Saturday, June 30, 2012

Quotes of the Day

Here are some quotes for the day!

1.  Rachel Held Evans is looking for feedback about topics that she should cover for her blog.  I especially liked Katy-Anne's comment (which I have slightly edited in my quotation of it):

"I read here all the time. I LOVE the 'ask a...' series, as it appears most do. I really, really don't like the faith and parenting guest posts.  To me, if I want to read mommy bloggers, I'll go read their blogs, which I actually avoid like the plague most of the time.  (And I'm a mom lol).  Personally I'd like to see a little less humorous/personal stories, but not have them cut altogether.  I come here for intelligent discussion and to read topics that make me think. :)  I think you have just enough on faith and doubt.  I enjoy the book and movie reviews and think you do enough of those.  I do like the theological discussion and also think you do enough of those to keep my interest. I would love more on your experiences in the Christian writing and publishing industry (a lot more ha), and more opportunities to ask you questions or at least read Q&A from other people who asked questions. :p More writing/blogging/publishing tips, and while I care about your eye that doesn't capture my interest but I still come back anyway. :) Those are just my thoughts. :)"

Those are my thoughts, too, only I'd add that I also like Rachel's blog because it critiques evangelicalism and the evangelical sub-culture, as well as allows people to share their stories about leaving or returning to church. 

I hope I don't offend Mommy bloggers!  I tend not to read posts about raising kids because I myself am not a parent.  At the same time, I have enjoyed posts about trying to teach kids faith and spirituality (see here, here, and here).

2.  Finding Truth has an excellent post, Tecumseh the Prophet.  Prophecies have been attributed to the Native American leader Tecumseh.  Finding Truth astutely asks:

"So if you’re a Christian, I’d like to ask what you think about this information. Did Tecumseh really prophesy these events? I know that some liberal Christians might be comfortable with the idea that God could have used him as a prophet even though he wasn’t a Christian. Of course, I know many other Christians who would disagree with that. But if they choose to dismiss these stories about Tecumseh and just file them away as coincidence, that still leaves some questions.

"It’s easy to see the similarities between these stories about Tecumseh and the stories about Jesus. Tecumseh’s followers gave us the first hand accounts of these prophecies, and the fact that many Indians from various tribes united behind him is added evidence in his favor. Otherwise, why would they have followed him? Of course, none of these prophecies were written down at the time they were spoken, because few Indians were literate. Jesus’ followers believed he did many amazing things as well, and many people eventually followed him. But again, none of those events were recorded until decades later.

"In other words, we have as much reason to believe Tecumseh was an actual prophet as we do to think Jesus was really the son of God. If you believe one of these claims, but not the other, why?"

I myself am open to the existence of the supernatural or the paranormal in all sorts of settings, Christian and non-Christian.  In terms of why the supernatural shows up when it does, though, I'm not entirely sure.

Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction 7

I finished Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction: My Story.  In the Appendix to this book, "Goals 2000 in the Context of a Global Power Grab", Bachmann criticizes Goals 2000 and also provides the text for the National Education Goals that were a part of that program.  She discusses in that appendix her concern about world government, which made me wonder what the John Birch Society thinks about her, since it has long had a similar concern.  According to this article on the John Birch Society's web site, Michele Bachmann was the second most consistent advocate for liberty among the Republicans running for President in 2012 (next to Ron Paul), yet she has problematic positions on such issues as the Patriot Act, war, foreign aid, and other issues.  

The Appendix on Goals 2000 reminded me of an earlier passage in Bachmann's book.  I was going to write about it in a write-up, but I forgot to do so, so I'll do that now.  On page 119, Bachmann discusses the Minnesota Profile of Learning curriculum that she opposed.  She states:

"Yet it was not just a power grab of our schools, but a power grab of our whole way of life as free Americans.  Students were now to be seen for their value to the economy, for their usefulness to a future employer.  No parent sees his or her child only in such utilitarian concerns, but central planners do----and that was the problem.  Embedded in the Profile was a vision of top-down control in which children became mere cogs in a vast bureaucratic machine."

This reminded me of a class that I took at Harvard Divinity School years ago.  The class was about religion in public schools, and one of the books that we read concerned attempts to subordinate public education to the marketplace.  This book criticized charter schools and also Channel One, a news program that was sponsored by a corporation.  Schools that accepted Channel One gave the corporation the opportunity to provide them with televisions, which helped the schools.  But a question that the book was raising was this: At what price?  Was education becoming subjected to the marketplace, with its dehumanizing focus on the bottom-line?  And did that compromise public schools' status as a place of democracy, equality, and diversity----one of the few such places in the world?

I'll admit that it's been a while since I read this book, and so I'm a little fuzzy about its overall argument.  But I do remember my professor for that course making a point that has stayed with me.  She said that there are different views about what the role for education should be, and one view is that it should be to train people for the marketplace.  

Students in my class equated that particular view----about education's primary role being to train people for the marketplace----with the right-wing, which supports capitalism.  But, as you can see from what Michele Bachmann says in the quote above, things are more complex than that, for Bachmann is opposed to seeing students primarily in terms of their usefulness to the economy.  Moreover, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly was an opponent of Channel One.  It's ironic that Bachmann, who defends the free market for page after page in this book, should be critical of the public schools focusing on making students into reliable cogs in a dehumanizing capitalistic economy.  But she probably would say that she's not against capitalism but the corporatist union of government and business, or that she's in favor of balancing out the free market with other things, such as family.

I'll stop here.  Overall, I enjoyed this book.  I still don't particularly care for Michele Bachmann's worldview, especially how she criticizes people for receiving government handouts when she herself has been a beneficiary of the government, and how she is part of a movement (the religious right) that (in my opinion) tries to shove conservative Christian ideas down people's throats in the public square (though she'd probably say that it's the secular left that tries to shove its views down people's throats, and she'd have a point there).  Her criticism of taxes, even as she supports taxes for the middle-class, also irks me.  But I feel as if I know her a little better after reading this book, and I've enjoyed reading her story.

Psalm 83

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 83 and its interpreters.  Psalm 83 is about ten nations conspiring to wipe out Israel.  The Psalmist asks God to deal with these nations as God dealt with Israel's enemies in the past, namely, to confound and destroy those who would destroy Israel.  I have three items.

1.  Scholars have debated about the historical setting of Psalm 83.  Because Psalm 83 mentions Assyria as part of the confederation, there is a view that the Psalm dates to the ninth-eighth centuries B.C.E., when Assyria was dominant and (during part of that time) in control of several of the nations mentioned in the Psalm that are part of the confederation against Israel (i.e., Tyre, Ammon, Moab, Edom, and others).  Another view is that Psalm 83 dates to the second century B.C.E., during the time of the Maccabees.  In I Maccabees 5, Israel's neighbors rose up against Israel after Judah the Maccabee had defeated Antiochus Epiphanes and purified the Temple.  Assyria in Psalm 83, in this scholarly scenario, refers to Syria, the country of Antiochus, who still had some soldiers in Israel even after he went to Persia.  An author in Peake's Commentary prefers this scenario because he believes that was the only time in history when a simultaneous attack against Israel occurred.

Then there's the view that Psalm 83 is not connected with a specific historical event, but rather lists some of Israel's traditional enemies from the past, perhaps to make the general point that God will acknowledge Israel's suffering and deliver her.  There are Jewish and Christian interpretations that view the Psalm as eschatological.  Some apply it to Gog and Magog, and others regard it as a type of the attack against Israel by the ten-nation confederation that is mentioned in Daniel 7 and Revelation 13.  And then there were those who discussed the Psalm in the context of the current situation of the Middle East, as some had a "Yay-rah" Israel attitude, whereas others cautioned against that.

2.  Psalm 83:3 says (in the King James Version): "They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones."  Why does this verse refer to the victims of the confederation as hidden ones?  Or does it?

One view is that the verse is saying that the Israelites are hidden ones in the sense that God is protecting them.  Another view is that God's people are hidden in the sense that they hide from their persecutors, but that probably does not work for Psalm 83, for the entire nation of Israel cannot hide from her enemies, who know where she is!  The Targum says that the verse is about the enemy nations coming after the hidden things in God's treasuries.  The idea here may be that the nations covet the hidden treasures in God's Temple.
Another approach is to say that the word translated as "thy hidden ones", tsephunechah, actually means God's treasured ones.  The root ts-ph-n can mean to hide, but it can also refer to storing up something that is valuable (see here).

3.  Psalm 83:16-18 says (in the KJV): "(16) Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD. (17) Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:  (18) That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth."
In v 18, the KJV supplies the word "men", meaning that it's not in the Hebrew text.  V 18 should read "That they may know", or "And they will know".  So why does the KJV supply the word "men"?

Vv 16-18 are puzzling verses because they talk about the Psalmist's desire that the enemies of Israel seek the name of the LORD and know that God is supreme, and yet the Psalmist also wants for these enemies to perish.  Are these contradictory desires?  When a person seeks God and acknowledges God's supremacy, the result is that he lives rather than dies from God's punishment, right? So how can the Psalmist hope that Israel's enemies will turn to God and yet perish?

The way that the KJV appears to handle this problem is to insert the word "men" into v 18: to say that Israel's enemies perish, and that causes other people to realize that the God of Israel is supreme.  That does not entirely resolve the problem, however, for v 16 expresses the hope that the enemies of Israel will seek God's name.  We cannot escape the fact the Psalm 83 presents Israel's enemies seeking God, in some capacity.

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary presents two Jewish interpretations.  The first is that God will not accept the repentance of Israel's enemies but will cause them to perish.  A voice in the Midrash on the Psalms adheres to this idea, citing Psalm 18:41, which depicts the Psalmist's enemies crying unto God and God refusing to answer them.  In my opinion, this view is important to consider because I think that too many evangelicals read the Hebrew Bible as a document that is obsessed with the conversion of the Gentiles. When the Hebrew Bible says that the nations will know that God is the LORD, many evangelicals read that as a desire for the Gentiles to enter into a personal relationship with God.  There may be something to this, for there are plenty of passages in the Hebrew Bible that talk about the Gentiles worshiping God.  But is that the only way to understand passages about the nations knowing that God is the LORD?  Perhaps some of those passages mean that God is gloating----that the proud nations at their last breath will learn who is truly in charge, but it will be too late for them.

The second view in Artscroll is that of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who said that Psalm 83 is saying that Israel's enemies will be at the edge of perishing, yet they will call out to God, repent, and accept God's dominion at the last minute, presumably (if I'm not mistaken) saving themselves from destruction.

Augustine had another take on Psalm 83:16-18.  He suggested that the repentant enemies of God's people indeed will perish, but not in the sense of being killed by God in God's wrath.  Rather, their old sinful selves will die, and they will emerge as new creatures.  For Augustine, conversion itself is a process of perishing and rebirth.

I realize that many biblical scholars do not think that much of the Hebrew Bible had a rigorous conception of the afterlife.  But I wonder if there are any interpreters who have said that vv 16-18 concern a deathbed repentance that leads Israel's enemies into a glorious afterlife.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction 6

In my latest reading of Core of Conviction: My Story, Michele Bachmann presents many of the usual conservative criticisms of Obamacare: that it cuts Medicare, that it increases demand and thus the price of health care, that it can lead to rationing, etc.  Bachmann also criticizes how states require health insurance companies to cover a bunch of things that she apparently does not regard as necessary, resulting in high premiums.  In addition, Bachmann not only has a problem with the federal government requiring everyone to have health insurance, but she also disagrees with the Massachusetts plan that had such a requirement, stating that it has left Massachusetts residents with the highest premium rates in the U.S.  (See, however, this article, which says that the high premiums are not due to health care reform and that the premiums are high at least in part because of low deductibles and the high number of health professionals.)

Bachmann made another criticism of Obamacare that I had not heard before: that it imposes on makers of medical equipment a tax of $40 billion over ten years, in order to pay for Obamacare.  Bachmann thinks that this stifles scientific innovation that could save lives and also money for the health care system.  She prefers letting the free market develop innovations, which would result in more jobs and more money for shareholders, encouraging them to invest in more scientific innovation.  Is Bachmann accurate in this claim about Obamacare?  Well, others have made this criticism about the tax, and this article says that even progressive Democrat Elizabeth Warren has issues with taxing medical equipment makers.

Bachmann makes another interesting point on page 171.  She says that we should have a system in which a lot of health insurance companies and health providers are competing for our business.  She then asks, "Could the government help the poor, or those who might not be able to make clearheaded decisions?"  Her answer is pretty skeptical.  I appreciated her question, though, because that's been a concern that I've had about health-insurance in a free market.  When there are a bunch of options out there, how can I be sure that I'm picking the right one?  And what would happen if there comes a time when I actually need to use the health insurance, and I find that I did not pick the right option (i.e., what I need is not paid for)?

One thing that I liked in my latest reading was that Bachmann highlighted that criticism of the Federal Reserve spans the political spectrum, from Ron Paul to socialist Bernie Sanders.  This was a refreshing exception to her usual demonizing of the Left.

The Good Samaritan and an Incident in the Temple

I finished Brad Young's Jesus and His Jewish Parables: Rediscovering the Roots of Jesus' Teaching.  In this post, I'll talk about Young's comments on the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).

Young states that his mentor, David Flusser, believed that the Parable of the Good Samaritan adapted an incident that is discussed in rabbinic literature, in Tosefta Yoma 1:12 and Babylonian Talmud Yoma 23a.  In this story, two priests are running in the Temple, and one stabs the other.  Rabbi Tzadok was then curious about how to apply a law in Deuteronomy 21 about what to do when one finds a corpse.  The victim's father notices that his son is in convulsions, however, which means that the son is not dead, and so the knife within the son is not yet unclean.  The narrator then says that the Israelites were more concerned about the purity of a knife than murder (presumably because they sought to protect the Temple from defilement), and it cites II Kings 21:16, which states that Manasseh (a wicked king) shed a lot of innocent blood.  In the Tosefta, we read that the sanctuary was made unclean on account of murder.  The narrator appears to disapprove of preoccupation with ritual at the expense of human life.

Similarly, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite do not help the half-dead man, and that could be because they feared being ritually defiled were the man to die, since touching a corpse caused ritual impurity.  But the Samaritan, whose culture also had purity regulations, chose to place love for another human being above ritual purity regulations and helped the man.  Young refers to a scholar who held that the Samaritan was placing himself in danger for so doing, for, if the Samaritan were carrying a half-dead Jew, couldn't observers wrongfully conclude that the Samaritan attempted to kill the Jew, especially with the hostility against Samaritans that existed in those days?  And wouldn't the victim's family then seek retaliation against the Samaritan?

Young states that, according to Semachot 1:1 (see here for information on Semachot, which appears to be part of editions of the Babylonian Talmud), Jews were required to help a man even if his imminent death was certain.  Semachot is a much later source, but Young does well to highlight that, within Judaism, there was a concern for human life and criticism of elevating the ritual above the moral.  That should counterbalance the blanket notion that Christianity is good while Judaism is bad.  At the same time, perhaps the Parable of the Good Samaritan is revolutionary in that a member of a despised, non-Jewish group, a Samaritan, is the hero of the story.  This is not to suggest that Gentiles were portrayed as evil throughout rabbinic literature, though.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Musings on the Supreme Court's Obamacare Decision

The news is in about Obamacare!  The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the individual mandate, while allowing the states to decide whether or not they will expand Medicaid.  Here and here are good articles that I read on this.  And here‘s the text of the opinions (official, concurring, and dissenting).

I haven’t yet read the text of the opinions, but I would like to eventually do so, for I am interested in the question of whether it’s constitutional for the federal government to interfere in health care.  I know a number of conservatives who would say “no”.  They’d appeal to the Tenth Amendment to argue that health care is a state concern.  They have characterized the liberal position to be that, because the Constitution allows the national government to regulate interstate commerce, that means the national government can regulate anything that affects interstate commerce, such as health care.

But I wonder if there’s more to the story.  First of all, when the Supreme Court in 1942 upheld Franklin Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Act on the basis of the U.S. Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause (Article 1, Section 8), did it base its interpretation of the Commerce Clause (the interpretation being that the national government could limit how much wheat Mr. Filburn grew on his own field because that affects Interstate Commerce) on precedent or American history, or (better yet) the views of the Founding Fathers?  I do not know.  E.J. Dionne has an interesting article about how Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay supported the national government “ensuring the country’s prosperity, developing our economy, promoting the arts and sciences and building large projects”.  Dionne also states that Clay and Abraham Lincoln “read the Constitution’s commerce clause as Franklin Roosevelt and progressives who followed him did, as permitting federal action to serve the common good.”  So perhaps there were looser interpretations of the Commerce Clause prior to Franklin Roosevelt.

Second, does the federal government have the constitutional authority to compel citizens to purchase something like health insurance?  According to this article by Ezra Klein, the U.S. government compelled citizens to buy certain things as far back as George Washington.  And, in 1790 and 1798, the Congress dealt with the issue of a health insurance mandate for seamen, essentially supporting the mandate.

(UPDATE: See the comments and also here.  The Constitution grants Congress the authority to pass laws that regulate dock-yards, and that could be the reason that it could pass a health insurance mandate for sea-men.)

Third, does the federal government have the right to pressure or coerce states to expand Medicaid?  I do not know.  I would not be surprised if the federal government has been telling states what to do for a long time!

I should point out, though, that there have been different opinions since the time of our country’s founding, as some supported more government involvement, whereas others were for states’ rights and a limited federal government.

In any case, I’d like to read the Court’s opinions sometime to learn more about the different beliefs about these issues.

Am I happy about the decision?  Overall, yes.  There are elements of Obamacare that I support and also elements that I oppose.  I support the health insurance mandate because it expands the number of people paying into the system and cuts the cost of emergency rooms treating the uninsured and passing on that cost to others.  I also support the prohibition on health insurance companies turning away people with pre-existing conditions because, well, I think we should be humane.  And I’m for Obamacare’s emphasis on preventative care, since that can prevent costly emergencies.  In terms of where I disagree with Obamacare, it’s primarily on the issue of taxes, since Obamacare raises taxes on medical-equipment makers and (if I’m not mistaken) health savings accounts (see here).  I think that the tax on medical-equipment makers could contribute to higher costs as the equipment makers pass on the costs of the taxes to their consumers; plus, I believe that the tax could stifle innovation.  (But I hope that other elements of Obamacare will offset that and help bring down the cost of health care.)  And I believe that health savings accounts should be encouraged, even though I disagree with conservatives who act as if they will practically save U.S. health care.

I cannot say that I understand Chief Justice John Roberts’ view that justifies the health insurance mandate.  He disagrees with the more liberal justices’ justification of the mandate on the basis of the Commerce Clause, but he says that the mandate is valid because the national government has the constitutional authority to tax those who don’t pay the mandate.  But I think that Roberts should first address if the mandate is constitutional in the first place, before he talks about whether Congress can tax those who violate it.  So I’m pleased with the Court’s decision, but I’m not sure I agree with Roberts’ way of getting to that decision!

Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction 5

In my latest reading of Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction: My Story, Bachmann offers her opinions on prominent political figures: Jesse Ventura (not that great of a reformer, plus he surrounded himself with liberals), Paul Wellstone (a liberal Michele Bachmann respects), Hillary Clinton (would have made a better President than Obama, since she's not as far left), John McCain (good guy, but he was wrong to support the bail-out), John Boehner (wrong to support No Child Left Behind, but he looks like Dean Martin), etc.

I particularly enjoyed Michele's story about how she was reading a book about Lincoln's cabinet at an event where President George W. Bush was about to speak, and Karl Rove told her to get rid of the book because the President was about to give a speech. (Michele says that Rove's concerns were understandable because the media might photograph her reading the book and make it look like she was reading during Bush's speech, implying that she was bored.)  Michele replied that she would not read it while Bush was speaking, and that it was a good book.  Rove responded that he knew it was a good book, since he had read it himself, but the President was about to speak!  I liked this story because it highlighted how Karl Rove is a voracious reader.  I've read that he and Bush would compete over who would read the most books over the year.  And we're not just talking about light-weight books, either, but substantive books about history.  See here.

I'd like to turn now to a story that Michele tells on page 139 about her husband Marcus and her two daughters at the political fundraiser with President Bush:

"Yet another big thing also happened that night: Our two youngest children, Caroline and Sophia, had their youthful lives changed.  Marcus, always thinking ahead, had said to them a few days earlier, 'Let's make this event your chance to improve your social skills and your confidence.'...So he gently instructed the two shy girls, then twelve and fourteen, that their mission for the evening was to go up to everyone at the dinner and introduce themselves.  Nobody would bite them, he promised...Caroline and Sophia were both a bit daunted at the prospect, but...they went for it; sticking close together, they primly and properly extended their greeting to all the folks.  The girls knew, of course, that Marcus was hovering nearby, ready to help in case of a faux pas emergency.  And so their debut in big-time political fundraising was a success; they had no trouble working the room.  That's the way childhood ought to be: parents guiding the development of their kids, seizing every opportunity to help them grow in confidence and ability."

I liked this story because I myself am a shy person.  Do I fear that people will bite?  No, not literally, but I fear that they will think I'm an oddball were I to introduce myself to them (which happens sometimes, but not most of the time), or that I won't know what to say after saying hello and introducing myself.  Small-talk is not something I'm good at.  But there are cases in which I may not have to do much small-talk (as important as it is to learn how to do that).  I could just say "Welcome to the event" or "Thanks for coming".

The Wedding Garment

In Matthew 22, there is a parable about a king who hosts a wedding feast for his son, and, when the invitees choose not to come, the king orders his servants to bring into the feast people (both good and bad) from the highways.  When the king notices that one of the guests does not have a wedding garment, the king orders that guest to be cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

What is the wedding garment?  I've heard two proposals.  The first proposal is that the wedding garment is the imputed righteousness of Christ that covers the believer as a robe----that the believer is sinful, but he is covered by Christ's righteousness, such that God sees Christ's righteousness and not his sins.  I heard this view in a Seventh-Day Adventist Sabbath school class.

The second proposal is that the wedding garment refers to good works.  And, believe it or not, I've heard this interpretation more often than the first one.  I heard it at an Assemblies of God church, where the Sunday school teacher was saying that the wedding garment could symbolize works of compassion.  When an old lady joyfully said that she had a ticket to heaven, the Sunday school teacher replied that a ticket is not enough, for you also need a wedding garment.  The old lady was somewhat baffled!  I also heard this interpretation in a Bible class at DePauw University.  Moreover, on a Christian radio program, there was a discussion about the parable of the ten virgins and the oil in Matthew 25, and the preachers were interpreting the oil as good works rather than as the Holy Spirit because that coincided more with Matthew's themes.  I think that the same considerations can be applied to the wedding garment in Matthew 22.

In Jesus and the Jewish Parables, Brad Young talks about the Parable of the Wedding Feast.  He quotes Irenaeus, who in Against Heresies 36:6 says that the guest without the wedding garment represents one who did not receive the Holy Spirit due to his wickedness.  Young states on page 173 that Irenaeus is connecting "the wedding garment with works of righteousness and the receiving of the Holy Spirit."  And Young refers to a parable in Semachot Derabbi Chiya in which Rabbi Nathan (second century C.E.) tells about a king who provides his servants with gold and silver, warns them not to rob each other, and leaves.  When the king returns, he sees that the servants have stolen from one another and are naked.  According to Young, the point of the parable is that "likewise the wicked steal from each other in this world and will appear naked----without good works----before God" (page 178).  Nakedness is associated with the absence of good works.

I think that the first proposal (the wedding garment as imputed righteousness) is more comforting, but it does not really fit themes in Matthew, who (while he talks about God forgiving sins) does not refer to imputed righteousness.  But the second proposal fits with Matthew's emphasis on good works.
How good does one have to be to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, in Matthew's mind?  Doing good works entails doing the sorts of things listed in Matthew 25----feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, clothing the naked, etc.  But it also involves exceeding the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 5-7) by cultivating inward righteousness----avoiding hate and lust (which perhaps means coveting a neighbor's wife) and not just murder and adultery.  But, while the Sermon on the Mount exhorts people to be perfect, it recognizes that we continually fall short, which is why the Lord's Prayer asks for forgiveness.

I struggle with Matthew's soteriology, as I understand it.  Often, I try not to worry about it, for the last thing that I need to be is spiritually insecure.  At the same time, I can appreciate the concept that faith should be something that is put into practice, at some level.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction 4

In my latest reading of Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction: My Story, I enjoyed reading about Bachmann's family and how Bachmann has shopped at thrift stories (and she thinks that the government should be more thrifty in its spending----which I agree with, as long as cuts in spending are focused on waste rather than money that the poor need to survive).  What I want to focus on in this post, however, is something that Michele says about her husband Marcus' practice of therapy on page 91:

"So what would Marcus do in a typical counseling session?...He would gather a small group of seekers into a circle of seven or eight----seekers of relief from, say, anger or alcohol.  Then he would begin the discussion by asking questions: 'What's a good response to anger?' or 'How do you handle a spouse who is drinking?'  And then, for the next half hour or so, Marcus would listen as each individual brought up his or her personal issues.  Marcus knew he had to proceed in his counseling with patience and subtlety.  As Paul said to the Corinthians, the goal is not to shame but to instruct, to counsel."

It would be nice to be in a group like this: one that brings up a topic and discusses solutions, so that I have some practical wisdom to take home with me----and all of this occurs in an atmosphere that doesn't put people down.  Unfortunately, many groups that I've been in are not like this.  People either complain about the same problems over and over, or they monopolize the time with topics that have nothing to do with therapy, or they make fun of other group-members, or (in the case of some Asperger's groups) the focus is more on advocacy rather than therapy.  (And advocacy is important, but it would be nice for a group like that to concentrate on how to develop social skills, once in a while.)

What are your experiences in counseling groups?  Do you find them helpful, or do you think there are things that they could do better?

Brad Young on Markan Priority

In my latest reading of Jesus and His Jewish Parables: Rediscovering the Roots of Jesus' Teaching, Brad Young critiques the scholarly notion of Markan priority, which states that the Gospel of Mark came first, and Matthew and Luke then elaborated on Mark. 

If Luke drew from Mark, Young wonders, why does Luke differ from Mark on the order of events?  Why does Mark contain things that are absent from Luke and that would have coincided with Luke's ideology, such as the story about the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), which would have fit Luke's "emphasis on the role of women (cf. Luke 8:1f.)" (page 136)?  Why are there times when Mark's story is more elaborate than that of Luke, such as the story of the healing of the epileptic child (Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43)?  Why are there times when Matthew and Luke agree on a story while disagreeing with Mark?  For Young, one could argue that Mark came after Luke in date.

But, if that were the case, why would Mark omit so many things that are in Luke?  According to Young, Mark is communicating to a Hellenistic society.  His Gospel focuses on Jesus' activity----things occurring immediately, Jesus moving rapidly, crowds following him, etc.  Young states on page 138 that "The instruction of Jesus would probably be less important to a non-Jewish, pagan audience", and that "the miracles and activities of Jesus would be considered a better vehicle of communication."  Young goes on to say that we don't really know why Mark would omit things, but Young does see parallels between Mark and Hellenistic miracle stories.  Mark presents Jesus using "thaumaturgic healing techniques", which "have their parallels in Hellenistic miracle stories where spittle was employed by the miracle worker and one finds another story where the blind man first sees trees after being healed (Mark 7:32-37; 8:22-26)" (page 139).  I think that a pagan audience would have been open to reading about Jesus' teachings, for pagans had their own teachers.  At the same time, I can see the point in a Gospel that focused on Jesus' activity. 

The scenario that Young appears to prefer is one in which Matthew and Luke use a common source (though there are times when Luke draws instead from a reconstruction of that source), which accounts for when Matthew and Luke agree with each other and disagree with Mark.  Young thinks that Matthew used Mark, but that Mark came after Luke. 

I thought of Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q as I read Young's discussion.  Goodacre favors Markan priority, but he makes similar arguments to those of Young, only for different ends.  Goodacre asks, for example, why Mark would omit the Lord's Prayer if the Gospel of Mark came after Luke and Matthew in date, since the Lord's prayer has themes that coincide with Markan ideas, plus Mark is big on prayer.  For Goodacre, that indicates the greater likelihood that Matthew and Luke came after Mark than vice versa.  This resembles Young's argument that Luke came before Mark in date, for Young wonders why Luke would omit things Mark has that coincide with Luke's message, if Luke were using Mark as a source. 

Goodacre also seeks to explain why Luke would omit or rearrange things.  Goodacre states that Luke does so for his own ideological and literary purposes.  Goodacre also notes that movies about Jesus omit or rearrange things from the Gospels, yet these movies are obviously aware of the Gospels, so Luke could have omitted and rearranged things from Mark (and also Matthew, for Goodacre thinks that Luke drew from Matthew rather than Q) while being aware of those sources.  This resembles Young's argument that Mark omitted details from Luke for his own agenda.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction 3: Marcus Bachmann

For my write-up today on Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction: My Story, I'll highlight some things that Bachmann says about her husband, Marcus.  I'll start with a passage that touches on wifely submission, and then I'll mention my favorite passages about Marcus from my latest reading.

I'm starting with the passage about wifely submission because that's an issue that interests people when it comes to Michele Bachmann.  Michele Bachmann talks about when she was in Tulsa studying tax law at Oral Roberts University.  She loved Tulsa, whereas Marcus didn't, plus Marcus felt a calling to help young people.  Michele and Marcus prayed together, and Michele arrived at her decision.  On page 81, she says:
"Marcus was my husband, the leader of our home and family.  Between my law school and my marriage, it wasn't even a contest.  I now realized, deep in my heart, that however much I would hate to leave ORU, I would hate even more causing hurt to Marcus.  And then God reminded me of the famous words of Paul to the Corinthians: 'Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.'"  But Michele was still unhappy to be away from law school.

They left Tulsa, and Marcus went into youth ministry.  But, eventually, as he prayed, he concluded that Michele needed to pursue her calling to be a lawyer, and so they went back to Tulsa.  Marcus then worked with young people as Vice-President of Admissions at Oral Roberts University, and he also was director at a senior center.  (Michele says that he loved interacting with the elderly because, as a second-generation immigrant, he had grandparents who did not live in the United States.)  Michele and Marcus later made another move, and Michele went to the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Michele did submit to her husband and regarded him as the head of the home.  But, in a sense, her decision was still hers: she chose her husband's happiness over her own because her marriage was important to her.  Was Marcus a "my way or the highway" sort of husband?  That's not the impression that I get from my reading thus far of Michele Bachmann's book, for Marcus comes across as laid-back, comfortable to be with, and caring. 

I'll now turn to my favorite passages about Marcus:

On page 61, Michele talks about when Marcus first met her Mom and step-father, Ray:

"Next it was Marcus' turn to meet my family...It was a Saturday, and Mom had said to come by anytime, so we did.  When Marcus and I arrived, we found Mom and Ray scraping their wallpaper in the hallway.  Marcus was eager to help, so that's what we did.  Such gallantry might seem more practical than romantic, but let me tell you, it was both----practical and romantic.  By pitching in so readily on a chore, Marcus made a good impression on our folks.  Men, here's a lesson for you: Flowers and candy are wonderful for a girl, but if you really want to convince her that you're Mr. Right, it helps to be a handyman!"

Well, I'm not a handyman, but I admire Marcus for being eager to help Michele's folks!

Michele also says on page 61:

"For his part, Marcus's job was...in downtown Minneapolis, a place called Soul's Harbor, where he taught employment skills to those who were down and out.  But all that time turned out to be time well spent, because he enjoyed listening to people; he has always said that everyone's story has value."

I try to cultivate an appreciation for listening to people's stories, for that is a good social skill: being interested in other people, and realizing that everyone's story has value.  That, incidentally, is one reason that I enjoy Michele Bachmann's book!  At a certain level, I am already interested in people's stories, but I should cultivate that interest.

On page 80, Michele talks about Marcus taking her to nursing homes when they were dating:

"Because we had no money, we would occasionally go to visit some of Marcus's favorite senior citizens at nursing homes in Winona, at Sarnia, and the Watkins Home.  These were very unusual dates, but I got to see what a loving, sensitive, and caring man Marcus is, and afterward, rather than being depressed, we found great joy in recalling the stories and jokes of these seniors."

I love that passage!

Marcus was a controversial figure during Michele's run for President because of his alleged belief that homosexuals could change.  But I think it's important to recognize the good that people do, not just the things that we disagree with.

Did Jesus Speak Hebrew?

I started Brad Young's Jesus and His Jewish Parables: Rediscovering the Roots of Jesus' Teachings.  In my latest reading, Brad Young defends the view that Jesus' spoken language was Hebrew.

I wrote a post a few months ago that touched on John Meier's discussion of the language that Jesus spoke.  Meier argued that Hebrew in Jesus' day was primarily literary, whereas Aramaic was the spoken language in Palestine.  Meier also contends that the existence of Targumim, Aramaic translations and elaborations of the Hebrew Bible, attest to the fact that most of the Jews spoke and understood Aramaic.

Young has a variety of responses to these sorts of arguments.  First of all, Young argues that the Targumim were later than the time of Jesus.  Second, Young notes that most of the documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls are in Hebrew, whereas only a few are in Aramaic.  After noting that the Manual of Discipline is in Hebrew, Young states that "It is hard to imagine that the sect would have written this treatise in a language that would be difficult for its initiates or members to understand even if the literary nature of the scroll makes it highly unlikely that it could accurately represent the spoken language of the people" (pages 40-41).  Third, against the claim that Hebrew was only a scholarly language, Young contends that the Hebrew Bar-Koseba letters indicate that even mundane concerns could be discussed in Hebrew.  Young offers other arguments as well.

What does Young do with the times when Jesus in the Gospels speaks Aramaic?  On page 52, he states that "Mark...seems to be interested to add color to his narrative by adding some Aramaic phrases."  I wish that Young clarified why Mark would do this.  Why would Mark choose to use the Aramaic language to add color to his narrative?

Moreover, while Young does well to note that many Targumim are late, there are some that are early, such as the Targumim in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I think that Young does well to ask why Hebrew was so prominent in the time of Jesus, if few understood it.  Could nationalism be a reason for the use of Hebrew, the same way that some have argued that parts of the Book of Daniel were in Hebrew for nationalistic purposes?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction 2

In my latest reading of Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction: My Story, Bachmann covered a lot of ground.  She talked about how her family when she was young became impoverished after her dad and mom divorced (and yet she notes that her mom chose not to receive welfare), how she was not particularly popular with the guys in her high school years and did not know how to flirt (which surprised me because I stereotyped her as a Beauty Queen type), how she became a Christian when she was in high school, how she lived for a time on a Kibbutz in Israel and learned the value of having a strong national defense (as Israel was threatened by foreign enemies), how she met her husband Marcus at work and was friends with him for a while before they took their relationship to a romantic level, how she and Marcus worked with pro-life causes and sought to help unwed mothers, and how they campaigned for Jimmy Carter in a time when the Democratic Party was more open to the pro-life cause than was the Republican Party.

On page 46, Bachmann discusses her conversion to Christ and how that filled a void within her:

"Now I felt real confidence.  Profound confidence.  Finally I felt armored and equipped, ready to confront the world and its many challenges.  I knew that I belonged to God and that He loved me, and so I no longer had to depend on the approval of others.  My cheerful childhood outlook had been damaged by the move away from Iowa, then more damaged by my parents' divorce.  And while I kept plugging away through my early teen years, learning and working, I had felt a gnawing insecurity----an insecurity that is common, I realize, among children of broken homes and blended families.  Maybe that's why I had joined every club, thrown myself into every activity.  Now, looking back on my life before Christ, I realized that I had been searching for something and not finding it.  I had sought approval from teachers and classmates, and while they were almost always nice, they could never fill the real void in my life.  What I needed was a close personal relationship with the Lord Jesus."

I can identify with what Michele Bachmann says about having a void in her life and feeling insecure.  Even people who live with others and are continually around people have testified that they still feel a deep sense of loneliness.  Bachmann found peace in Jesus, rather than in her accomplishments and approval by others.  But why are there people who become Christians and yet still feel that there is a void in their lives?  I think of Whitney Houston.  Is it because we need to remind ourselves continually that we are loved by God----that we need to root our identity in God's love rather than approval by others and accomplishments, not just at a moment of conversion, but every single day?

Celibacy and Women

I finished The Cambridge History of Christianity: Constantine to c. 600.  On pages 671-672, Marilyn Dunn refers to Origen's view that differences in gender "were temporary and insignificant in the vast cycle of regeneration and renewal".  There were consequences as monastics adopted this view.  First, this view challenged "prevalent philosophical and scientific views of female inferiority or incompleteness."  Second, monasticism attracted Roman aristocratic women.  These women angered their families by embracing lifetime celibacy, thereby forgoing marriage and the corresponding "property strategies".

Jerome did not agree with Origen's view, but he did concur that celibacy was superior.  Jerome said there was a hierarchy in which "virgins would be rewarded one hundredfold, widows sixtyfold and the married only thirtyfold" (Dunn's words on page 673).

There is debate about whether early Christianity's commitment to celibacy hurt or helped women.  An argument on the "hurt" side is that Christian men resisting their sexual urges led to a stigmatization of the object of their attraction, women.  An argument on the "help" side is that celibacy enabled women to transcend the gender roles of their society.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Finlandia

At church this morning, we sung the song “Be Still, My Soul”.  The tune sounded familiar, and it was because it was also used for a song that I sang in church when I was a little kid: “A Christian Home”.

I sang “A Christian Home” in an Armstrongite church that I attended with my family.  It’s not a Dwight Armstrong hymn, though, but its words were written by Barbara Hart in 1916, before there even was an Armstrong movement.  I recall that, as a child, I would look at the lower part of the page, and I would see that “A Christian Home” was identified as a “Finlandia”, but I didn’t know what the heck that was.  Well, sure enough, this morning, when we were singing “Be Still, My Soul”, I noticed that it, too, was called a “Finlandia”.

I learned just now from wikipedia (see here and here) that the Finlandia was written in 1899 by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.  It’s the music for “Be Still, My Soul” and “A Christian Home”, but also other hymns: “I Sought the Lord”, “We Rest on Thee”, “This Is My Song”, and “I Then Shall Live”.  It’s also been used for a national song of Finland, and as the national anthem for Biafra, which was in Africa. And my pastor (who is Welsh) would find this interesting (though he probably already knows this): the Finlandia is used for “A Prayer for Wales”.

To listen to the Finlandia, you can click on the “Be Still, My Soul” link at the beginning of this post, or here.  You can listen to the music while trying out some of the different hymns that go with it!

I don’t write too often about music, but I wasn’t in much of a mood to write a heavy theological write-up about church.  Plus, I enjoyed learning about the Finlandia.  I like the Finlandia, primarily because I think it sounds majestic, but it also is pretty.

Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction 1

I started Michele Bachmann's Core of Conviction: My Story.

Why am I reading this book, when she's out of the race for U.S. President, and arguably is not as popular or prominent as she once was?  I did not particularly care for Michele Bachmann back when she was popular and prominent (not that I knew her personally, then or now).  This was for a variety of reasons: my dislike for evangelicalism, and my hatred of right-wing judgmentalism and hypocrisy.  (In Michele Bachmann's case, she and her husband have both received money from the government.)

But now that she's not as much of a power-player, I've decided to read her book, for I have a certain degree of nostalgia when it comes to the religious right (not that I agree with it on much these days).  I've long enjoyed reading the religious right's revisionist history, and also reading about the religious right itself, for part of me admires people who stand for their principles as underdogs against the establishment.  Part of me also is drawn to the simplicity of the religious right's worldview (or my impression of that worldview): that America would be all right if people believed in the Bible, loved their families, and worked hard, just like Americans supposedly did in the good old days.

On some level, such themes are present in Bachmann's book.  Regarding the underdog theme, the book opens with Bachmann unexpectedly defeating a Republican state senator whom she and others considered to be too liberal.  She went to a G.O.P. convention in jeans and a torn sweater to express concerns about the senator's nomination, and (to her surprise) she ended up becoming the opposition candidate and won after the senator condescendingly dismissed her speech as the evening's entertainment.  Michele then had to come home and tell her family the news!

Bachmann then talks about her salt-of-the earth ancestors, some of whom were Norwegian immigrants, and also the family of her upbringing.  Much of her family was Democrat, but her well-read grandmother on her father's side was a Republican.  When Michele's dad was debating the Republican grandmother on the Great Society back when Michele was a kid, the grandmother said that Michele and her brother would have to be the ones who'd pay for the programs.  Michele says that she was then sensitized to the fact that government programs have to be paid for.

A line from pages 6-7 stood out to me.  Bachmann is talking about her speech to the Republican convention, when she was running against the state senator.  She says that her "neighbors and fellow Republicans were happy to hear someone speak clear words, words that expressed their own faith and beliefs."  I find this sort of thing to be true in the blogosophere as well: People are not always drawn to blogs that think outside of the box; rather, many are drawn to blogs that express clearly and forcefully what they already believe.  They then feel elated that someone else feels the same way.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ron Paul's Liberty Defined 11

I finished Ron Paul's Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedoms.  I have two items.

1.  His chapter on "Unions" pretty much contained the usual conservative and libertarian arguments: that unions artificially increase wages and thus decrease opportunities for employment, since people cannot come forward to work for lower wages, independently of the unions.  But what would be the good of having more jobs if they don't pay much?  Ron Paul believes that companies in a free market will compete for workers and offer them good wages that way.  Paul also sees a potential danger in the federal government having authority in labor disputes, for the federal government can use its authority to set limits on wages (as occurred under Richard Nixon's wage and price controls) or to benefit the rich.

I think that Ron Paul is overly optimistic about the free market setting decent wages.  To what would he attribute the stagnation of wages that has occurred in America over the past thirty years?  At the same time, the opposite extreme (unions making it expensive to hire a new worker, if that's what happens) looks problematic, too.

While Paul makes a good point about the problems of giving the government authority, my question is this: Is there a way to ensure that the government uses its authority for good and not for evil?  I don't know.  I suppose that elections are a way, but special interests in our republic play a significant role in those, and that has encouraged the government to do things that are hurtful to a lot of people.

2.  Ron Paul's chapter on Zionism essentially argued that the U.S. should stay out of the Middle East and let Israel work things out with her neighbors, and he says that we have hindered through our involvement such attempts to work things out.  Paul also is critical of how we fund both Israel and also the Arabs, then he throws in the point that Israel would still be at a military advantage were we to cut off our aid to both sides.  (I'm not sure if Paul considers that a good thing or a bad thing, or even why he's mentioning it.) At the same time, Ron Paul is a strong supporter of trade, which he believes is conducive to peace.

Regarding who has a right to the land, Paul says that he feels compassion towards Arabs whose homes were taken away by the Israelis.  He's not entirely against Zionism, however, for he hearkens back to the time when Jews were moving into Palestine peacefully, before the UN granted them a state.  Paul also raises the point that so many people-groups have been in Palestine, that it's really hard to determine who has the rights to it, and he does not feel that appealing to religion helps matters.  Essentially, he wants people in the Middle East to solve their own problems, and he appears to be optimistic that the younger generation is eager to do so.

I wouldn't be surprised if things are more complex than Ron Paul presents, but I'm sure that he has good observations in his analysis.

Psalm 82

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 82.  I'll use as my pivot-point Psalm 82:1, 6, which states (in the King James Version): "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods...I have said, Ye [are] gods; and all of you [are] children of the most High."

Who are the "gods" of Psalm 82?  There are at least three ideas:

1.  The "gods" are human judges.  Exodus 22:8-9 states (again, in the KJV): "If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, [to see] whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour's goods. For all manner of trespass, [whether it be] for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, [or] for any manner of lost thing, which [another] challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; [and] whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour."  (Emphasis mine.)

The word that the KJV translates as "the judges" is elohim, which means "God" or (literally) "gods".  Some suggest that the parties are being brought before a priest, who will deliver an oracle from God declaring whether the accused is guilty or innocent.  I think that there is good reason, however, to see the elohim as human judges.  Notice that Exodus 22:9 has "whom the judges shall condemn".  The Hebrew word translated as "shall condemn", yarshiun, is plural.  If elohim in that verse refers to God, then the verb would probably be singular.  We're dealing with a plural, and so my hunch is that the verse is about a plurality of judges, not the one God of Israel.  

But my opinion is not infallible.  For one, there are times when elohim refers to God and takes a plural verb (see here).  Second, the Septuagint for that part of the verse translates into English as "the one condemned by God", so it may be dealing with another Hebrew manuscript, or perhaps it assumes that the verb has a different vowel-pointing than what came to be in the Masoretic Text, one that makes the verb passive ("they will be condemned").

2.  Another view is that the "gods" are actual gods of the nations.  As W.O.E. Oesterley and Marvin Tate document, there was a notion within the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism that gods or spirit beings ruled over the Gentile nations (Deuteronomy 32:8 in the LXX; 29:26; Isaiah 24:21; Daniel 10:13, 20-21; Sirach 17:17; I Enoch 20:5; Jubilees 5:31-32; 35:17).  According to Sigmund Mowinckel, Psalm 82 is lamenting that the Israelites are being oppressed by the Gentile nations and their gods.  The Jewish Study Bible says that Psalm 82 is challenging the notion that the gods have a right to the other nations, as it expects for the God of Israel to take possession of his inheritance, the entire world (Psalm 82:8).

There may be something to this interpretation, but something about it bothers me: Psalm 82 focuses a lot on the need to execute justice----to punish the wicked and to vindicate the innocent.  Psalm 82 relates to judging, which is why the interpretation that the gods are human judges (presumably in Israel) is so attractive.  Would the Psalmist, an Israelite, really care that the other gods do not execute justice in their own countries?  I'm sure that, if you asked him, he'd say that his god is better than other gods because his god judges righteously, but would the Psalmist of his own initiative criticize how the other gods are ruling their nations?

Is Mowinckel right that Psalm 82 is about the oppression of Israel at the hands of the Gentile nations and their gods?  That depends.  Are the Gentiles oppressing Israel in a judicial capacity?  It can't just be oppression, for Psalm 82 focuses on judicial things.  Perhaps there were Israelites who were dragged before Gentile courts and were judged unjustly.

Despite my reservations, I cannot dismiss this second view because Psalm 82:8 does mention God possessing the nations.  That tells me that the Gentiles are somehow relevant to this Psalm.

3.  The third view is rabbinic.  It states that the "gods" are the nation of Israel, which became immortal (like gods) at Sinai, yet lost that immortality on account of sin.  The Mekhilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Tractate Bachodesh 9 presents this view, and many have dated the Mekhilta to the second century (though there is another idea about its date).  According to scholar Jerome Neyrey, this third view was the one that was assumed by the Johannine Jesus when he quoted Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34-36: "Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; 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?"  (KJV).  According to Neyrey, the part in John about the Psalm calling those to whom the word of God came "gods" is a reference to the Sinai revelation, which is when the word of God came to Israel.

This third view regards the sin that cost Israel her immortality to be the Golden Calf.  Suppose, however, that we regard injustice as a sin that cost her immortality, which would be consistent with Psalm 82's focus on justice in the judicial sphere? 

I'll stop here, though I realize that my post has more questions than answers.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ron Paul's Liberty Defined 10: The Radical Becoming Reality

Ron Paul presented an interesting scenario on pages  270-271 of Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom.  He says that there will come a time when the states will ignore the mandates of the federal government, which will no longer have the money to "bribe and coerce" them into submission.  Secessions will occur.  And the American empire will collapse.  According to Paul, the government will struggle to hold it together, even sacrificing welfare programs to preserve "the domestic military presence used to 'keep the people safe' from the dangers of anarchy" (page 271).

Ron Paul says that "It's a shame that it could come to this".  Perhaps he hopes that there will be a softer and easier path towards less government.  But I find it interesting that, although he expresses skepticism a few times in this book that liberty as he understands it will soon become a reality in the United States, he does appear to believe that less government will one day happen----apparently after the government collapses under the weight of its debts and spending obligations.

Paul's scenario reminds me somewhat of how prognosticators envision the U.S. eventually having a national single-payer health care system.  This looks radical and unlikely, at first sight, for how could the government possibly buck the pharmaceutical and the health insurance companies?  Well, according to some prognosticators, the expansion of Medicaid will move more people into a government system of health insurance, and even some businesses will dump their workers into the Medicaid system so they (the businesses) won't have to pay for their workers' health coverage.  I've read liberals who hope that this will happen, and conservatives who fear and warn about this happening.  In any case, what appears to be radical and unlikely can very well happen.  And the same goes for Ron Paul's conception of liberty becoming a reality.  Under certain conditions, perhaps that could happen.

Ascetic Mindsets and Marriage: Stoicism and Augustine

For my write-up today on The Cambridge History of Christianity: Constantine to c. 600, I'll interact loosely with a question that I have: How did ascetic movements, such as Stoicism and Christianity, approach the issue of marriage?  After all, they regarded the human sex drive as a passion to be tamed (or more than tamed), right?  But how could one be married and have children without the human sex drive?

In this post, I won't say everything that can be said about this issue.  Far from it.  Rather, I'll focus on a few items in David G. Hunter's chapter, "Sexuality, marriage and the family".  That will not do justice to the diversity of ancient Christianity (which Hunter himself presents), and I'll still have questions.  But it's a start to answering my question about asceticism and marriage.

1.  On page 586, Hunter states that most Stoics "regarded marriage and family as essential to the maintenance of civic life".  In a footnote on that page, Hunter says that "Both philosophical and medical writers supported the ideal of sexual moderation for men as well as for women."  So I have learned that the Stoics were favorable towards marriage.  But how does that jive with their ascetic opposition to the passions?

You'd think that the Stoics supported moderation or keeping the passions under control, but what I have heard about Stoicism has been quite different: that the Stoics were for destroying the passions rather than merely taming them.  I base this on recollections I have (which could be faulty) of what a professor of mine said about Stoicism.  First, my professor contrasted IV Maccabees with Stoicism, saying that IV Maccabees was for taming the flesh, whereas Stoicism was for getting rid of the passions.  Second, in a class on Philo, my professor said that Philo, like the Stoics, believed in pursuing virtue alone, rather than virtue and other things (i.e., influence, wealth, etc.).  If the Stoics had such a strict ascetic mindset, how did they reconcile that with their support for marriage?

2.  On page 589, Hunter talks about how Augustine and Pope Gregory looked down on sex that was not for the purpose of procreation.  Augustine considered that to be a venial sin that required daily expiation (since it's a daily sin) through almsgiving or reciting the Lord's prayer.  Pope Gregory said that frequent prayers were needed "to wipe away the corruption they cause by mixing pleasure into the beautiful form of intercourse" (Gregory's words in Regula pastoralis 3.27.28).

My question is this: Is it all right to have pleasure when having marital sex for the purpose of procreation, in the eyes of such people as Augustine and Pope Gregory?

3.  Hunter goes into Augustine's evolving views on marriage on pages 596-598.  At first, Augustine (like Origen) appeared to believed that sex and procreation were a product of the Fall, presumably a compensation for human mortality (perhaps because the human race needed some way to continue once sin brought death into the world, for Adam and Eve would no longer live forever).  Augustine interpreted the "be fruitful and multiply" command in Genesis 1:28, not in reference to human procreation, but rather to "the ability of the human mind to generate a multitude of thoughts to express a single concept or to give an obscure text a plurality of meanings" (Hunter's words describing Confessions 12.24.37).

But Augustine changed his tune and concluded that "sexual reproduction was God's original intention for humanity from the very beginning of creation (De Gen. ad litt. 9.9.14-15), rather than a product of the Fall.  At the same time, Augustine did think that the Fall brought "'concupiscence of the flesh', a disorder of the human heart that was manifested most patently in the disordered desires of the human body (De Gen. ad litt. 11.31.41)."  But Augustine did not believe that concupiscence negated "the essential goodness of marriage" (Hunter on page 598).

So what are the implications of this?  Did Augustine believe that concupiscence was a necessary evil for the purpose of procreation?  Did he think that procreation and sex occurred without concupiscence before the Fall?  Or did he maintain that the problem after the Fall was disorder----not the sex drive itself, but the sex drive getting out of control and dominating human beings?

(UPDATE: On page 113 of Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, John Boswell states that Augustine "specifically repudiated procreation as the sole justification for matrimony, insisting that couples who refrained from carnal relations and produced no children were nonetheless properly married."  Boswell cites De Bono conjugali 3.3.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ron Paul's Liberty Defined 9

In my latest reading of Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom, Ron Paul talked about how the United States in 2009 spent 46.5 per cent of the world's military expenditures, then he asks, "And how much of the rest of the world's spending is due to nations protecting themselves against the United States as the perceived threat?"

Ron Paul elaborates on page 257: "Now, most Americans can't even conceive of other countries believing the United States to be a threat.  And yet, ours is the only government that will travel to far distant lands to overthrow governments, station troops, and drop bombs on people.  The United States is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons against people.  And are we surprised that many people in the world regard the United States as a threat?"

Is there truth to this?  I don't think that we are the only country that has overthrown foreign governments, sent troops, or dropped bombs, for (if I'm not mistaken) the Soviet Union did that.  Nowadays, other than us, there does not appear to be a massive nation that does these things, and yet terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda certainly cause destruction and mayhem (as Ron Paul knows).  But I can understand Ron Paul's point that the U.S. is a looming presence in the world, and I'd say that has been for good and for ill, as far as other countries are concerned.

The Unbaptized Believer; Ancient Quiet Times

I have two items for my write-up today on The Cambridge History of Christianity: Constantine to c. 600.

1.  Augustine Casiday has a chapter in the book, "Sin and salvation: Experiences and reflections".  What intrigued me about this chapter was Casiday's discussion of believers who were not yet baptized, but were preparing for baptism (i.e., being educated in the teachings of the church).  According to Casiday, it was believed that baptism was necessary to go to heaven and that baptism opened the eyes of the initiate in a spiritual sense.  At the same time, there was also a notion that those who were preparing for baptism had some measure of grace that would enable them to live a righteous life----even before their baptism.

This topic interested me because there was a long period of time when I was a believer yet was not baptized, and I wondered certain things: Am I saved?  Do I have the Holy Spirit?  Moreover, there are debates within Christianity today about whether or not baptism is essential for salvation or a new life in Christ.

2.  Georgia Frank has a chapter, "From Antioch to Arles: Lay devotion in context".  On pages 533-534, Frank talks about how John Chrysostom (fourth century C.E.) encouraged the educated elites to have a weekly quiet time----to read Scripture, to meditate upon it, to write, and to do these sorts of things in a quiet place.

I found that interesting on account of something that a Christian once told me in a class: that evangelicals have a culture of doing a quiet time, but that may not have been feasible for a number of people in the ancient world because so many could not read.  How, then, would they know God?  But a quiet time was feasible for some: there are Psalms about meditating on God's law, the rabbis thought about Torah and did not want to be distracted while doing so, and early Christians recognized the value of a quiet time with God.  I suppose the non-literate would learn about God from the Temple, priests, the synagogue, or church (depending on what community they were in).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ron Paul's Liberty Defined 8

In his chapter on "Public Land" in Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom, Ron Paul argues that federal land should be turned over to the states so that it can be sold to private interests.

On page 233, Paul anticipates an objection to this idea: "Some argue that in the West, the land has to be managed by the federal government due to the natural resources available.  They argue that these resources belong to the people and shouldn't fall into the hands of a few rich individuals."  I raised a similar concern about the privatization of the seas in my post here.

So how does Ron Paul respond to this objection?  First of all, he says that, under the status quo, a few politicians control the land, and that "special interests...benefit from bureaucratic and political schemes" (page 233).  That's the sort of argument that I've heard a number of times from libertarians: that big government benefits rich special interests. What caught my eye, though, was Paul's second argument----that private ownership of land can lead to less wealthy people benefiting.  Paul states on pages 233-234:

"Texas is a good example of how private ownership of land facilitated the development and use of its natural resources----especially oil, gas, and coal.  In the beginning, the Spanish land grants allowed large blocks of land to fall into the hands of a few.  But over time, for economic reasons, this land was broken up into smaller and smaller pieces.  Ownership of the oil was divided according to private property rights, which allowed many less wealthy people to benefit.  The risks were taken by the entrepreneurs and the benefits were spread generously to small landowners with mineral rights and to the workers who labored in the industry.  Before joining the union----probably a mistake----the Republic of Texas owned very little land.  Texas never needed the federal government to manage its progress, whether it concerned natural resources, agriculture, or ranching."

In my opinion, this is probably the best point in Ron Paul's book.  Against the argument that private ownership leads to the concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a few, Paul presents a historical example in which a lot of land was initially held by only a few people, but economics led to that land becoming more widely distributed.  A lot of times, the libertarians I read argue that government fosters monopoly and income inequality by supporting rich corporations, but they do not address the concern that a laissez-faire economy would itself result in survival of the fittest and the concentration of wealth and power into a few hands.  Ron Paul, at least, does address that concern.  But I wish that he had gone into more detail, explaining what economic factors led to the land becoming more widely distributed.

In quoting that passage from Paul's book, I had to include the part about how the Republic of Texas joining the union was a mistake.  Ron Paul offers some pretty unconventional views on American history in this book!  On page 211, he discusses the erosion of limited government in America, an erosion that he considers to be a bad thing.  He states: "The erosion started early, and it could be argued that even the Constitution itself weakened this principle that was embedded in the Articles of Confederation."  This is the second time in the book that Paul speaks highly of the Articles of Confederation.

The Divinity of the Holy Spirit in Fourth Century Debate

I grew up in an offshoot of the Worldwide Church of God, which was Binitarian rather than Trinitarian.  What's "Binitarian" mean?  Essentially, we thought that God the Father and God the Son were God, whereas the Holy Spirit was an impersonal force rather than the third person of the Trinity.

An argument that I heard from a Binitarian relative of mine was that the controversies about the Godhead in the early days of Christianity concerned whether or not Jesus was God, whereas the Holy Spirit was not an issue.  According to him, when the church officially declared that Jesus was God, it included the idea that the Holy Spirit was God as an afterthought.  My relative's implication was probably that the notion that the Holy Spirit was God (or even a personal being) was not a long-standing feature of Christian teaching prior to the Nicene Creed.  My relative supported this argument with a scholarly entry in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

As a result of what my relative said, I've had questions about the Holy Spirit in early Christian thought.  Was the Holy Spirit believed to be a personal being or an impersonal force?  And, if the Holy Spirit was long considered to be a personal being, did Arius address the alleged threat to monotheism that could result from considering the Holy Spirit to be God, since Arius had the same sort of concern about Jesus being God?

It turns out that the divinity of the Holy Spirit was also debated in controversies about the Godhead, and my impression is that the various sides agreed that the Holy Spirit was a personal being.  Khaled Anatolios discusses this issue in his excellent (and readable) essay, "Discourse on the Trinity", which is in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Constantine to c. 600.

Anatolios acknowledges that Arius did not focus his attention on the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit was an afterthought in the Nicene Creed.  At the same time, Anatolios states on page 441 that Arius "certainly considered the Spirit to be a creature."  Anatolios also states that the Homoians and Eunomius "maintained that the Spirit...was subordinate to the Son and not an object of worship."  A group called the Tropici held "that the Spirit was created as an angel, the chief of God's 'ministering spirits' (cf. Hebrews 1.14)."  Against such ideas, Athanasius (who was prominent in the debate about Jesus' divine status) and Basil of Caesarea affirmed that the Holy Spirit was God.  So the various sides agreed that the Spirit was personal, but they disagreed about whether the Spirit was God.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

6/19/2012 Links

I have three links for today:

1.  Sarah Moon’s blog has a guest post by Abe Kobylanski entitled What Makes a Good Daddy?  Abe talks about how certain Christians (such as the Christians in a small group that he was in) claim that only Christians can show love, and yet his father is an atheist and has shown love to him numerous times.  Abe asks if all love, including the love shown by non-Christians, can be from God.  This is a beautiful post because of what Abe says about his father.  But (whether this would be Abe’s intention or not) the post also reminded me of why I tend to shy away from evangelical small groups, in which (in my opinion, based on my experience) there’s a lot of simplistic bombast.

2.  Derek Leman has an excellent post, Chicken or Egg? Bible and Culture, in which he touches on similarities between Yom Kippur and a Babylonian day (while also acknowledging that there are differences between the two).  So did a biblical author simply copy from another culture?  What are the theological implications of that?  Derek says that the ways in which the Hebrew Bible reflect its ancient Near Eastern environment demonstrate that revelation is incarnational and that God dialogues with human beings.  Derek states: “God dialogues more so than lecturing. Revelation is give and take, a discussion. And we are partners in the discussion, because we are made of God-stuff. “  Derek makes essentially the same point as Peter Enns in Inspiration and Incarnation, which many have echoed.  But Derek made it in a manner that resonated with me.

3.  And, speaking of Peter Enns, he has a post on evangelicals getting a Ph.D. in biblical studies—-advice for those considering it, potential pitfalls, how one shouldn’t attribute certain thoughts and feelings to God, etc.

Ron Paul's Liberty Defined 7: Marriage Policy, Health Care

For my write-up today on Ron Paul's Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues That Affect Our Freedom, I'll talk some about Ron Paul's views on marriage policy and health care.

1.  Ron Paul thinks that the federal government should stay out of the marriage business and that gay couples have the First Amendment right to call their union a marriage.  Regarding the argument that gay marriage should be legally recognized so that gay couples can have the same benefits that heterosexual married couples have, Paul states on page 184: "When dealing with government benefits, this becomes an economic redistribution issue----a problem that would not be found in a truly free society" (page 184).

Paul states that the issue of insurance benefits should be solved by voluntary agreement.  In terms of Social Security benefits, Paul says that people could be free to designate whom their beneficiaries would be, as occurs in private insurance, but Paul then calls this approach "expanding a welfare program" (page 184), which, for him, is probably a bad thing.  According to this site, Paul supports private retirement accounts, so perhaps he could argue that, if people were in charge of their own retirement money, they could determine whom their beneficiaries would be.

I do not know enough about the benefits that heterosexual married couples receive to critique Ron Paul's position.  The benefits that relate to government spending or law (at least at the federal level) would probably become a moot point in Ron Paul's libertarian society.  Federal laws that discriminate in favor of heterosexual marriages would be a thing of the past, and people would have charge of more of their own money, and they could then determine for themselves who would benefit from it.  The benefits that pertain to discrimination by private interests would still be a problem in Ron Paul's libertarian society, unless growing tolerance towards homosexuality leads to a lessening of such discrimination.  There are companies, after all, that provide benefits to same-sex couples.

Click here to read about "Ron Paul's "ambivalence on gay issues".

2.  Ron Paul presents typical conservative or libertarian arguments about health care: that health insurance is legally required to cover too much, which is bad because that drives up premiums; that people who have "better health habits" should not have to "pay more to take care of those who don't" (page 191); that there should be tort reform (but Paul also thinks that there should be a means for people to be compensated for doctors' mistakes, without involving the trial lawyers); that government intervention drives up the cost of health care (the same way that the government's defense budget makes a $5 hammer $700); and that a free market will deliver health care at an affordable price, the same way that technological wonders such as the cell phone have become affordable through the free-market.  Paul also believes in a sound monetary policy that will keep down inflation.

For Paul, part of the problem is that the supply of medical care has been restricted.  There is licensing that "strictly limits the number of individuals who can provide patient care" (page 195).  According to Paul, attempts to protect the incomes of doctors and to discriminate against homeopathy resulted in the closing down of medical schools, which occurred since 1910.  Paul affirms on page 196 that "we need to remove any obstacles for people seeking holistic and nutritional alternatives to current medical care", and that "We must remove the threat of further regulations pushed by the drug companies now working worldwide to limit these alternatives."

Again, there are things that I do not know, so I am limited in my ability to evaluate what Ron Paul is saying.  Do private insurance companies discriminate against homeopathy, and, if so, is this due to their choice, or to law?  If the former is the case, then Ron Paul's libertarian society may not help matters, unless there is enough demand for health insurance that covers homeopathy.  Regarding holistic or homeopathic medicine, I know a little bit more, since there were people in my family who owned a health food store, and the FDA sought to ban certain vitamins.

Can Ron Paul's libertarian society bring down the cost of health care?  Many argue that health care is expensive on account of technology, but libertarians have argued that the free market can bring down the price of technology, as has occurred with cell phones.  Perhaps the same could occur with health care technology in a free society.  Unfortunately, I don't see that sort of society coming anytime soon.  As Medicaid expands, however, we may move closer to a single-payer system, and, in terms of health care, that costs less than the system that the U.S. has.

Faith and Extra-Biblical Sources

For my write-up today on The Cambridge History of Christianity: Constantine to c. 600, I'll quote or refer to passages from Brownen Neil's "Towards defining a Christian culture: The Christian transformation of classical literature".  These passages pertain to the question of whether Christians should draw from extra-biblical sources, such as philosophy, or if they should treat the Bible (or the teachings of their religion) as sufficient in terms of guiding them on what life and the world are like.

Page 321: Julian in Against the Galileans 229C (Burr's translation) says, "If it is enough for you to read your own Scriptures, why do you sample the reading of the Hellenes?"

Page 322: Jerome said, "O Lord, if ever I possess or read secular writings, I have denied thee."
On pages 328-329, Brownen talks about how certain early Christians drew from the insights of philosophy, while also holding to their beliefs about what the Scriptures teach.  For example, John Chrysostom told a man who lost his brother to bear the death with equanimity and to remember the virtue of the departed, advice which coincides with Stoicism.  But Chrysostom departs from Stoicism in his belief that death is not the end because there is immortal life, and so the one who lost his brother should rejoice and remember that virtuous and godliness lead to immortality.  Similarly, Theodore of Cyrrhus "emphasises the Christian viewpoint, while at the same time insisting on philosophical reasoning as the correct antidote to sorrow in bereavement."

Page 331: In Graecarum affectionum curatio, "Theodoret sought to discredit the writings of Greek philosophers...by comparing them with scripture passages on the same subject.  By this means he offered a caricature of Greek learning's inconsistencies as opposed to the 'quiet certainty of revelation'.  His position was 'faith before knowledge'."

Should Christians draw from secular sources as they seek insight on how to live, or should they stick with the Bible alone, viewing the Bible as sufficient?

I remember when I was interviewing to be in the Honor Scholars' program at DePauw University.  A professor and another student had read my application essays, which were very pro-Christianity.  The professor's first question to me was: "If you already know all the answers on account of your faith, why do you need to learn, or read anything outside of the Bible?"  I answered something, since I was pretty glib at coming up with answers back then, a talent that I don't have to the same extent in my confused adulthood.  But, notwithstanding my outward confidence in the meeting, the professor's question still perplexed me.

During dinner-time that night, when I asked my Dad why a Christian should read other things besides the Bible, he replied that the Bible tells us to love our neighbors, but how to do so is really complicated.  Consequently, one can gather from extra-biblical insights and the realm of real life ways to love one's neighbor.  I agree with this sentiment.  From real life and from books, one can learn about the complexities of what makes people tick, and that can enable us to understand ourselves and others, and to love ourselves and others.

The thing is, there are so many ideas about what we should do, and so I can identify with Theodoret's yearning for "the quiet certainty of revelation".  There's something attractive about the certainty of religious people, including the authors of the Bible: Here is the way, so walk in it!  But is the certainty an illusion?  After all, religious people, including the authors of the Bible, have diverse (even contradictory) ideas about what to do in life.

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