What’s Wrong with the World

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Temple cleansing, new FB post, etc.

I apologize for the unorganized nature of these posts, but it's the best way to get myself to do anything right now!

I've made a series of videos on the Temple cleansing in John and the Synoptic Gospels. This incident makes a good departure point for 1) understanding different ideas about reporting time, 2) understanding what these fact-changing "compositional devices" involve, 3) seeing how bad reasoning works in New Testament scholarship. I myself prefer to get my information from reading, but it seems like a lot of people like to get their info. from viewing. So here is a playlist for these videos. They begin with an introductory discussion of ways of reporting time and continue to a six-part discussion of evidence that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice.

Last evening I had a great, two-hour discussion with Youtube apologist Pastor Mike Winger. Pastor Winger has a large Youtube following, and I was really pleased to get to discuss The Mirror or the Mask in front of such a large audience. Winger "gets it." He understands the nature of the issues involved and sees through the equivocation that goes on.

And finally, on another topic...

Here is a recent public Facebook post (there I go again) on the topic of "social distancing," masks, hypocrisy, and the mission of the church.

Comments (17)

In the Facebook post, you make several good points: and I certainly agree that churches should be mindful of how they phrase their Covid guidelines and especially their signage. The flat, dreary, vague clinical jargon that pervades public spaces should be treated with a good deal of skepticism before being adopted as church policy, even if the "policy" is only a request not a mandate.

That said, I'm constrained to point out that on the other hand, we do have a marked phenomenon of impatience, orneriness, and ill-conceived defiance, relating to matters where good people may disagree. We're in a difficult situation, and opinions vary on how best to approach it. We should be prepared to tolerate a pretty wide range of comfort level concerning precautions against the virus; and likewise be reluctant to elevate every instance of disagreement to a point of vital principle.

Direct experience with Covid varies widely as well. In southwest Georgia back in the early spring, small rural churches with vulnerable demographics got hit really hard by the virus. It's perfectly understandable that such churches today might insist on more stringent Covid precautious than a suburban Atlanta church that skews young and healthy.

And some people are just being jerks about this stuff. I put it in the category of an impertinent extended family member who cheekily defies household rules just to get a rise; grumbling constantly about being asked to remove your shoes; a wife gets a new sofa and sets out a rule against eating on it, then the husband's rowdy cousins show up and eat on it anyway; an ornery aunt who walks into a Thanksgiving dinner and turns off the ballgame because she doesn't think the TV should be on during dinner (or an ornery uncle who turns it on despite the household wanting it off.) That kind of thing.

It should be possible to acknowledge that people have differing views here, tolerate those differences, and refrain from elevating the tolerable differences to matters of grave importance.

My own opinion in churches is pretty strongly that we should allow individuals to wear masks without being given a hard time if they prefer and also to request social distancing from themselves (perhaps via some kind of signaling button), but not make that the norm for everybody generally. It's not a good norm generally to require it of everyone.

In a big enough church, it's sometimes working okay (I guess) to have a "mask required" and "mask optional" service, which may help. (Though how that cross-hatches with the *old* compromise, as in last year's, of contemporary music vs. traditional music, I have no idea. You can hardly do all the Boolean combinations in separate services!) But in a church that doesn't have the manpower to do that, I would strongly recommend that people be offered some way of signaling if they, individually, prefer that others remain at a distance (not hug or shake hands) and/or mask when speaking with them, and that everyone else be left free to be masked or unmasked and to stand close to one another and talk privately if desired.

Anyone preaching should have a face that can be seen, in order to communicate more effectively and to help those with hearing loss, unless he's preaching in a special service only for those who insist on masks for everyone. And the same for those engaged in counseling, unless the person whom they are counseling prefers that they be masked. Those working in children's and infants' ministries *must* have visible faces for the proper socialization with the children, and they must be able and willing to clean little hands, give hugs, pick people up who fall, wipe noses, etc. *Possibly* a full, clear face shield that leaves the face entirely visible could meet the specifications for those who are ministering. Those engaged in counseling must (in my opinion) be willing to touch those they are helping as long as that is acceptable to the one being helped.

The more that I think about these things and the more time passes, the more convinced I am that it is possible to be respectful to others who differ *but* that the norm and default need to be shifted to recognize the supreme importance of the human face in deep interpersonal interactions, Christian fellowship, and the corporate worship of God.

Of course, it should go without saying that if some member does choose to wear a mask and/or a "please don't get too close" button to church, nobody should be yelling at him or starting a debate with him, though it should (I believe) somewhat curtail some of his ministry options per above.

I actually think of this as a fairly tolerant stance and one that can be carried out respectfully. Nobody is bullying anybody else here, and we are following individual consciences and not trying to start big arguments. I think this can meet Pauline norms concerning "eating meat offered to idols." But those who are most worried about the virus aren't going to be allowed to dictate to everyone else in the church how far *they* must stand from one *another*. And the ministry requirements suggested above and probable behavior of many church members once church-wide regulations are lifted as I would suggest would mean that it's not going to be possible for this to be entirely symmetrical as far as what is tacitly seen as preferable and which values are given priority.

I agree with almost all of that.

I suppose one disagreement might be in relation to how these steps should be taken, not as a matter of personal comfort, as in, how do I protect myself from contracting the virus, but as a matter of protection for other people. That fact that I can infect people without having any symptoms is perhaps the most frustrating and excruciating aspect of this pathogen. The contrast with flu, for instance, illustrates the problem. When one of my children came down with a bad flu a couple years ago, we could actually observe the onset of symptoms on her Fitbit data: 12am, normal temperature, normal function; 4am, 103 temperature and general misery. That Covid-19 might take seven days for a similar course of development of symptoms introduces huge challenges for all of us. (My suspicion is that most of the allegedly "asymptomatic" are actually pre-symptomatic, but leave that aside.)

I dug into the data a bit about a month ago. In my opinion, a very good argument can be made that SARS-CoV-2 is objectively nastier, as viruses go, than the 1918 "Spanish" flu. Had the former appeared in 1918, it's death toll might well have been worse. In 1918 there was only rudimentary understanding of aerosol transmission; there was no artificial oxygen, no understanding of auto-immune overreaction, no steroids, no anti-viral treatments, no antibiotics for secondary infection, and only minimal anti-inflammatory medication.

All of which is to say that we are in the midst of the worst plague in a century or more. Of course it has disrupted our activities. Of course it has introduced ugly social norms that none of us would want any part of, in the absence of the virus. The prolonging of these ugly norms depends on the duration of the pandemic. Treatments have improved, vaccines are on the horizon; but the virtue of patience in is great demand.

Well, I'm going to stand firm on everything I said there, *including* as a matter of protection for other people. These "ugly social norms" are becoming far, far too normalized, and there are already news stories out there suggesting that we may be wearing masks forever, perhaps should be forced to wear them every year during seasonal flu season, and the like. Fauci says we will "have to" be masking through at least the end of 2021; others are saying "until there is a second-generation vaccine," and on and on. The time has come to reassert that these *are* ugly, are *not* normal. We need to recognize that those demanding them aren't going to remove the demands any time reasonably soon and are, indeed, trying to remake human nature into acceptance of the literal absence of a sight of most of the human face. Social media statements from advocates indicate that constant masking of everybody supposedly has zero downsides, is trivial, is "just like any other dress code," etc.,etc. All of which is pernicious nonsense.

Nobody seems to be worrying about protection for other people (italics) from isolation, loneliness, lack of human touch and interaction, lack of the ability to get to know others etc. So much for falling in love across the room. So much for learning (or withholding) trust due to facial expression. So much for incarnate friendship and gradual self-revelation via all the delicate social cues. So much for openness through the face. So much for unexpected encouragement from and to strangers, including via facial expression. So much for the delicate interplay between speaker and audience. The loss of all of these is what I want to protect other people from, and of course myself as well. "Personal comfort" is bound up with this in intricate ways that are anything but selfish or unimportant. We *all* have a deep-seated human need to be comfortable with one another and be able to see each others' faces. This should be the norm in society, and it is being undermined at an incredible pace right now by people who have convinced themselves that there is no significant value in it and that human nature can be remolded at will to do without it. Now is the time to push back, especially in our churches and in our closest friendships. For the sake of "protection for other people." For everyone's protection from faceless anonymity as the horrible "new normal" for the foreseeable future. Because there isn't going to be some declaration from on high that "the pandemic is over and you can all take the masks off" within the next year, at least, and plausibly not for even longer, *even if* everyone gets perfectly compliant now with these unreasonable and draconian demands. It's time to admit that and act accordingly.

But again: Those who regard themselves as particularly vulnerable or who are especially worried about the virus are free to decide to ask others to act to protect them *from the virus* (because that's what they think is the biggest deal) by remaining "distanced," etc. That is their decision for themselves, and I would abide by it, except of course in some kind of emergency.

Well, I am hiding out in the great state of Gruesome Newsom. He would cancel Thanksgiving if he could, but instead he issued rules that are as idiotic as one can imagine: all gatherings must be outside, no more than 2 hours, etc. Talk about stupid.

It is more than clear at this point that people like Newsom are petty tyrants; we didn't see it before only because they didn't have the opportunity, that's all. Give the guy an inch to tell everyone what to do, and he runs 10,000 miles with it. It is so clear that EVERYONE is going to ignore him in actual practice, I am hoping that finally intermediate authorities will (finally) say "enough already" and pointedly refuse to even give lip service to the Newsom's grotesque rules. Or maybe give lip service in an ironic tone while pointedly winking, with fingers crossed.

Amid inappropriate claims that "only 6% of deaths attributed to COVID were really from COVID", it turns out that is almost impossible to determine the "number of deaths from COVID" because it is nearly impossible to DEFINE the expression. There are (a) the deaths where COVID is the only cause on the death certificate; (b) the deaths where COVID is the underlying cause but other causes (including comorbidities) are contributing causes; (c) deaths where COVID is on the certificate as contributing but something else is the underlying cause; (d) where COVID is on the certificate but no distinction is made between underlying or merely contributing causes; (e) deaths where COVID is entered without justification as either the underlying cause or a contributing cause, unjustified because inadequate testing was provided to explicitly distinguish or identify COVID; (f) deaths where COVID was entered as a cause because the patient tested positive for it, even if the death actually came from other causes altogether; BUT ALSO (g) the under-count of deaths where COVID is not mentioned as a cause because the patient did not have COVID but died from causes that would not have led to death had COVID not created a pandemic alteration of health care.

I had earlier mentioned the uselessness of tracking COVID deaths by the day. Turns out that it is also useless to try to track it even by the week: only 60% of deaths are reported within 10 days of the event, the rest trickle in over a couple months time. So it turns out that we could only expect any sort of accuracy by tracking the rates for two-month blocks. Anything more fine-tuned is awash in signal noise.

Arguably, the best way to track the "real" (heh) number of deaths caused by COVID is to compare the (seasonally adjusted) estimated number of deaths that are NORMAL in the population for a given period against the number of deaths actually observed, and doing this it looks like the number in excess of "normal" was running at something like 200,000 to 250,000 as of the end of August (the last point we would have reliable data for). But then this INCLUDES such things as suicide deaths from people suffering from the socially constructed "side effects" of having a pandemic, and people who died of cancer or infection or whatever who would not have died had health care been normal: the "backwash" effects. So it is impossible to know clearly how many of those deaths were "from COVID" precisely because the person caught COVID, to specify a ratio of death to infection. Especially given the difficulty of determining the number of people infected (and, not incidentally, the definition of "infected", given the scandal that emerged about the incredibly wide divergence of criteria regarding what a "positive" result actually shows).

Paul and Lydia, I concur with most of what you said up above. More than anything, there is room for some degree of variability on what SHOULD be our response, because the intensely variable details matter. And given that, harsh, imperious mandates of stringent requirements that impose incredible hardships (such as having the direct effect of permanently destroying scads of small businesses that employ people who live paycheck-to-paycheck) are clearly contrary to moral principles of the common good. Maybe we can learn, from this round, that GENERAL mandates are not the solution, maybe a list of priorities (in steps to take) from strongest to weakest is better, allowing individuals, businesses, churches, schools, and local governments to nuance and adjust to their own circumstances, with or without a "scale" of some sort alongside the priorities to weigh between them. There clearly needs to be a better grasp of what MUST come from the top and be imposed as a legal requirement, and what can be pushed more like guidelines. There also needs to be much more thought about the difference between what the social order (including the economy) can stand as a short emergency and what it can bear as a long-term "new normal", weighing that against all of the underlying social goods affected. There are, it turns out, WAY too many governors and legislators who simply are not up to that task.

For the record, I will be using most of Lydia's own statements against her in a pro-choice context. From this post and the previous one, she is advocating for the utilitarian notion that collective quality of life is more important than quantity.

Yeah, yeah, step2, because intrinsic evils (like deliberately killing unborn babies) are *totally* comparable to *risking* someone's becoming ill and/or dying (including oneself) by carrying on normal life. Maybe we should just all crawl under our beds and do nothing lest we risk death. Oh, wait, then we'd die anyway. You know, such an attempted moral equivalence is such a waste of both of our time. If I respond to such nonsense. Maybe you should just consider this to be my response and take the rest as read. Then it would just be a waste of your time trying to "use my statements against me in a pro-choice context."

~~~because intrinsic evils (like deliberately killing unborn babies) are *totally* comparable to *risking* someone's becoming ill and/or dying (including oneself) by carrying on normal life~~~

You forget, Lydia. Since modern liberals invented choice, they are the ones who get to decide when the concept is applicable or not. /s

Right, and accusing pro-lifers of hypocrisy based on fuzzy thinking that ignores the actual arguments made by pro-lifers is too much fun to pass up.

I did not accuse you of hypocrisy, and I freely grant there are many differences. I did accurately describe your statements as advocating for a utilitarian notion of collective quality of life as paramount over "saving lives". Maybe you wish to dispute that accurate description but you have yet to do so.

I did accurately describe your statements as advocating for a utilitarian notion of collective quality of life as paramount over "saving lives"

No, I don't think you did. Covid is not a death sentence, even for the very vulnerable. Whereas abortion has as its actual purpose death.

Nobody seems to be worrying about protection for other people ... from isolation, loneliness, lack of human touch and interaction, lack of the ability to get to know others etc.

I am worried about that. Very worried. But that is exactly why I consider the measures important. For instance, at my church I'm on a team that provides rides for our elderly, homebound and infirm members. We really want them able to come back to worship, but we have to be very careful about it. So you're damn right I wear a mask. You're damn right I take my temperature. You're damn right I cancel if I feel even a little scratchiness in the throat. If I could get ahold of Covid rapid tests I'd do that too. My inconvenience might mean their lives. To repeat, the virus forced these measures on us.

These "ugly social norms" are becoming far, far too normalized, and there are already news stories out there suggesting that we may be wearing masks forever, perhaps should be forced to wear them every year during seasonal flu season, and the like.

I've heard that chatter as well. I agree that we need to guard against it. But let it be noted that we've already been through several cycles of this. Look at my post from late May: it was written in a spirit of "we're not out of the woods yet but we're close" -- right as the summer surge was approaching. Then it subsided again in the late summer. Now it's back and we're getting punched in the gut.

The virus is in the saddle and rides mankind.

advocating for a utilitarian notion of collective quality of life as paramount over "saving lives".

Step2, your phrasing here reminds me of an old and kind of funny sophomoric problem with trying to understand ethical standards. Somewhere early on, the student learns that "the end doesn't justify the means". Then, when he is told to come up with a model of deciding whether A or B is better to do, he CAN'T do it without looking at the end result of each and comparing them. And then he gets all in a tizzy because "wait, I am not supposed to use the end to justify the means".

There are three (general) aspects of a freely, deliberately chosen human act that determines its moral quality: its object (given by its species), its intention, and its circumstances.
Take considering between two optional actions A and B, where option A is an action that is
wrong in its very species, it is intrinsically disordered because the very object of the act is wrong (say, direct, intenional murder), and B where the action is morally licit in its very species (play a game of tennis). In this case, we are not allowed to try to decide between A or B on the basis of the total outcomes, because the total outcomes are irrelevant if one of them is wrong in its very species and the other is upright (or neutral) in its very species: You START with the species of the act, not the end, and you don't get to consider the end if the species of one act is out of bounds and the other is not. So between A and B, you cannot use the end to justify the decision between them. Those who reject this rule are utilitarians, and those who do not reject this rule are not utilitarians.

Now take a different decision between C and D, where they both have the exact same species of the act (play a game of tennis) and the same intention of the act, but it is only the circumstances that are different: for C, the circumstances include that I have tennis elbow that could get severely worse if I play, enough to impede my ability to work for a month, and in D I have no such problem and playing tennis will not interfere with any other duties. The moral analysis of the goodness of C compared to D says "after noting that both acts are good in their species and good in their intention, it is clear that D has a better outcome than C does, and therefore morally D is to be preferred over C" (all other things being equal). This analysis COULD be that of a utilitarian if and only if we had left off the first, qualifying comment "after noting that both acts are good in their species and intention..." With that constraint as part of the analysis, though, it is not a utilitarian determination, even thought the end results were used to weigh between them.

In the current context, nobody is suggesting that "wearing masks is evil (by the very species of the act)". Or "standing 6 feet apart is evil (by the very species of the act". Or "closing a business for 2 weeks is intrinsically disordered." No, we have all been very glad the surgeon wears a mask. We have always been glad when the person with a cold did not insist on hugging me. I know of small businesses that close their doors for an extended holiday break. These are good or neutral in their species. We assume that people generally are doing the mandated actions from a good intention: that of keeping people healthy. We also assume (with a note of caution) that the legislators and regulators have even imposed the rules with a good intention, that of keeping people safe from COVID. So, of the three criteria used to evaluate the moral character of the acts, we are left with the circumstances, and that includes (in part) the downstream effects that can be reasonably anticipated. Knowingly choosing E that "saves 100,000 people from COVID" while it (also knowingly) will result in 200,000 deaths from other incidental side effects of E would be a bad choice by considering the end results, even though its object and intention are good. Yes, we used the outcomes to weigh the decision, and no, it is not "utilitarian" determination because we first considered the object and intention.

Of course the problems being decided are not as cut-and-dried as the naively silly example I just made up. They are more complex. At the same time, it seems that many of the decision-makers are NOT TRYING to work very hard on sorting out the non-COVID effects of their decisions. Complex doesn't mean "I should just give up on considering other effects" as a moral practice.

Lydia, I think that you and others might like this work if you are not aware of it. This work by Peter Simpson deals with the historical authenticity of the Gospels.


To repeat, the virus forced these measures on us.

See, Paul, that's where we disagree.

Nobody Special, thanks for the link!

Nobody, nice link, than you. Here is a quote:

For it is in fact very easy to know the real person, the real character and deeds, without knowing all or most of the details Meier wants. It is also very easy to depict a real person in words if one knows the character and has the necessary writing skill. Good biographers do it all the time for actual people, and good novelists do the same for imagined ones. The Gospels, the supposed biographies or memoirs of Jesus, do indeed give us the real Jesus, for they give us the character of Jesus and the deeds and words that most display that character. Moreover, if the Gospels are historically accurate, they also give us the historical Jesus, the real Jesus who lived in First Century Palestine. For Meier’s differentiation of the “real” from the “historical” is as false a dichotomy as his “real person” is a false category.

Tony, thanks for spelling all of that out in response to STep2.

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