What’s Wrong with the World

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May 2017 Archives

May 5, 2017

The "ur-source" theory of undesigned coincidences

In my book Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts, I discuss possible alternative explanations for the coincidences. Alternative to what? Alternative to the idea that the authors of the books either were eyewitnesses or had access to eyewitness testimony (as in the case of Mark and Luke) and that the details of the works fit together because they (or their human sources) were witnesses to the truth.

The alternatives I discussed, where relevant, were a) an author deliberately "planted" this appearance of coincidence to make his story seem plausible or b) an author was influenced by his knowledge of the other document(s) in question, even if he did not intend to deceive, or c) bare coincidence of one kind or another with no other special explanation in reality connecting the accounts.

I've noticed a couple of people in different contexts making reference, usually without any detail, to another supposed explanation, and recently someone wrote to me with a question about it. Roughly (and it's never spelled out to any great extent) the theory here is what I'll call an "ur-source" or "ur-text" theory, and it hypothesizes that there is some now-lost source or tradition (the implication is that this was written, though it usually isn't specified whether written or oral), for which we have no other evidence (in other words, now lost), that may or may not have been true, that contained both parts of the coincidence and from which the subsequent authors merely selectively copied. This theory, by postulating another "source," allows the question of the truth of what is stated to be postponed, pushed off into the mists. Maybe this ur-source itself was true, maybe it wasn't. Since we don't have it, we don't know what it was like in other respects. We don't know its provenance. We don't know if it came from an actual eyewitness. So maybe these things happened and maybe they didn't. But anyway, the idea of actual truthful testimony from people "in the know" has been cast into doubt and replaced with a fuzzy picture of "some other source," remarkably detailed (as far as the specifics that go to make up the coincidence in question), from which the authors of the documents we actually have copied little bits, giving the illusion of an undesigned coincidence between documents derived from independent sources.

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May 11, 2017

Oregon's SB494--a new attack on human life

Oregon Right to Life has been mobilizing callers and e-mailers early in 2017 against a new bill, SB294, that would raise the disturbing possibility of allowing the denial of ordinary food and water to patients who are able to eat and drink. It is fortunate that they have been on the ball to this extent, as it looks like it may suffice to derail the bill. ORTL was given the opportunity to bring testimony before legislators against the bill. But what will happen remains uncertain.

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Classical Liberalism and Conservatism

This post is a continuation of discussions generated with our 10th anniversary offerings. We have had a tiny bit of a clash in prior threads about how conservatism relates to classical liberalism. Apparently, there is a fairly broad notion that conservatism as a movement springs out of classical liberalism, a view quite explicit in this article by Samuel Goldman; how it does so may be debated, whether as a subset of it, or some other phenomenon. At the same time, reactionary traditionalists use this notion as a whip with which to accuse conservatism of problematic commitments to political modernism. I think both the notion and the attack mode are basically mistaken, and hope to show why.

We can’t really explain classical liberalism without first discussing the historical use of “liberal”. The English word, of course, springs from the Latin ‘libero’, which in its simplest interpretation is ‘free’. But the concept did not start with the Romans, they borrowed it from the Greeks.

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May 20, 2017

Paging the new Secretary of Agriculture

You may (or may not) have seen this story. Briefly, the Obama secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack, issued a letter in July of 2015 against all "harassment" based upon, inter alia, sexual orientation and gender identity, including "disrespectful" speech on these matters. Pursuant to this letter, USDA officials in Michigan have threatened to shut down a farm (by refusing to inspect the beef) if the owners put an article in the break room that opposes homosexual "marriage"--an article, by the way, which no employee was obligated to read and which appeared alongside articles supporting homosexual "marriage."

Let me emphasize: What Vilsack wrote, that gave inspectors this power, was just a letter. It was a diktat. It followed no special process. It was a pure exercise of bureaucratic power by the then-secretary. This empowered USDA meat inspectors (!) to inspect and micromanage the contents of articles in break rooms at meat facilities all over the U.S., including family farms run by Christians.

And let me also emphasize: Since this was a letter issued by one man, a simple diktat, a simple exercise of power by one bureaucrat, it would be very easy for a different man in that same position to rescind the letter. A perfectly easy thing. We now have a new Secretary of Agriculture. His name is Sonny Perdue (former Georgia Governor). He was appointed by new President Trump. He could just issue a new letter rescinding the old letter, and he could instruct his meat inspectors that they are not ideology inspectors.

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May 24, 2017

Further push for killing for organs

This article came from Wesley J. Smith last September, but I'm just now getting around to highlighting it.

A fairly recent piece by a bioethicist named Zoe Fritz has argued yet again for killing for organs. Fritz is especially pushing it for people who would otherwise be dehydrated to death.

The active-passive distinction is very important in ethics, but when it comes to deliberately dehydrating someone to death for whose care you are responsible, then that is a form of murder just as much as a lethal injection. The answer, of course, is not to murder people at all. Fritz takes it in the opposite direction (it's almost impossible to do a reductio on the culture of death, because they will always embrace the reductio) and opts for active murder.

Her idea is a lethal injection to stop the heart, followed by taking organs. She appears unaware that stopping the heart isn't really what organ transplant teams most want, especially if it's going to be stopped for more than, say, five minutes. On the contrary, they want the heart to keep going as long as possible, especially if you're trying to get some vital organ other than kidneys, and especially if you're trying to get the heart itself. But I have little doubt that if she were brought up to speed by this pair of doctors she would be happy to opt instead for their idea: Just taking the patient off to surgery and killing him by removing his vital organs, which are nicely oxygenated right up until the last moment. (Presumably you take his heart last.)

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