Framing Life

@krell

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

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Debt

The tax bill passed in 2017 reduced tax rates and increased standard deductions for many. Some claim that the primary benefits went to the wealthy, and that moderate-income taxpayers saw little or no reduction in their tax bills. I can't claim to know enough to address this. As well, the economy has seen many favorable positive statistics that are possibly attributable to the effects of the tax bill. Finally, it also seems to be the case that government tax revenues are at record high levels.

Yet, in the midst of this, the government is spending more than it is taking in, and that discrepancy is higher than under any previous administration. Consequently, our national debt is increasing at a higher rate than at any time previously.

President Trump did not create the debt problem our country faces -- it was inherited from multiple previous administrations -- but he aggravated it, thus increasing our speed along the path to financial doom. As in previous administrations, so in this one, no one seems to be able to actually deal with the problem. But the problem won't go away by ignoring it; it will one day have its bite, and the longer we wait, the worse the bite will be.

The President's tax records were released last week and revealed ten years of red ink in his taxes, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised that the same approach is being applied to national governance.

Just today on CNN, hardly a place for financial doom-saying, we find:

https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/11/politics/congress-debt-ceiling/index.html

I'm just one more person worrying about this and don't know if I'll live to see the crisis hit. But hit us it will, at some point, unless major changes are made.

Sources of Authority

It has been a point of surprise for me that Catholic thought and theology seem to rely so heavily on Greek philosophy and metaphysics. A recent article in First Things [November 2018, reference below] lamented the lack of awareness and knowledge of Greek thought in Catholic circles. Aquinas incorporated Aristotelian thought into Catholic thought and thinking in his time, with lasting effect; one can see in Thomistic thought similar inclusions/amalgamations of thinking.

So why is this, I ask as a believing Protestant? A brief conversation with a Catholic friend pointed me to the answer: Catholicism relies on Greek philosophy to interpret the Scriptures, since it appears that the Bible is not clear, and we need help in interpreting it. This is to me, a believing Protestant, very surprising and shocking and puts the Reformation into better context. Is this what 'Sola Scriptura' is targeting? It appears so.

Granted, it is not hard to find things in the Bible that are very unclear if not opaque. But appealing to Greek thought and philosophy doesn't really solve the problem; it just pushes it back one level. Instead of asking how my church, my minister or me myself understand a passage or teaching, we ask how the Church with its Greek foundation understands the passage. Let's be clear that appeals to authority occur as well in Protestant circles. We ask what our ministers, church leaders and seminary professors teach and believe, and we defer to them (or failing that, we start our own denomination or cult).

Creeds serve to control and guide our thinking and believing, and they function to do so in all three branches of Christianity. So it is not that our thinking and believing are totally random and unguided; rather, they are on a trajectory informed by the creeds and church teaching and doctrine. The ancient creeds were formulated in the first 500 years of the church, for the most part, during which time Greek thought and philosophy actively informed the culture. Thus, it is no surprise that the Nicene Creed, for example, contains a careful expression of the divinity of Jesus which incorporates Greek philosophical language. For example, a section reads:

"... God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father."

Shall we discard the Nicene Creed because we no longer think in the terms expressed here? No, they do not nullify the creed or its purpose. The creed was formulated to counter the heresy of Arianism, and it does so by carefully delineating categories and distinctions and doing so in the context of Greek thought. The crucial point is that the categories and distinctions clearly serve to identify the boundaries of truth in the matter. The fact that Greek language and categories are used is not the point, since the same points could have been expressed in any language and culture which possessed the ability to reason and wrestle with the Scripture itself. And that is the point: at some point we come to the Scripture itself, and we ask if it actually says or means anything specific.

The Catholic Church surprisingly seems to affirm the relative opaqueness of Scripture in contrast with Protestant views; hence, the appeal to the authority of Greek thought, transmitted through Church bodies, becomes necessary and sensible. Protestant thought, in contrast, by affirming Sola Scriptura is implicitly affirming that Scripture provides sufficient context for itself to provide meaning and interpretation without appeal to outside authority. No, we do not deny that the documents of Scripture are placed in specific cultural and temporal settings; but nonetheless, we affirm that in that framework it is nonetheless possible to form understandings of what Scripture says.

In other words: Scripture actually says something, and we can know some of what it says. This single point is the most basic reason I am Protestant and not Catholic. Certainly, the matters pertaining to salvation are clear enough to all.

I've had two Catholics friends and acquaintances give the example of abortion, i.e., the Bible doesn't say abortion is wrong. True, not in those words. But the Scripture provides examples which imply or presuppose that the unborn 'fetus' is a human person. Psalm 139 and the incident of John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth's womb when Mary arrives come to mind, but they are not the only ones. The argument simply goes that, if the unborn in Scripture is treated with the attributes of personhood, then they must therefore possess those attributes. Is it literary license of some kind, condescension to primitive social beliefs? No, one would have to argue that by appeal to extra-Scriptural premises.

The very same argument is made for the Trinity itself, namely, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all in various places in Scripture treated with the attributes of Deity. It follows then, most reasonably and naturally, that they must indeed be God, keeping in mind that God is one. The Trinity is forced upon us by inference and deduction from Scripture, and this was understood very early in the Church's history.

The Protestant view of Scripture then is that Scripture is understandable on its own because it is its own context. Not surprisingly then, all discussion and debate about questions of interpretation are ultimately understood to be discussions and debate about context. Once you identify the context of a passage, chapter or book, you most likely have found the meaning or have restricted the set of possible meanings considerably. Similar considerations apply to any document.

The question of Canon becomes relevant then because by determining the bounds of Scripture the Canon determines the context for its interpretation. Michael Kruger is a fine, conservative scholar and has written recently on the topic. Here are two of his books:

*The Question of Canon -- engages and challenges the primary assumptions of critical canon scholarship.

*Christianity at the Crossroads -- looks in some depth at the church in the second century, a century which has not been the focus of much scholarship, compared to subsequent centuries.

The Canon has never been arbitrary in its construction; rather, its contents have been perceived from the beginning for most of the books. This topic is for another post though.


A False Paradigm, Against the de-Hellenization of Christianity, by Michael Hanby
https://www.firstthings.com/article/2018/11/a-false-paradigm

China Persecutes the Uyghurs

The scale and thoroughness of Chinese actions is stunning. Here are a couple of links to recent articles. Makes for gripping reading.

https://www.wired.com/story/inside-chinas-massive-surveillance-operation/
https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/09/asia/xinjiang-china-kazakhstan-detention-intl/index.html

Ghost Ship Trial Begins

This trial began today Tuesday April 30 at Alameda County Courthouse in Oakland.

I use a few online sources down there for information (but there are many I don't know about).

https://abc7news.com/east-bay/
https://www.sfchronicle.com/
https://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/

Notes for a Student

This was written on the occasion of my daughter's admission to graduate school at a major state university.


NOTES

The terms 'liberal' and 'left' are not interchangeable. 'Liberal' is an old-school term denoting a school of thought on one end of the political spectrum, with 'conservative' on the other end. In this old framework, you could say what you thought and so could the other guy. You could disagree vehemently, but you could also "agree to disagree".

The Left, however, does not tolerate dissent. Conservative speakers are increasingly not tolerated on college campuses, simply because of their message. They can be shouted down or intimidated in various ways to silence and suppress the expression of their views. This behavior goes against a crucial pillar of American democracy, namely, freedom of speech. But the Left doesn't care.

Why don't they care, you ask? I think the basic reason is that their ideological framework has changed. Society has always had a division between those in power and those not, and there has been continuous tension between the legitimate and illegitimate use of power, the use of power of oppress vs its use to provide order and suppress wrongdoing. A person was understood to have an identity which was individual and not purely dictated by membership in a class or subgroup of society. There was also a notion of truth, in which differences could be discussed and adjudicated.

What has changed is that the Left understands social dynamics primarily in terms of power, and one's identity is based almost completely in one's membership in various groups. Certain groups in society have power, and they wield it over those without power. You are an 'oppressor' or 'oppressed', and there seem to be no intermediate categories. Oppression can come in multiple, intersecting forms via discrimination; for example, a female black lesbian is triply discriminated against, by being a woman, black and a lesbian. This understanding of the compounding of discrimination is called 'intersectionality', and it appears that a person is completely defined by this. The great task of society then is to bring down the oppressors, which, by the way, are white straight males.

It is one thing to be against injustice and seek to help the oppressed, but quite another to adopt an ideology which demonizes those in power or those who have benefited from those in power. It is perpetual class warfare. When the oppressed get power, will they not oppress their oppressors? I'm sure of it, based on history. One big irony in all this is that, if it is all about power, then it really doesn't matter which side you pick. You might as well be an oppressor. There is an implicit appeal to a notion of justice, that injustice and oppression must be stopped; yet that notion of justice is pulled from thin air or, heaven help us, from religion.

Sexuality and gender both play into this as well. To make it all work, it is crucial to add another premise. The premise is that gender is a social construct and is independent of biological sex. On the one hand, males and females exist in a continuum, and some distinctions really are rigid and wrongly stereotypical. On the other hand, humanity is bimodal in a statistical sense (there are two humps in the distribution, not one). This point is strongly denied by today's society. If you completely decouple sex and gender, then it makes complete sense to demand that someone address you as a woman if you perceive your gender as such, but are biologically male. The thing is that you can't fully decouple them.

My best example and metaphor for why I believe this uses the idea of hardware and software in a computer. A computer's software determines the behavior of the computer, but is constrained to work within the limits of the computer's hardware. You can program a computer to do anything at all that the hardware will allow, but there are some things the hardware will not allow. Similarly, you can change behavior or dress and take hormones and mutilate your body, but you will not have changed your DNA, which will strive relentlessly to express itself in various ways consistent with your sex. The machine at base retains its hardwiring. To say these things openly at a university these days however is blasphemy, by the way.

The ideology I've been outlining functions very much like a religion for its adherents. It presents quite a complete, comprehensive worldview along with plans of action to advance it. This, I believe, is the basic reason the Left doesn't tolerate dissent: simply, other views violate their (new) religion. The new religion seeks to banish "binary" thought, and this is seen particularly in the question of gender/sex, where one sees a profusion of sexual identities, with the result that the basic male-female 'binary' sexual distinction is swept away. This is a major step away from Christianity. For, in Christianity, the binary sexual nature of humanity is instituted by God at Creation, and God Himself is the ultimate binary with respect to His creatures; that is, God and what is not God are eternally and ultimately distinct. This makes Christianity an undesirable and highly negative religion for today's world.

In the book of Acts, the Council at Jerusalem is described. This council concluded that non-Jews did not have to adopt Jewish laws or customs to be Christian and added only the request to "remember the poor". The care of the poor and needy was an established part of the early church and contributed greatly to the spread of the church. In today's evangelical church, in my experience, the poor are not well remembered, and this is a valid criticism of the church. The Anglican church does better in this, by the way. Similarly, the church has at times kept women from legitimate roles and contributions, and we should seek to recognize and rectify this. Yet, this is not the same as opening all roles to women, though some will dispute that. So, we can admit the faults and shortcomings of the church without buying into the monistic trap of the non-binary advocates, and we can seek to do better in helping the poor and needy but without buying into the framework of intersectionality.