September 28, 2014
Language has always changed, but the Internet has noticeably increased the speed of language change, not always for the better.
It's extremely easy to adopt new terminology unthinkingly because everyone else is using it without realizing the social effects. Language both reflects and influences culture. It's one of those round and round, chicken and egg cycles that can never be precisely pinned down. Lex orandi, lex credendi always has its parallel in the world of ordinary speech.
To move from the general to the specific, I present five more or less neologistic usages, usages that have changed or come into being in the last twenty years at most (by my guess). All five tend to downplay the importance of marriage and the distinction between marriage and non-married states:
September 26, 2014
Several years ago, in 2009 to be precise, readers may remember a kerfuffle about Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her comment that Roe v. Wade was partially motivated by the desire not to have too many of the "populations that we don't want to have too many of"--namely, poor people.
At the time, some came to Ginsberg's defense, saying that she had merely commented that this was a societal motivation, not that she shared the perspective. I commented quite a bit (see here and in the comments here [yay, Wayback machine]) about the confusing nature of what Ginsberg said. My perspective, which still seems to me moderate and reasonable, was that the views in question are so disgusting that it was telling in and of itself that Ginsberg discussed them coolly without clarifying whether she shared them. Moreover, she continues to support government funding for poor women's abortions, to support it avidly, despite concerns that she herself brought up that this might lead to government coercion on poor women to have abortions. Her "argument" for laying that fear to rest was truly strange and appeared to consist in saying that, since the Supreme Court has decided that it is not a constitutional requirement for the government to pay for abortions, actual government funding for poor women's abortions cannot become coercive. How exactly the presence or absence of a constitutional rationale for providing the government funding is supposed to affect the coercive or non-coercive nature of government abortion funding Ginsberg did not say. It was an extremely illogical bit of legal and sociological reasoning, as I pointed out at the time.
But as to whether Ginsberg was identifying herself with the idea that poor women should be given ready access to abortion because they are the sort of people we don't want to have more of--well, she left herself some plausible deniability there.
Her most recent comment on the subject leaves much less wiggle room.
September 23, 2014
What's Wrong With the World has a warm relationship going back for some years with Professor and blogger Hunter Baker. I always enjoy reading his musings at the back of the journal The City and have no desire to be hard on him.
I was, however, somewhat surprised to read in the most recent issue the following, from Baker's "Thoughts on the Age."
Given the rapid change in culture, Christians will have to sort out where they are on gay marriage....
Option One: Gay marriage is wrong both theologically and politically....Without male-female complementarity, politics would not even exist. No community without that complementarity would even have a future. Male-female marriage and childbearing are at the heart of politics.
Option Two:P Gay marriage is clearly wrong theologically. There is nowhere for the church to go on the issue. However, the aspirations of politics can be different than the aspirations of faith. One possibility would be to say that adults are free persons who have to make their own moral choices and those shouldn't be regulated when they don't directly interfere with the lives of others.
[Option three is that gay "marriage" can also be embraced theologically by Christians.]
I would suggest that faithful Christians can find themselves embracing either option one or option two, but that option three is not available to anyone with any reasonable concern for orthodoxy. pp. 88-89
September 21, 2014
One of the only paper journals I subscribe to is the Human Life Review. (See here for another post on this journal.) I subscribe to the paper journal despite the fact that they do post much of their material on their web site. In fact, what I now do is to make brief notes about the articles I especially liked and to find and save the URLs; that way I don't have to keep the physical issues around long-term. However, receiving the physical issues reminds me to read the material and gives it to me in a form that is more comfortable to read, so it's a good deal. Plus the Human Life Foundation is a worthy organization to which to contribute.
In the spring 2014 issue, which I've just now gotten around to perusing, there were two stories that I thought readers of W4 might profit from hearing.
I say "profit from" rather than "enjoy," because the first is quite sad.
September 19, 2014
This video was recently drawn to my attention, and frankly, I don't think much of it. It's a blatant, emotionally manipulative gimmick, and as one friend pointed out, looking intently at every homeless person you pass is not a good rule for urban survival. A politically incorrect point, but a true one. The idea seems to be to shame ordinary people for going about their lives as if their failure to DO SOMETHING (unspecified) about all the homeless people they see is the cause of homelessness.
And, no, the analogy to the parable of the Good Samaritan is exceedingly poor. The Good Samaritan had reason to believe that he could give immediate, effective help and succor to the victim, or at least see that the body got decent burial (if the person were dead). Just stopping whatever you are doing and trying to do something-or-other to help the homeless is a far more complex proposition.
Then there's the small problem of familial betrayal to shaming and ridicule. Am I the only person who thinks that a wife who sets up her husband to be shamed as heartless for failing to recognize her in disguise is doing something despicable? Of course I would say the same about a husband who did that to his wife, but in this case it happened to be a wife doing it to a husband.
All of that is merely by way of introduction.
September 17, 2014
I have written before here at What's Wrong With the World about William Paley's Horae Paulinae. Now I have a new post up about the intersection of Acts and the Pauline epistles concerning Aquila and Priscilla. Exciting stuff for those of us interested in the evidences of Christianity. Feel free to comment either here or at Extra Thoughts.
September 11, 2014
Several weeks ago the President indiscreetly admitted the absence of an American strategy to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Such candor is as unwise as it is genuine. The want of a strategy arises out of a want of understanding. Thirteen years ago, when Jihadist infiltrators brought mayhem and incineration to Lower Manhattan, a want of understanding was to be expected. Its persistence today suggests a closing of the American mind to uncomfortable facts which finds its epitome in the President himself.
Now having been constrained by events and by the omnipresence of domestic political reality, the President, as of this writing, is set to deliver a speech detailing the limits of what we may expect of him respecting his engagement with these uncomfortable facts. It is our conceit that a chastened Mr. Obama, having shaken free of the shackles of his own specially acute case epistemic closure, has instead sought out from the body of the nation advice for the defeat of the Jihad, and delivered the following address.
September 5, 2014
Via Wesley J. Smith comes a link to an important document that I had never read before. This is "Medical Science Under Dictatorship," published in 1949 by Dr. Leo Alexander. Alexander came to the U.S. from Austria in the early 1930's and later, in preparation for the Nuremberg trials, assisted the investigation of medical crimes committed by German doctors. While he was not a witness of what he reports, he was intimately involved in collecting and presenting evidence of the war crimes committed by doctors working under the Third Reich.
To say that Alexander's warnings are prescient and timely would scarcely be to say enough. Listen to this:
September 3, 2014
The Rotherham child abuse scandal has become news again after a report was recently released giving sordid details of extortion (against the girl victims and their families) and the complicity of police. How bad was it? It was so bad that fathers were arrested for going to homes where their daughters--one assumes, their minor daughters--were being abused and trying to get their daughters out. Meanwhile, the police ignored the appalling crimes of the rapists and traffickers out of fear of being thought racist.
One home office researcher into the horrific actions of these Muslims reports that she was told never again to refer to "Asian men" and that she was made to undergo a two-day diversity course as punishment for her politically incorrect findings.
September 1, 2014
This article in Christianity Today concerns my PhD alma mater, Vanderbilt University.
Tish Harrison Warren is a "priest" with the Anglican Church in North America and worked with InterVarsity at Vanderbilt University. From 2011 onward, Vanderbilt developed and eventually enforced a policy that no recognized student group on campus may have any creedal requirement for its leaders. It appears that the immediate trigger for this new policy was the putative ousting of an openly homosexual leader from one religious group.
Warren was shocked and assumed that something could be worked out for her own "moderate" group. After all, she says, her group isn't "homophobic" (whatever exactly she means by that word). Nor did they have any reference to sexual conduct in their requirements for leadership of their campus group. They did, however, require (for leadership roles, though not for membership) the affirmation of basic Christian doctrines such as the resurrection.
August 30, 2014
Speaking of the horrific slaughter of infants, and the depravity of mind necessary to tolerate it, it appears that PBS will go ahead with broadcasting fiendish propaganda designed to “humanize” late-term abortionists.
Now “late-term abortionist” is just a feeble, unmanly euphemism for “legally-sanctioned serial killer.” His wicked business consists in nothing less than this: by direct impalement, precision throttling, dismemberment, or poisoning, to snuff out the life of wholly viable, and often fully mature, infant human beings. It is an undisguised assault upon all innocence superadded to an exploitation of the vulnerable, easily-led, and desperate. Torments and agonies that we would hardly countenance for the most pitiless sociopaths, convicted of ghastly murders and rotting on death row, we suffer to be inflicted on helpless babes maturing in the womb.
The want of moral seriousness, from which arises public indifference to these crimes, is a sorrowful matter to compass. One is inclined, with Dostoevsky, to sigh aloud that man, the beast, gets used to everything. But indifference is one thing and active support is another. PBS has thrown in with the latter.
Supposing this vile film is indeed broadcast, a morally sound Republic would, without the slightest delay, disband the Public Broadcasting Corporation, retrieving every last available dollar of funding, and dismissing every last employee. A morally sound Republic would consider very carefully, and with deadly seriousness, whether a film produced to bring sympathy and fellow-feeling to the likes of these wicked “doctors” of baby-killing, can possibly be tolerated among a people dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Perhaps the weight of prudence, in the end, tells against outright censorship, and the film’s existence would be permitted. But let us have no illusions that there is any good in it. No one should watch it, no one should distribute it, no one should utter a word of qualification against righteous hatred of it. It is altogether evil.
Alas, we do not live in a morally sound Republic. But neither do we live in one where the power of public opinion is impotent. Raise what voice you can against this outrage; declare to PBS your implacable hostility to the lying filth they propose to broadcast; inform your representatives in government of your indignation.
We will not name this snuff film, but its title refers to a late-term abortionist who was shot dead five years ago. Now the only thing bad about that is its lawless vigilantism. Only the duly-constituted public authority may undertake lethal violence to restrain wickedness. These killers should be executed by the state for premeditated homicide.
— The Editors
August 27, 2014
It is relatively easy to answer this question in a loose way, and we all know it pretty readily. If you want to be very loose in defining, you might just say “killing a person”. But we also all know that this isn’t really enough, that there is more needed to distinguish the act of murder from killing a person, because we all know that some instances of killing a person are not murder, and others are.
But before drawing out the details for that (or, according to some, obfuscating them), let’s take 2 moments to ask a prior question: what do we mean by “definition”?
Going all the way back to the beginnings of western philosophy, with Socrates and Plato in the “Meno”, we realize that when you define a general term, it isn’t just a matter of enumerating instances that fall in that category. The meaning of “virtue” is not “justice, and prudence, and courage, and honesty…” as Meno’s slave comes to see. The definition states the conceptual relationships of that notion “virtue”. If I come home and see a box of stuff in the hallway, I might say “what’s this”. The answer “it’s a collection of a knife, a stuffed animal, a yo-yo, a teapot, and 5 cloth napkins” might be true but not particularly helpful, for it doesn’t tell me what I want to understand. The answer “it’s the box of stuff going to the white elephant sale” provides the ratio under which the collection becomes intelligible as a collection. This is more what we mean by a definition.
August 22, 2014
I have a new post up at my personal blog on a currently popular attempted solution to the Canaanite slaughters based upon alleged hyperbole and Ancient Near Eastern idiom. The short version is that I don't think it works at all. I am not going to do the whole cut-and-paste to cross-post, but here is the link. Please feel free to comment in either location--either here or at Extra Thoughts. As so often happens, the post is already generating much discussion on Facebook after being up only a few hours. (Insert wry face symbol here.)
As I say there, I take no pleasure in knocking down someone else's argument meant to help fellow Christians, but I think in this case a little "friendly fire" is better than letting people go out thinking they have a solution, based on specialized scholarly knowledge, when in fact it does not work.
August 20, 2014
I've recently been re-reading Richard Adams's 1977 novel The Plague Dogs. My considered literary conclusion is that it is weak. The political agenda is too strident, and the book's insistence on telling much of the tale from the perspective of a dog character who suffers hallucinations and general mental confusion due to a laboratory experiment makes it often disconnected and unclear. Even the narrator indulges in liturgical, biblical, and literary free association to the point of babbling, which should have been squelched ruthlessly by an editor. If you want to read something by Adams, read Watership Down, which is excellent, or even Shardik, which has serious literary flaws but demonstrates talent and power. Adams's collection of folk tales, cum frame stories, The Unbroken Web, is also top-notch.
One really enjoyable thing about The Plague Dogs, besides the fact that it has a happy ending (I like happy endings), is Adams's detailed and affectionate portrayal of the people, places, and dialect of the Lake District of England. There is also one truly well-drawn character--the tod (fox).
August 18, 2014
We observed last year a fine country song, made popular by other artists, but written originally by Bob Dylan; and we further observed that this pattern is discernible across the latter’s entire career as a troubadour. His generosity with the dispersion of his songs, for arrangement and rearrangement by other singers and bands, contributes to the greatness of his art.
Well, he’s at again this year. NPR has the full story: Dylan’s representatives contacted the Nashville country act Old Crow Medicine Show (who first arranged, with noteworthy success, an obscure Dylan tune called “Wagon Wheel”) and offered them another piece of raw material for reworking.
Of the cryptic contact, says OCMS frontman Ketch Secor, the main thrust was clear: “Bob would like you to have this song; maybe you can do something with it.” The song was called, “Sweet Amarillo.”
With more than a little trepidation, he went to work. He didn’t even notify the other members of the band. “I tried to get to the heart of what Amarillo and Bob could be about; where those two iconic names meet. And so we set a young Bob, thumbin’ his way to Amarillo to rendezvous with a Mexican girl.”
Presently they had a workable demo, and sent the track to Dylan for review. The response was very positive: only a few adjustments necessary. “And so, we did exactly what Bob said, and the song just opened up.”
Despite two very impressive rearrangements, they have never actually spoken to Dylan himself. “It just makes sense: the enigma, the mercurial figure that is Bob Dylan; that’s how Bob co-writes.”
The opening stanza exudes the Dylanesque, but the feel of the song is all OCMS:
Well the world’s greatest wonder, from what I can tell
Is how a cowgirl like you would ever look my way.
I was blinded by glory with a half-written story
And the songs spilling out off of every page.
There are many things to lament in this country. The fecundity and richness of our folk music, from the Appalachians to the Rockies and beyond, is not one them.