Sunday, March 26, 2017

As for the Annunciation--The artificiality of "salvation history"

(This post should have gone up yesterday, but I thought of it only late last night.)

Imagine the Virgin Mary, sitting in her home in Nazareth, engaged in her work, or perhaps praying. It is an ordinary day. Nothing has warned her that this day is to be the day that lies at the center of all history.

Suddenly, an angel appears and salutes her and tells her that the Holy Ghost will come upon her and that she will give birth to the Messiah.

Mary realizes that it is an angel. The text leaves us with no doubts on that point. It is not as though she is confused into thinking that some merely natural being has visited her.

I often use the Annunciation as an example of the artificiality of the distinction between "ordinary history" and "salvation history" or "religious narrative." This pseudo-distinction will be used by those who want to confine miracles to only some places and times. It's especially popular among naturalists, semi-naturalists, and methodological naturalists who are opposed to a) the use of miracles as evidences for Christianity or theism and b) God's use of detectable miraculous means in the creation of the world or of species within the world. Die-hard theistic evolutionists are especially fond of it, because it allows them to appear to have some theologically principled reason for rejecting divine miraculous activity in biology. "Oh, that wouldn't have been salvation history, so God wouldn't have done that. We must hold out for some naturalistic explanation and accept one when it is offered." When one points out that, as Christians, we are bound to believe that God sometimes does perform miracles, that God does not leave the natural order completely undisturbed, they will piously intone, "Yes, but that's different. That's within salvation history, within a religious narrative, and can be interpreted within that context. Outside of that we should look for natural means." Here is an example thereof.

What this fails to recognize is that salvation history is seen as such only in retrospect. The people within the actual stories have to recognize the miracle as a miracle without some special "tag" that tells them, "Note: You are now in salvation history, so you're permitted to set aside methodological naturalism and interpret what is about to happen as a miracle."

To return to Mary: Many other virgins in Israel did not conceive and bear the Son of God. Many other days in the life of Mary herself, prior to this day, did not include angelic appearances. Mary had to be willing to recognize that an angel was standing there and giving her a message, and she had to believe that message, without thinking of herself as "living in a story." It is we, looking back on what happened, who place it within a "religious narrative" of "salvation history." To Mary, it was just the day on which Gabriel showed up and told her she was to conceive by the Holy Ghost. And she had to be willing to admit the possibility of a miracle in the midst of her own day-to-day life, or else she would never acknowledge a miracle in the first place.

In fact, any attempt to apply the "religious narrative" criterion consistently would result in a vicious regress, and no "religious narrative" would ever get off the ground. The witnesses of the miracle would have to know already that they were living through a moment of "salvation history." But how would they know that? Presumably only by receiving a message from God, attested in some way that they could recognize as supernatural. But they could not recognize that message as supernatural unless they already knew that they were living through a moment of salvation history, which would require a yet earlier message or sign...And so on. Meaning that there could be no "salvation history" or "religious narrative" that was recognized as such.

The same was true of Moses and the burning bush. No sign flashed across the sky before he saw the burning bush that said, "Now entering salvation history," just as an angel didn't precede Gabriel, marching across Mary's chamber with a banner that read, "You are now entering salvation history." Moses had to recognize that he was actually talking with God, that the bush was burning without being consumed, or else mankind could not have received God's message at all.

The angel's appearance to Mary and the Voice from the burning bush are the very constituents of God's dealings with mankind. They need no annunciation, for they are the Annunciation.

If this was true for the first witnesses of the miracles themselves, it is true for us as well. We should recognize these to be miracles because it appears that they really happened, that they were miraculous, and that God sent them to us for a reason, not because they occupy some above-the-skies Zone that we call "salvation history." For we could not know that they occupied any such Zone, or even that there were such a Zone, without knowing that they happened, and we could not know that they happened if those who witnessed them had insisted on methodological naturalism...unless pre-empted by the previous knowledge that one is living in the Special Zone where miracles are allowed to happen.

Oh, and one other thing: "Religious narratives" are confirmed by miracles. It gets the order precisely backward to say that miracles are verified by being embedded in "religious narratives." For why believe this religious narrative rather than that one? It is not philosophical reflection from your armchair that will tell you that Jesus was God the Son while Mohammad was a false prophet.

So I suggest that we give up on methodological naturalism altogether. Just drop it in the dustbin of history. No, that doesn't mean that God performs miracles randomly. It does, however, mean that Aslan is not a tame lion. He doesn't safely confine his miracles to those places that you think you can accept in a purely "philosophical" way, as part of a "religious narrative," without tarnishing your image as a Man of Science. There is certainly no reason to think that he keeps his hands out of biology. Indeed, Scripture suggests otherwise from the very beginning.

That people should be more open to miracles in the realm of biology, or in any other realm, and that we should be robust evidentialists, may seem like odd lessons to garner from the Feast of the Annunciation, but I give you the thought for the next time you hear someone say, "Oh, that's different. That's salvation history."

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Are we conservatives still opposed to homosexual practice?

In the aftermath of the M.Y. flap, to which I alluded in the last post, I am moved to ask a question:

Are conservatives still opposed to homosexual practice?

Here's another question:

Do conservatives realize that homosexual practice between vulnerable boys, age approximately 17, and older men, entered into by the boys partly because they are in need of an older male role model, is profoundly unhealthy, a horrible perversion of the mentoring relationship?

This leads to another question:

Why in the name of all that is holy, and of our opposition to all that is hellish, would conservatives laud and support a man who lauds and supports those kinds of relationships?

Or are we just so desperate and uninformed that, having been told (truly or falsely) that this man doesn't support those relationships with boys as young as thirteen years old, we promptly conclude that we can go right back to treating him as a legitimate conservative author, pundit, and speaker and yell in outrage about the "terrible smearing" against him?

I kid you not: When I pointed out on Facebook that M.Y. has doubled down, repeatedly, on the alleged wonderfulness of relationships between older men and 17-year-old boys, I was at first told that this was false. When I provided the evidence, did the person say, "Oh! I didn't know that. Wow, that's really creepy; I'm going to have to re-think my support for him"?

Not a chance.

Since when do conservatives make an icon out of a man who glorifies (pardon my wording) buggery between boys who are desperately in need of help and older men?

Yet this, this, is M.Y.'s self-defense against the charge that he glorified it between thirteen-year-old vulnerable boys and other men. No, no, he didn't. Why, not at all. He never meant thirteen-year-olds. He means 16-and-17-year-olds. And then it can be wonderful.

Didn't know that? Well, if you didn't, you're not alone. And I put it to you that too many in the conservative media didn't emphasize this and condemn it because they are too busy trying to "redeem" M.Y., both as an individual and as a pundit. They should stop. Now.

Oh, by the way, in case you want some documentation, here you go. From the very press conference in which he apologized for his "imprecise language."

I shouldn’t have used the word “boy” — which gay men often do to describe young men of consenting age — instead of “young man.” That was an error. I was talking about my own relationship when I was 17 with a man who was 29. The age of consent in the UK is 16.
I did say that there are relationships between younger men and older men that can help a young gay man escape from a lack of support or understanding at home. That’s perfectly true and every gay man knows it.
This is the same type of thing that he said from minute 5 onward in his "apology video," which has been for some reason removed from Youtube. There he said that he "stands by" the comments that he made in the leaked videos as he intended them, because he meant those comments to apply to such relationships with 17-year-olds, and specifically had in mind his own "first boyfriend," when he was 17 and the other man was much older. So let's go back to the original video and even interpret his remarks as applying to 17-year-olds (waiving the fact that they really do seem to be meant to apply to 13-year-olds in the original context). Watch the video here. Now, let's be ever-so-charitable and assume his later reinterpretation. On that reinterpretation, what is he saying about sexual relationships between 17-year-old boys, or even 16-year-olds, and older men?

You know, people are messy and complex. In the homosexual world particularly. Some of those relationships between younger boys and older men, the sort of coming of age relationships, the relationships in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are, and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable and sort of a rock where they can’t speak to their parents. Some of those relationships are the most -” [interrupted]
[snip]
I think in the gay world, some of the most important, enriching and incredibly life affirming, important shaping relationships very often between younger boys and older men, they can be hugely positive experiences for those young boys. They can even save those young boys, from desolation, from suicide [people talk over each other]… providing they’re consensual.”
So are conservatives okay with this now? Should we be hastening to put this guy back in the position of someone we go to listen to, someone whose book should be sold, someone who was (poor fellow) "smeared" because people thought he was talking about 13-year-olds (a highly defensible position, by the way)? Should we regard him as a conservative?

M.Y. is normalizing homosexuality in the conservative world. We aren't leftists, remember? Supposedly we realize that homosexual relationships are destructive and that very young men should not be mentored into the homosexual world. Supposedly we want men to find a healthy, normal sexuality. And if we're not idiots (never mind whether we're leftists or not), we realize that there is something wildly unhealthy about 17-year-olds who have a sexual relationship with a much older person because they "can't speak to their parents," because they are looking for a "rock" and "reliability," in short, as a substitute parent-child relationship. Hello? That would be creepy and unhealthy even if it were between a young woman and an older man and had those features. And let's admit, too, that there is no question of these being lifelong, committed relationships. Milo can blather all he wants about how "hugely positive" they are, but this isn't remotely like marriage.

I submit that the conservative fascination with this guy is a symptom of some sort of weird dysfunction in the conservative world that has come with the Trump phenomenon. It's a combination of several things,

1) Some conservatives just want an attack dog whom they can regard as being on "our side." It makes them feel good. They can let Milo be the jerk and sit around and snigger while he's nasty, without getting their hands dirty themselves, then talk about how he's "brave" and "bold" and "politically incorrect," while ignoring the true nastiness of, e.g., sending a pic of a black baby to Ben Shapiro when his baby is born.

2) Some conservatives, perhaps especially some who are conservative on the moral issue of homosexuality, have a kind of weird fascination with a homosexual like Milo because they feel sorry for him. They almost feel like they have a personal relationship with him, and they view regarding him as just a sick puppy whom we should have nothing to do with as "mean."

3) Relatedly, some conservatives want to fall all over themselves to be agreeable to any homosexual who doesn't fit the mold of leftist homosexuals in the U.S. If a homosexual is willing to admit that what he's doing is perverse (even if he keeps on gleefully doing it!), then they want to grasp at that as a sign that he's on the upward way, even though it probably isn't. This is also related to the "gay friendly" stuff we see in our churches.

4) Some conservatives (again, relatedly) have a "savior complex" towards certain individuals. They keep hoping they can "reach out to" these individuals and save them, even if that means giving them a public platform. The common sense position that it doesn't do a person with severe personal problems any good to be blowing kisses to his adoring fans doesn't resonate with these "conservatives." They hope to be enough a part of that adoring public to have the opportunity to save him as a brand from the burning.

5) Too many conservatives got attached to Milo through their attachment to Donald Trump, and now they feel like they have to stick to him because they have once chosen to identify him with "our side." This is precisely an example of the corruption of the right by Trump and those in his train (such as Milo) that we Never Trumpers predicted from the outset.

Part of what this corruption has done is to cause conservatives to ignore M.Y.'s passionate defense of man-boy relationships with troubled youths as long as the troubled youths are above the age of consent in a particular venue. This is sick stuff, yet nobody on the right seems to be talking about it. What's the matter? Are we conservatives still opposed to this kind of thing? Then let's stop making excuses. And let's get rid of this guy from our lecture circuit. We can pray for his immortal soul, but he isn't your long-lost brother or your child, and even if he were, he would be bad news. The best thing that could happen to him would be for him to have to get rid of his handsome young aides and get a different day job. Insurance sales. Or something. And be out of the limelight. Or better yet, go off to a desert island and pray and rethink his life. But if he isn't going to do that voluntarily, for goodness' sake, conservatives, stop giving him adulation and a platform. And stop it yesterday.

Update: Here's a working link to the "apology" video. Again, notice that right in the midst of his "apology," from minute 5 onward, he strongly stands by the idea that homosexual relationships between older teens and men older than themselves can be such a great thing. He's clearly describing something that any sane person will see is not healthy--a relationship in which the older man "takes care of them financially" and/or "emotionally," a relationship that is an "escape" from a situation where they are "having trouble with their mom and dad." The idea that this is a good thing is crazy, but he's promoting it as a good part of the gay scene.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Words are deeds

Now that the flap (you can probably guess what it was) that gave rise to this post is not the latest, hottest stuff in the news anymore, I feel at leisure to write a post about a point that came up in the course of Facebook discussions.

A certain public figure made recorded statements that seemed to endorse (some) instances of sexual intercourse between adult men and thirteen-year-old boys. He got in trouble in the court of public opinion for making these claims and then said (I leave it to others to guess whether I found the claims convincing or not) that he hadn't really intended in his (rather glowing) endorsements to refer to thirteen-year-old boys but rather to such encounters between men and boys over the age of legal consent in Britain--namely, at least 16. And that in particular he had in mind his own wonderful homosexual relationship with an older man when he was 17. Indeed, he's doubled down and has gone on at some length about the wonderfulness of homosexual relationships in which older teen boys are mentored by, given stability and a sense of identity by, older men who are having sex with them. Well, that's obviously much, much better./sarc

In the course of debating all of this and how bad, exactly, it was, I was much struck by the comment of a friend who made much of the supposed contrast between words and deeds. The "certain public figure" in the last paragraph has, one supposes, never actually had sexual relations with a thirteen-year-old boy. So even if he were endorsing some of those relationships, it was argued, this was much, much less bad than the actions of a left-wing figure (Lena Dunham) who by her own statement did actually sexually touch her little sister. Dunham engaged in acts, you see, while M.Y., even at the worst interpretation of what he was advocating, engaged only in words. See? See?

Well, no, I don't see. Similar statements came up during Trump's campaign. You've all heard the meme: "I'm more concerned about what Hillary has done than about what Trump has said."

That sort of thing makes a good soundbyte, but it's misleading. This needs to be understood: There is no general ethical principle that non-verbal deeds are worse than verbal deeds. I put it that way deliberately, because saying something is an action. It's not a non-act. It's not being passive. It's entirely plausible that a particular verbal action could be just as bad as, or even worse than, a given non-verbal action.

If Person A advocates sex with eight-year-olds and Person B actually engages in, let's say, adultery with an adult, is it obvious that the latter has done something worse than the former? Yet the adulterer is doing an "act," by the colloquial definition, while the talker is, supposedly, just "saying words."

But let's try to make the crimes involved more similar. Suppose that Person A advocates murdering white people because of the "legacy of slavery." He engages in repeated incitement to such murders. Person B is one of those influenced by him and he murders a single white person out of racial hatred. But as far as Person A knows, there could be many more murders as a result of his advocacy. Indeed, that's what he's attempting to bring about! Can we say with any confidence that the inciter has done something less bad than the murderer because he "just said words" while the murderer actually "carried out an act"? I would say that is not clear at all! Indeed, one could even argue in a given scenario that the inciter, an Iago of racial hatred, is the more guilty party.

It's not enough to respond to this argument by saying, "Of course I acknowledge that words mean things and that words are important." It's not enough, that is to say, if one continues thereafter using the cliche, "A said words. B did deeds. So why is everyone [or the left, etc.] more upset with A than with B?" It all depends on what the words were or what the deeds were. The use of such cliches may be a shorthand for, "I don't think that A's words were worse than B's deeds. In fact, I think just the opposite." But in that case one is going to have to gets one's hands dirty and talk about exactly what A did say and why it wasn't as bad as B's non-verbal act. One isn't going to be able to remain above the fray and decline to comment on the degree of alleged badness of A's words. And one isn't going to be able to get away with saying, "I'm not defending A at all." Because one is at least comparatively "defending A." One is saying that A's verbal acts weren't as bad as B's non-verbal acts. That is a contentful proposition that can't be settled merely by the acknowledged fact that A's acts were verbal while B's were non-verbal.

The cliche, "I'm more worried about what B has done than about what A has said" encourages laziness in thinking and debate. If it's a shorthand for a stronger claim, then it's a sloppy shorthand that attempts to get out of the harder relevant work of thinking, investigating the facts ("Okay, exactly what did A say, what effects is it going to have, what effects could he have foreseen, what did he mean?"), and arguing.

It may be true from a purely pragmatic, legal perspective that words should be less often criminalized than non-verbal acts. I'm all in favor of the First Amendment. But even in the legal realm, there is no absolute rule that words can never be justly or (in America) constitutionally subject to civil or criminal penalties. All the more so, in the moral realm we shouldn't be quick to assume that words aren't as bad as other deeds.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Greco-Roman bioi and traditional authorship of the Gospels

Yesterday at a lunch with a well-known apologist, the "bioi thesis" about the Gospels came up, as did the fact that the famously bull-dog-ish inerrantist Norm Geisler is opposed to the thesis. I don't follow Geisler and haven't read anything he's said about that specific topic, and I'm not an inerrantist in the usual sense of the word, but I launched into a little rant (so I'm told by on-lookers) about how it's actually understandable that someone would have problems with the thesis as it's currently being promoted. And especially that Geisler would.

One of the most difficult points here is that there are various things one could mean by saying that the gospels "are" something so specific as Greco-Roman bioi.

What people naturally think when they hear that scholarship is now showing this is that scholarship is giving us good reason to believe that the authors of the gospels were actually influenced by Greco-Roman literature and were consciously working in such a specific literary genre. Well, I've read Burridge's locus classicus on the subject, and I'm here to tell you that Burridge gives no strong defense of any such clear, causal thesis. He has only a few pages even touching on that specific question, and the arguments there are very weak. They are mostly arguments for the bare possibility of such influence, which in turn are sometimes based upon the assumption that the books were not written by the traditional authors (more about that in a moment). In addition he has a couple of very weak arguments such as, for example, the hypothesis that Matthew and Luke were deliberately including infancy narratives and genealogies for Jesus in order to bring their works more into line with the conventions of Greco-Roman bioi, in contrast to Mark, which still (Burridge thinks) "counts" as being in the genre by family resemblance but which has fewer of the characteristics. Now, this is a really poor argument. Jews were obsessed with genealogy. Of course Matthew would include one if he thought he had one! Moreover, all of this material is of intrinsic interest. If either Matthew or Luke believed he had information about Jesus' genealogy and infancy, it would be worth including for its own sake. No Greco-Roman influence is necessary.

For the most part, however, Burridge is more like a person sorting rocks by color. "Greco-Roman bioi" is like "the blue rock pile." He puts very little energy into arguing for a causal thesis, being more interested in what he himself calls "family resemblance." But rocks may end up in a blue pile because they were painted blue or because they have different kinds of minerals in them, and so forth. A generic family resemblance claim is just a thesis about the very general characteristics of the narratives, and those characteristics are so broad that they don't require any very specific causal history to explain them beyond the obvious intention to write a medium-length, generally historical work about the life of a particular individual. It's unfortunate, then, that such a specific term as "Greco-Roman bioi" has come to be used, because it sounds like something technical that really means that the best explanation is actual literary influence. Burridge even hypothesizes that one or more of the gospels may have fallen into the bioi genre by accident! But of course if that were the case, then the genre designation itself gives us no independent evidence, beyond what we could have gathered in much less specific terms, regarding the author's intentions. That is, we can't infer, "Because this author considered himself to be writing within the Greco-Roman bioi genre, he and his audience would have had such-and-such expectations about his relationship to truth."

Of course, simply by reading the gospels with common sense, one can see that they intend to be presenting memoirs of Jesus that are truthful. As C.S. Lewis once said, anybody who thinks the gospels are myths doesn't know anything about myths. But that sense of "genre" is not something we particularly need classical learning to gather, nor does it give us additional information.

Originally I believe that the bioi thesis was welcomed as a corrective to the ludicrous view that we have no idea whether or not the gospels are intended to be historical. In that sense, the bioi thesis was seen as giving us a "floor" to the amount of ahistoricity to attribute to the gospels: They wouldn't be less historical than this, because they are really intended to be biographies of Jesus.

But when scholars grabbed the thesis and ran with it, and especially when they considered that it could be taken as established that there was actual Greco-Roman influence on the intentions of the gospel authors, something rather different happened. Repeatedly, one apologist has argued that the gospel authors would have considered themselves "licensed" to change things in the gospels because they were writing in the bioi genre, and the bioi genre "allowed" for such license. But this is a confusion. Burridge never argues that anything that falls into his family resemblance pile would have been written by an author who considered himself licensed to change historical fact! Rather, the genre itself (the pile of "blue rocks") contains some documents that, scholars think, bear a somewhat looser connection to historical facts. So it is the genre as a whole that is "flexible," in the sense that it contains both less and more stringently historical works, not the individual authors that are "flexible," in the sense that they all consider themselves licensed in virtue of the genre to change historical facts.

When the "Greco-Roman bioi" thesis is used in this way to argue for a sense of license, it produces a ceiling to the reliability of the accounts. It implies that we shouldn't consider them to be more precise, more accurate, more reliable than such-and-such a level, because after all, they were writing "Greco-Roman bioi," so they would have thought of themselves as "licensed" to take some liberties with the facts. But that has never been established at all.

Moreover (and this is where I get to my title), if one really takes it that the authors of the gospels were educated in such a way as to be actually influenced by Greco-Roman literature, this is negatively relevant to the traditional ascriptions of authorship. It may not be strictly impossible, but it isn't very probable that John the son of Zebedee, Matthew the tax collector, and Peter the fisherman and apostle (to whom the content of Mark is attributed), or his young Jewish relative John Mark, would have been trained in Greco-Roman literature. Indeed, the higher probability is that they had little or no contact with it at all. Luke the physician might be different, given that he was probably a Gentile and writes a particularly high type of Greek.

As I mentioned above, Burridge, in arguing for the possibility of contact with Greco-Roman literature, assumes that the traditional ascriptions of authorship have no scholarly weight. This is understandable. He's a classicist and is just taking "mainstream New Testament scholarship" at face value. So, for example, he says that someone in the Johannine community, which wrote the gospel of John (!), might have been classically educated.

Nor am I bringing this up in a fundamentalist fashion: "Oh, noes! If I accept this thesis I may have to abandon traditional authorship. What shall I dooooo??"

The point, rather, is this: The traditional authorship of the gospels has extremely strong external evidence for it, evidence that would be accepted without question if these were any other ancient documents. The pull against traditional authorship has been entirely driven, originally, in the messed-up field of New Testament studies, by hyper-skeptical biases. Then even some conservative and evangelical scholars have gotten nervous and diffident, because they don't want to go up against the whole field, so they are unwilling to take their stand on the strong external (and internal) evidence. So they may believe in traditional authorship themselves but are unwilling to say that this is the only reasonable position, given all the evidence.

To the extent that we have strong evidence for the traditional authorship of, say, John (and we do) or of Matthew, we have reason to be skeptical about the thesis that the author of John was actually influenced by Greco-Roman bioi. And as for the claim that a young Matthew "would have been taught" some literary compositional devices of Greco-Roman writing as a boy in school, there is reason to be very skeptical indeed. That is going not only far beyond the evidence but, indeed, contrary to the evidence. (Moreover, the idea that these "compositional textbooks," which were giving writing exercises, were teaching kids that it's totally okay for serious history to fictionalize is dubious in itself.)

I've already said some of this in earlier posts (here, here, and here), but I think it needs to be repeated because, as I heard at lunch yesterday, "The bioi thesis is where scholarship is at right now." This appeal to "where the scholarship is at" just really doesn't impress me. There are much more robust and direct ways to argue that the gospel authors were writing true history than a round-the-barn, weakly supported thesis that they viewed themselves as writing within a Greco-Roman genre. And an approach that doesn't try to do it that way also doesn't saddle itself with a causal thesis that pulls against the strong evidence for traditional authorship. And no, it shouldn't matter if nobody outside of the evangelical world takes traditional authorship of, say, Matthew and John seriously. Who cares? Popularity is not a good test of truth or of evidential strength. Moreover, to the extent that "the bioi thesis" is now being used to undermine a strong concept of the reliability of the gospels, it's doing harm, so it isn't a bandwagon we should be eager to jump on. If that's what's bothering Geisler, then I must say that I can't view him as a witch-hunter or a scholarly knuckle-dragger on account of his opposition to the thesis. There are reasons to be concerned here and to call for a rethinking, and not only from an inerrantist perspective.

Monday, February 27, 2017

One catchy sentence on undesigned coincidences

For a long time I've wanted a catchy, one-sentence answer to, "What is an undesigned coincidence?" Necessarily, a one-sentence, catchy answer is going to give the other person only a vague notion of what a UC is. One is going to have to go on to say more, and probably give a short example. But if I'm being interviewed out loud (e.g., for radio), I want to have a sentence to *start* with in answer to this natural question. With the release date of my book this week and one radio interview already in the works (I will be interviewed by Frank Turek this week for CrossExamined and the interview aired later on), I want to have something ready on this front.
What do people think of this? 

An undesigned coincidence is an incidental connection between accounts that points to truth.

I'm repressing my grammar Nazi urge to say "between or among," because there might be more than two! "Incidental" is meant to do duty both for the fact that UCs usually concern ancillary details and the fact that they appear casual and unplanned. I could add "that doesn't seem to have been planned," but that makes the sentence less of a soundbite. Thoughts?

Thursday, February 02, 2017

A Pause for Poetry

I've recently been enjoying again the poems of Lizette Woodworth Reese. The poems below include some that I haven't shared in my earlier posts about her.

              The Plowman

The delicate gray trees stand up
    There by the old fenced ways;
One or two are crimson-tipped,
    And soon will start to blaze.

The plowman follows, as of yore,
   Along the furrows cold,
Homeric shape against the boughs;
   Sharp is the air with mold.

The sweating horses heave and strain;
   The crows with thick, high note
Break black across the windless land,
   Fade off and are remote.

Oh, new days, yet long known and old!
   Lo, as we look about,
This immemorial act of faith,
   That takes the heart from doubt!

Kingdoms decay and creeds are not,
   Yet still the plowman goes
Down the spring fields, so he may make
   Ready for him that sows.

               In Winter

I dig amongst the roots of life,
And hear the rushing of the sap
That soon in silken white will wrap
The sagged pear bough. I hear the strife

Of change with change: of riot that goes
Rebellious; last, of law and pain;
Each battling to restore the lane
Its lost, hereditary rose.

The dwindled hearth, and the spent mould
A double flowering will yield;--
New loveliness for house, for field,
And with it the ghost of the old. 

                          Reparation
                         (In Autumn)

So sharp a tooth has gnawed their gold,
Eaten it in holes from foot to crown,
The wayside bough hangs a dulled brown,
And the stooped garden's looks are cold.

Is the old robbery not done?
Must they who live by what is fair,
Go hungry for it, and go bare
Down a pale, disillusioned sun?

As in a glass, we see and learn
Darkly. No tooth, in bough and mould
Can gnaw their secret, other gold;
Something escapes, that will return.

For what is fair is permanent,
And nought can rob us of our right.
Shall we not watch the road blow white,
And the blue hyacinth choke in scent?

                   Immortality

Battles nor songs can from oblivion save,
   But Fame upon a white deed loves to build;
From out that cup of water Sidney gave,
   Not one drop has been spilled.


                  Heroism

Whether we climb, whether we plod,
   Space for one task the scant years lend--
To choose some path that leads to God,
   And keep it to the end.


            Growth

I climb that was a clod;
   I run whose steps were slow;
I reap the very wheat of God
   That once had none to sow.

Is Joy a lamp outblown?
   Truth out of grasping set?
But nay, for Laughter is mine own;
   I knock and answer get.

Nor is the last word said;
   Nor is the battle done;
Somewhat of glory and of dread
   Remains for set of sun.

For I have scattered seed
   Shall ripen at the end;
Old Age holds more than I shall need,
   Death more than I can spend.

Today, as it happens, is Candlemas. So I will post a poem I posted before by Reese for Candlemas.

     A Song for Candlemas

There’s never a rose upon the bush,
And never a bud on any tree;
In wood and field nor hint nor sign
Of one green thing for you or me.
Come in, come in, sweet love of mine,
And let the bitter weather be!

Coated with ice the garden wall;
The river reeds are stark and still;
The wind goes plunging to the sea,
And last week’s flakes the hollows fill.
Come in, come in, sweet love, to me,
And let the year blow as it will!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Losing even when we win

Now that Donald Trump is President, it's inevitable that we never-Trumpers (among which I am proud to identify myself) will be jeeringly asked by Trumpites to comment on every small thing Trump does that is right, or at least not wrong. The Mexico City policy, a pons asinorum of Republican Presidenthood for years, being just one.

That last sentence is all that you will see from me about that particular thing in this post, because my larger point concerns the fixation on "particular things" in policy without seeing the bigger picture.

I never opposed Trump for purely consequential reasons. I opposed him for reasons of principle. I won't endorse or vote for a man who is morally unfit for office, as he was and remains. If he now listens to some good advisers and does some things that support policy positions I also support, that doesn't change his moral unfitness. His fundamental character hasn't changed, as witness his childishly egocentric Twitter obsessions. This should go without saying. He's a disgrace and a loose cannon. As I have said to various friends, the Trump presidency is like having a nasty four-year-old as king. What you hope for, sadly, is that his regents and advisers will have enough control over him to a) prevent him from doing anything really disastrous, policy-wise and b) induce him to do some good things, policy-wise. Even if these hopes are realized, that doesn't change the fact that he's a nasty four-year-old. And absent a miracle of evident repentance and maturing, no, I won't be voting for him in four years. This is a matter of principle and the fitness of the individual for office.

Meanwhile, we are already seeing, again and again, the corruption of good people while attempting to defend his silliness, with Kellyanne Conway being a perfect case.

But here's another--a situation in which goodness loses no matter what happens. Trump went out and shot off his mouth to the effect that he (of course he said "we") has in hand a healthcare plan that will cover everybody and have lower deductibles. This is absolute baloney. There is no plan that will do that, and certainly the Republicans have no such plan.

Once he did that, he created a situation in which something will be lost no matter what happens. On the one hand, if he were to try to stick to what he said, he would refuse to sign Obamacare repeal if it didn't include a replacement that covers everybody and offers lower deductibles, and maybe free ponies too. That would obviously be pretty disastrous, at least if you think Obamacare should be repealed and that there are no free ponies. On the other hand, what looks like it's going to happen instead is that everybody is going to pretend that Trump never shot off his mouth and instead Trump is actually going to cooperate with Congress in repealing Obamacare, which will in fact not mean coverage for everybody or lower deductibles, much less free ponies. 

From a policy perspective, this is the outcome I favor (especially if they do enough deregulation at the same time so as not to collapse the insurance market by merely withdrawing the mandate on consumers while keeping mandates on the insurers), but what has been lost is truth. Representative Tom Price (proposed HHS secretary) and other Republicans are having to keep on talking about wide "access" to healthcare coverage rather than universal coverage. This was a possibility that anyone could have foreseen when Trump made his silly and ignorant remarks about "our plan"--namely, that he was just blathering as usual and that Republicans would then have to pretend that he was saying the same thing they are saying.

But shouldn't those of us who care about truth in discourse be sad about this? I certainly am. And there's something else I'm sad about: People who say that it doesn't matter that Trump said all that nonsense about how "we have a plan" to cover everybody when it was obvious that this was a falsehood. Well, yes, it matters. It matters for two reasons: First, it matters because it created embarrassment (at a minimum) for Congressmen who are trying to do something (from our perspective) good in policy--namely, repeal Obamacare. The President is supposed to work with his own party's Congressmen rather than creating uncertainty and chaos. But second, and perhaps more important, it matters because words have meaning and because Trump lied again, thereby making it difficult for good Congressmen to avoid lying themselves. After all, we don't expect them to tell the media, "Yeah, President Trump is an idiot. Of course we don't have a plan to cover everybody. Neither does he. But we think we have a good plan anyway, and we're virtually certain that he will sign it despite what he said. He's a pain, and of course he wasn't talking about what we're talking about, but we believe our plan will pass." Now, maybe they can get out of actually lying. I'm not saying that Rep. Price actually lied. He was asked about his goals and his policy proposals at the hearing and could answer truthfully about those. But the temptation is undeniably there--at least to make it sound like they and the President are on the same page, rather than his being a loose cannon whom they have to hope to control.

This kind of thing is going to go on for the next four years. It's inevitable with a President this ignorant, uncontrolled, inclined to over-promising, and loudmouthed. And what we who have and who value principle must not say is, "It doesn't matter."

But that's what I'm starting to hear, even from smart people: It's a moot point. It doesn't matter what he says; it only matters what he does.

Thus the concept of the importance of truth is further degraded, as is the dignity of the presidential office. The President becomes a policy puppet who lies over and over again and whose lies we brush off or laugh at as long as he doesn't actually prevent decent policy and/or even signs decent policy.

Yet it is in this context that we never-Trumpers are being jeeringly asked to admit that we were wrong.

No, we weren't wrong. We were right. Especially, we were right about the corruption of the right. We've seen it again and again in the campaign, most notably of course concerning Trump's wicked treatment of women and the excuses made and still being made. But we're still seeing it now. Every time he says some nonsense and a conservative says, "It doesn't really matter," that's another instance.