Links and Jottings

Having not blogged much here for a little while, I thought that I would quickly post a few miscellaneous links and thoughts. I regularly post links in my Delicious account, which is linked in my sidebar (more general and less serious links, photos, and videos can be found on my Tumblr blog, Postcards from the Oubliette).

Luke Bretherton has written a very thoughtful piece on the subject of asylum seekers and the moral status of borders, over on the superb ABC Religion and Ethics site:

My contention is that those who argue for open borders under-value a sense of place and the integrity of the nation as political community, but those who argue for closed borders over-value the nation as political community. Instead, I will suggest we need a way of valuing our particular political community in relation to other nations and ultimately in relation to God, and that such a framework will enable us to make appropriate decisions about how to respect and value existing citizens and fulfil our duty of care to the refugee and vulnerable stranger from outside our country who nevertheless who seek a new life within our country. In summary:

  • those who argue for opening up borders see borders as a filter to keep out the bad and corrupt but at the same time, let in any individual who seeks to live in this land;
  • those who argue for closing our borders see borders as a fence, a system of security and defence that protects and preserves what is inside from what is outside;
  • but I want to argue that borders are a face we turn to the world around us which tells them what kind of country we are and how are want to relate to those around us and whether we are hostile or hospitable.

Matt Colvin has an intriguing exegetical suggestion for the story of the Gibeonites:

 In this instance, I would suggest that Daube has missed one relevant detail that would make the story an even better example of “answering a formalist according to his formalism”: The rulers of Israel say to the congregation, “Let them live, but let them be woodcutters and water carriers for all the congregation, as the rulers had promised them.” Now, this may be a mistranslation. It might be better rendered as, “because the rulers (sc. of Israel) had promised them,” and it might be narrator-speech rather than the words of the Israelite rulers. But is just possible that they are seizing upon the Gibeonites’ ambassadors’ own words: when they presented themselves to Joshua, they twice said, “We are your servants” (9:8,9). Now, this is of course nothing but a bit of humble politeness, akin to Victorian or Georgian Englishmen signing their letters with the valediction, “Very obediently yours” or “Your very humble servant, The Duke of York.” For the recipient of such a letter to insist on being obeyed, or to take possession of the sender as a slave, would be almost comic misinterpretation. But with the Gibeonites, the case is altered. They have lied and deceived and used legal formalism to bind the Israelites au pied de la lettre. They are therefore fair game for such misinterpretation. “Oh, that’s the way it is?” say the Hebrews, “Then you are our servants, since that’s what you said.”

NPR has an article that raises some interesting and potentially troubling issues about sexual consent and dementia:

Many residents who have been diagnosed with dementia rely on family members with power of attorney to make important decisions. Tarzia says that decisions about intimacy shouldn’t rise to that level.

“Sexuality shouldn’t be categorized as a high-stakes decision, like, say, a will or a major financial decision where you really need the capacity to consent to things,” says Tarzia, “We’re saying that sexuality is different and the way to establish consent should be different.”

These decisions don’t come without risks, and Tarzia says it’s important that staff in care facilities be willing to discuss the use of condoms for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. 

This leaves me with several questions. What alternative way of establishing consent is being suggested? More importantly, what happens when a person with a strong moral stance on sexual behaviour begins to lose their mind and later their self-control? Can their former moral standard render future willing sexual behaviour on their part, behaviour they would never have countenanced in their right mind, though quite consistent with the more relaxed sexual norms of wider society, non-consensual? When sexual behaviour is seen to demand a lower level of consent, would this compromise the basis on which you could be prevented from fulfilling one’s current desires on the basis of one’s previously expressed will? At this point it seems to me that a host of other questions about personhood, will, and identity start to surface.

‘Do Pedophiles Deserve Sympathy?’ from CNN raises a host of other troubling moral questions.

Cases of child molestation that involve long strings of victims over the course of years illustrate what can happen when someone gives in to, or outright indulges, his sexual interests, regardless of its potential damage on others. It is those cases that dominate headlines and provoke revulsion toward pedophiles.

But they are rare. An untold number of cases merit sympathy.

The science suggests that they are people who, through no fault of their own, were born with a sex drive that they must continuously resist, without exception, throughout their entire lives. Little if any assistance is ever available for them.

They are often unable to consult mental health professionals (because of mandatory reporting rules); their families will often disown rather than support them; and despite the openness of the Internet, there are few options for coming out and joining communities of other pedophiles for mutual support.

Having encountered thousands of cases, it is my experience that the pedophiles who do go on to become actual child molesters do so when they feel the most desperate. Yet, much of what society does has been to increase rather than decrease their desperation.

It seems to me that the case of the paedophile (someone with a sexual preference for children, not necessarily the same as a child molester, who acts on those preferences) provides us with a perfect test case to discuss the place of the virtue of empathy.

To what extent can we identify with someone who has deep desires that seem repulsive and completely alien to us? To what extent does empathy with such a person compromise our perception of the evil of child abuse? What would empathy in such a situation actually look like? How do we show empathy in a way that is discriminating, and does not justify or lessen evil? To what extent if any should empathy be extended to the person who has abused? Do non-victims have the right to empathize with the abuser at all? Could empathy in such a situation have the negative effect of reducing the high pain tolerance that the paedophile must have relative to the insistence of his desires? What does empathy in such a situation require us to admit about ourselves and our own natures? At what point in the not uncommon victim to victimiser cycle does/should empathy run out?

I think that when talking about empathy we all too often lob ourselves softballs. The case of paedophilia makes the question of empathy far more threatening, challenging, and discomforting, which is exactly what it should be, I feel.

Research suggests that religious belief might shape perception of stimuli.

The Observer seriously misrepresents Rowan Williams, who has a new book coming out soon. More here.

The history of philosophy graphed.

German court outlaws religious circumcision of sons. Putting the huge historical sensitivities raised by this case to one side, in many respects this could be seen as yet another absolutization of the modality of the choice under Western liberalism over that involved in substantial belonging to a tradition, something that I have previously commented on here.

Listening to this right now:


I have also been listening to the Welcome Wagon’s new album a lot over the last couple of weeks. Some of you may know that Vito Aiuto is a Presbyterian pastor in New York. There is a very interesting interview with Vito here:

HR: Talk to me a little bit about the nostalgia or irony that shows up in your art. I’m also thinking particularly of the packaging of the debut: incredibly ironic, but somehow endearing, still having a kind of honesty to it. How do you approach that?

VA: There’s an essay by David Foster Wallace called Television and U.S. Fiction. It’s about how he thinks that irony is destroying fiction and has almost destroyed art in the West. It’s decimating it and has made a wreckage of our ability to interact with art. And at the end, he basically says, ‘Well, I think the next thing is going to have to be sincerity.’ And he says that it’s basically going to have to be a sincerity that goes through irony. Because you just can’t do sincerity anymore because it’s already kind of been ruined. So you have to pick the flower up off the floor and do something with it even though it’s been stepped on. You can’t find something that hasn’t been sullied by irony.

So it’s not lost on us that the packaging of the first record is kind of kitschy. But at the same time, for the first record, every single last piece of art on that record actually came from Monique’s grandmother’s house. She was raised in that, and everything on the record, we believe. It’s not like there is anything on that record that I would disown, or even the packaging. Some of it is overtly earnest and even kitschy, but I am pretty much ready to stand by that stuff. I think this is true of a lot of people; I’m really tired of irony. I’m tired of sarcasm. I’m tired of interacting with my friends, where we make fun of each other to show each other that we love each other. I’m totally scarred by that. I’m tired of it and I don’t want to do it. I really just want to make music that’s really honest and is almost embarrassingly sincere.

This is one of the songs from the latest album:


Received these in the post this morning:

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Culture, Ethics, My Reading, OT, Philosophy, Quotations, Theological, What I'm Reading. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Links and Jottings

  1. mattcolvin says:

    Very pretty Bavinck books, Alastair. I’m envious.

    Thanks for the link, too.

    • I was fortunate to pick them up at a very reasonable price (£58), with birthday money.

      Thanks for the post! I almost invariably find your exegetical insights highly stimulating. You will have to recommend some core Daube works to me: I really need to get into him.

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