Monday, September 24, 2007

Christianity is the Fulfillment of All Laws

Spengler makes a powerful point here (go to page 2):

That is why I keep returning to Franz Rosenzweig's remarkable insight that humans are sentient of the death of their cultures as much as they are of their own physical death:

Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction, be it however distant in time. Indeed, the love of the peoples for their own nationhood is sweet and pregnant with the presentiment of death. Love is only surpassing sweet when it is directed toward a mortal object, and the secret of this ultimate sweetness only is defined by the bitterness of death. Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books, and their laws and customs have lost their living power.

A sick cat or dog will crawl into a hole to die. The members of sick cultures do not do anything quite so dramatic, but they cease to have children, dull their senses with alcohol and drugs, become despondent, and too frequently do away with themselves. This is not due to an inborn death-drive, contrary to the odious Freud, but rather a symptom of a culture's mortal illness.

That is why pagans become Christians. That is, individuals embrace Christianity when their pre-Christian culture no longer can transmit their memory as well as their genes to future generations. Christianity, in that sense, succeeds precisely where "natural law" fails. Self-confident and secure pagans do not seek life eternal through belief in Jesus Christ, for they are quite happy to believe in themselves. It is when they have reason to cease to believe in themselves, when the depredations of the empires, or the great tide of globalization, overrun their defenses and expose their mortal fragility.

It's a little hard to tell here where Rosenzweig ends and Spengler begins (I'm guessing on my punctuation). Speaking of which, Rosenzweig seems a thinker well worth reading -- here is Spengler's survey of the various editions.

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St. Stephen I, King of Hungary, on How Immigration Makes a Country Strong

I wanted to refer to this during the immigration debate, but couldn't find it on the web, although the quotation is well known among writers on ethnicity and nationalism. Fortunately I have come into a copy, courtesy of a Hungarian colleague:

It is from St. Stephen's (Istvan) Admonition to His Son St. Emery (Imre), dated to before A.D. 1031:

The guests and newcomers [foreigners] are of so much service that they may rightly be ranked sixth among the royal dignitaries . . . For as the guests arrive from different parts and provinces, so they bring with them different tongues and customs, different examples and weapons, and all this adorns the country and enhances the splendor of the court while deterring foreigners from overweening contempt. For a country of one single language and one set of customs is weak and vulnerable. Therefore I enjoin on you, my son, to protect newcomers benevolently and to hold them in high esteem so that they should stay with your rather than dwell elsewhere.

The picture is of the famous "Crown of St. Stephen," part of the traditional regalia of the Hungarian king.



Saturday, September 22, 2007

More on the Canaanite Conquest and Hell

In the post below, I thought there must be explicit links between the destruction of the Canaanites and the end times, but couldn't find them. Well, as I was reading Joshua again, the link became obvious. You can be found it for yourself by searching for seven + trumpets in the Bible. The only two passages that come up are Joshua 6, when seven priests carry trumpets, which they blast seven times and bring down the walls of Jericho, and Revelation 8, where seven angels carry trumpets, which they blast seven times and bring woe, woe, woe for the inhabitants of the world.

It is a subject which must be approach with fear and trembling, but the link of hell and God's historical judgments on the nations bears on a number of theological implications.

1) As a rule, the herem decrees include children explicitly. An example from 1 Sam. 15:3: " Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." This cannot be separated from the question of condemnation of infants, however much we might like to.

2) The herem decrees are things which God does to people under his wrath, in which He (through his people) is active and they are passive. It is not an automatic result of the Canaanites or Midianites or Amalekites refusing to accept the welcoming attitude of the Israelites. No, it is wrathful retribution. Nor can one ignore that in all the gospel references to wailing and gnashing of teeth, those in such a state are "cast" there, "cut up" and "appointed" to go there, and "thrust out" -- actions of which the damned are the passive objects. That is the Biblical language of the matter. It is also worth noting that in the Biblical representations God works through His people/angels, while in the "sinners damn themselves" scenario, God has no need of representatives.

UPDATE: Joel pointed out a third point, that the linkage to the herem wars places a question mark beside the theological significance of eternity as the touchstone of what hell means. Here we have a single catastrophic, but almost instantaneous, judgment. I don't think it negates the argument for eternal torment by itself, but it definitely suggests a different perspective.

But there is hope in this linkage too. Those who are destroyed in Sodom and Gomorrah and in Jericho are anonymous, but those who are saved are named: Lot and his family, Rahab and hers. There are more there as well, forming a theme I have called "the Canaanites as the beloved temple slaves of Jehovah" (in a far too long post here). Both were part of the community of the condemned, by choPublish Postice or by birth. They are those still outside the family of faith -- even on the day of judgment. Yet by the intercession of the family of faith, the red thread hung outside the window, they were exempted from the condemnation that is a type of hell, and that even without entering the family before the day of judgment.

Are there few that be saved?

Agonize, agonize to enter in at the straight gate -- and intercede for the Lots and Rahabs God places in your path.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Remember the Hostage Crisis? Some of Us Old Folks Still Do

There's a meme going around about Carter (or even Gerald Ford), that the only reason he got a reputation for being weak abroad was because the Republicans cynically saddled the Democrats with the blame for getting us out of a crazy, lost war. Let's leave aside the small detail that the Democrats got us into that crazy war and a Republican president got us out of it.

Even if we brush that off as a detail (we all know that Republicans are always war-mongers, right?) still, the young'uns need to be told by us senior citizens that Carter wasn't hurt just, or even mostly, by the legacy of Vietnam.

What made Carter look like a week president? Let's see . . . Sandinistas take over Nicaragua and ally with Cuba? Soviet Union invades and occupies Afghanistan? Shah is overthrown by Iranian revolutionaries, who proceed to take American diplomats hostage and hold them for over a year? Yup, those were the big foreign policy issues of the day, as I remember; especially that last one.

Imagine: Hillary is president, withdraws from Iraq, which then becomes an isolated and self-absorbed anti-American satellite of Iran. Voters could take that.

But then suppose FARC does a victory march into Bogota. And then Iranian troops parachute in to prop up Hezbollah's newly proclaimed Islamic Republic of Lebanon. And finally anti-American revolutionaries of some new and troubling stripe seize power in Nigeria, take American diplomats hostage, and our attempted rescue fails ignominiously when the helicopters break down en route.

The result, if that were to happen? People would think Hillary is weak, and not because she withdrew from Iraq.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Some Comments on Recent Boar's Head Tavern Stuff

First, take a look at the quotation cited by Bob Myers from Charles Spurgeon, Baptist, here. (I'm not going to cite it, you've got to click on the link and read it.) It only confirms my belief that Spurgeon's position is in its actual presentation from the pulpit the same as the Augsburg Evangelical position. In other words, it is a correct division of law and gospel. And I have C.F.W. Walther on my side for this position; as he says in Law and Gospel tome, after saying how a good Lutheran will preach the Gospel to someone under affliction of the Law immediately, and showing how Calvinists consider this to be malpractice, he then concedes that Spurgeon follows the Lutheran procedure, although most Calvinists don't. Baptist though he is, what I have read of Spurgeon shows a very Augsburg Evangelical sense of the place of Law and Gospel.

UPDATE: Here is the passage in question, from p. 136 of The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel:

The sects teach false doctrine concerning the Gospel. They regard it as nothing else than an instruction for man, teaching him what he must do to secure the grace of God, while in reality the Gospel is God's proclamation to men: "Ye are redeemed from your sins; ye are reconciled to God; your sins are forgiven." No sectarian preacher dare make this frank statement [i.e. to anyone who asks, "what must I do to be saved?"]. If one of them, for instance, Spurgeon, does do it in some of his sermons, it is a Lutheran element in the teaching of the sects and an exception to the rule. Moreover, he is being severely criticized for it as going too far.

I doubt whether this statement about the "sects" is as true today as it was then. As I scribbled in the margin in my copy there: today we should celebrate how much Lutheranism has infiltrated the Reformed, to the degree that it is Edwards and Bunyan who appear strange to them, not Spurgeon.

Next take a look at the thread for September 11, 2007 (significant date that), beginning with Joel Hunter's florilegium of passages on the blessed enjoying the torments of the damned here.

Now this is placed all in the future: heaven and hell. But it is also connected to the past: the herem "ban" or "dedication" of the Canaanites and things (for example Jephthah's daughter) to destruction, as well as to imprecatory psalms. These "problem" passages are usually treated in isolation, but they are all one thread.

The Book of Revelation, in describing the condemnation of the future links them to these past episodes of sacred story. Describing the fall of "Babylon" (variously interpretable as pagan Rome, or more generally the nexus of luxuries, exploitation and persecution of the saints), Revelation 19 reads:

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants."

Once more they cried out,

"Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever."

Now this is said of Babylon, of which the Psalmist (Ps. 137) also wrote:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!

The rejoicing in the future over the destruction of figurative Babylon is prefigured in the rejoicing over the destruction of literal Babylon.

But of course the smoke going up in Revelation 19 recalls the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah -- and Abraham beholding it:

And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD. And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.

Even more vividly is the triumph over the wicked in the last day linked to the triumph over Israel's enemies in the the day of Moses. Recall Revelation 15:

Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and amazing, seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is finished.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

"Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!

At first glance this doesn't seem to have any link to the saints in Heaven rejoicing over the destruction of God's enemies. But it does. This passage is the fulfillment of Exodus 14-15:

The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, "I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name.

. . .

The enemy said, 'I will pursue, I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.
I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.'
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them;
they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

"Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?
You stretched out your right hand;
the earth swallowed them.

As James Kugel points out in his invaluable The Bible as It Was (see pp. 345-46), the question of how the Egyptians' bodies being washed on to shore so the Israelites could gloat over them was an significant theme in inter-testamental literature. The theme can thus be assumed to be implicit in the vision of Revelation 15.

The descriptions of the saved in Heaven rejoicing over the torments of the damned in Hell are few in Scripture: perhaps the most explicit is in Isaiah 66:

From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,declares the LORD.

"And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."

Jesus of course cites this passage in Mark 9:48. But description of the blessed looking on in triumph over the punishment of the reprobate, what in the Psalms is called "seeing my desire upon my enemies": that theme is pervasive in the scriptures. (Likewise the converse theme of how the sight of the triumph of the blessed will only add to the misery of the condemned.) It's just that usually the triumph is a triumph in this world, not in the next, and the reprobate are more usually punished with death or painful humiliation, not everlasting torment.

I haven't read much beyond his web-site on N.T. Wright, but I find it curious that this discussion of seeing with satisfaction the humiliation of the reprobate has proceeded without reference to his emphasis on the resurrection, not "going to Heaven." His point is that "going to Heaven" is about my personal, individual salvation, while the resurrection of the dead is about collective justice and making right a world of injustice: in other words, the righteous looking on in triumph over the discomfiture of the unrighteous. (Daniel 12: And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.) If you want to emphasize the resurrection and the prophetic dimension of the new heavens and new earth, then that is the overwhelming Biblical accent on that theme. (There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.)

Linking all these themes raises a problem:

You can take the historical books of the Old Testament and say the plagues on the Egyptians, or the herem of the Canaanites is something you reject and what remains is certainly the Biblical message.

You can take the Psalms and say, as C.S. Lewis did, that the imprecatory Psalms teach a sub-Christian morality and what remains is certainly the Biblical message.

And you can take the New Testament and take away all the warnings of hell in it and what remains may still be the Biblical message.

But if you take away one of those, what warrant do you have for not taking away all three? And if you take away all three, is what you have still the Biblical message?

UPDATE: Walther has something useful to say about hell-fire preaching as well, on p. 134:

[The sects] preach the Law first with great sternness, which is quite proper. We do the same, following the method of the apostles and of Christ. The only wrong feature in this part of their preaching is their depiction of the infernal torments, which is usually done in such a drastic manner as to engage the imagination rather than to make their words sink into the depth of the heart . . . Instead of reducing their hearers to the condition where they profess themselves poor, lost, and condemned sinners, who have deserved everlasting wrath, they put them in a state of mind which makes them say: "Is it not terrible to hear God uttering such awful threatenings on account of sin?" [emphasis added].

In other words, Law preaching is to focus on the fact that the sinner deserves complete condemnation, not on the garish details or extreme physical pains of this condemnation.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Secret Link?

I was watching "This Is Spinal Tap" recently (OK now you know how I spent my Labor Day weekend), and in between laughing noticed something truly odd:

Two lines from that movie are the core of J.K. Rowling's Hogwarts concept.

Here's a scene early on, discussing the appalling mortality rate of Spinal Tap drummers (from the transcript here):

Nigel: was tragic really...he exploded on stage.
Derek: Just like that...

David: He just went up...
Nigel: He just was like a flash of green light...and that was it, nothing was left...
David: Look at his face .... it's true, this really did happen.
Nigel: Well, there was a little green globule on his drum seat.

David: Like a stain, really.
Nigel: More of a stain than a globule, actually, and...
David: You know know dozens of people spontaneously combust each year, it's just not really widely reported.
Nigel: Right.

There it is: the core idea of the Avada Kedavra curse -- green flash and that's it. Not to mention that it happens all the time "it's just not really widely reported" -- wizarding secrecy.

And near the end, discussing "where they are now" we learn:

Marty: Denis Eton-Hogg, the president of Polymer Records...
Ian: Yes.

Marty: ...was recently knighted, what were the circumstances surrounding his knighthood?
Ian: The specific reason why he was knighted was uh for
the founding of Hoggwood, which is um, a summer-camp for pale, young boys.

With only a little modification, that's the core, the nub, of Hogwarts. "Pale young boys" -- a perfect description of Draco Malfoy.

So this is how it started in 1982: J.K. Rowling watches "This Is Spinal Tap"; death by green flashes and Hoggwood and pale, young boys get thrown into a pot of bubbling fantasy. It percolates in the mind for years until in steps into her imagination Harry Potter, who like Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien's Silmarillion cycle proves the key to somehow turn the developing mythology in a new direction.

And don't you think Dudley would be a Taphead?

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

"Faith does not conduct a debate about God and God's righteousness, as does the natural, the redeemed, or the presumably already glorified reason before its own forum. It conducts a dispute with God in prayer and lament."

And therefore faith does not debate universalism, certainly not in terms of ghostly colonialist abstractions like "the native in Africa" or some grotesque scholastic definition of theodicy.

Instead, faith prays, and argues, and laments, for the souls whom God has placed in its path. And this prayer, and argument, and lamentation does not cease when those we love die but continues in prayer and lamentation for the dead, until God finally answers: in resurrection of the dead and the revealing of the secrets of all hearts -- including His own.



When libertarians say "Parents just have to be responsible for what their kids watch . . ."

have you sometimes wondered whether it was a transparently sleazy cop-out by people who are actually trying day and night to make sure your kids watch trash? Well, wonder no more, Eric Kleiman, director of product marketing for Continental Airlines demonstrates that yes, it is a transparently sleazy cop-out.

Mr. Kleiman was contacted by Bob Tedeschi of the New York Times about the issue of increasingly violent and/or salacious content as found on in-flight movies. Let's just remember you can't "just turn it off" on an in-flight movie. You can't "exercise your role as a responsible parent by controlling the remote" or whatever other phrase it is that sanctimonious libertines use these days. If you chose to make a long flight, you are stuck with having whatever is presented on the screen in full view of you, and any accompanying children, no matter how young. Here's how Mr. Kleiman responds:

“Parents have to be responsible for the actions of their kids — whether they shouldn’t look at the screen or look away,” said Eric Kleiman, director of product marketing for Continental Airlines.

Mr. Kleiman said the changing tenor of airline entertainment was in keeping with the changing standards of network television and other media. “Our approach is consistent with where society is going with this,” he said.

And here's Nina Plotner, another believer that all of must imbibe sleaze (a.k.a. "good things"), whether we like it or not:

Nina Plotner, an account manager with Inflight Productions Inc., which works on behalf of many airlines to review and acquire films, said of the editing procedure, “If we take all the good things out, there’s not going to be a lot left to play.”

Ms. Plotner added: “If you get a complaint, you get a complaint. You can’t please everybody.”

Mr. Kleiman, of Continental, agreed, saying: “People love Pepsi, and we don’t serve that, so there you go, we just ruined their flight. That’s an accurate analogy.” Airlines said they received relatively few complaints.

To which the experience of this couple is a good retort.

Thomas Fine and Sara Susskind of Cambridge, Mass., recently spent two hours on a United Airlines flight distracting their 6-year-old son, Zachary, from the R-rated “Shooter,” which depicts multiple gory killings. [Like shooting his wife in the face and the blood pouring out. Just lovely. Oops, no, that's in "Fracture," which has also been shown on TV with just a little editing.] The sound of gunshots from nearby earphones alerted Zachary to look up, Mr. Fine said. “It’s not like he can look away when he hears the sound, and he’s sitting on a plane bored, and he’s 6,” Mr. Fine said.

Obviously, Mr. Fine, you are a stupid irresponsible father! Stop trying to palm off your failures as a parent on society!

Near the end of the article there is some promised deus ex machina about individual screens. And I know, someone's bound to say, "See? It's all the fault of capitalism! If we just raise taxes on the super-rich, society would be squeaky clean!" Actually, the most salacious in-flight programing I ever saw was on a (state-owned, very much non-profit, heavily subsidized) China Airlines flight. But you know what? The problem isn't the lack of individual screens. It isn't whether the airlines are state-owned or privately owned. It's inside the heads of people like Nina Plotner and Eric Kleiman (and whoever choses movies for Chinese Airlines), and how their meretricious tastes get formed.

Probably by watching in-flight movies as kids.