October 07, 2019

On plant confessions and "non-human persons"

Rod Dreher is my favourite apostate. And, if he happened to lift my title for a recent blog post about Union Seminary holding a plant confession in chapel, then I'm also flattered. (It also could very well be that in my quest to write original post titles, what I find terribly witty is really just blindingly obvious.)

The "cockamamie piece" in Sojourners that Dreher is reviewing, by Cláudio Carvalhaes, raises a good question:

When we confess to plants, to forests, to each tree, every meadow, to birds, fish, rocks, animals, rivers, and mountains, we repent, mourn and reconnect ourselves to a much larger web of life, made of people, animals, creatures, and ecosystems that we have lost, taken away from our common home.

This understanding demands a reinterpretation of democracy. When are we going to consider the seeds and the panther and the zebras and the cows and horses as part of our democracy?

[Why I Created a Chapel Service Where People Confess to Plants]

By "good question," I mean apropos. In fact, it's kind of a stupid question. Seeds and cows are not capable of participating in democracy; everybody knows that. At best, we would have a sort of benevolent hegemony where we humans decide what's best for the ficus plants and wombats, and lord it over them with or without their consent.

I say the question is apropos because not long before I ran into Dreher's post, my roommate and I were perusing the list of registered political parties in Canada, in anticipation of the upcoming national election. At the top of the (alphabetical) list was the Animal Protection Party of Canada. The APPC claims to be "Canada’s only true multi-issue party because we are inclusive of all species. We cannot talk about any societal structure without including all affected by public policy." Their platform includes amending the Criminal Code to recognize animals as "non-human persons." What the author of the Sojourners article wants to do in church, the APPC wants to do in government. Fortunately, with (by my count) only 17 candidates running, the APPC is as unelectable as any other single-issue fringe party.

None of which is to say I don't care for the earth or its animals. Care for creation is perhaps the one place in my politics where I would tend to the left rather than the right. I think climate change due to the combustion of fossil fuels is a real thing. I regard it as a problem that should be solved, though, rather than a portent of impending doom. The Chicken Little-ism that says we have only 10 years before irreversible damage is done, on the other hand, is laughable. (It's always 10 years until Climate Armageddon, and has been for decades.) We should be listening to climate scientists, not pundits, politicians, and adolescents, even though they don't look as cute berating the United Nations.

I didn't come by my views by listening to Al Gore, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, or Greta Thunberg; I got them from Francis Schaeffer, whose book Pollution and the Death of Man1 rightly says the things in the natural world have intrinsic value and are worthy of our respect, because God made them and put them there. Our relationship to the world is expressed in the creation mandate: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). We are not merely one species amongst the many that populate this planet, nor are we its masters, having the right to "conquer" and exploit nature's resources as we please. God is the earth's master; we are his caretakers, entrusted to cultivate the earth. If our lax environmental policies cause the extinction of, say, the rhinoceros, then to that extent we have failed as caretakers. On the other hand, if the radical policies of groups like the APPC are put into effect and cause the rhinoceroses to flourish but humanity to go extinct, we have also failed. If I ever have children, I want to leave them a world in better condition than I found it. If we have environmental sins to confess, it is to God, who entrusted us with his creation to care for it. We won't get absolution from the plants.

Footnotes

1 Francis A. Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1970). I own the 1992 Crossway edition, with an added concluding chapter by Udo Middelmann.

October 02, 2019

It's October . . . Please resume normal reading

I always love Science Fiction Free September. Not only do I get to read some great books I wouldn't otherwise consider, but it's a great time to see exactly how much of a failure I am at this.

For example, when I started this month, I intended to read through Andrew Roberts' history of World War II, The Storm of War. Granted, it's a longer book at 700+ pages. But I've read longer, in less time. Granted, the public library has lost or removed its copy. But I found another.

So, how far did I actually get?

About 30 pages.

Heck, the Battle of Britain hasn't even started yet.

Given that I started the book about two weeks into September, that works out to an average of two pages a day. Worst SFFS showing ever.

Still, it's a good read, and I'm looking forward to finishing it. I might even get a good run at it by the end of the weekend.

September 25, 2019

The Law of Indistinct Induction

There's a kind of bad argument you see a lot from Fundamentalists trying to defend their extrabiblical holiness standards (KJV-onlyism, no CCM, no women wearing pants, etc.). It crops up so often, I figured it had to be part of some secret fundamentalist creed that I was not allowed access to. Some years ago, I formalized this article of faith like this:

If one Christian approves of a behaviour about which the Bible is silent or ambiguous, but which another, Fundamentalist Christian disapproves of, it is not a mere difference of opinion. Rather, the Fundamentalist shall infer that it is a tacit admission that the first Christian knows the behaviour is sinful, and furthermore, he secretly desires to commit even greater sins.

The shorter Shorter Catechism could put it thusly:

If a Christian has less strict standards than a Fundamentalist, that is the same as having no standards at all.

When I came up with this article circa 2012-13, I put it to the regulars at a now-defunct incarnation of the Fighting Fundamental Forums to give it a name. Ultimately, the suggestion that won out was The Law of Indistinct Induction.

Some practical examples (that I have actually seen):

  • If you don't accept that the King James Bible alone is God's word for English-speaking people, you will accept anything as God's word: not only the NIV, but the New World Translation used by the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Book of Mormon, the Quran, Playboy, and comic books. (Yes, all of those have been suggested to me at some time as the only logical consequence of rejecting KJV-onlyism.)
  • If you believe it is permissible for a Christian to have a glass of wine, then you must believe it is permissible for a Christian to get falling-down drunk, or even to use marijuana or harder drugs.
  • If you would wear a swimsuit at the beach, what is stopping you from wearing it to work or to church?
  • If you prefer not to wear a necktie to church, you would probably be happy coming naked if you had the chance. (The prospect of nude or nearly nude churchgoers seems to preoccupy them, for some reason.)

It's bad theology on multiple counts. As a transparent my-way-or-the-highway assertion, it's a textbook example of a false dichotomy. To my mind, it's a variation on the Fundamentalist mindset that all biblical doctrines are equally important: if a moral standard can be reasoned (or even reasonably inferred) from the Scriptures, it must be defended with all the fervour of St. Nicholas defending the Trinity at the Council of Nicaea by slugging Arius. There's no acknowledgement that the Bible may permit a certain amount of latitude for practices where it is not entirely clear—or even those where it is clear, such as permitting someone to decide for himself whether to drink wine.

This isn't really apropos of anything. To be honest, I can just never remember "The Law of Indistinct Induction," but it's such a common bad argument, I wanted to put it somewhere that was easily found.

September 19, 2019

Bless me, Ficus, for I have sinned

So this happened on Tuesday:

I must admit, I don't confess to plants. I do, however, confide in them. I told an aloe vera yesterday, when I read this tweet, that I thought "progressive Christians" weren't quite right in the head.

When St. Paul wrote:

although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Rom. 1:21-25)

he had pagans and idolators in mind. I don't know whether he would have foreseen that a major Christian theological seminary would have followed in their footsteps. Union Seminary began life as a Presbyterian institution, then a non-denominational one, and now its mission is "training people of all faiths and none who are called to the work of social justice in the world. . . . Union actively reforms itself in response to the changing needs of the world and an evolving understanding of what it means to be faithful."

Put another way, Union Theological Seminary has abandoned the seminary's mission of training ministers of the Gospel in theology, and now conforms itself to whatever worldly thinking represents the spirit of the current age. The insanity of turning away from God and turning to earthly idols has taken many forms. Today, it means confessing to plants, which do not hear, cannot understand, do not care about, and will not grant absolution for, your sins. Only God can do that, and he is not in need of plants to do his work for him.

September 13, 2019

And now . . . this - September 13, 2019

"We heard a loud crash and came out to see that a moose had smashed through the glass door. It was shaking itself off in the foyer and then calmly proceeded to walk down the hallway towards the boardroom." . . .

"It just sort of walked around the boardroom, into it in fact, entered a couple of offices," he said. "It was either curious or disorientated, we’re not sure."

[Full Story]

I, for one, welcome our new cervine administrators.

September 12, 2019

Pete Buttigieg tries to define when life begins

Last week, South Bend, Indiana mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg said on a radio talk show that he supported abortion on demand right up to birth.

In a September 6 interview on The Breakfast Club, Buttigieg told host Charlamagne Tha God: "There’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath."

A lot? Not really.

Do a search on the words "life" and "breath" (and derivations) on BibleGateway, and you come up with 15 verses. (I used the English Standard Version; other English translations may produce somewhat different results.) Of these, the majority use breath as a figure of speech representing life itself: for example, "Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life [i.e. that was alive] died" (Gen. 7:22). "Breath" also represents the shortness of one's life (e.g. Job 7:7), or the end of it (e.g. Ishmael, who "breathed his last and died" in Gen. 25:17). So we can dismiss these verses, as they neither prove nor disprove when human life begins.

That leaves us with three passages using the word "life" and "breath" that we can infer associate the beginning of life with the first breath.

In Genesis 2:7, "the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." Of course, "the man" is not all men: specifically, it refers to Adam, the first man. He was made, not born: God fashioned him out of inanimate matter and breathed life into him. So Adam is a special case; his origin story is not typical of all human beings. We wouldn't argue that all women are made out of a man's ribs, just because Eve was made from one of Adam's, would we?

Perhaps Job 33:4 is more helpful to Buttigieg's argument. Elihu, Job's friend, says to him: "The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life." Here, at least, Elihu is a normal man, not the prototype of the human race. But note what he tells Job only a moment later: "I am toward God as you are; I too was pinched off from a piece of clay" (33:6). Neither Job nor Elihu were actually fashioned from clay. He is speaking poetically, not literally, about their common descent from Adam. So it's safe to say verse 4 is also figurative. This passage does Buttigieg no good, either.

We're left with Revelaton 11:11: "After the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet." These are the two witnesses that prophesy to the world before the Beast kills them. Then, three and a half days later, they are miraculously resuscitated and raised into heaven. Revelation is a book of apocalyptic literature, meaning it couches its message in symbolism and metaphor. The whole book is, in fact, a supernatural vision, not something that has literally occurred in the real world. It is not a good idea to establish a firm point of doctrine based on this passage. Plus, like Adam, the two witnesses are a special case, not the norm.

I have seen one other passage used by the Left, for example on the Christian Left blog, in defense of the assertion that life begins with the first breath:

I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army."

However, like the passage in Revelation, this one proves nothing. First, it's a vision: an image Ezekiel was shown that represented the restoration of the nation of Israel following its exile by the Assyrians around 722 BC. Second, even assuming for the sake of argument that these bones had real existence, then again, they were miraculously brought back to life. This is another special case, not the typical birth of ordinary human beings.

Buttigieg, who identifies himself as an Episcopalian, has gone to heroic lengths to rationalize his positions as the only acceptable option for professing Christians. All he does is betray the terrible theological foundations of so-called "progressive Christianity." His exegesis of the Bible is execrable. Worse, it's cynical. He seems to think that Christians are stupid and gullible, and all it takes to "guilt" them into line is to quote a verse or two from the Bible.

The Democratic Party has, for some reason, been labeled the "party of science" over and against, supposedly, the Bible-thumping, climate change-denying, women's healthcare-defunding Republicans. Science tells us when human life begins: a new, genetically distinct human being comes into being at conception. The unborn human organism is undoubtedly alive: it is organizes, adapts to its environment, grows and develops, consumes nutrients, and so forth. And it is incontrovertably human, because it has human DNA inherited from human parents. Why won't Pete Buttigieg and the Party of Science defend life based on scientific definitions? Because i's not about science, but politics. The Leftist political dogma of "reproductive justice"—a euphemism for abortion, which is neither reproductive nor just—trumps objective truth. Simple as that.

September 10, 2019

And now . . . this - Sept. 10/19

Just seen on Twitter:

The baby penguin also announced that its preferred gender pronouns are "honk" and "squawk."

I'm pretty sure this is not how penguins work. Human beings can choose one of 57 varieties of gender. That's because certain human beings are of below-average intelligence, and believe "gender" is an actual thing that can be chosen by oneself. As stupid as those people are, penguins are birds, and even stupider. They don't even have a concept of gender assignment. There are male penguins and female penguins, and a quick inspection by a qualified and competent zookeeper could determine which it is. (As the youth of today say, I don't make the rules.)

September 09, 2019

Every now and then I get a little bit terrified

A lightning review of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (New York: Viking, 1959). Ebook.

I'm not a huge reader of horror fiction (Stephen King, of whom I am a devoted fan, being an exception). Occasionally, though, I like a good thriller, and I thought I'd try out a classic ghost story.

Dr. John Montague has heard that Hill House, an isolated mansion with a history of violent deaths, is haunted. Wanting scientific proof of the supernatural, he rents the house and invites a small party of people, who have had some past paranormal experience, to live with him for a summer: Luke Sanderson, the heir to the house, Theodora, a free spirit, and Eleanor Vance, a shy recluse who has lived practially alone caring for her invalid mother. Within only a few days, they begin to experience strange events: mysterious noises, ghost sightings, and writing on the wall. Eleanor herself seems to be particularly targeted by the manifestations. The ghosts, if they exist, appear to be making a specific effort to communicate with her, and the house itself may be trying to possess her.

The Haunting of Hill House is a classic of horror fiction. It's very similar to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, the 1898 gothic novel in which a governess becomes convinced her employer's house is haunted. You're never quite sure whether the haunting is real, psychological, or even some sort of self-inflicted psychic phenomenon. I enjoyed reading the novel well enough, but found myself dissatisfied with the suspensefulness. To be fair, the novel is 60 years old, and what was relatively fresh in 1959 can almost be considered a cliché in 2019. Nonetheless, the story is good, Shirley Jackson's prose is a pleasure to read, and the ending did catch me by surprise.

I was prompted to read this novel by the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, which is loosely based on it. (Apparently the second season will be based on The Turn of the Screw.) So if you like that TV show and want to read the (considerably different) story that inspired it, give it a read. Best of all, if you're in Canada, it's been in the public domain for a few years, and is freely downloadable!

In other news: It appears that the local library no longer has The Storm of War in its catalogue. That's aggravating. Oh, well, on to Plato, I guess.

September 08, 2019

Science Fiction-Free September XV1

Been a while. When I said I would be updating this blog more frequently, I didn't mean every nine months as opposed to every two years. Nonetheless, there's the letter of the law and there's the spirit . . .

It's September, albeit a quarter of the way through. That means it's again time for Science Fiction-Free September, in which I place a temporary moratorium on reading science-fiction novels, my preferred genre, and generally stretch my boundaries a little bit by reading something I wouldn't normally pick up. Over the past few years, though I haven't blogged about it, I've still held to it, if only by the technicality of happening to be reading something else at the time. Again, there's the letter of the law.

The particular challenge this year is that as part of my planned reading, I'm going through all the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novels chronologically, starting in 1953 with Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man and most recently wrapping up with 1969's Hugo winner, Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. It so happens that the next book on my to-read list is Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin, the 1969 Nebula winner. Alas for Mr. Panshin, it is not to be.

Let me say in passing, and by way of closing off discussion of SF for the remainder of September: Three of the last five SF novels I've read were boring. The late 60s were, apparently. not good years for science fiction. Well, at least after Panshin comes selections by le Guin, Niven, Farmer, Clarke, and Asimov, so for a time I'll be in familiar territory.)

This month, after wrapping up my current book—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which is nearly finished and quite short—I plan on tackling something on my backlog: The Storm of War, a 2011 history of World War II by Andrew Roberts. This is a book that's been on my planned list for years. (In fact, if, heaven forbid, you've been paying attention to the sidebar on this oh-so-active blog, you'd have seen it listed as "In Progress," practically for ever, until I decided a book I had returned to the library and never borrowed again for two or three years was not, in any meaningful sense, in progress.) Assuming 700+ pages aren't enough to keep me occupied till October, I'll probably read something by an author I've never read before, to be determined later. (Update: I've settled on Allan Bloom's venerable translation of Plato's Republic.)

And at least I'm posting something rather than nothing. That's also a good start to the month.

Footnotes

1Well, let's call it that, since I've been doing this since 2004 anyway.

December 18, 2018

So . . .

-

I just happened to notice that while I've been keeping the reading log on the sidebar up-to-date, more or less, I haven't been too bothered of late to write anything here.

Of course, there was never a conscious decision to give up blogging. Other things just got in the way. In the 18 months and change since my last post, I've returned to school and since graduated with a two-year diploma in computer programming. So I've written hundreds of lines of Java and Python code, if not thousands, but not a line of English for this blog.

In the meantime, since my last post on this blog, I've also discovered the serenity Minecraft. So I've recreationally and virtually laid tens of thousands of blocks of dirt and stone constructing Asian-themed buildings, but not a single block of text for the Crusty Curmudgeon.

Of course, I remain ever hopeful that my personal recreational life will return to its old normal in the new year. I can't promise new posts every day like when the blog was at its peak, but I can probably promise something. Maybe jump-starting Saturday Superman or my lightning book reviews will be the tonic I need. We'll see. Until next time.