Cosmic Remarriage: A Sermon by Chris Borah with some Reflection

Below, you’ll find the audio to a sermon by one Chris Borah:

16 July Cosmic Remarriage by Chris Borah

It’s worth a listen. 

Here some brief festoonings and trains of thought brought up by his sermon (they may be of interest or help even if you don’t listen:

  1. Personal: I don’t ever have a cadence when I’m speaking, I try to change my cadence and pronunciation as I go to see what sound better to me. Chris apparently doesn’t do that. It’s a better option.
  2. Personal: I have a really high stress tolerance but also a really long term sense of threat detection. This makes me anxious more than is helpful or virtuous. This sermon as a good challenge to that. 
  3. Theological: And Chris never mentioned this explicitly, but he named two sides of an important issue. “Don’t be anxious” (Matthew 6:19-34). But also, Chris said that real life is lived around the table, and to have food at the table, you’ve got to sow, reap, and store into barns even though the birds don’t. And so there is an unrighteous and idolatrous way to worry over tomorrow, over your food, your both, and you life. But there is also a way to “fear always” (Proverbs 28:14) that is good. As an aside, the ESV translates that as “fear the LORD,” but the word for Lord isn’t there. The passage either means, “anxiously fears w/respect to not wanting to sin” or “anxiously fears w/respect to potential calamity of any sort,” but both in such a way that leads to getting things done. The hardened heart in Scripture is a disorder that always leads toward the worst possible outcome on the present course. Tension is the wrong word, as different kinds of anxiety exist and the Bible multiplies the species of various traits and habits. 
  4. Dendrological: Chris said that there is something more true about seeing trees as Ents and Dryads than there is to seeing them as inert statues of slowly growing wood or pre-furniture. Interestingly, the materialistic practice of those crazy scientists has found that trees and other plants do communicate. My high school English teacher speculated that this was true and hypothesized that they used electrical impulses in soil and pheromones. Both are accurate. Also see: The Hidden Life of Trees.
  5. Theological: I’m of the opinion that God created chaos and that it’s good and must be balanced with order (if you ask me to define these, expect a great deal of incoherence). A good article about Genesis’ teaching about this is Did God create chaos? Unresolved tension in Genesis 1:1-2 by Robin Routlege. This has led me to all sorts of fruitful reflections upon what it means to be human, even before the fall. For instance, negotiating chaos and order is necessary in a garden and even more necessary if you leave the garden to subdue the rest of the earth. 

Genesis 1-2 and Man as Artist

One of the ideas that emerges from the first two chapters of Genesis is the distinction between creation and cultivation, nature and art, or even chaos and order.

For instance, when God makes the world it is a chaotic emptiness (Genesis 1:1-2), but through the next several verses, he organizes it into a series of useful categories. Then he makes humanity, explaining that not only would they reproduce and eat, like the other creatures, but that they would be blessed, take dominion, and bear the image of God. So man is to subdue (or cultivate in context) the created world.

In Genesis 2, while the timeline is intentionally obscured (man is made before the plants, Genesis 2:4-5), the same distinction is further articulated. There is the wild world, but man is placed in a garden planted by God. And so there is nature (that which is) and art (that which is skillfully designed), creation/culture. The idea of subduing/having dominion over the created world is more fully defined in Genesis 2: name the animals, don’t eat poison fruit, eat fruit that gives life, protect the garden, tend the garden, control your body (it’s made of earth, you know), and so-on. In other words, man is to be an artist who makes culture out of creation or art out of nature.

Aristotle’s used the word techne to describe know-how. Later Latin writers translated the word ars. We now use the word art. For Aristotle, art was a virtue of the mind. And I think our tendency to reduce art to the fine arts has led us to undervalue the fact that any human skill that can be acquired through practice is art: mathematics, grammar, cooking, gardening, shepherding, the scientific method, communication, and so-on.

Aristotle’s understanding of art is helpful for seeing what Genesis is getting at, even though Genesis doesn’t use his terminology. Part of our quest for meaning in a world that sometimes seems repetitive and meaningless is acquiring the skills necessary to cultivate the world around us into something beyond what it is. Trees can become parts of a garden, rocks can become a wall, gold can become food containers, currency, or circuits.

Of course, Scripture warns against wrong ways to cultivate creation  (Gen 11:1-9). If you try to unite heaven to earth yourself, you’ll end up utterly confused (which is bad from a personal experience perspective, but good from a necessary moral lesson perspective). I suspect that you’ll find the wrong ways to cultivate insofar as they do lead to confusion which forces different modes of cooperation and thought.

The Imaginary Amendment

Last election season as morally and emotionally exhausting for many.

I thought it was pretty funny.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the whole thing was that in the space of about one year, the notion of purely open borders or even more to the point, the notion that the whole planet had a right to live within the boundaries of the United States of America became a frequent implication of talking points on the right and left.

I was even more intrigued by Bernie Sanders’ claim that such an idea was ludicrous. Steve Sailer recounts it here:

Bernie Sanders: Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.

Ezra Klein: Really?

Bernie Sanders: Of course. That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States….

Ezra Klein: But it would make…

Bernie Sanders: Excuse me…

Ezra Klein: It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn’t it?

Bernie Sanders: It would make everybody in America poorer—you’re doing away with the concept of a nation-state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that.

The article cited above is pretty good. In it, the idea “that American citizens should get no say in who gets to move to America because huddled masses of non-Americans possess civil rights to immigrate” is called the “zeroth amendment.” It’s a clever name.

I mean, it may turn out that groups who wish to freely associate are wrong to exclude anybody ever, but few college safe space groups wish to be as open to outsiders as members of such groups wish for American borders to be.

Science “Disproves” the Bible Again

In a goofy clickbait article, Ian Johnston claims that (btw, it’s helpful to use webarchive to link articles like this so that they don’t get ad revenue):

Independent Article very bad.PNG

The argument goes:

  1. The Bible reported that the Israelites were supposed to annihilate the Canaanites.
  2.  If true, “the Canaanites could not have directly contributed genetically to present-day populations.”
  3. Canaanite DNA has been in the Lebanese population.
  4. Therefore, the Bible is false.

Hilariously, the author points out that:

While the Bible says they were wiped out by the Israelites under Joshua in the land of Canaan, later passages suggest there were at least a few survivors. Some Biblical scholars have argued the passages are hyperbole, but the genetic research would appear to indicate the slaughter was much less extensive than described.

“The text uses hyperbole…but science says that the text is exaggerating.”

Religious people of all stripes will stop hating scientists or their goofy popularizers in famous online blogs when they stop being disingenuous blobs. I have nothing against disingenuous blobs. It’s an honest living, after all. I’m merely pointing out that others do.

As an aside, the Biblical text explicitly acknowledges that the Canaanites were not destroyed or driven out, implying without scholarly citation, that the Biblical authors engaged in hyperbole:

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.
(Judges 1:31-32 ESV)

Concluding Thought

The article has some cool information about the discovery of Phoenician DNA among the Lebanese. What is curious to me is that I’ve been under the impression that the Levant was full of the descendants of the Phoenicians for nearly a decade.

The only word for this: heh

Here is what happens when you believe that ultimate reality is class conflict between men and women:

You have to subvert truth to believe that worldview because it is observably true that cooperation between the sexes makes new humans.

You have to subvert goodness to believe that worldview because one must assume that any apparent good is a tool of oppression.

You have to subvert beauty to believe that worldview because while beauty transcends sexuality, it is utterly inseparable from it. If sexual dimorphism is a good, then beauty supports that good, which is really a non-good, because the truth is that the sexes necessarily in conflict rather than harmony.

In other words, believe in modern egalitarianism long enough and all art will look this way. As Camille Paglia said, “If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts. (Sexual Personae, 38)” What she’s getting at is that there is some conflict that is part of the relationship between men and women, but civilization is the result of working together. She’s criticizing the unreasonable rejection of the patriarchy by people who stand under the waterfall of benefits it bestows.

It reminds me of the story of Noah and his sons:

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” (Genesis 9:20-25 ESV)

Ham makes a mockery of his father’s apparent flaw despite having not only his biological origin from him, but also his salvation from the catastrophic evil of fallen humanity and God’s destruction thereof with the waters of chaos. Feminists, it would seem, have so thoroughly done the same that they cannot even discern, let alone create beauty.

A similar pattern has occurred in Baptist church culture.  Baptists have so critiqued the “father” of church tradition that they’ve been rejected as a competent voice within Christianity and they have very little stable culture within which to help people follow Jesus from one town to the next. They frequently exist within the same chaos of Ham’s descendants, except without all the explicit idolatry.

 

The Mindset of the Spirit and the Mindset of the Flesh

Since becoming a teacher, I’ve been utterly intrigued by Carol Dweck’s concept of mindset. What’s interested me most is where the idea appears in Scripture. The most obvious part of the Bible is in Romans 8:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.[1]

The more literal translation of “to set the mind on the Spirit” is “the mindset of the Spirit,” or perhaps “the mentality/outlook of the Spirit.” The concept is something like, “the way of managing one’s mind which starts with “setting the mind on the things from the Spirit” from verse six. In other words, it’s the total of beliefs, attitudes, and thought processes that a Christian uses to be transformed by the renewal of the mind (Romans 12:1-2).

But what is this mindset? What are the beliefs, attitudes, and thought processes that Paul means? And beyond that, what are the beliefs, attitudes, and thought processes provided by the Holy Spirit outside of Paul’s immediate reference? I propose a three-step way forward:

  1. Look at what Paul says in Romans pertaining to thoughts, the Spirit, and the flesh/sin.
  2. Look at what Paul says in the rest of his letters.
  3. Look at what the rest of the Bible says that fits the conceptual framework of a mindset that comes from God’s Spirit.
  4. Forth Bonus Step: Look at what nature can tell us about a good mindset from philosophical reflection and scientific experimentation. This would still be, insofar as it was not sinful, a mindset of the Spirit, who was over the face of the deep when nature was created.

Below are some of the contrasts yielded by this approach. Some elements of contrast indicate the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. But others indicate where you might be in the process of having your mind renewed:

Mindset/mentality of the Spirit Mindset/mentality of the Flesh
1.      Regarding God as ultimate reality.

2.      Treating Jesus as the supreme revelation of knowledge about God.

3.      Hearing and doing the commands of Jesus.

4.      Regarding the Bible as a repository of genuine knowledge about God and wisdom for life.

5.      The Abel ethic.

6.      Growth mindset.

7.      God saves you from sin.

8.      You cooperate by faith, hope, and love.

9.      Reverence for divine law.

10.  Creative dominion in the face of chaotic circumstances.

11.  The wise man in Proverbs

1.      Regarding creation as ultimate reality

2.      Treating anything as supreme to Jesus w/respect to revelation.

3. Hearing and ignoring the commands of Jesus.

4.      Ignoring the Bible in your quest for genuine knowledge about God and wisdom for life.

5.      The Cain ethic.

6.      Static mindset.

7.      Something else/nothing saves you.

8.      You either exercise virtue on your own or not at all.

9.      Hostility to divine law.

10.  Resentment, hatred, and retreat in the face of chaotic circumstances.

11.  The fool in Proverbs.

References

[1] Catholic Biblical Association (Great Britain), The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, 1994), Ro 8:5–8.

Sex Laws: Do They Pass the Reality Test?

If you know me, you know I’ve got an anti-authoritarian side. This is temperamental first and only then morphs into ideology. I noticed this about myself in my late teens. Because of that, I typically found myself siding w/libertarian in most areas of political theory. But I knew, even in high school, that pure anarchy wasn’t reasonable because even at the level of neighborhoods, people with short time preferences or low IQs would just live in chaos in a society bereft of deep organizing mythology as is our own. But I’ve never been sure just how far a modern society can or should go with respect to regulating individual morality outside of contracts and violence.

I’ve recently gained insight as I’ve revisiting Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology: The Works of God and reading Camille Paglia’s Vamps and Tramps: New Essays. Paglia is a libertarian, Jenson is a social realist of the sort that, if he tweeted, would be banned from Twitter (I mean, it’s difficult to describe how much “bad talk” Jenson makes…Paglia too, but from a different angle entirely).

Both of books were published around 2000. Here is a quote from each, exemplifying their points of view with respect to sexual law-making:

My libertarian position is that, in the absence of physical violence, sexual conduct cannot and must not be legislated from above, that all intrusion by authority figures into sex is totalitarian. (No Law in the Arena, Paglia)

 

We may get at the matter so: sexuality is the reality test of the law…Where law fails its reality test, it is indeed but a product of dominance…A sexually anarchic society cannot be a free society. For no society can endure mere shapelessness; when the objective foundation of community is systematically violated the society must and will hold itself together by arbitrary force. Nor is this analysis an exercise in theoretical reasoning; it merely points out what is visibly happening in late-twentieth-century Western Societies. (The Works of God, Jenson)

Two authors of above average intelligence see the opposite modes of legal reasoning as necessarily totalitarian!

Interestingly, Paglia revels in the “objective foundation of community” insofar as she sees the masculine and feminine archetypes as the result of evolution and necessary. She even chides the political left for failing to realize that the Christian right is concerned to preserve the inviolability of reproduction as the locus of argument in sexual ethics. She even says that the nuclear family will work (as an enforced social unit) “in a pioneer situation” where everybody is preoccupied w/survival and passing on wisdom to children.

Every emotional fiber of my being tends toward Paglia’s idea as I just prefer to leave people alone and let them do what they will and to be left alone in turn. But the fact of the matter is that the laws on the books tend to have a the psychological effect of translating into assumed moral norms (I suspect that most of OT case law functioned this way in practice). And so having unenforced laws in favor of the traditional family unit, even from a utilitarian, evolutionary standpoint makes sense.

The idea that laws and the philosophical justification behind them need a reality test is absolutely the case and a law that accommodates, promotes, and is based on the reproductive necessities of the species is about as real as it gets.

Brief Reflection on Christianity and Politics

I can think of two main errors made about the relationship between the gospel and politics. Each of them has multiple instantiations:

Over-Absolutizing Politics

In this case, Christians see that the gospel has specific political implications and then associate those implications with the gospel itself. 

Over-Relativizing Politics

In this case, Christians see that the gospel is central and supreme and therefore ignore domains, ideas, and policies not central to the gospel.

Both of these happen on the theological and political right and left. 

I think the relative importance of politics, in comparison to the gospel, does make non-participation necessary for some people (like some had to sell all their possessions in the gospels). Similarly, I think that the fact that there are right and wrong political positions, or at least right or wrong political aims means that Christians, generally, ought to care about politics to love their neighbor and see to the well-being of their children and grandchildren. 

But I think that it is wrong to elevate politics (particularly as understood in American civic life) to the center as a primary matter of discipleship. For instance, one can be a Christian with little to no understanding of what the Old Testament is for (see Romans 14). Understanding one’s local political system and how best to maneuver it for maximal flourishing and minimal corruption is a labyrinth far more complicated and far less central to the life of the individual Christian. 

Conservatism Conserves What?

This is an edit of a post from October 21st, 2016
When I was in junior high I learned about conservatives and liberals.
I was really confused about the fact that liberals wanted more rules for business owners and that conservatives wanted to spend more money on war.
A couple of years later, I converted to Christianity and found several conservative political positions to line up with my emerging moral consciousness. But, I also found several of them to abhorrent.
  1. Pro-life made sense. Abortion is the most insane inversion of the order nature I could and can imagine.
  2. I thought prison sentences for most crimes made no sense.
  3. Keeping the government mostly out of the market made sense (though I was skeptical of conservative opposition to minimum wage increases and I thought tariffs made sense)
  4. I also thought that going to war all of the time seemed to be a “liberal” use of money.

My Skepticism Rose

During Bush the Younger’s presidency, I remembered thinking that the privacy intrusions of the intelligence agencies, the quickness with which we went to war with Iraq over 9/11? WMDs? oil? (how and why was that wise?) and the reticence to do anything about abortion showed that conservatives meant [based on observing their actions] neither to conserve human life in general, American lives, nor the constitution.
Now that I’ve realized how little conservatives care to conserve. I tend to think that Republicans don’t actually want to win the pro-life argument at the legal level because then they couldn’t use the platform to get elected.

The Five Stages of Conservative

Ed Feser expertly mocked the conservative way of being in the world here:
  1. Stage 1: “Mark my words: if the extreme left had its way, they’d foist X upon us! These nutjobs must be opposed at all costs.”
  2. Stage 2: “Omigosh, now even thoughtful, mainstream liberals favor X! Fortunately, it’s political suicide.”
  3. Stage 3: “X now exists in 45 out of 50 states. Fellow conservatives, we need to learn how to adjust to this grim new reality.”
  4. Stage 4: “X isn’t so bad, really, when you think about it. And you know, sometimes change is good. Consider slavery…”
  5. Stage 5: “Hey, I was always in favor of X! You must have me confused with a [paleocon, theocon, Bible thumper, etc.]. But everyone knows that mainstream conservatism has nothing to do with those nutjobs…

Stage five describes contemporary conservatives thoroughly.

Christians do this, too.

“Those other Christians are bad, please like me now.”

I think I used to do it, too. Seminary trains you to want approval from non-Christians. Several professors I know are like this.

One of them is so condescending, even to people to whom he used to be a pastor, it’s difficult to imagine that he ever called himself a Christian. Usually hating Christians is the wine of atheists. But his main point is to signal to his academic friends that he’s not like all those low IQ rednecks he used to pastor.

No “Conservative Principles”

Even when conservatives claim to be using logic rather than rhetoric to make arguments against this or that idea or candidate, the same logic is applicable against them. Heck, I’ve heard conservatives rail against the tendency of populist movements to appeal to the poor and if anybody appeals to the poor they should be ignored. But that’s precisely part of Jesus’ appeal in the ancient world. Conservatives, in their effort to get people to see them as “not like those other conservatives” will make up principles they’ve never adopted before. This reminds me of when Publius Decius Mus opined that many of conservatives deep “principled concerns” aren’t even principles:

What, specifically, is good in a political context varies with the times and with circumstance, as does how best to achieve the good in a given context. The good is not tax rates or free trade. Those aren’t even principles. In the American political context, the good is the well-being of the physical America and its people, well-being defined (in terms that reflect both Aristotle and the American Founding) as their “safety and happiness.” That’s what conservatism should be working to conserve.

Examples

Mark Rubio said that he didn’t think conservatives should look at wikileaks materials because it might happen to conservatives one day. In other words, “It’s bad for politicians to be forced into transparency.” No moral principle such as privacy was evoked, but merely interest in power. Heck, it wasn’t even a, “Do unto others…” thing.

Elsewhere, on the Tweeter, Rick Wilson (a goober in love with family values rhetoric) asked Ann Coulter (who never claims to be polite) personal sex questions of a deeply disturbing nature.

In the National Review, Kevin Williamson exuberantly rhapsodized about how people who live in flyover communities deserve to die for no other reason except a “conservative” form of social darwinism which implies that politicians have no obligations toward the well being of their voters. No mention, of course, that it was bad trade deals supported by conservatives which sent their jobs overseas.

I’m Not Conservative

I’m not conservative by any respectably accepted definition. Conservatives, at least public pundits, are not interested in conserving principles, traditions, people, the economy, or the rule of law. They’re more interested in being the irenic but losing opposition to any of the forces bent on dissolving Western Civilization. The idea that sacrificing your view of the truth in response to social pressure is noble is unacceptable to me.

Conserving a theory of human nature

The conservatives in the Anglican church have run into trouble conserving a basic distinction fundamental to the Biblical narrative, having a family, the continuing of the church as a community in history, and the building and maintenance of civilization. The BBC reports that:

The Church of England’s governing body has voted to look into special services for transgender people.

Now, they haven’t voted, as far as I know, to have those services. But they’ve voted to look into it and this is how conservatives end up defending the values of the liberals of twenty years prior every. single. time.

The services, I predict, will be approved. Then they will be used as an excuse to move toward marriage between people with gender dysphoria. After that, sexual libertinism will be the norm. In fact, I predict that the only sexual sin in many mainline Christian churches in 20 years will be the sin of calling divorce a sin.

Carl Trueman rightly complains that:

If human identity is merely a psychological conviction, a social construct, or a personal choice, then those theologies and philosophies and social arrangements predicated upon human nature vanish as the morning mist. Yes, the Church needs to handle with pastoral care and wisdom the victims of the confusion generated by the identity anarchy raging around us. But that does not mean sanctifying the status quo or providing palliative care. To do so is to concede that “human nature” is a mere combination of an adjective and a noun—a couple of words that, one might say, have proved full of sound and fury, but ultimately signify nothing.

The fact of the matter is that human beings have a sexually dimorphic nature that, at the very least, can be discerned by looking at their DNA. In a strange confluence of ideologies, I also predict that it will be the evo-psych scholars and the conservative theologians who will be tasked with ensuring that people even know how sexual reproduction works over the next several decades.