Thursday, June 30, 2016

From Dreher's Sex After Christianity

The entire essay is here. 

It is nearly impossible for contemporary Americans to grasp why sex was a central concern of early Christianity. Sarah Ruden, the Yale-trained classics translator, explains the culture into which Christianity appeared in her 2010 book Paul Among The People. Ruden contends that it’s profoundly ignorant to think of the Apostle Paul as a dour proto-Puritan descending upon happy-go-lucky pagan hippies, ordering them to stop having fun.
In fact, Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time—exploitive especially of slaves and women, whose value to pagan males lay chiefly in their ability to produce children and provide sexual pleasure. Christianity, as articulated by Paul, worked a cultural revolution, restraining and channeling male eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.
Christian marriage, Ruden writes, was “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.” The point is not that Christianity was only, or primarily, about redefining and revaluing sexuality, but that within a Christian anthropology sex takes on a new and different meaning, one that mandated a radical change of behavior and cultural norms. In Christianity, what people do with their sexuality cannot be separated from what the human person is.
It would be absurd to claim that Christian civilization ever achieved a golden age of social harmony and sexual bliss. It is easy to find eras in Christian history when church authorities were obsessed with sexual purity. But as Rieff recognizes, Christianity did establish a way to harness the sexual instinct, embed it within a community, and direct it in positive ways.
What makes our own era different from the past, says Rieff, is that we have ceased to believe in the Christian cultural framework, yet we have made it impossible to believe in any other that does what culture must do: restrain individual passions and channel them creatively toward communal purposes.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

If Christian sexual ethics is mistaken, secularists need to work on a replacement

It is a selling point (not the only relevant reason, surely), and what is happening could turn out to be growing pains. But with respect to sexual ethics, there is too much criticism of the Christian tradition without serious attempts to clarify what is and is not morally acceptable. Christian traditionalists have a clear set of rules. Maybe too clear.
But tradition rules serve an important purpose, they protect relationships from the ravages of competition and insure that proper care is taken for children. If you are going to criticize traditional Christianity on sex, it seems to me that a lot of serious work has to be done to clarify what is moral, and what is not. A simplistic appeal to "consent" is not enough. How the vulnerable can be protected and children are to be cared for still has to be developed in a replacement sexual morality, and I see to little work done on that.
If there are strong standards of conduct that are difficult to follow, then you are going to have problems with people pretending to follow them who really don't, hence the problems on the Christian side. If there are really no rules, no occasions when a sexual impulse ought morally to be resisted, then there can't be any problems. But that doesn't seem plausible. You are probably going to have a certain number of people who find freedom from traditional rules who take it too far the other way, and this should surprise no one.
There are going to have to be rules, and it should be an important element in secularist thought to provide those replacement rules. But I see too little of it.

Two pictures of the moral life

According to the picture some people present, people ordinarily think of what is best unless their religion interferes, in which case they unthinkingly do what they were taught. 

Other people think of this differently. They think that, without religion, our actions have no everlasting consequences, and therefore there is no reason not to do what will be good for yourself, (as opposed to others). On the other hand, if a religious belief is true, then you have a reason to do what will make others happy, since you may have to live with them forever. 

Both pictures seem oversimplified. Is there truth in both, or neither? 

Surprise, surprise

Secularist organizations seem to be having a lot of trouble with sexual harassment. 

You have to ask "What did you think was going to happen?" One of the key selling points of secularism is that you don't have to follow those benighted old restrictions on sexual conduct imposed by those nasty, prudish and repressive Christians. And then, lo and behold, vulnerable people are threatened by the out-of-control libidos of such "liberated" people." 

Surprise, surprise. Next thing you know, we will be finding out that gambling is going on in Casablanca. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

George Will leaves the Republican Party

Will's father was emeritus at the University of Illinois when I was there. 

Jim Slagle's New AFR book

I've read his master's thesis and dissertation, and I like Jim's work. He also convinced me that Lewis was using the word "irrational" correctly in the first edition of Miracles, even though, under pressure from Anscombe's critique, he changed his term to "nonrational."

From Chesterton's The Dumb Ox

Thus, even those who appreciate the metaphysical depth of Thomism in other matters have expressed surprise that he does not deal at all with what many now think the main metaphysical question; whether we can prove that the primary act of recognition of any reality is real. The answer is that St. Thomas recognised instantly, what so many modern sceptics have begun to suspect rather laboriously; that a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask. I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else: certainly not even a defender of fundamental scepticism. If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless, and he is meaningless; and it does not mean anything to attempt to discover his meaning. Most fundamental sceptics appear to survive, because they are not consistently sceptical and not at all fundamental. They will first deny everything and then admit something, if for the sake of argument--or often rather of attack without argument. I saw an almost startling example of this essential frivolity in a professor of final scepticism, in a paper the other day. A man wrote to say that he accepted nothing but Solipsism, and added that he had often wondered it was not a more common philosophy. Now Solipsism simply means that a man believes in his own existence, but not in anybody or anything else. And it never struck this simple sophist, that if his philosophy was true, there obviously were no other philosophers to profess it.

G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox. New York: Image Books, 1933, pp. 148-49.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Against recycling

Even recycling has its critics. Here.

Is underpopulation the real problem?


This is, of course, from a pro-life Catholic organization. I get the idea that most of our forbears, had they been asked what, if anything, is wrong with homosexuality, would raise fears of underpopulation. Even ancient societies with relatively pro-gay attitudes, such as the ancient Greeks, would not consider gay marriage because gay relationships could never replace the population maintenance role played by heterosexual marriages.

Mosher: Like other baby boomers, I lived through the unprecedented doubling of the global population in the second half of the 20th century. Never before in human history had our numbers increased so far, so fast: from three billion in 1960 to six billion in 2000. But the population alarmists, I came to see, glossed over the underlying reason: Our numbers didn’t double because we suddenly started breeding like rabbits. They doubled because we stopped dying like flies. Fertility was falling throughout this period, from an average of six children per woman in 1960 to only 2.6 by 2005.

Still, there seems to be little concern about population maintenance. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

What does it mean to say "I have a right to my opinion?"

What does it mean to say that I have a right to my opinion? If I have a right to life, it implies that some powerful person cannot take my life away from me without justification. How would someone take your opinion away from you, short of brain surgery? 

Learning fallacies from Trump


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Does Dawkins base his "religion is child abuse" argument on one letter?

No, he doesn't. He bases it on intuition. It can't be wrong if it feels so right. 

Richard Dawkins: That is of course true. And I am not basing it on that. It seems to me that telling children, such that they really, really believe, that people who sin are going to go to hell, and roast forever, forever, that your skin grows again when it peels off from burning, it seems to me to be intuitively entirely reasonable that that is a worse form of child abuse, that it will give more nightmares, that will give more genuine distress, if they don’t believe it its not a problem, of course.

What does the evidence say? This. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Friday, June 17, 2016

An implicit premise in the gay rights debate

Race and gender are about who you are and are unchangeable (transgender cases aside). Actively pursuing a homosexual sexual orientation is about what you do. Opponents of gay marriage often say that there is nothing wrong with being gay, the only problem is gay sexual activity.

To hold this position, however, you have to abandon a culturally popular belief, that a sex life is essential to human happiness.

For example, colleges like Wheaton College are often accused of discriminating against homosexuals because they have code of conduct that proscribe homosexual activity. But did you know that a Bible professor at Wheaton College, Wesley Hill, is openly gay. Ah, you say, that doesn't count. Hill is committed to a celibate lifestyle. But he is not only a gay man, he's most certainly NOT in the closet.

But if a sex life is essential to human happiness, what happens to people who can only pursue that happiness with children? What about persons with a spouse for whom intercourse is painful? What about someone married to someone whose sexual ability has been destroyed through injury?

Since I love to illustrate points with songs, this song, Ruby don't take your love to town,  is about a man injured in Vietnam whose wife has decided to run around.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

It couldn't happen here, could it?

From Religious Culture: Faith in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia, by Jerry Pankhurst, in Russian Culture, 2012.

Socialization objectives.

 The atheistic socialization agenda included a wide range of positive incentives. Proper behavior and attitudes were reenforced by legitimate authority and thus carried a positive emotional charge. Atheistic socialization had as its ultimate goal what Soviet writers called "a scientific atheistic worldview," which included the following elements:

 (1) Strong scientific training awaited all students, starting from the earliest grades. Science was always taught as the indubitable and entirely sufficient way of understanding the world that left no room for alternative orientations. All other perspectives, most notably religion, were said to be incompatible with science and distorting of reality.

(2) A special emphasis was placed on the notion that humans make their own futures. There were no supernatural forces or divine entities which had any relation to the world. In Marxian terms, science was the surest basis for building the future because it recognized the true nature of the world.

(3) Atheistic socialization required teaching about the history of freethought and atheism, as well as about "religious obscurantism" that undermined the progress of science.

(4) Atheism had to have its "positive heroes" -- Charles Darwin, Galileo, Copernicus, and others. The abundant literature on such characters served an important socialization goal of creating "reference idols" to encourage the youth in particular to emulate atheistic values. [39]

(5) Movies and newspapers, television and radio, literature and painting -- all forms of mass culture had to be upgraded in content, so as to woo the population away from religious spectacles. For instance, during the Easter holidays the state would show especially popular programs on TV and keep movie theaters open into the late hours to keep the populace from attending all night Easter services.

 (6) Atheist propaganda was carried out by a sprawling set of agencies and organizations, such as the Museum of Religion and Atheism and Knowledge Society, [40] which printed pamphlets and books, offered public lectures and presentations. Through all these socializing institutions and practices the authorities sought to provide models of atheist behavior and attitudes for average Soviet citizens, to turn them into "good atheists" intolerant of religioznoe mrakobesie (religious obscurantism). But the same outcomes could be, and sometimes had to be, accomplished through other means, like punishments and costs inflicted on the believers to discourage them from practicing proscribed behavior.

 Social Control Imperatives.
Soviet believers who evaded the socialization efforts mounted by the state had to bear excessive costs for their religious activities. The state did everything it could to "overcome" religion peaceably, to make it "wither away," but when its "constructive" efforts failed, it was ready to deploy a vast array of social control devices to stamp out religious customs.

Here are some of the more important social control venues favored by the Soviet state:

(1) Forbidding formal religious education for children, that is, any group classes, Sunday schools, etc.

(2) Hindering the participation of children in religious activities by pressuring and intimidating clergy, parents, and children themselves (usually in school).

 (3) Controlling baptism rites, i.e., requiring a formal "registration" and a "permit" for a baptism ceremony.

 (4) Ridiculing or criticizing believers in the public press.

 (5) Intentionally and actively seeking out believers and attempting to "reeducate" them. School teachers played a particularly important role in this regard, as did Pioneer and Komsomol cadres, Party and trade union activists at the workplace. Adults could also be force into one-on-one sessions with atheist activists.

(6) Publishing and disseminating antireligious propaganda through literature, lectures, newspaper articles, radio, and television programs. The Knowledge Society has to be singled out here for its relentless efforts on behalf of "scientific atheism," though the trade unions, party cells, atheist clubs, and antireligious museums did not lag far behind.

 (7) Manipulating religious leaders so as to limit their personal influence and ability to organize and disseminate religious influence.

(8) Limiting the prospects for appointment and job advancement for religious believers. Since most high level positions required party membership, believers were naturally excluded from advancement to such levels. In some cases, believers were denied routine pay increases and promotions because of their "backward views." Though this was not universal practice, it encouraged believers to be less visibly active religiously or hide their faith altogether, and it intimidated those who were not active from becoming so. In these and perhaps other ways, the Soviet state barred children from sympathetic exposure to religion and punished those who defied the state and sought to exercise their nominal constitutional rights. Needless to say, children who passed through this elaborate system of antireligious propaganda were less likely to become religious adults, while those who persisted in their religious beliefs and practices could expect their life options to be severely curtailed by the state.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Are Christians to blame for the Orlando attacks?


Last I checked, the attacker was of a different religious persuasion.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Woody Guthrie's Jesus Christ

Sung by Merle Haggard.  Woody's Jesus is not a Republican.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Does Obergfell mean we can marry whoever we want?


The question of the number of people you can marry, and the age of the person you can marry, is still restricted. NAMBLA, the North American Man Boy Love Association, wants to eliminate the latter restriction. The Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints wants to eliminate the former restriction. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Joe Hinman's Trace of God

Here.  It's a version of the case from religious experience.

The XYZ question concerning evidence

It goes like this. X is evidence for Y just in case Z.

I've answered the question here at various times, and people are dissatisfied with my answer. Fine. I want to know your XYZ answer. If you are going to tell me I don't have any evidence, then apparently you have a different answer to the XYZ question than I do. But when I ask people what their answer is, I never find out.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Evidence for theism from the existence of thinking beings

There are facts in existence that are vastly more probable to exist if theism is true than if it is not. In all theistic universes a thinking being exists. In many atheistic universes no thinking beings exists, and it is difficult to see how thinking beings could possibly exist. Therefore, the evident fact that there are thinking beings in our universe is evidence that God exists. It may not be enough evidence for strong atheists, but the fact that it is evidence is indubitable.

Now, this is not all of our evidence, surely, and other pieces of evidence no doubt support atheism. But this is a piece of evidence that supports theism even if a naturalistic theory of mind is defensible.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The case against reality


This is Welty's post, that Steve is referring to.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Any sufficiently vacuous evolutionary explanation is indistinguishable from magic


A skeptic critiques the skeptic movement

And is told he shouldn't be so skeptical of the skeptic movement.


Some are willing to use the Establishment Clause and the demand for neutrality to silence religious advocacy in classroom at publicly funded schools, yet have no compunction about atheist advocacy in those very same institutions. 

Are they hypocrites? 

No, they’re not being hypocritical. It is wrong to advocate for a religion in the public university, because when religious ideas are presented, they have to be presented in a neutral manner, without endorsement. However, atheism is not more a religion than not collecting stamps is a hobby. Therefore we can shove atheism down your throat to our heart’s content, since it is not a religion, but is instead a non-religion, and treats all religions with equal contempt. Besides, all we’re doing when we are creating atheists is supporting science and critical thinking.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Confirmation bias in atheism

Atheists with a strong emotional aversion towards the Christian faith, apparently suffer from a confirmation bias regarding ancient history similar to the confirmation bias of certain Christian fundamentalists regarding the theory of evolution. Seen from their respective scientific specialisms, the claim that Jesus never existed is as stupid as the claim that evolution never happened. Richard Dawkins used to make the former claim (click here), followed later on by a statement that “it doesn’t really matter whether or not Jesus existed.” Well, maybe it doesn’t matter to someone who is not interested in scientific research, although Dawkins claims to foster “science and rationality”. And now we’re at it, how “rational” is Dawkins if he continuously minimizes “positive” examples of faith and religion in order to confirm his conviction that faith and religion are, in most cases, a “bad, delusional thing”? Confirmation bias, anyone? For instance, Dawkins claims that Martin Luther King’s leadership of the civil rights movement did not arise from King’s Christian beliefs. Maybe he should read King’s work first before making such statements. That’s what a scientist should do…