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Earlier open mic threads: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21, 22,23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32.
So yesterday I encountered a Facebook friend who is a kind-of Holocaust denier. Anyone have any experience with that? Not so much looking to argue with him – its useless to argue with conspiracy theorists – but more looking for good, easily accessible resources on the subject. Here are some of his comments (if this is legitimately upsetting to anyone it can be deleted):
‘There is no evidence in the camps, and there are often contradictory statements made by both “survivors” and the camp tour directors. Museums can offer nothing but the same old story, offering no proof. I cannot put any faith in “survivors” stories because so many of them have little foundation other than the story. Elie Wiesel, for example, is missing the tatoo that anyone that was in the camps would have gotten. Anne Frank’s Diary was a forgery. Yes, she did die, but from typhus. Also, the amount of survivors + the amount said to have been exterminated = a far greater number of such people than was recorded in Germany and parts of Eastern Europe at the time. As far as the shoes and clothing, these were removed from prisoners due to infestation. This is also why the heads were shaved.’
‘I would say there are way too many people that are satisfied with this story. It sits well to pin things on the Nazis because they were our enemy, and it is considered verboten to ask questions about the “established” account. Questions such as “If we consider the 6 Million claim to be true, what about the earlier claims of deaths and persecution of 6 Million Jews going back to the late 1800s?” or “Why don’t census records reflect this huge dip in the population among Jewish people in Europe?” or even “If Auschwitz was a death camp, why would it have been fitted out with all sorts of amenities in order to entertain the detainees, such as a swimming pool, entertainment centres, theatre, religious services, brothel, etc?” I, for one, may not be popular for bringing these things up, but I am not convinced that the Nazis were the evil incarnate that they are reported as being.’
I don’t have any experience dealing with Holocaust deniers. However, before I considered getting into any sort of a discussion, I would want to have some sort of idea of the psychology behind the person’s position. In my experience with such issues, that is often what needs to be focused upon. The presenting problem is often a red herring.
The experiences I have had involve an individual who denies or is sceptical about a number of issues (Holocaust, germ theory, 9/11 &c.). Along with these they have more general beliefs about the run of history as well as an interest in esoteric religion, which held all the particular theories together.
In discussions, rather than deal with the specific areas, I would turn conversation to the nature of conspiracy theories, explanation, role of evidence &c. This seemed to me to be the most fruitful type of discussion to have simply because, as you say, it is pretty much useless to argue with particular conspiracy theories. I didn’t really get anywhere though.
Alastair’s point about psychology is, I think, an important one. It’s suggestive when an individual believes in a cluster of different conspiracy theories.
On the Holocaust in particular, I don’t have much knowledge of the subject. Carl Trueman deals with Holocaust denial in his book Histories and Fallacies which gives a good overview of the subject.
I’m reasonably confident that *argument* is futile–like with the Unman, in Perelandra, the demons behind these beliefs love to draw people into interminable arguments. I’m also pretty sure you can’t come up with an argument he hasn’t heard before, and that he doesn’t have a ready-made answer to, as is the case with flat-earthers: https://youtu.be/VNqNnUJVcVs?t=4m50s.
Interesting posts from Joshua, Alastair and Andrew.
From what I heard from some German families I have some understanding of why many German people had, or claimed to have had, no knowledge about the Holocaust during and in the aftermath of WW2, and why so many found it difficult to believe what had happened when the truth was finally exposed, but I cannot imagine why anyone would want to cast doubt on it now, and I would certainly question the motives of those who are casting doubt on it.
I’m all for raising questions about any given event, even events which might be taboo to question. History is, by and large, written by victors and these accounts on occasion need to be challenged. But the conspiracy theory way of doing it – to paint all opposing thought as illegitimate for one reason or another – is just dumb.
Anyone been paying attention to the great Leithart/Enns dispute? https://theopolisinstitute.com/abraham-myth-a-response-to-peter-enns/?fb_ref=Default
Hey Alastair, this is my first comment to the open mic, You are a brave man. I also have a Facebook gripe or two. Being from Georgia the Confederate Battle Flag is getting a lot of attention. What aggravates me is that so many of my fellow Christians will post 100 articles protesting the removal of the flag or that some channel won’t play the Dukes of Hazard but you can’t even get a notice from them regarding a community outreach. Sadly the American Way / Dream has become confused with a life lived for Christ. (Please note I admit I am far from perfect)
The other are the ones who are zealous for Christ and quickly like or share any false news report that seems to go against the Word of God.
This distresses me greatly too (and I’ve seen it, on numerous issues–Christianity Today had to publish this article). I’m not sure if facebook breeds this sort of thing, or if it reveals a rottenness at the heart of United Statesian Christianity–a deep and abiding loyalty to Stars and Stripes, and America Forever (which Puccini was able to recognize as a poison over 100 years ago, and before the First World War, that brought all the “Germany Forever!” and “France Forever” etc. nonsense crashing down). (Or probably that theres a bit much idolatry of and Veneration of the flag–any is too much–and, because Conservatives of any stripe indulge in it, and Christian Conservatives are not immune, so there’s more breeding of this sort of idolatry than of true veneration.)
I am a redeemed patriolater, so I understand the mindset of so many kultur-christians of the Reichschurch who are up in arms over both the confederate but also union flag.
A really disturbing book, written from an academic sociological perspective, is ‘Blood Sacrifice and the Nation’. After reading through the first hundred pages, I felt like I just woke up from the Matrix. Not really, but it did change the way I saw a lot of things. Though it was not its intention, the book definitely drove me away from any remnants of nationalism or sympathy for the State, and put my hopes elsewhere.
Halbertal claims, I think with the First World War in mind:
Alastair, I have discussed the Trinity with a friend quite a bit over the past year and a half. He believes that the Bible does not claim that Jesus is God, but that John 1 refers to a plan of God that became flesh in the man Jesus. We have also discussed John 8:58 and Philippians 2. My friend mostly or fully agrees with John Schoenheit’s positions on these passages:
Because I don’t know Greek, it’s hard for me to respond to them. If you have time, do you have any comments on Schoenheit’s interpretations?
I’m not Alastair and don’t mean to answer for him, but I do have a bit of Greek (I’m a PhD student in Classics), so I thought I’d take a stab at it in the meantime—though I’d definitely be interested in hearing what our host (certainly a more adept theologian than I) has to say. These are deep waters, so please do correct me where I misstate things, Alastair:
First, one must realize that Schoenheit has no evident scholarly expertise, and is asserting things on which he has no comprehensive or specialized knowledge. I am no expert on Second-Temple Judaism, but even I know that modern scholarship has identified strands of Jewish thought that entertained some idea of plurality within the Godhead, and that the assertion that ‘No ancient Jew reading Proverbs would think that God’s wisdom was a separate person’ is thus simply false, at least so long as one doesn’t insist on an overly rigid definition of ‘person’ (and the traditional Trinitarian sense of persona or hypostasis is certainly quite different from our own psychologized usage of ‘person’). At least one such Jewish thinker, Philo, even used the word Logos to describe the intermediating power between God and the world, a conception that was adopted by some Christians for John’s Logos, though it was eventually rejected when it was found to provide an unsatisfactory account of the biblical revelation.
Second, many of the specific arguments that Schoenheit advances are not wrong per se, but do not tell us anything that should change our reading of the text. It is certainly true that Logos in Greek can mean ‘the expression of God, … His communication of Himself’—a definition of which (e.g.) Athanasius would have heartily approved! Where does this leave John 1:1, then? Nowhere that it wasn’t before the Unitarians came along in the early modern period: John 1:14 still states that the Word ‘became flesh and tabernacled among us’, not just that some nebulous ‘outward expression of God has now occurred through his Son’. Christ is not merely ‘a word’ or ‘an expression’; he is the word, the co-eternal expression of God, become a specific man, whose ‘glory’, the glory of the monogenes (‘only-begotten’ or ‘unique one’) was visible to John and his contemporaries. What does Schoenheit do with these verses? Nothing cogent; all his talk about context is just a sanctimonious smokescreen from behind which he can deploy distorted arguments—he is allowing his abstract definition of logos, derived from generalist lexica and buttressed by vague appeals to ‘what the Jews would have thought’, to push out the actual usage of the word in John. What, then, of Schoenheit’s argument on theos? Schoenheit’s own authority, Barclay, argues, quite sensibly, that theos has a qualitative sense here–that John is stating that the Word is by nature God, but not that the Word is simply the exact same entity as ho Theos ‘the God’, i.e. God the Father (I think Barclay’s language of ‘spheres’ is much too vague—‘nature’ or the like is what we are looking for; John has said that the Word was ‘god’—in a Jewish or Christian context, surely to be capitalized, as it were—not just ‘divine’). The Word partakes, as it were, of the divine nature, can rightly be described as ‘God’, without being simply interchangeable with ‘the God’. Hence many of the Christological debates that have taken place in Christian history; hence also the clear falsity of Schoenheit’s position, which would simply make the Word a vague divine ‘reason’ or ‘plan’ (divine, it would seem, in the sense of belonging to God) rather than actual God, as John says that the Word is.
There are other, similar problems: on John 1:15, for example, Schoenheit betrays his own ignorance of the Greek text of John, claiming that ‘while it is true that the Greek word “before” (protos) can mean “before in time,” it can just as easily be “first,” “chief,” “leader”’. That would be cogent, were that all that John had said. In fact, John said ‘the one coming after (hopiso) me was [or perhaps ‘came to be’] before (emprosthen) me, because he was before (protos) me’. Even if protos could have a non-temporal significance here, there is no way of evading the clear temporal language of the preceding clause. Whatever John means, he is certainly saying that Jesus existed before he did.
In sum, John 1 quite clearly asserts a) that the Word was God by nature, b) that all things came to be through this Word, who was inherently both life and light, c) that this Word who was God ‘in the beginning’ and with the God ‘became flesh’ as a specific man, Jesus Christ, and d) that Jesus (who is the Word) existed before John, his apparent predecessor. Schoenheit, by contrast, asserts (in his note on John 1:14) that ‘John 1:14 was not written to show that Jesus was somehow pre-existent and then became flesh. It was to show that God’s plan for salvation “became flesh,” i.e., Jesus was not a spirit, god or angelic being, but rather a flesh-and-blood man.’ Schoenheit errs, as he has replaced the specific, pre-existent Logos with a vague, generic ‘plan’, which is in no true way ‘what God is’. That is the real problem: Schoenheit wants Jesus to be a mere temporal expression of a plan of salvation, rather than actually being the fully divine entity of life and light through whom the world came into existence, which John 1 says that the Logos who ‘became flesh’ is. He has, in other words, downgraded the Johannine Logos into an abstraction, and, at the same time, evaded the real consequences of John 1:14, as his ‘plan’ can only ‘become flesh’ in a metaphorical sense—there is no way that Jesus can actually be the ‘divine plan’, as a concrete being cannot be an abstraction; he can only ‘embody’ a plan in some much vaguer sense. That this is not what John means is, I think, abundantly clear.
I hope that all this helps at least a little.
I’ve now taken a look at the other two pages to which you linked. The discussion of John 8:58 is simply special pleading, and against a straw man at that: no orthodox Christian reads the passage in the way that Schoenheit seems to suppose (‘To take such statements at the level of “flesh” so as to infer, as “the Jews” do that, at less than fifty, Jesus is claiming to have lived on this earth before Abraham (8:52 and 57), is to be as crass as Nicodemus who understands rebirth as an old man entering his mother’s womb a second time (3:4).’). Of course, as Schoenheit surely knows, Christians have always believed that the Word, the only-begotten of God, who is Jesus, existed ‘before Abraham came to be’, as John reports that Jesus said to the Jews; again, Schoenheit tries to turn an ontological statement (‘I am’) into mere metaphor (‘in the context of God’s plan existing from the beginning, Christ certainly was “before” Abraham’). In order to ease this sleight of hand, Schoenheit distracts from Jesus’ actual words by invoking the parallel text in Exodus 3:4, which he dismisses through vague grammatical hand-waving (I do not know Hebrew, but I do know that Hebrew aspects simply do not map onto English tenses; Schoenheit needs some actual scholarly sources here, not to assert that the Hebrew is mistranslated in versions as varied as the NIV, KJV, ESV, NASB, and NRSV—or in the Septuagint, which renders it ‘Ego eimi ho on, i.e. ‘I am the one who is’). The Septuagint text, at least, suggests that John’s readers might have taken John 8:58 as an allusion to the name of God in Exodus, but that is actually beside the point: Jesus is claiming to exist—not even to have existed, but to be in a present sense—before Abraham. That, and not any real or imagined parallels in Exodus, is what Schoenheit has to explain, and he has only side-stepped the issue (why, after all, would the Jews have wanted to stone a man who merely claimed to have been a vital part of God’s plan? Contra Schoenheit, merely claiming to be Messiah is not in itself blasphemy.)
The Philippians 2:6-8 is similar: a great deal of rather amateurish lexicology, followed by an unfounded switch from the literal to the metaphorical. We are told, coherently enough, that morphe means ‘form’, not ‘nature’. Well, the word certainly does denote a form, but that is not the problem: the question is what it means in this passage to say that Jesus is/was ‘existing in the form of God’. Schoenheit informs us that ‘We assert the actual evidence is clear: the word morphe refers to an outward appearance or manifestation. Jesus Christ was in the outward appearance of God, so much so that he said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Christ always did the Father’s will, and perfectly represented his Father in every way.’ The problem, of course, is that Schoenheit has not demonstrated that the ‘appearance of God’ (if we must render it that way; experts clearly disagree) refers simply to obedience to God, to likeness of character in the way that we mean when we call someone ‘godly’. Indeed, it means almost the opposite, since the ‘form of God’ is contrasted sharply in 2:7 with the ‘form of a servant’, whose assumption Paul explains in the next clause as ‘becoming in the likeness of men.’ In other words, the ‘form of God’ is defined in contradistinction to servanthood and to humanity—it is a divine, authoritative ‘form’, which Christ in some way laid aside in order to become ‘obedient unto death’. In other words, the obedience that Schoenheit identifies with the morphe theou, the ‘form of God’, is actually part of the ‘form of a servant’, the humanity that Christ assumed for our salvation. Schoenheit’s distortion goes yet deeper, however: where Paul has Christ first ‘existing in the form of God’, then ‘taking the form of a servant’, Schoenheit reverses the sequence (‘Like the rest of us, Christ was fully human and had the outward form (morphe), of a human. However, because he always did the Father’s will and demonstrated godly behavior and obedience, he therefore had the outward “appearance” (morphe) of God also.’) The problem is, quite simply, that Paul, whatever he means by morphe theou (in context, something close to ‘divine power and authority’, if I might paraphrase), envisions Christ as existing before his becoming man, taking ‘the form of a servant’, and undergoing death in obedience; Schoenheit, by contrast, refuses to accept that Christ is anything but a man whose birth was providentially ordained.
Exodus 3:14, not 3:4, of course.
Is anyone aware of any Christian ethicists that have explicitly addressed the moral particularism of someone like Jonathan Dancy?
(not the same Andrew as above)
Here’s an interesting observation in the light of recent events:
There’s a bunch of arguments re marriage focusing on marriage being oriented towards children. These have a basis both in both nature and Scripture.
However: marriage imagery is used in Scripture for Christ and Church without mention of children – children are entirely absent from the imagery.
However: the imagery used is *wedding*, not *marriage*, groom & bride, not husband & wife.
– Why this choice of imagery?
– Why the focus on groom & bride rather than husband & wife?
– Does this then affect how we understand marriage?
I think, as Alastair has linked elsewhere, there is fruitful exploration in the binary of man/woman involved in marriage (as stated by Fabrice Hadjadj). This necessitates procreation (because it is a natural outworking of this binary(!)), but moves the argument away from this. I think this will unstop the discussion from bomb-lobbings like “What about infertile people?!” or “So contraception is evil!?”. These might be places that Romans will want to stand and fight, but, as you point out, the biblical/apostolic argument never goes there.
Just as there is Heaven & Earth, Land & Sea, Sun & Moon, King & People, there is Man & Woman. This binary climaxes in marriage where the two come together in a particular way.
And this is where I’d add my own secondary argument: why bride & groom and not husband and wife, and why keep the argument in a marital realm and not male/female relations generally? Because weddings are supposed to be joyous occasions. God loves fun, maybe we should too. Church-communities ought to play ‘Lord of the Dance’ more often.
This is an interesting question. I think that the imagery of ‘wedding’ and ‘groom and bride’ tells us more about the relationship between Christ and the church and not more about the institution of marriage ( though a Christian marriage is enriched by an understanding of the relationship between Christ and the church). The fact that ‘marriage’, ‘husband and wife’, and ‘children’ are not specifically mentioned in this imagery does not, as I see it, detract in any way from the teachings in scripture about marriage and the procreation of children.
[In the same way I think that using, for instance, the metaphor ‘a snake in the grass’ to describe a person tells us more about the person, but not more about the snake. The image suggests that this person has some of the characteristics of the snake, such as being fork-tongued, poisonous and cunning, without these characteristics being specifically mentioned in the imagery.]
Can I bring back up a question on topic we talked about a bit a while ago, namely, whether there is bodily unity other than sexual unions? (Though I won’t get to that directly.)
What occasions the question is my reading Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am at the same time as the Planned Parenthood slam videos was released. (I realize the video wasn’t really honest, but it has occasioned lots of speaking, and therefore, thinking on abortion.) I still haven’t been able to read Mumford yet, but it is this concern about “I-thou” from the review you shared:Mumford faces these two views in Chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 2 focuses on the thought of Martin Buber and the Philosophy of Dialogue, taken as a paradigmatic theoretical approach to human encounters. Mumford considers the ‘I and Thou’ approach to be a significant innovation. However, he also argues that the sharp separation between the ‘I-Thou’ and the ‘I-It’ paradigms, as opposed models for understanding human experiences and interactions, proves misleading when it comes to the special kind of encounter that happens in pregnancy. By radically contrasting the subject-object posture with the subject-subject one, Buber characterized any ‘true’ interpersonal relationship as mutual and reciprocal, with a clear axiological priority assigned to this kind of relationship over the objectual model. As a result, all kinds of human interaction that do not meet the high standards of that demanding ideal are belittled. The peculiar relationship between the mother and the creature in her womb is no exception.This concern seems to be very similar to the one Derrida articulates in The Animal That Therefore I Am, though in a very different register. Derrida’s claim is that our focus on a Cartesian “Ego”, or “subject” has made us incapable of meaningfully speaking of, thinking through, or enacting, a true relationship with our animal neighbors, a fault that, according to Derrida, has resulted in an unjust war against animals. We all, in our thinking and our enacted relations with animals, have forgotten the times we have we have seen ourselves seen naked under the gaze of a cat. All our relationships, are seen as I-thou, subjective relationships, and we have forgotten the animals that therefore we are.
The connection between Derrida’s arguments on The Animal and the question of abortion is seen in this, slightly modified, quote from O’Donovan’s Begotten or Made:Here, then, we have the two constituent elements of which our practical attitude to human fetuses will be composed: On the one hand, a conviction that human personality can be the object of experimental knowledge; on the other, a conviction that humanity can be divided into the personal and the animal…To achieve the goal of freedom, we objectify ourselves; we take animality, ours included, from being that which is lived, to be that which we observe, and so to be that which we conquer…The fetus is of interest to us because it is human; it is ‘ourselves’. On the other hand, it is considered a suitable object of experiment because it is not like us in every important way. The fetus is humanity in a form that is especially open to our pinning it down as scientific object and distancing ourselves from it in transcendent knowledge. What makes this so suitable is that it is, we believe, humanity, in which personality has not yet emerged from its animal substrate. (pp 61ff_ (Most changes are switching “embryo” to “fetus” and “biological” to “animal”.) In abortion, and the medical research it occasions, we turn our mastery of The Animal, and the openness of The Animal to killing and experimentation, to the animal that therefore I was, the human fetus.
If I understand Mumford correctly, his concern with recognizing a sort of human interacting revealed in the non-I-thou, non-subjective, interaction between mother and child is very similar to the concern Derrida enumerates of recognizing a sort of interaction in the moments when he “sees himself seen naked under the gaze of a cat.” In both cases, we touch and are touched by animal, and are in relationship with this animal other.
Derrida pushes the critique through not only against Descartes and Kant, but also, against Levinas and against Lacan, arguing that, for all Levinas’ and Lacan’s work to escape from the Cartesian thinking subject, they were ultimately unsuccessful, and remained trapped in a false division between The Human, and The Animal, and therefore, if the connection I’m drawing is valid, between The Human, and The Animal that therefore I was, the human fetus. And therefore, if Derrida is correct, even from a Levinasian or Lacanian position, the deep animal connections between humans, connections revealed in the mother-child relationship, but not limited to it cannot be rightly accounted for.
Specifically, (and this is perhaps more tenuous) it seems that when we articulate the similarities and differences between different human actions, we find that just as there are differences between humans and other animals, but not a hard line of Difference, so differences between sexuality and other human actions, there isn’t a hard line of Difference. The sounding members, for instance, are oriented to the listening members, and the listening to the sounding, as one psychological system: A dog barks so a dog will hear, even if the only dog that hears is he himself, and the dog’s ear is oriented to hearing and therefore, to hearing the dog’s bark. The barking dog creates a “subtle body”, as Derrida quotes Lacan describing words, which passes into the body of a second dog, which then resonates inside that second dog, and which that second dog then re-sonates in a second bark. Specifically, it seems that in something like choral singing, in which the subtle body produced by the sounding members and in that production, heard and resonated by the ears of the singers, is one voice, in the voice’s physicality, not merely its symbolic content, and in physical unity of hearing-articulating the one voice, in its sonority, there are certain differences from sexuality, but also, certain resemblances to sexuality. That is, it seems that, on that description, it could be apt to describe the unity in choral singing as a bodily unity, while recognizing that this description implies an analogy with sexuality, an analogy which is not completely foreign to the matter, since there are similarities, as well as differences, between this sort of action and sexuality.
But I think you would still disagree, but I’d be really curious how you would articulate the phenomena I haltingly describe in the last paragraph, while taking into account Derrida’s critique of Lacan, and, if I’m correct in extending Derrida to this sort of phenomenon, and if Derrida is correct in his critique, Lacan’s inability to account for the relationship of humans with animals, and thus, of humans with humans in their animality.
 Derrida intends this as a critique of the Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, and its center on Man’s authority over the beast to trample over them, seen critically in Man’s authority to sacrifice The Animal, an authority which he claims is behind our current abuse of animals. I think he reads sacrifice incorrectly as a form of killing (Katherine McClymond demolishes this claim, as does, I believe, work on Greek sacrifice that I have not read), and leaves out the hope for the resurrection of the sacrificial victim–when we give something to the God of the Living and the Dead, it doesn’t quite make sense to speak of its death, in the strong sense, since, even dead, it remains in the hands of God, who can and will, deal mercifully with it–but his critique of our modern society still seems close to the mark, especially in the light of Richard Bauckham’s argument that Scripture also reaches similar conclusions regarding our ethical relationship to animals.
For some reason my blockquote tags didn’t work. Sorry.
I will reply briefly because I am not well-read on this subject, though I have read Mumford’s linked article. Re: Buber’s ‘I-Thou’ relationship, my own thought about this is that it is difficult for a mother to have an ‘I-Thou’ relationship with an unborn child inside her because I don’t think that the unborn child has any awareness of the mother as a separate person. In later pregnancy, when the baby is active, it is much easier for a mother to think of the baby as a separate person, but as the mother can neither see nor hold the baby, I think it is still difficult for her to have an ‘I-Thou’ relationship with the baby (though I used to talk to mine before they were born!) Though an ‘I-Thou’ relationship between a mother and her unborn child is difficult, or maybe impossible, I don’t think that an ‘I-it’ relationship is the only alternative. I think that, to some extent, we can all empathise with an unborn child because we all began our lives in the womb and we all experienced leaving the warmth of the womb and entering a new, and hopefully welcoming, world. We probably don’t remember this experience, but we do recognize it as a fully human experience. So it’s not too difficult, when hearing about aborted babies, for us to think, ‘That aborted baby could have been me.’ In this respect, I think we can all, up to a point, empathise with the ordeal that aborted babies are subjected to, although I think that this is probably cognitive empathy* rather than visceral empathy. This makes me wonder how the woman in the Planned Parenthood video managed to talk in such a cold-blooded way about her work – did she put her empathy on the back burner? All this in addition to my anger that she dare take God’s precious creations and appropriate them to serve her own ends!
* Alastair, I wonder if what I have described here as ‘cognitive empathy’ is similar to what you have described elsewhere as compassion?
Thanks for the response. 🙂
I agree that I-Thou and I-It are both insufficient. The issue I’m trying to highlight is that the inability of moderns (not just Buberians) to conceive of a relationship that is not either I-Thou or I-It makes us unable to recognize and respect the relationship between mother and child, but also, the very different though very real and very very important relationship between someone and their dog or cat. Since we can only classify dogs and cats and unborn children (and other animals, and plants, and the land itself) as either I or Other-I (thou) or It, and since they aren’t I’s, they get classified as It’s, and exploited.
The point of contact with Alastair’s arguments is that Derrida pushes the objection through against almost all moderns, including, perhaps, Alastair’s position on these issues.
Good timing – I just checked my emails and saw your comment!
I haven’t read Derrida’s book so I am not in a position to comment on that, but I will make one or two home-spun comments about animals at the end of this.
I’m not really au fait with some of the descriptors of some groups of Christians/people and I’m not sure what you mean by ‘moderns’. I am aware of a current tendency to classify unborn children as ‘it’, but I think that the response to the Planned Parenthood video suggests that a large minority (or maybe even a majority) of people don’t do this, and that many consider that abortion is an injustice to unborn children.
And now my home-spun thoughts about animals. Over the years we had six cats and four of them were eventually ‘put down’ ( one went missing, and another died in a road accident.) I am not in favour of euthanasia for human beings, so yes, my attitude to these cats was very different from my attitude to human beings – but not because we had ‘I-it’ relationships with the cats. In fact, when I finally took the last (15 year-old) cat on his last visit to the vet, it was after a number of us had said that we wished that the cat could tell us how he felt about being ‘put to sleep’! I really don’t know what this means in terms of Derrida’s book and in terms on your own views – over to you! 🙂
One more thought – I think there might well be a link between indifference to animal suffering and narcissism.
The relationships between non-theologian/ theologian and patient/ doctor may not bear comparison, yet I have found myself comparing them after following recent Twitter conversations about reading, theology, knowledge, emotions, and so on.
I’m still thinking this through – please bear with me!
I been thinking about information I was given by a neurologist more than 20 years ago*, information about me that I had no way of finding out for myself. I’ve been thinking about how I might have responded to my neurologist if my attitude to him had been: ‘Just because he’s a neurologist, it doesn’t mean that he knows more about my brain than I do, and it doesn’t mean that he’s a better person than I am.’ If I had regarded my feelings of anxiety and sadness as feelings that were ’caused’ by him, I wonder how I would have responded to him? Might I even as gone as far as to suggest that he was just being arrogant and that he thought he had superior knowledge about my brain because he was a man and I was just a woman, and therefore ‘inferior’? As I write this, I can see how ridiculous it sounds – and yet this is precisely the attitude of some non-theologians to some theologians!
Having had these speculative thoughts, I return now to how I actually responded to my neurologist.
He said that he thought that I had pressure on the brain and he wanted to book me in for a brain scan as soon as possible – I was admitted into hospital a few hours later.
I didn’t want to have a brain tumour. I didn’t want to hear this man suggest that I might have one. I didn’t want to have the MRI and CT scans (in those days it entailed going into a ‘tunnel’). I didn’t want to have an operation. I didn’t want to lose my eyesight. I also knew that whatever had happened in my brain had happened without my knowledge and without my consent, and I was angry about it! My neurologist was the ‘messenger’, and I had no intention of shooting the messenger – I wanted all the help I could get, and this man was willing and able to give me all the help he could give.
When fellow Christians, including theologians, say things I’d rather not hear, I may go through a time of wishing that they hadn’t said it, but then I do reflect and pray, and I resist any inclination I might have to ‘shoot the messenger’. If fellow Christians say things that put me in touch with a ‘soft spot’ in myself, I realise that the ‘soft spot’ was already in me, unbeknown to me at the time, and then I attend to it, and pray about it. So the words that I don’t want to hear eventually lead to healing. Not all physical ailments can be healed, I know, and maybe not all mental illnesses, but we can be healed spiritually. I firmly believe that.
One of my weaknesses now is that I tend to become impatient with people who ‘shoot the messenger’ rather than face painful truths, so I pray daily that I will be able to become more patient ( amongst other things!)
* I had an idiopathic lesion on the optic nerve which was non-malignant but which caused severe headaches and hemi-facial spasm. I was an out-patient for five years I and am now more or less OK most of the time.
That isn’t a bad analogy in many respects.
That said, the distinction that we are talking about in this case wasn’t primarily one between people who are professional or trained theologians and those who aren’t, but between those who are able and willing to read 5,000 word posts from time to time and those who aren’t. Most of us who are trained theologians were reading much longer posts and articles on a daily basis before we received any training. Also, most of our readers are not trained theologians and never will be. They are just people in the general population who want to think seriously about the Bible and God’s truth. We don’t expect everyone to be like this, but if someone wants to be part of the wider theological conversation, expecting them to read a longer post from time to time isn’t a high bar. Reading 5,000 words would take the majority of people well under twenty minutes. Most people have that sort of time to spare once a week or so.
Thank you, Alastair.
What you have written here is very straight-forward and reasonable. What I have been concerned about is the way that some people have turned this (without good cause, I think) into a squabble about experts and non-experts, about qualifications and training, about time-management, lifestyle and responsibilities, about the true value of a person and respect/ or lack of respect for a person’s feelings … and so on. Maybe it’s another Twitter example of how to turn molehills into mountains!
Sometimes I think I must be mad to read some of these Twitter exchanges… but then, I don’t want to bury my head in the sand either.
Most people who post on this page are younger than I am and I want to make it clear that what I have to say next does not apply to any of you. I often think of the saying,’ You can’t put an old head on young shoulders’. I think that much of the bickering on Twitter is evidence of immaturity. I realise that chronological age and maturity do not always go hand-in-hand, but they often do, and one of the challenges of aging for me is trying to discern when to speak and when to remain silent – I learn by trial and error! One of the things some of my teaching colleagues used to say to some pupils was ‘Grow up!’. I always thought that it was a ridiculous thing to say, but I understood the frustration my colleagues, and I often feel tempted to tweet, ‘Grow up!’ in response to some Twitter comments 🙂
I have just one more comment to add on this subject because I have just realised how much my attitude to the objections about blog-length has been influenced by my many years as a teacher. I was teaching at a Grammar School for Girls before and during the introduction of the comprehensive system in the mid-seventies and many of us experienced this as a culture shock. Not only did the new intake include pupils from across the whole ability range, but it also included boys! There were mixed ability classes in some subjects, such as art, sport and lower school English, but maths, science, and foreign language classes were usually setted. At another school I worked in, in a catchment area which had a high crime rate, the stalwart, male science teachers reluctantly decided to ban the use of the Bunsen burner in some unruly classes, for Health and Safety reasons.
‘Equal rights’ and ‘equality of opportunity’ can be a conundrum!
Comprehensive schools are communities and I think that, in some ways, Twitter is a ‘comprehensive’ community where mixed ability groups are fine in some contexts, but ‘setting’ is essential in other contexts. It makes sense 🙂
A brief addenda: when I was teaching, I read somewhere that teachers needed to have a built-in, shock-proof ‘crap-detector’. Before I came on Twitter, I hadn’t realised that I might need to lean so heavily on my ‘crap-detector’ when engaging with some fellow Christians 😉
P.S. I must give credit where it is due – in this case to Ernest Hemingway, who reportedly said that a basic essential for writers was a ‘built-in, shock-proof crap-detector’. 🙂
Pro se quisque – my schoolfriend was spot on all those years ago.
But we are not ‘of” the world and Christ has overcome the world, though ‘the world’ would so much like us to lose sight of this. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. 🙂
I posted a comment about the Myer’s Briggs test on the Future of Protestantism thread instead of on here – I am sorry
I realised that I hadn’t read the Guyton article so I just read it. I also started to read the comments on the Jesus Creed but I soon became weary of it and I read no more because it seemed to me that this was neither a debate about the MB test nor a debate about the scriptures, but a dispute that Jesus did not want his disciples to have anyway (Luke 9:46<) and that it was no more about a love for and a search for the truth than the MB test is.
But I do say Amen to this, from Alastair's post:
'I will not discover my true self through taking a personality test, but as I am conformed by God's Spirit to the image of His Son…this is the truth in terms of which all other self-understanding must proceed.'
Any old earth creationists here who could answer the following question?
The genealogies in Genesis 5 & 11 suggest that 2000 years elapsed between Adam and Abraham. There are a couple of arguments I have heard from old earth creationists to rebut this point, but they don’t seem to accomplish what they set out to do. Consider Genesis 5:6 as an example:
“When Seth had lived 105 years, he begot (yalad) Enosh.” (Genesis 5:6)
Even if one takes “yalad” to mean “beget” in a more indirect sense (begetting a grandson/great-grandson etc.), you still have 105 years elapsing between the birth of Seth and the birth of Enosh. In this instance, the passage would look something like this:
“When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the ancestor of Enosh”
So when you add up the generational gaps, you still get around 2000 years elapsing between Adam and Abraham. Are there any alternative explanations for this from an old earth perspective?
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