, a 10% or 20% chance of success. I must make a decision, though, and compromise is not a sign of wisdom. Rather, I should be willing to be brave, and put my efforts where my mind directs them (and heart-- if my heart is helpful), even knowing that I cannot be sure of what is true. That, indeed, is the key reason for faith: that lack of certainty should not paralyze us, and in the case of the Big Things, reason will not take us anywhere near Certainty.

Permalink: 01:59 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 10, 2004

Does Christian Libertarianism Make Sense?

Summer 2004 posts by Jay Caruso and Josh Claybourn express their opposition to the Family Marriage Act as Christian libertarians. That bill is not the best example to use, though, since it involves lots of federal issues. Even someone who believes in criminalizing homosexuality might oppose a federal bill forbidding homosexual marriage, on the grounds that marriage is matter for state legislatures, not the federal government.

So let us use a different example-- an extreme one, to sharpen the issues. What should the Christian position be on whether there should be a state law forbidding a parent from killing his children? Is such a law legitimate, or is it an undue intrusion on people's rights?

The first response will no doubt be, "It is an intrusion on the rights of children." That begs the question. Why does a child have the right not to be killed? He would like having such a right, of course, but the parent would like to have the right to kill him. Different societies judge these things differently. Modern America does not allow a father to kill his child, but ancient Rome did.

The reason America differs from Rome is, I think, Christianity. Christians, unlike other people in the Roman Empire, thought it was sinful to abandon infants to die. It was a religious issue. I don't know how other non-Christian societies come out on this issue, but I wouldn't be surprised if tolerance of parents killing children was the norm. It really is quite rational, if we put aside the modern morality we all have inherited from Christianity. Suppose your baby is born crippled. Why should you have to ruin your life raising it, instead of smothering it and having another baby? Indeed, modern America comes close to this in the routine eugenic practice of aborting babies with Down's Syndrome. Since we can diagnose birth defects in the womb now, we are not so tempted by waiting till the child is born to kill it, and there has been less pressure on the cultural norm that post-birth killing is wrong.

But let us think now of the Christian libertarian. He will oppose the killing of crippled children by their parents as a matter of morality, but should he say that despite the immorality of the practice, he does not want to inflict his morality on other people and so opposes a government law against such murder?

Yes, it seems to me, if he is to be consistent. As a matter of secular prudence rather than religious morality, he could support laws against murdering adults. Such laws are convenient for keeping a society prosperous and orderly, arguments which cannot be made in favor of making infanticide illegal. We could imagine the voters all agreeing out of pure self-interest to a pact under which they are not allowed to kill each other. But banning infanticide would be the voters each giving up a right for nothing in return except the pleasure of thwarting someone else's right to kill children.

This last pleasure is, I think, the key to why we have infanticide laws in post-Christian societies. Even if the father wants to kill the child, the grandparents, cousins, neighbors, and schoolteachers might feel unhappy, and they are willing to impose their preferences on the father. This consideration, however, is one which gives ground to all kinds of morality laws: even if I want to engage in homosexuality, drug use, bear baiting, and cannibalism, my activities might make my relatives and neighbors unhappy.

So I think ifyou are to be a Christian libertarian, you must oppose laws against infanticide if you are to be consistent. If you are one who does not, you should rethink your opposition to other kinds of morality laws. Remember, to say that "Infanticide is different because the child's rights are being violated" is begging the question. Where do you get that idea of rights? In any case, why do you think you are justified in imposing your notion of children's rights on other people?

My hope here is that the Christian libertarian will decide there is something wrong in his position, and favor laws against infanticide, and thereby other morality laws. I'll have to wait till another day to address the Christian libertarian who sticks to his guns and says that although infanticide is immoral, ti should nonetheless be legal, to keep government intrusion to a minimum.

Permalink: 11:46 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 03, 2004

A History of the Work of Redemption

I was just reading about Jonathan Edwards's A History of the Work of Redemption, which was a history of the world from the point of view of God's plan. I haven't seen the book itself, but I like the idea. There's a lot of study of God's plan in the part of history covered by the Bible, but what about the 2,000 years since then? Just because we have not had prophets and apostles in that period does not mean its history is unimportant, or even that it is less important than the history in the Bible. It seems unlikely that God would have put such a long period between the Resurrection and the Last Judgement without some purpose, and since the world has changed so much in that time, should we not deduce that that change is part of God's plan?

I'll muse a little about how such a history might be structured. It would be a life's work, but I'll give it about half an hour.

That Israel was located in what is essentially the center of the world cannot be accidental, under either a religious or a secular view of history. Christianity was poised to take off, as a new religion that appealed to both the head and heart of those dissatified with both paganism and philosophy in the Roman Empire. That Empire was the breeder for Christianity. When the Church was old enough to survive without the peace of the Empire, the Empire collapsed under the barbarian invasions.

The barbarian invasions set the scene for the next phase of Christianity. It ended the stagnation of the Empire, which had made amazingly little progress in the arts and sciences during its 450 years of prosperity. And it prevented the Church from becoming a mere state religion under the thumb of the Emperor. The cost was high, of course-- the Dark Ages, with a heavy decline in prosperity and learning. Christianity, however, prospered, as the barbarians were one by one converted-- a surprising success, given that it was not Roman power that brought about the conversions.

The Middle Ages were a period of both savagery and piety, of illiteracy and theological development. They also saw the institutionalization of the Church, and its corruption. To what end? I don't know.

The Reformation clearly improved the Church, both in Protestantism and via the reforms it brought to the Roman Catholics. It also set the scene for the strong Church in America, which I suppose is due to the Puritans and the frontier Baptists and Methodists setting the tone for other denominations.

The next phase of history saw the rise of Christianity in the United States and its decline in Europe. Despite some valiant rear-guard actions, the Church in Europe again became corrupt, while in America a decline in some denominations was matched by a strengthening in others.

The main story of the 20th century was the rise of Christianity in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, a rise which is in full throttle now. History is pointing towards a replacement of both Europe and America as the strongholds of the Church-- unless, that is, those continents are infused with new strength from the Third World.

As to what happens next, that is a mystery. The history I am thinking of would not be like the Dispensationalist books on the present signs of the End of the World. I see no such signs-- indeed, as I said, we seem to be in the middle of important developments, not near the end of some phase. I don't think we can know if the Last Judgement is going to be next year or 2,000 more years from now, but there might actually be some clue in the developments of the first two millenia of the Church, if only some wise man were to study them.

Permalink: 08:52 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2004

Roman Catholic Encyclicals on Church and State

At the end of my post, "The Just Wage-- A Christian Approach to the Market" I wrote,

It is worth keeping in mind that Rerum Novarum comes from the era in which the Roman Catholic Church was uncomfortable not just with free markets but with other modern things such as secular governments and elected governments . See my old post ofAugust 2003 , which I ought to update some day (it doesn't talk about elections vs. monarchies, on which seeIMMORTALE DEI (1885), just about whether church and state should be separate). Anyone citing papal encyclicals of that era in support of government regulation had better be ready to support other encyclicals less appealing to the modern mind.

Those old papal encyclicals on politics are actually worth looking at. ....

...For one thing, they show why voters used to be apprehensive about having a Roman Catholic as President, back in 1928 with Al Smith or 1960 with John Kennedy. It wasn't mere prejudice; it was the fear that Smith or Kennedy might actually take Church doctrine seriously and consider it their duty to use the power of government to suppress other denominations and religions. This was a bit of a joke even in Kennedy's time, and certainly nobody worries about Kerry doing that.

For another, it is worth taking the old Catholic ideas seriously. They are heresy in our modern American tradition (though not for Puritans), but they are ideas we moderns need to consider and refute. In particular, I find the last document I quote-- the 1885 Immortale Dei-- well written and challenging. These ideas are, in fact, similar to what Islamists believe now, and if we can understand Pius IX we will be better able to understand Bin Laden. I do not mean this at all pejoratively; though Bin Laden's methods are evil, his idea of a reformed and worldwide Islam rule is not ridiculous in theory, no more than Pius's ideal of a worldwide Roman Catholic rule, and both are as likely (or unlikely) to be attained by peaceful persuasion as by violence.

Anyway, here are some selections from old Popes. The Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX (1864) condemned a large number of propositions, some political, including

55. The Church ought to be separated from the State , and the State from the Church.-- Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.


77. In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship .--Allocution "Nemo vestrum," July 26, 1855.

78. Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship. --Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.

The encyclical QUANTA CURA (Condemning Current Errors) (1864) says:

And, against the doctrine of Scripture, of the Church, and of the Holy Fathers, they do not hesitate to assert that "that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require. " From which totally false idea of social government they do not fear to foster that erroneous opinion, most fatal in its effects on the Catholic Church and the salvation of souls, called by Our Predecessor, Gregory XVI, an "insanity," viz., that "liberty of conscience and worship is each man's personal right , which ought to be legally proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society; and that a right resides in the citizens to an absolute liberty, which should be restrained by no authority whether ecclesiastical or civil, whereby they may be able openly and publicly to manifest and declare any of their ideas whatever, either by word of mouth, by the press, or in any other way."

IMMORTALE DEI (1885) says

18. In political affairs, and all matters civil, the laws aim at securing the common good, and are not framed according to the delusive caprices and opinions of the mass of the people, but by truth and by justice; the ruling powers are invested with a sacredness more than human, and are withheld from deviating from the path of duty, and from overstepping the bounds of rightful authority; and the obedience is not the servitude of man to man, but submission to the will of God, exercising His sovereignty through the medium of men. Now, this being recognized as undeniable, it is felt that the high office of rulers should be held in respect; that public authority should be constantly and faithfully obeyed; that no act of sedition should be committed; and that the civic order of the commonwealth should be maintained as sacred.

23. But that harmful and deplorable passion for innovation which was aroused in the sixteenth century threw first of all into confusion the Christian religion, and next, by natural sequence, invaded the precincts of philosophy, whence it spread amongst all classes of society. From this source, as from a fountain- head, burst forth all those later tenets of unbridled license which, in the midst of the terrible upheavals of the last century, were wildly conceived and boldly proclaimed as the principles and foundation of that new conception of law which was not merely previously unknown, but was at variance on many points with not only the Christian, but even the natural law.

24. Amongst these principles the main one lays down that as all men are alike by race and nature, so in like manner all are equal in the control of their life; that each one is so far his own master as to be in no sense under the rule of any other individual; that each is free to think on every subject just as he may choose, and to do whatever he may like to do; that no man has any right to rule over other men. In a society grounded upon such maxims all government is nothing more nor less than the will of the people, and the people, being under the power of itself alone, is alone its own ruler. It does choose, nevertheless, some to whose charge it may commit itself, but in such wise that it makes over to them not the right so much as the business of governing, to be exercised, however, in its name.

25. The authority of God is passed over in silence, just as if there were no God; or as if He cared nothing for human society ; or as if men, whether in their individual capacity or bound together in social relations, owed nothing to God; or as if there could be a government of which the whole origin and power and authority did not reside in God Himself. Thus, as is evident, a State becomes nothing but a multitude which is its own master and ruler. And since the people is declared to contain within itself the spring-head of all rights and of all power, it follows that the State does not consider itself bound by any kind of duty toward God. Moreover. it believes that it is not obliged to make public profession of any religion; or to inquire which of the very many religions is the only one true; or to prefer one religion to all the rest; or to show to any form of religion special favor; but, on the contrary, is bound to grant equal rights to every creed, so that public order may not be disturbed by any particular form of religious belief.

26. And it is a part of this theory that all questions that concern religion are to be referred to private judgment; that every one is to be free to follow whatever religion he prefers, or none at all if he disapprove of all. From this the following consequences logically flow: that the judgment of each one's conscience is independent of all law; that the most unrestrained opinions may be openly expressed as to the practice or omission of divine worship; and that every one has unbounded license to think whatever he chooses and to publish abroad whatever he thinks.


31. The sovereignty of the people, however, and this without any reference to God, is held to reside in the multitude; which is doubtless a doctrine exceedingly well calculated to flatter and to inflame many passions, but which lacks all reasonable proof, and all power of insuring public safety and preserving order. Indeed, from the prevalence of this teaching, things have come to such a pass that may hold as an axiom of civil jurisprudence that seditions may be rightfully fostered. For the opinion prevails that princes are nothing more than delegates chosen to carry out the will of the people; whence it necessarily follows that all things are as changeable as the will of the people, so that risk of public disturbance is ever hanging over our heads.


By the words and decrees just cited, if judged dispassionately, no one of the several forms of government is in itself condemned, inasmuch as none of them contains anything contrary to Catholic doctrine, and all of them are capable, if wisely and justly managed, to insure the welfare of the State. Neither is it blameworthy in itself, in any manner, for the people to have a share greater or less, in the government: for at certain times, and under certain laws, such participation may not only be of benefit to the citizens, but may even be of obligation.

Note that Immortale Dei, despite its stinging criticism of the idea of popular rule, does allow that elected governments are not bad per se. Rather, it is an attack on the notion that if the people want something, they should get what they want, a notion which even the modern liberal has abandoned (in favor of a liberal Supreme Court blocking the popular will). The constructive part of the argument goes logically from the premise that God cares about human society to say that if we care what God wants then we will want a polity that reflects His desires. Then follows what I think is the weakest step-- that God wants a polity which suppresses bad religous teaching.

Permalink: 10:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 19, 2004

The Just Wage-- A Christian Approach to the Market

I was just reading Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought, edited by Michael McConnell Cochran, and Carmella. I found it disappointing, but it did make me think about how the questions of a Christian's attitude towards laws might be more crisply raised. Two exemplars that should come naturally to lawyers are Aquinas's Summa Theologica, with its assertions, objections, and answers, and the various Restatements of the American Law Insititute, which assert rules for subjects such as Tort, Agency, and Contract, and then show how they apply to hypotheticals. My style here will be more like the Restatements, but I'll start with the hypothetical and then go to analysis....

...1a. Market Wages. Andrew is thinking of hiring Paul to pick apples for him. For each hour of Paul's labor, Andrew will earn $25/hour after paying for materials, capital, and so forth, but before labor costs. Paul is willing to work for no less than $12/hour, because that is what Sam would otherwise pay him. Thirty other people are willing to work for as little as $10/hour.

Should Andrew hire Paul, and if so, at what wage?

1b. Hiring Christians. To Situation 1a, add that Paul is a Christian, and the other 30 people are not. All 31 will make $25/hour for Andrew, though, and Paul does not know Andrew.

1c. Bargaining. Take Situation 1a, but change it so that nobody else but Paul is available to work for Andrew. Paul is a very bad bargainer, as Andrew knows, so Andrew will be able to make him one take-it-or-leave-it offer.

My first point is that I'd like to see scholars tackle narrow, precise, situations like these rather than vaguely discuss whether corporations have social duties or employers should be generous to their employees. But I have substantive thoughts too.

1a. Market Wages. I think Andrew should pay $10/hour and Paul should keep working for Sam, which is the pure market solution, maximizing social wealth. Consider the possibilities.

First, Andrew could pay less than $10/hour. He would get no workers though (unless they are generous because altruistic, a point we'll pass by), so the $25/hour opportunity would be lost, poor stewardship of the opportunity God gave Andrew.

Second, Andrew could pay exactly $10/hour, the market wage. Many workers would be willing to work for him, though none would be eager and though Paul would stay with Sam. He would earn $15/hour in profit.
Third, Andrew could pay between $10/hour and $12/hour. He would have many workers eager to work for him. This is equivalent to paying $10/hour and donating a little extra. The best recipient for charity, however, unlikely to be the worker he hires instead of one of the thousands of other people in the community, many with no job at all. Thus, this wage is worse than paying $10/hour and giving the extra profit to a carefully considered charity.

Fourth, Andrew could pay $12/hour and hire Paul. This would be a bad thing, because Paul was earning $12/hour with Sam already, whereas the other 30 applicants's outside opportunities were only worth $10/hour. They would would have been delighted to get the job at the $12/hour wage; Paul is merely indifferent. It is wasteful, therefore to give the job to Paul-- it fails to maximize social wealth.

Or, Andrew could pay more than $12/hour to one of the thirty-- which is bad because of the charity argument above-- or to Paul-- which is bad both because of the charity argument and because of his good alternative job with Sam.

1b. Hiring Christians. It should make no difference that Paul is a Christian. It is still wasteful to give him the job. Note that it is not even doing him a favor to give him the job at $12/hour instead of to someone else at $10/hour-- Paul still gets no positive benefit from moving.

Here, note that in the method of hypotheticals we cannot change the hypothetical in midstream without comment. It might be that Christians are more productive than non-Christians, for example, but if that were the case we need to change the hypothetical to say that Paul would generate not the usual $25/hour revenue for Andrew, but $28/hour. Or, it might be that if you pay a worker more he is more productive-- but that's not the current hypothetical; it is introducing an entirely new consideration. You can do that, but answer the questions for the current hypothetical first.

1c. Bargaining. This is the interesting case, because efficiency is not at stake. Any wage between $12 and $25 will induce Paul to take the job, and will maximize social wealth. Tentatively, I say Andrew should make an offer of $12/hour to Paul-- the bare minimum. An offer of $25/hour would result in the same creation of wealth-- the surplus of $13/hour that arises from switching Paul from working for Sam to working for Andrew-- but it would give Paul control of the $13 instead of Andrew. If Andrew thinks he will spend the money better than Paul, he should therefore act to get it for himself.

Here we are depart from the realm of conventional economics, which does not question the value of spending and only tries to maximize the amount people have to spend. What would "spend the money better than Paul" mean?

What is decisive is whether Andrew thinks he would spend the money better in furthering God's work than Paul would. Andrew, for example, might donate it to his church, whereas he might know that Paul will spend it on fast cars and fast women. Or, Andrew might know he will spend it in good ways, but he does not know how Paul will spend it. Or, we could even consider the extreme case, in which Andrew knows that he himself tends to misspend money-- perhaps he is impulsive, or susceptible to con men-- but Paul is also a Christian and very good with money. Even in that case, Andrew is just indifferent about bargaining hard and getting the $13/hour for himself and bargaining soft and leaving it with Paul, because even if he bargains hard, he can just give back the money after the bargaining process is over.

It is very important to start with cases like 1a to 1c, cases of individual ethics, because society is built on top of individual decisions. Ethics before politics. Possibly the biggest single problem in the literature I've seen on Christian economics is that it jumps, instead to the political questions, questions such as whethere there should be a minimum wage. But we are now ready to go there, with hypotheticals 2a, 2b, and 2c.

2a,b,c. Andrew is not a Christian, but Charles, the king of this country, is. Should James force Andrew to pay a particular wage in any of the above scenarios?

I think King Charles should not force Andrew to pay any particular wage to Paul, because what I concluded above was ethically best for Andrew was also what he would do as a non-Christian pursuing self-interest. The only way in which Andrew's behavior depended on his being Christian was in how he would use the profit he earned-- donating it to his church, or to a poor person, or whatever. King Charles might want to intervene in that spending-- by imposing taxes on Andrew and diverting his money to a worthy recipient-- but not in the wage he pays.

Someone who does not think the Christian Andrew should pay the same wages as a selfish employer, however, cannot jump immediately to the conclusion that King Charles should force Andrew to do the Christian thing. It will take some extra reasoning to get there. This is like the distinction between an ethical requirement that a person be faithful to his wife and a legal requirement. Even if you conclude that adultery is sinful, it requires more argument to reach the conclusion that it should be a crime, and a crime even for those who do not believe it is sinful.

Liberals, in particular, will have to squirm a bit, I think, in explaining why King Charles should require the non-Christian Andrew to pay high wages on pain of imprisonment but not require him to attend church regularly. (Catholic conservatives are more likely to be consistent and accept mandatory church.)

It is worth noting that King Charles has, in fact, imposed laws affecting the hypotheticals. Minimum wages are clearly relevant. There might be a minimum wage of $27/hour, in which case a profit-maximizing Andrew will hire nobody. Or there might be a minimum wage of $12/hour, in which case he will hire someone, but as far as profit goes he would as willingly hire Paul-- an inefficient outcome-- as one of the other 30.

An interesting wrinkle is that if there is a minimum wage of $12/hour and Paul is a Christian, like Andrew, Andrew, though indifferent between Paul and the other thirty as far as Andrew's profits are concerned, should not use Paul's Christianity as a tie-breaker and hire Paul. It is still inefficient to hire Paul; Paul still gets no gain compared to staying with Sam, and the pagan thirty still love to get the $12/hour job. When price controls are imposed, employers often switch to using things such as race, religion, good looks, etc, as tie-breakers, but from a Christian point of view they should not.

Speaking of which, however: American law also forbids hiring Paul just because he is a Christian. That is part of "civil rights" law. If you are hiring people because they are Christian brethren, and you are not a religious organization (churches are exempted from the law), then you are in violation of discrimination law. This kind of discrimination is very common, of course, just as it is common for Jewish employers to give breaks to Jewish workers and for Moslem employers to give breaks to Moslem workers, and it is innocuous, but it is illegal.

Let us move, though, to a third set of hypotheticals. Even though this has been quite lengthy already, it is quite important to keep in mind that every market has two sides, supply and demand, and we should check to make sure that our ethical rules don't result in contradiction when we apply them to both sides of the market. So now let us look at Paul, the employee's decisions.

3a. Market Wages. Paul is thinking of working for Andrew, to pick apples for him. For each hour of Paul's labor, Andrew will earn $25/hour after paying for materials, capital, and so forth, but before labor costs. Paul is willing to work for no less than $12/hour, because that is what Sam would otherwise pay him. Thirty other people are willing to work for Andrew as little as $10/hour.

At what wage should Paul be willing to work for Andrew?

3b. Hiring Christians. To Situation 3a, add that Andrew is a Christian, and Sam is not. Andrew does not know Paul.

3c. Bargaining. Take Situation 3a, but change it so that nobody else but Paul is available to work for Andrew. Andrew is a very bad bargainer, as Paul knows, so Paul will be able to make him one take-it-or-leave-it offer.

These are the same numbers as in (1a) to (1c). My answers would be that in (1a), Sam should not quit his current $12/hour job to work for Andrew for $10/hour or less, just out of charity to Andrew. If he thinks Andrew is deserving of charity, he should keep his current job and pay him cash. This remains true even if Sam is non-Christian. And in (3c), Paul should be a tough bargainer and hold out for $25/hour, just as Andrew would have held out for $12/hour in (1c), and by the same reasoning.

If, however, you went with a non-market decisions in (1a) to (1c), you may have a problem in (3a) to (3c). If, for example, you think that Andrew should have offered to hire Paul at the above-market wage of $15/hour in (1a), then do you also think Paul should have offered to work for Andrew at the below-market wage of $8/hour? How do they reconcile their contradictory desires? I think people have an impulse to say that the wage should be above the market level, at $15/hour, rather than below, but do you still believe that if Paul is much wealthier than Andrew? (Employers are not necessarily richer than employees- just think of pro baseball players whose employers are small shareholders in a corporation.)

I was inspired to think on this topic by the chapters by Stephen Bainbridge (in favor of wealth maximization) and George Garvey (not in favor) in the McConnell book. Professor Garvey quotes quite a bit from Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum (1891). I'll excerpt a little here from that encyclical:

40. The working man, too, has interests in which he should be protected by the State; and first of all, there are the interests of his soul. ...

From this follows the obligation of the cessation from work and labor on Sundays and certain holy days.

Daily labor, therefore, should be so regulated as not to be protracted over longer hours than strength admits.

45. Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice. In these and similar questions, however-such as, for example, the hours of labor in different trades, the sanitary precautions to be observed in factories and workshops, etc. - in order to supersede undue interference on the part of the State, especially as circumstances, times, and localities differ so widely, it is advisable that recourse be had to societies or boards such as We shall mention presently, or to some other mode of safeguarding the interests of the wage-earners; the State being appealed to, should circumstances require, for its sanction and protection.


57. To sum up, then, We may lay it down as a general and lasting law that working men's associations should be so organized and governed as to furnish the best and most suitable means for attaining what is aimed at, that is to say, for helping each individual member to better his condition to the utmost in body, soul, and property.

It's interesting that Pope Leo seems a bit dubious about the free market, but his favored solution seems to be Catholic labor unions rather than government regulation. Perhaps he was thinking of pre-industrial economies, not free, but dominated by power struggles, so he didn't trust the government (which might well be captured by employers), and wanted to strong labor unions to equalize the bargaining position of workers against monopsonistic employers.

It is worth keeping in mind that Rerum Novarum comes from the era in which the Roman Catholic Church was uncomfortable not just with free markets but with other modern things such as secular governments and elected governments . See my old post ofAugust 2003 , which I ought to update some day (it doesn't talk about elections vs. monarchies, on which seeIMMORTALE DEI (1885), just about whether church and state should be separate). Anyone citing papal encyclicals of that era in support of government regulation had better be ready to support other encyclicals less appealing to the modern mind.

Permalink: 05:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2004

Jonathan Edwards on True Virtue

Last Spring I posted a couple of times from Perry Miller's book, Jonathan Edwards: "Making God in Our Own Image; God's Morality versus Ours; The Mystery of Suffering and Predestination" and "Perceiving God's Excellency" I've read more, and find that Edwards's ethics is really very much like an economist would think. Miller is talking about Edwards's book, The Nature of True Virtue. My thoughts are in italics.....


Edwards' conclusion is that what Hutcheson and the rationalists conceive as a natural possession of all mankind, the criterion of disinterested benevolence, is actually only a compounding of pleasure against pain, nothing more than an extension of the principle of uniformity through wider and wider variety, a long-term instead of a short-term calculus. (p. 286)

I think Adam Smith has a similar notion later in The Theory of Moral Sentiments-- that we are grieved by oppression because of sympathy that makes us wince, for example.

... the old Puritan disposition to expect the worst from mankind while demanding the best... (p. 287)

Just the sentiments of an economist asking for efficiency when it is not in self interest!

... the greater part of this concentrated essay is a tracing out, with no rancor, as from an incalculable height of observation, of the manifold masquerades that self-love can resort to in the endless effort to simulate benevolence.

I wonder if there is a category to match Dan Rather's self righteousness?

What the natural man calls virtuous and beautiful-- social justice, the mother's love for her child, the happiness of those he happens to love, a regard for the public good which includes himself even when it calls upon him to sacrifice himself, ultimately even the approbation of an inward conscience that gives him invincible pleasure despite the censure of his fellows ... -- all these, analyzed into elementary terms, are no more than "the order and proportion generally observed in the laws of nature." They are reactions, like the cry of the anvil hit by the hammer... (p. 289)

This is the economist's tautology: if I choose A over B, it is because A give me greater utility. Knowing my utility function, you can perfectly predict what I will do. I don't have the free will to do what I don't want to do.

[of "virtuous" human actions] They can be formulated into rules as objectively beautiful, but as utterly irrelevant to moral worth, as incommensurate with the dignity of suffering and the agony of decision, as the insensate laws of motion.

For me to be cruel to my children would be as hard as for a stone to drop up instead of down; it just doesn't come naturally. So is my kindness virtue, or just the ordinary course of nature?

The book is not so clear on what Edwards *does* think is virture. It is something along these lines: that true virtue is to depart from our natural inclinations to do what God desires, because that is beauty of a higher order than the laws of nature (though those laws in themselves do have *some* beauty). We cannot depart from our natural inclinations without God's grace, however, which shows us this higher beauty, upon which sight we begin to yearn for it.

This is a neat way to address the question of The Damnation of the Virtuous Heathen. How could God burn the benevolent Hindu in Hell forever? --Because his benevolence is just the natural result of a benevolent disposition, no more deserving of reward than the gentleness of a sheep or the loyalty of a dog. And if that natural benevolence is put aside, why should he not be burned, as being just as selfish as a violent lecher, just with more neighborly tastes in recreation?

Permalink: 09:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 05, 2004

The Retreat to Scripture; Legalistic Antinomianism

This post by Pastor Bayly touches on a special problem for modern evangelicals, what I call "The Retreat to Scripture". By this, I mean a timid though firm defense of beliefs that seem peculiar to the world by saying, "Well, this is pretty weird,
and we won't try to defend it as rational, but Scripture forces us to believe
it." This is firm, because it does confront the world with unpopular beliefs,
but timid, because it hides ashamedly behind Scripture and, more importantly,
because it leads to extreme narrowing of our unpopular beliefs....

Why does it lead to narrowing? Because if you defend nothing that Scripture
does not absolutely force you to defend, you've lost a lot of what God wants
from us in daily life. You are stuck in an interesting sort of "Legalistic
Antinomianism": the principle that unless Scripture explictly prohibits
something, God permits it. This was one of the problems of the Pharisees, and a
big theme in the Sermon on the Mount. See Matthew 5:31-32:

It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a
writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his
wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and
whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

The Pharisees were wrong to take their ethics directly from Scripture. They
were not supposed to contradict Scripture, but they were supposed to go beyond
it. We should not violate the letter of divine law, but we should not violate
its spirit either.

The form this takes nowadays is for evangelicals to shamefacedly say, for
example, that Scripture prevents us from ordaining women as elders, much as we'd
like to, but at least we can elect a woman as mayor, since Scripture doesn't
prohibit it.

I don't object to women as mayors-- I haven't thought it through, so I pretty
much accept the conventional wisdom-- but I object to the reasoning I just gave.
We should not say that the Christian position is obvious just because Scripture
is silent. It is something that needs thinking through, just as Christians need
to think through whether heroin use, unmentioned in the Bible, is morally
acceptable and prudent.

The Retreat to Scripture also closes down what would be the most useful
discussion of many issues: *why* God commands things. On the issue of women as
elders, for example, the discussion is diverted to the meaning of particular
Greek words and away from the actual effect of having women as elders. Not
ordaining women becomes like not eating pork--- a mysterious and arbitrary
divine command that looks stupid but that we trust is for our own good.

Note, too, that Legalistic Antinomianism has a tendency to be a one-way filter,
allowing practices of which the World approves but banning practices of which
the world disapproves. Thus, I think most churches would say that racism is bad,
even though the Bible says nothing on the subject. Here, rather than saying that
we must only condemn that which Scripture clearly condemns, I think people
would either (a) consider Scriptural support unnecessary or (b) search out
passages or principles from Scripture that while not directly on point do show
that God is displeased if we refuse to associate with somebody simply because
his skin is black. And method (b) is correct-- I just wish it were applied more
to beliefs at odds with the World's beliefs.

Permalink: 10:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 23, 2004

The Christian Duty of Skepticism: Galatians 1

One thing about Christianity is that it requires that its believers think independently. Paul said in Galatians 1:7-9,

I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another [gospel] only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.

Who is to decide whether the leader is preaching the original gospel, or a new, perverted one? The believer must decide for himself. It is not that he gets to choose which gospel is correct; that is not up to him. Rather, he must figure out which gospel is correct, with woeful consequences if he gets it wrong.

This goes against a strong tendency in human nature, which is to pick someone as an authority and just trust him. That tendency is quite sensible-- it saves a lot of effort-- but it is dangerous, whether applied in religion or in personal finance.

Permalink: 12:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 16, 2004

Thanking God, How to Dress in Church; The Role of a Pastor

The Evangelical Free Church denomination seems to be pretty sound. I attended the White Rock Community Church this morning. The sermon was on thankfulness, with attention to the marvels of daily life. The opening example was the best. The pastor had decided on a Friday at 3 to go camping by himself. He got his stuff together, went to Canadian Tire for supplies, and so forth, and set off in the early evening towards Squamish. He got to the campground at 7 or so-- and it was full. He went on to a bigger campground-- and they laughed and said it had long been full. They said he could keep going north-- and he might find a campsite, or might not. The evening temperature was great, with a warm breeze and a beautiful sunset in the making. What did he do? He drove back home, slowly, enjoying the sunset and thanking God.

I liked that. I didn't like the opening though, where he asked, "All in favor of the pastor *not* wearing a coat a tie occasionally?" and got an enthusiastic anti-tie response.

Why should a pastor wear a tie? The main reason is that he should be a figure of authority. It is harder for someone wearing a T-shirt to tell a congregation of people older than himself that they are behaving badly and need to reform their lives. It is even more difficult if he has occasion to tell that to an individual person caught in sin. Detestation for the marks of authority is usually a sign of detestation of authority. This is natural in all of us, because we want to be free to do what we want without comment from Man or God, and we want authorities to be scared to challenge our behavior, *especially* when we know we are in the wrong.

A second reason is that lack of formal dress indicates lack of respect for the position of pastor. Important men wear neckties and leather shoes. If a pastor wears ordinary clothes, that shows he doesn't think his position is any better than that of a plumber or a factory worker, and is rather less important than that of a doctor or a lawyer.

To be sure, a church can thrive without a pastor who wears a tie. But either this is because the pastor has such charisma that he can exert authority anyway or because having leadership is not essential to a church. The second of these is the more interesting. We think of a pastor's job as being to organize worship services, but that is where he is least essential. In fact, in many churches Sunday worship is either programmed by the denomination--- Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and other liturgical churches to one extent or another-- or organized by a music leader. The pastor just writes and delivers a sermon-- and it is not really very important for him to do that, as shown by the example of the Elizabethean Homilies, excellent officially approved pre-written sermons for use in the Anglican Church. For worship, a church does not need pastors or elders-- the members could take turns picking hymns, leading prayers, and delivering sermons, as happens in some Bible studies. Or, as in the case of a tie-less pastor, someone could lead worship inobtrusively and without any "pastoral" responsibilities.

Rather different is a third reason why a pastor might wear a tie: that maybe we should all dress up for church, not just the pastor. This is what comes to mind for most people, I think, since points (1) and (2) really imply that the congregation should *not* dress up, since to do so tends to elevate them to the status of the pastor. But we expect better conduct of our pastor than of ourselves, an attitude that sounds wrong but may have some justification. (A big enough topic for some future post.)

Should the congregation dress up? I don't dress up much myself. Usually I wear a coat and tie, but that doesn't really count as real dressing up. My biggest worry is from Matthew 22: 10-14:

So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.

If you are going to an event to honor someone, you dress accordingly. Or, if you are going to meet an important person and talk to him personally, you dress up. If I was going to talk to President Bush, I would dress up for the occasion. Even if I was going to meet President Clinton, whom I despised for good reason, I would have dressed up. Most people would do the same. So if church is a time to honor God, or to meet with God, oughtn't we to dress up? And shouldn't this be more even than just wearing a jacket and tie, a too-easy first step? Shouldn't I wear a real suit, and make sure it is pressed, and make sure my tie doesn't have stains? (Professors often wear jackets and ties, but we never have to really look sharp, and in fact would face disapproval from our peers if we did.)

On the other hand, does God really care about the appearance of a worm such as myself? Or, if He does care about me, isn't it my thoughts and other behaviors that matter more? (I can't say, "isn't it the thought that counts," because dressing casually reflects the thought that it is ok to take no effort in my dress, so we return to whether that thought is okay or not.) I have concluded that God wants me to allocate my effort carefully, and to spend my limited energy on careful dress would be wrong. In addition, I need to consider the effect of my dress on other people. Formal dressing is easily interpreted as trying to show off, and I don't want people thinking that serious Christians show off-- though I should not be averse to their thinking badly of me personally because I am trying to show off if I am not. Worse yet, dressing up can distract other people in church, because they admire it, they are inimidated by it, or they start wondering why I'm dressed that way. So I don;t depart much from the norm. But I'm open to argument.

Permalink: 08:17 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 08, 2004

Man: Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?

Pope says in his Essay on Man, 1.2:35-38,

Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst thou find,

Why formed so weak, so little, and so blind?

First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,

Why formed no weaker, blinder, and no less;

This casts a good sidelight on the Problem of Evil. Usually, we ask why God did not put less sin and pain into the world. Pope asks why God did not put *more* sin and pain into the world.

The answer may be that the Problem of Evil can be reformulated as, "Why didn't God make men perfect and put them in a painless world?" The alternative to the present world would not be one that is moderately less painful, because Pope's criticism is then valid-- if there's going to be a little pain, why not a lot of pain? But if we try to understand why God made a world with sin and pain rather than a world absolutely free of sin and pain, we immediately grasp Pope's deeper criticism-- that we have too little information to understand why God made the world as it is. A person may think at the micro level that it is obvious that God should have prevented the 9-11 bombing, but if you ask him to explain why God should have prevented all deaths in human history, he will become less confident.

Another way to approach what Pope said is to think about what kind of creature God ought to have created instead of Man. Men have an IQ of 100 on average, and live to about 80 years. Ought they instead to have an average IQ of 130 and live to 100? Why not, instead, an average IQ of 70 and live to 50? This is not an easy design problem, and without knowing God's objectives it is an impossible one for us to solve.

Permalink: 11:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 02, 2004

Knowing about God

From Pope's Essay on Man, Project Gutenberg edition:

Say first, of God above, or man below
What can we reason, but from what we know?
Of man, what see we but his station here,
From which to reason, or to which refer?
Through worlds unnumbered though the God be known,
'Tis ours to trace Him only in our own.

Even so. We have very little data on God, though a considerable amount on Man.

Permalink: 11:09 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 25, 2004

Rebecca Blank and William McGurn's Is the Market Moral?(Brookings 2004)

Rebecca Blank and William McGurn's Is the Market Moral?(Brookings 2004)

The Pew Forum and Brookings jointly commissioned this little book on what a Christian's attitude towards the economy ought to be, by a liberal and a conservative. I found it a bit disappointing. Both authors are competent at economics, and both spend a lot of time talking about what economists know already-- that markets work very well, that there is some market failure and some government failure, and that people claim to base some rather silly economic policy prescriptions on religion. Both, however, are very much establishment figures, if of different parties, and they are too respectful of each other and others. Since they both do know economics, it is quite clear that each could have said some very pointed things about the economic idiocies of their own groups-- Blank about the Naderism of the Liberal Church, and McGurn about the Namby-Pamby Socialism of the Roman Catholic Church. And of course each could have gone after the other's group.

Becky Blank points out one difference that is almost amusing stereotypical: she quotes the Bible a lot (which is actually pretty good for a liberal), but Mr. McGurn quotes Roman Catholic church documents. And it seems where they disagree is in that Blank thinks norms are important and a market economy relies on virtue, whereas McGurn thinks that somehow free markets create virtue. I'd give Blank a victory on points there. Adam Smith's point is not that free markets make people virtuous, or that selfishness is what makes markets work, but that markets work well *even if* people are selfish and bad, so long as they at least keep their bargains and don't steal from each other. If they are virtuous, that is all the better, but what is nice about markets is that they are more robust than socialism to the presence of rascals.

Neither author meets head on the hard questions for a Christian economist, most of which, I think, concern private behavior rather than government policy. Here are some I would have liked to have seen discussed more:

1. Ought a Christian to be rich?

2. Ought people to be encouraged to work hard by the use of material incentives? Such incentives are, of course, effective, but are they too corrupting?

3. Ought a Christian to force non-Christians to pay taxes to give to the poor?

4. What laws should a Christian use to restrain immorality?

5. Ought a Christian to use the law to restrain blasphemy?

6. Should Christians let the poor suffer if to help them would make them lazy or otherwise immoral?

7. Is it wrong for a Christian to put emphasis on the material well being of himself or others instead of on spiritual things?

8. What makes a Christian liberal different from an atheist liberal? What makes a Christian conservative different from an atheist conservative?

I suppose I ought to try answering these myself some day.

The book has a couple of websites on the back cover which I might visit-- and

Permalink: 11:09 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 18, 2004

Mary and Martha; Hessel Park Church, Champaign

I was in Urbana-Champaign over the weekend for the Worldwide Foursquare International Conference, or, more accurately, the 2004 Uni High Reunion for the classes of '76 to '87. I'll post more on that later, but it being Sunday, I'll try to post on a religious theme before I go to bed. We went to the Hessel Park Church (Christian Reformed), since it had a nice website and the Christian Reformed Church is fairly sound, despite its unfortunate concession to feminism a few years of allowing women to be elders. Either Pastor Bossenbroek or somebody else there has administrative talent, I deduce from numerous details such as photos on the wall, an elaborate website, the idea of people bringing up food offerings, page numbers for bible readings, a lady bringing pictures books for my girls to look at during the service, dual offering plates for church and deacon's, unusually beautiful but inexpensive art features, etcetera, all unusual in a small church with a congregation of only about 60.

The sermon was pretty good. It was on the Martha and Mary story in Luke 10:

38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

This is a profound story, as worth writing a book about as the Abraham Sacrificing Isaac story that is behind Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling. I hadn't made the connection with the two episodes immediately preceding it in Luke 10, which are the Certain Lawyer and the Good Samaritan:

25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? 27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. 28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

These are all closely connected to the fundamental issue of Faith versus Works. The first command is to love God, but the second command is to love thy neighbor, and they are both commands. Moreover, "If you listen and don't act on what is said, then you didn't really hear it," something very akin to the idea of Jonathan Edwards that communication requires not just that the Sender transmit some information, but that the Receiver care enough to receive what is sent. How can anyone tell whether the Receiver has done that? -- By how the Receiver behaves after the information is sent.

I thought about two personal applications. One is the giving of an economics seminar. Suppose I am presenting a paper at Anonymous University, and they treat me royally, picking me up at the airport, feeding me caviar, and housing me in a five-star hotel-- but although they clap after my seminar, nobody asks a single question or argues over a single point in my paper. I will feel deflated, not elated. They weren't listening. But if at Unknown University they take me to McDonald's for the seminar dinner, house me at the Motel Eight, and cut off the discussion at exactly 5 p.m. even though I'm not finished, but they argue every point and ask all the right questions, then I will feel my trip was worthwhile.

The second was to worrying about noisy kids during the service. Since this church was too small to have a Sunday School (just a nursery for the very little ones such as my Benjamin and Lily), Amelia and Elizabeth stayed with me and Helen during the entire service-- as opposed to leaving just before the sermon, their normal practice. Martha would worry about keeping control of them lest they bother everyone else. Mary would--perhaps-- let them distract, and focus on God. So perhaps I should let them bother people more.

Since they stayed for Communion, I tried explaining it to them (despite I Corinthians 14: 34-35, " Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.") I was gratified that Amelia drew the attached picture. It depicts some people who are happy because Jesus let his body be killed for them.

Permalink: 11:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 17, 2004

Protestwarrior.Com Poster Images

Clayton Cramer refers us to a marvellous website of slogans for conservative bumper stickers and protest signs. Maybe I'll add more later, when I have more time. See the thumbnail images at

Permalink: 05:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 11, 2004


I saw something new in this story today that I hadn't noticed before. Here is the story from II Samuel 11:

1: And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem.

2: And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. 3: And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bath- sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? 4: And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house. 5: And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.


14: And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15: And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.

16: And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were. 17: And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab: and there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also.

18: Then Joab sent and told David all the things concerning the war; 19: And charged the messenger, saying, When thou hast made an end of telling the matters of the war unto the king, 20: And if so be that the king's wrath arise, and he say unto thee, Wherefore approached ye so nigh unto the city when ye did fight? knew ye not that they would shoot from the wall? 21: Who smote Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? did not a woman cast a piece of a millstone upon him from the wall, that he died in Thebez? why went ye nigh the wall? then say thou, Thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.

22: So the messenger went, and came and shewed David all that Joab had sent him for. 23: And the messenger said unto David, Surely the men prevailed against us, and came out unto us into the field, and we were upon them even unto the entering of the gate. 24: And the shooters shot from off the wall upon thy servants; and some of the king's servants be dead, and thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.

25: Then David said unto the messenger, Thus shalt thou say unto Joab, Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: make thy battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it: and encourage thou him.

Notice two things. First, not only did David compass the deat of Uriah, but "there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also." Other soldiers died too, so that David might steal Bathsheba.

Second, Joab was rightly afraid of a double-cross. He feared that David--and others-- would criticize him for a foolish attack that got his men killed. David might have decided to use this episode to get rid of Joab as well as Uriah. Joab was perhaps reminding David that he had some dirt on David that he would reveal if David tried such a thing. But David doesn't try anything fancy: he tells the messenger-- and thus, public opinion-- that he does not blame Joab for the failed attack.

Permalink: 11:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

July 07, 2004

Barna on the Politics of Evangelical Christians, Conservatives, Liberals

The Barna Group tells us

Evangelicals are just 7% of the national population. However, they receive an inordinate amount of coverage during major elections because of their alleged influence in the political arena. Evangelicals were one of the most prolific supporters of Mr. Bush in the 2000 election: the incumbent received 83% of the votes cast by the group. (In the 1996 election, evangelicals were less impressed with the Republican candidates, giving Bob Dole 76% of their votes.)

In the forthcoming election, an even higher proportion of evangelicals - 86% - expect to cast their ballot for the President. (Only 8% plan to vote for Mr. Kerry.) The only voting blocks of similar consensus in their choice of a candidate are conservative Republicans (94% favoring Mr. Bush), people who voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 (88% again supporting the Texan), liberal Democrats (95% in support of Mr. Kerry), and blacks (77% of whom expect to vote for the Democratic nominee). Gay adults, who constitute 4% of the adult population, are the population group most likely to vote (93% expected turnout) but they are comparatively less unanimous in their candidate of preference (67% to 23% in favor of Mr. Kerry).

It would not be surprising if 100% of Christians voted for one party, or that a party received 0% of Christian votes. Indeed, that is what we would expect. Suppose you are in Germany in 1930. In the election that year, would it be alarming if no Christians voted for the Nazi or Communist parties? No-- we should hope for that result, since both parties were anti-Christian. It would be improper for pastors to preach against the Nazis from the pulpit, I suppose, but outside the church they should be active. And there is nothing wrong with distributing the church membership lists. Indeed, the churches could be quite neutral on this, and distribute their lists to all parties-- but the Center Party (the Catholic one) would get the benefit. [By the way: I would not be surprised if, to the shame of Christianity, Lutherans voted heavily for the Nazis despite Nazi anti-Christianity. But that says more about the sincerity of the Lutherans of 1930 Germany than about true Christianity, I think. Just look at the secularism of the German Lutheran church now, and you'll understand. ]

Going a bit further, consider the black vote. It goes 77% Democrat. That means black churches must be going heavily Democrat too. Maybe that is because of improper partisanship from the pulpit, but we might expect it anyway.

Permalink: 10:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack