Friday, July 4, 2014

I Don't Get It: Understanding Legal Stuff in the News

Understanding articles concerning legal issues are usually more challenging for me to understand than other articles one normally finds in a newspaper.  I came across a paragraph in the Wall Street Journal today which discusses the Freedom From Religion Foundation's desire to repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  In the paragraph, the author (James Taranto) of the article is responding to critics of the Supreme Court's decision a few days ago concerning the HHS Mandate and the use of contraceptives in the Hobby Lobby case.  Critics of the decision cry foul, noting that the logical outworking of this case will mean that, for example, Christian Scientists can now refuse psychological help to employees on the grounds of preserving conscience due to religious dogma.  Other examples would be refusing blood transfusions by Jehovah's Witness employers to their own employees, and so on.  The response to this criticism draws an important and distinctive line in what actually transpired in the Supreme Court's decision:
But the line the court drew wasn't between which mandates are subject to challenge under RFRA and which are not, only between the mandate at issue in this case and those that are not. It made a decision about the former and left the latter to be decided later if (and only if) someone raises such claims.
 Maybe you see why I had to stop, collaborate, and listen.  This paragraph is the most important one in the entire article, because it breaks down what the decision of the Court is all about.  If we can clarify this issue, we can settle the score once and for all.  Time for some exegesis.

First clause: "[those] mandates subject to challenge under RFRA and [those] which are not"

Second clause:  "the mandate at issue in this case and those [mandates which] are not."

The confusion for me in this text was understanding the actual line the court was drawing.  What is meant by "which mandates are subject to challenge under RFRA and which are not," as opposed to "the mandate at issue in this case and those that are not"?  This is the first key to understanding the paragraph--the concept of opposition.  We can then separate the two clauses from one another and set them as antipodal ideas.  Taranto says the First clause is not the subject of the Court in this decision, but that the Second clause is.  It will be helpful to unpack these clauses.  

 The first clause contains a plural, "mandates," while the second clause contains only one, a singular: "mandate."  In the case of the first clause, critics of the Court's decision are concerned with many different types of benefits one might receive from their health care plan, and they are drawing a "slippery slope" argument warning that if the Court allows for this decision in the Hobby Lobby case, then all kinds of companies and corporations can restrict health care to people based upon (possibly) arbitrary, dogmatic appeals grounded in religious beliefs and appeals to conscience.  In other words, the worry is that the Court had a long list of possible health care claims and decided which ones were subject to challenge under RFRA and which ones were not, e.g. blood transfusions are in, abortifacients are out, psychological aid for anxiety is in, but challenges from addition to pain killers are out.  There are therefore two possible scenarios the author is drawing for the reader.  First, there is the misunderstood scenario of the Court's decision, and second, there is the actual case of the Court's decision.  In the first case, when Taranto says "the line wasn't between which mandates are subject to challenge under RFRA and which are not," he means to say that we should not imagine the the Court was taking in a whole host of possible health care claims and separating the wheat from the chaff (the "ins" and the "outs").  No.  This wasn't a "macro" decision about all cases en toto.   This is not what the Court was deciding. 

The paragraph we're decoding contrasts this plurality of benefits with a singular--and specific--benefit (abortifacients).  Therefore, the line the Court is drawing is understood not as a general rule, axiom, or "in and out list" to be used against employees by their employers; rather, it is drawing a line on a particular, individual case (abortifacients) in terms of what the government can mandate a company to provide.  The Court therefore drew a distinction between general coverage as a general rule, and particular coverage for a specific benefit, and it argued and made a decision on the case of the latter, not the former.   

Second clause:  "the mandate at issue in this case and those [mandates which] are not."

I think what confused me in this paragraph was the double use of "are not."  "Which are not"..."those that are not."  What's the distinction drawn here, in this case?  It is the use of the negative that clarifies the argument by showing us what things are not subject to challenge by an appeal to RFRA.  It's helpful, ironically, if we go back to the laundry list of health care benefits.  In our case study, we have a corporation that takes a look at the many benefits and objects to one of those benefits (abortifacients).  What is not happening is a corporation looking at the whole of the list and objecting to the entity that is the list.  (That's a whole different issue that deals with the government's role in providing health care, socialism and free market relationships, etc.).  The corporation is looking at the list and saying it objects to one of the items on that list, and the reason for the objection is conscience rooted in religious beliefs.  Taranto clarifies for us when he writes, "It [the Court] made a decision about the former and left the latter to be decided later if (and only if) someone raises such claims."  By speaking about "former and latter," Taranto means the second clause coming after "only," because this is indeed the clause that describes what the Court actually did decide upon.  

Reworded for clarification: But the line the court drew was...between...the mandate at issue in this case and those [mandates subject to challenge under RFRA] that are not [subject to such challenge].  

Simplified: But the line the court drew was between the mandate at issue in this case--which is subject to challenge under RFRA--and mandates that are not.

We can see then, that the use of "those that are not" in the second clause leaves open the issue of future claims in health care benefits mandated by the government, where corporations must provide them to employees, or else pay the penalty which comes from committing a crime.  (That should scare you, that the government should be that big).  The Court therefore drew a line between the mandate at issue (abortifacients) and those issues that are not subject to challenge under the RFRA.  What would examples of issues not subject to challenge under RFRA be?  Well, whatever those issues are, abortifacients are included as issues which are indeed able to be submitted in a court of law, through the aid of RFRA, in order to relieve the conscience and freedom of corporations that do not feel comfortable providing such benefits to employees.  Abortifacients therefore, are not included as mandates not subject to challenge under RFRA.  Stated positively, abortifacients are included as benefits subject to challenge under RFRA; the government cannot force corporations to provide these benefits to employees under HHS.   And that is all that was decided by the Court.  

Some very important questions remain for Americas seeking liberty and freedom of conscience, while they also seek the common good: if there are future cases where HHS and RFRA are at loggerheads, how will the Court decide upon those future decisions?  What does the Hobby Lobby case mean for future corporations' objections to certain health benefits to employees where the employer objects to the benefit based upon religion and conscience?  A further question is this: what does this whole scenario say about the Government getting involved in health care as it pertains to corporations' rights to run their own businesses according to their conscience?  


Read the WJS artilce here;

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Doe God Love Me as Much as I Love My Children?

Today, I took my three daughters to our neighbor's pool, and my youngest one, Skylar, swam to me in her little, pink, life vest.  She swam right into my arms.  I stood there with open arms waiting to receive her into mine, and after her sputtering kicks and squinted eyes brought her little body into my chest, I wrapped my arms around her in deep love and affection, and planted a big, wet, kiss on her scrunched up cheek.  Right at that very moment, it made me think of the day when I will meet my Heavenly Father face to face, and fall into His arms, and how wonderful it will be to have His deep love gaze upon me in delight.  Immediately, I started to weep at the thought of God Himself delighting in me, and how I long for that day when He will wrap His arms around me, and not me only, but around my daughters, my wife, and all who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.

A question came to me, "Does God love me as much as I love my daughters?"  I delight in my daughters, and love them so deeply.  Nothing pleases me more than to hold them in my arms, hug and kiss them, and tell them I love them.  They always return in kind.  God is love, the Bible says (1 John 4:8).  God delights in His people (Psalm 149:4).  We have a heavenly Father who loves us, who cares for us, and who value us, Jesus says (Matthew 6:26).  Why is this so hard to accept?  For many of us, this is an impenetrable wall: Jesus love me, most assuredly--but the Father?  "The Father Himself loves you," Jesus says, (John 16:27).  We can try to reconcile the warnings Jesus gives in Matthew about the Father's withholding forgiveness to those who refuse to forgive (Matthew 6:15) with this message of love, but suffice it to say, that this love of the Father comes to those who've entrusted themselves the Father's Son, and those who do this receive the Holy Spirit, sent by the Son, and they do indeed live lives of forgiveness, out of sheer thankfulness and a new heart.  The doctrine of perseverance needs remembrance here, but let's get back to the brass tacks: Does God love me as much as I love my daughters, or as much as you love your own children or loved ones?  Why am I even asking this question?  Isn't it obvious?

Of course He loves us that much--and more.  God is love, and the depths of His love are deeper than the sea.  (I'm avoiding philosophical language here.  "Infinite," though highly suggestive, is a negative term and an abstraction).  "Deeper than the sea" or "higher the the highest heavens" helps because of the picture it draws.  Paul the Apostle does draw from the tools of philosophy though, when he writes, "may [you] be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God," (Ephesians 3:18-19).  He says something similar in Philippians 1:8: "For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus."  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, love and delight in us, and long for us with deep affection.  The fact that we have affection for our family and friends shows us that this love comes from God.

There is a crisis of the human heart, and for many (including me), it is most difficult to truly believe from the depths of our being, that God delights in us.  Can you say that?  "God delights in me."  Can I?  I must say it.  I must say it, and I must believe it.  And yet, I find it very difficult to say, to believe, and fully grasp in the depths of my soul.  How about you?  Do you have this trouble as well?  How well do you take the notion that your Heavenly Father delights in you?  When your child swims into your welcoming arms, do you also think of God's love for you, only magnified like the sun is to a flicker of light?  Are you able to rest in His arms today?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

As Long as You Don't Hurt Anyone

The myth that you can do anything you want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone has such momentum, that it seems as if it will never die.  This "rule" has been applied especially to sexual activity (I mean, what else is there to live for, after all?), and it has been applied across the board.  The only caveat among the remaining bit of sanity in our culture is that whatever sexual perversion someone wants to engage in, it should be with a consenting adult.  Never mind where such a moral law comes from, or why someone should obey it, and neither in the least do people have any clue as how to define an "adult."  Is it when a boy is able to sire a child (12-14)?  Is it when a girl is able to carry a child in the womb (12-14- or earlier is she eats a lot of chicken raised with hormones)?  Is it when they can drive (16), or vote (18), or kill the enemy in battle (18), or when they can order an alcoholic drink (21)?  Or, is it when they graduate college, or even later - when they are off their parents' health insurance (26)?  Well, never mind those terrible details of what it means to "be" a man or a woman; we should just accept the First Great Commandment that "two (or more) consenting adults should be able to do what they want in the bedroom as long as they don't hurt anyone."  And the Second is Like Unto It: "You shall not judge them for doing so."  These are the two great commandments of our culture today.

But it doesn't really work that way, does it?  People don't like being used.  There's a lot of emotional baggage, and yes, deep damage to a person's inner self after consenting to Person A, Person B, Person C, and so on, ad infinitum.  Like tearing of a bit of paper from a sheet, each time two people consent to "casual" sex, one tiny tear comes off that paper, and then another, and then another, until all that is left is a tiny little ripped piece, alone and scattered, lying in the drifting tatters like the rest.  Numbness sets in, and when someone's "true love" finally arrives, it's too strenuous to create that emotional bond that will last forever.  Maybe this relationship will work; but then again, maybe it won't.  Maybe relationships aren't meant to work, after all, you say.  "Do whatever you want as long as you don't hurt anyone."  How's that working so far? 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Can I Be Both Classical and Presuppositional? A Possible Fusion of Apologetic Method

Can a person be both classical and presuppositional (covenantal) in apologetic method?  Apologetic method is something I think about quite often, and the reason for that is because first of all, I want to honor the Lord in the way I communicate the truth about His world to people, and I want to honor Scripture.  Scripture says Jesus Christ has superiority in all things. "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent," (Colossians 1:18).  Presuppositionalists tell us that this text requires that Christ be first in order of knowing (epistemology) as well as being (metaphysics).  Classical apologists, following Thomas Aquinas, who followed Aristotle's metaphysics, say God is first in being, but not in knowing. 

I've been reading Ed Feser's "The Last Superstition," and it's been eye-opening.  Feser is an Aristotelian Thomist philosopher, who argues forcibly that Aristotle's realism and causality still stand, despite David Hume's best attempts to deny them.  I'm so impressed with this book about realism that I can hardly contain myself.  This isn't just philosophizing, either.  Feser argues that realism enables us to have certainty about things like sexual ethics, abortion, and euthanasia.  My Thomist friends (and professors at Southern Evangelical Seminary) have told me time and again about "self-evidential truths" such as the laws of logic, universals, and the like, and now I'm seeing that these are undeniable.  It has been reading Feser's account of realism that has blown my mind.  Heraclitus and Parmenides couldn't agree on change, and the other pre-Socratics couldn't figure out the "essence" of things as they witnessed the grueling attempt to fuse together the universals and particulars seen in the world.  Plato comes by with the Forms, but didn't really solve the problem.  Instead, Aristotle solves it by giving an account of universals & particularity (the problem of the one and the many), and change by his ruminations about substance, accidents (accidens), and .  Read Feser's book, because I don't have time to lay out Aristotle's metaphysics on this post.  If you're interested in apologetics - get Feser's book!  That is all. 

Thomists agree with Aristotle's metaphysics about self-evidential truths, some of which are laid out in Feser's book.  They are: 
1) The "one over many": universals like triangularity, redness and humanness, exist and a) are not reducible to any particular thing (such as the aforementioned), and b) would exist, even if there were no human mind available to comprehend them, and c) are immaterial things, and hence disprove materialism (that only matter exists).
2) Geometry: geometrical objects are necessary, not contingent.
3) Mathematics in general: mathematical truths are necessary (not contingent) and exist outside the human mind.  In fact, if mathematical truths are indeed located in the human mind, all is relative.  But it is self-evident that they are not located in the human mind, as 2+2 = 4 is true and is always true despite the fact that the human brain changes over time.  Sally's brain when she was 5 years old is different than Sally's brain when she is 55.  Her brain has grown, replicated new cells, and yet 2+2 = 4 despite that.  (An argument for personhood is available here, too, as Sally is Sally even though her body has changed).
4) The nature of propositions: like mathematical truths, propositional statements cannot be identified with either the material or the mental.  That is, they aren't physical things only, and neither do they exist only in the mind.  For example, Feser writes, "[T]he proposition 'There is neither a material world nor any human mind' would have been true, in which case it would not be something material or mental."
5) Science: scientific laws and classifications make reference to universals, inasmuch as they make use of mathematical truths as well (#3).  The classification "bear" is a universal category of "bearness" intrinsic to bears.  Science therefore makes use of universals "forms" of which Plato conceived, and of which Aristotle clarified.  
6) Vicious regress problem of "resemblance."  Red fire trucks resemble red stop sides due to their common ally in holding the color red.  Since the two things resemble each other, "resemblance" itself is a universal.
7) Universality of words: "Red" uttered by you, me, and Socrates, means the word itself applies to many things shows that there is something in common between those things of which we have denoted their being red.  Words in such a case are hence used as universals.
8) Objectivity of concepts and knowledge: Feser notes that when you and I both think of the Pythagorean theorem, we are both thinking of the one and the same truth, and that this truth is something that exists independent of the human mind.  
9) The possibility of communication: arguing against "conceptualism," the idea that concept exist merely in the human mind, Feser aptly points out the absurdity of the fact that if true, then communication would be impossible.  If you say "snow is white" and I say "snow is white" and these propositions both exist independently and (simultaneously) in our respective minds, there would be no way for us to know that we are speaking of the same thing.  Hence, communication and shared ideas show that such concepts and propositions are real, objective, and exist outside the human mind.  Eat it, solipsists! 
So far, we've seen from Feser's excellent work that realism is irrefutable, and known by "pure reason," as he states in his book.  He builds a strong case for Aristotelian Thomism.  The point of contention between the Reformed apologetic and A.Thomism is this notion of "pure reason."  I wonder of course, when Christian philosophers talk of "pure reason" if presuppositionalists object to such a concept because of 1) so-called intellectual autonomy, which is a no-no, as it places man in authority over God's revelation of himself in Scripture, and 2) the so-called "myth of neutrality."  However, Feser's argument for realism is a strong one. How can we say otherwise?  Is using pure reason the same as being purely neutral?  Is there a volitional aspect to neutrality/use of pure reason (if the two be the same) that needs to be discussed?

One the other side of the A.Thomist perspective, James N. Anderson and George Welty write in their article, "The Lord of NonContradiction" that the laws of logic are not only abstract ideas and entities (thus agreeing with A.Thomists in contradistinction to materialism), but verily thoughts, and thoughts that come from a mind.  Anderson and Welty write, "In summary: the laws of logic are propositions; propositions are intrinsically intentional; the intrinsically intentional is none other than the mental; therefore, the laws of logic are mental in nature. The laws of logic are thoughts."  The thoughts are such because of what philosophers call intentionality. That is, they are goal-oriented.  This is a key concept as we discuss apologetic method, because Aristotle, and Thomas after him, remind us of the concept of final causes, which are--you guessed it--teleological in nature: they are goal-oriented.  Anderson and Welty then make the move to show that these thoughts (that law of logic, that is) are divine thoughts.  This is because the laws of logic exist necessarily. Existing necessarily, the thoughts must be from a necessarily existent mind; this in turn implies a person.  Quoting Aquinas (!), they commend to readers his advice that a necessarily existent mind is a necessarily existent person.

It seems then, that with Aristotle's metaphysics--his conceptual schemata concerning immaterial, abstract concepts that disprove materialism (and conceptualism, and nominalism), coupled with Aquinas' notion of a necessary being, that the presuppositionalist argument of Anderson and Welty find a fusion with A.Thomism in terms of the drawing an inferential argument for the existence of God.  The difference, of course, between A.Thomism, and the presuppositional argument, is precisely the whole point of discussion here: the method or way in which one discovers the truth of reality and hence, of God.  Anderson and Welty argue that the laws of logic presuppose God.  A.Thomism (represented by Feser in this post), argues from "pure reason" (quotes here are not sarcastic) to an objective paradigm of reality and hence of God (using the arguments of natural theology with Aquinas' 5 Ways).  It seems to me that both Feser and Anderson and Welty have argued from reason to reach the same conclusions about reality and God.  Their conclusions are slightly different, in that the latter team attempts to show how the laws of logic presuppose the existence of God, while the former uses the laws of logic to show that God exists.  In either case, however, both parties must begin where we stand--as finite creatures pondering the world in which we live, pondering what ultimate reality is, and posing questions about how to reason about all of these things.  I'm reminded of William Lane Craig's famous line about the difference between knowing God, and showing God.  That is, Christians know God; they also attempt to show others why belief in God is reasonable and true.

Can there be a fusion between the A.Thomist i.e. Classical method and the Reformed i.e. Presuppositional (or, as Scott Oliphint wants to now call it, "Covenantal") method?  The point of distinction again is the order of being and knowing.  In the A.Thomist tradition, God is first in being.  As a necessary being, God exists necessarily. That's a no-brainer.  If God exists, then of course He exists first-that is, before all things.  What does Man know first?  Does he know reality (being) first, and then God second?  Or, does he know God first, simultaneously as he knows reality?  These questions become even more difficult when we recall the noetic effects of sin, which impede the psychological process of believing in God.

While presuppositionalists and classicalists tend to treat each other with contempt, it is my hope that more dialogue may ensue in the future about apologetic method, the role of reason in the apologetic task, and the nature of arguments that aim to provide evidence that Christian faith is worth believing.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What About Those Who've Never Heard of Jesus?

A fellow theological student and sister in Christ made a humorous comment as we were all walking into church that our different paths had brought us to the sanctuary.  I had gone one way, and she had gone another.  We had just departed company in a common area, and lo and behold, our paths met again!  It was a funny quip, and I'm sure she was just making humor.  But, the point behind the joke is that often times, the religious pluralist will argue that many roads lead to God, and Jesus is but one of them.  Similarly, a Christian Universalist will say that the Triune God is the only God, but that all people will be saved.  Hence, all roads actually do lead to Christ, in a sense.  A Christian inclusivist on the other hand, will say that some (or, many), but not all will be saved, and that one needn't consciously hear and believe the gospel in this life to be saved.  An exclusivist will say that one MUST hear the gospel and make a conscious decision in order to be saved, and that this decision MUST happen in this life.  

And there are variations on a spectrum between exclusvism and inclusivism.  Much wrapped up in the discussion is whether there is a difference between an inherited sinful nature received in Adam, and inherited guilt by virtue of one's relationship with Adam.  To this, the all-important question is, For those who've never heard, on what grounds does God hold them guilty?  And, what impact does one's view on this doctrine have on missions?  Quite a bit!  For, if we believe people are innocent until they've heard of Christ, then why in the world would we preach the gospel to them?  Further, why would Jesus command us to preach the gospel to the whole world? That would make no sense.  Just leave innocent people be, I'd say.

Of course, people are not innocent before God.  Everyone had sinned against Him (leaving aside infants, some children, and the mentally challenged). To this end, I've had to be comfortable with the fact that the Bible doesn't answer all of our questions about when guilt is imputed to someone, and what indeed does happen to those who haven't heard about Jesus.  We can draw inferences based upon our theological convictions.  But--here's an especially pertinent saying from the Lord Jesus Himself to the Apostle Paul in Acts 26:15-18 which gives us a LOT of information on "those who've never heard."  See for yourself what their state of being actually is: 

15 And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have [k]seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’
Jesus says people who've not heard the gospel are 

1) blind 
2) in darkness
3) under the power of Satan
4) unforgiven of sin 
5) without an inheritance in Christ 
6) not sanctified 
7) without faith

So, how good does it look for those who've never heard of Jesus?  Not good.  Let us then preach the gospel to all.