29 December 2016

A "Progressive" Case for Israel

After permitting the UN to pass a resolution condemning Israel, the Obama administration doubled down with a speech from Secretary of State John Kerry.

A snippet from the hour long speech:

These two parting shots from the Obama Administration are troubling in light of the growing BDS movement among progressives. Moreover, the actions of both the Obama Administration and the BDS movement are puzzling. For all the white noise about zionism and growing Jewish fundamentalism, Israel remains a very progressive polity. Perhaps this is because most Israelis originally came from Europe or descended from immigrants from Europe.

Israel is a democratic republic.

Israel recognizes basic human rights.

Israel is a nation of "illegal" immigrants.

Israel has a national healthcare system that all Israelis are compelled to join.

Israel allows legal abortions paid for by the national health care.

Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other nations.

Israel allows women in combat in its defense forces.

With all these "progressive" credentials, it is a wonder that they do not give more support of Israel and adopt a more skeptical stance again the Palestinian Arabs. Perhaps its that progressive core value of empathy for the weak and disadvantaged.

From that perspective the weak and disadvantaged Palestinians are right--even when they're not.

27 December 2016

Banking on the Palestinians?

The Obama Administration, still intent on wrecking as much destruction as possible both domestically and internationally, abstained on the UN vote condemning Israel for their presence in East Jerusalem and for settlements in the so-called "Occupied Territories" of the West Bank.

I write "so-called' because as far as I know, no one called them that until after the Six Day War in 1967.  Although set aside as part of a proposed Palestinian Arab state following WWII, the territory was seized by Jordan in the 1948 war. Jordan granted citizenship to the Palestinians who lived in the West Bank as well as the tens of thousands who fled or were expelled from Israel during that war. The area also elected representatives to the Jordanian parliament.

Only after Israel captured the West Bank in  1967 did the West Bank became known as the "Occupied Territories." And even after Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1994 in which they normalized relations and Jordan gave up any claims to the West Bank, the name has stuck. Normally, treaties between sovereign powers go unchallenged by governments not party to those treaties. Not so, in this case. Both individual governments around the globe and various international organizations refuse the recognize the treaty.

The UN resolution and the Obama administration's abstention are largely symbolic for now. And with the advent of the Trump administration, it probably will remain so indefinitely. The resolution will neither stop the on-going construction of settlements nor spark the dismantling of existing ones. But its symbolic import should not be underestimated. It suggests that Israel carries responsibility for the lack of progress for peace negotiations during the Obama years--that settlement construction keeps the Palestinians from the bargaining table.

Settlements, however, are not the issue. In any comprehensive peace accord, settlements can be dismantled. The physical structures can be evacuated and turned over to the new Palestinian sovereignty. Or the current Jewish residents can continue to live there under Palestinian rule, just like tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs and Christians who currently live under Israeli rule within Israel's borders. Until a peace treaty is signed, they remain a negotiating point.

The Palestinians, however, already have demonstrated their implacability during the efforts of previous administrations to secure peace. Rather than encouraging peace talks, the UN resolution and the Obama administration's implicit support of it only emboldens this implacability.


25 December 2016

A Christmas Morning Reflection

As Christmas morning slowly slips into the past, a few reflections:

It goes without saying that Christmas traditions vary era to era and family to family. (But I guess I said it anyway.) One constant, however, is the focus on the children.

Some parents, probably a plurality, create anticipation for the holiday by reading A Visit from St. Nicholas to their enraptured children. They help compose a letter to Santa or make a personal call on him at the local mall to work out an agreement on gifts. They change the car radio station from the classic rock station to the 24 hour Christmas music station, where the horns blare, the strings reach a crescendo, and Andy Williams croons, “It's the most wonderful time of the year.” (And for Andy Williams, it IS the most wonderful time of the year. It's the only time of the year that he gets  radio play anymore.) Eventually, those children grow skeptical of the claim that reindeer fly or that Santa can fit down the chimney flue.

Other parents create the anticipation for the holiday with advent calendars that countdown the days to the arrival of the Christ child. Their worship services at church begin to incorporate holiday themes. Perhaps a reading of Matthew and Luke's accounts of the birth of Jesus takes place Christmas eve or Christmas morn before exchanging gifts. The gift giving may be construed as an imitation of God's give to man or the gifts of the wise men to the infant Christ child. Later, some of these children, too, may experience a more psychologically traumatic skepticism about those accounts from Matthew and Luke to which they listened growing up.

An interesting change in the “sounds of the season” has taken place over the years. I mean the sounds on the street. I remember the sounds of carolers in the neighborhood in which I grew up. I cannot recall if this occurred every season or just the one that I still remember. One evening it moved several us to get our coats on go caroling ourselves. At least on one evening we did not make it very far. After singing outside the home of one of our friends, we received an invitation in to drink hot chocolate. Once we entered the house, our caroling itinerary ceased.

Another change in the “sounds of the season” manifests itself Christmas morning. The streets used to be a noisy place. Every Christmas morning, after the neighborhood kids opened their presents, they spilled out of their houses into the streets. Children were everywhere with footballs, baseballs, skateboards, mock firearms, remote control cars, bicycles, dolls, baby strollers, etc. Now the streets have an eerie silence. I know that kids live in my neighborhood; I see them each school day waiting at the bus stops. But Christmas morning no kids can be found anywhere.

I imagine they are sitting in front of their television screens and video game platforms or computers. Instead of skateboards, they own a Tony Hawk video simulation. Instead of creeping silently around they neighborhood with their plastic M-1 carbines, helmet, and back-packs or manipulating their G.I. Joes, they direct a platoon in Call of Duty or Halo. Instead of assembling a couple of teams for front yard foot ball, they coach an NFL franchise with Madden NFL Football. There is probably a video game out in which a young girl feeds and changes the diaper on a virtual baby instead of an actual doll. (Or else she has a REAL baby of her own.)

Its not just silent night anymore. Its silent morn.

Kids saving the world in the 1960s:

< Kids saving the world in the 2000s:


24 December 2016

An Atheistic Christmas

When Christians are not warning each other about the war on Christmas, some ruminate over how can agnostics and atheists participate in this most religious of holidays. They pose such questions as "If you don't believe in God or Christmas, you must believe in something"--as if this means anything.

Meanwhile, some of my fellow infidels seem to get overworked about Christmas themes erected on public property, especially court houses. As a conservative, I do not get too worked up about it. Christmas is a folk tale that gets celebrated one time a year (maybe twice if one includes Easter). So what if a local community puts up religious themed display during the "holiday season."

As to how an agnostic or atheist celebrates the season, Pat Condell says it best:

18 December 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: "Let the Waters:" The Third Day

After God separated the waters into bodies above and below the firmament called heaven, he separated the waters below the firmament from the land.

"And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good." Genesis 1:9-10

Contrary to our modern scientific knowledge about continental formation, the Bible describes the emergence of the land as simply a gathering of the waters together. Nothing in the text even hints of the natural processes of volcanic eruptions, subduction, and erosion that gave rise to the continents.

Moreover, the passage describes the sprouting of grass, seed producing herbs, and fruit producing trees before the creation of the sun. In the Biblical conception of the cosmos, however, light and darkness or day and night seem unrelated to the presence of the sun. Day and night are simply incomprehensible and unexplained attributes of the firmament.

The text, however, does illuminate that opening verse which describes God creating the heavens and the earth. Modern readers assume that the opening verse alludes to the creation of planet earth. When adding the passages about the formation of the land and sea to the context and remembering that the author of Genesis knew nothing about planets, it becomes evident that the creation of earth in the opening passage of Genesis means the land. It refers to the land formed in the subsequent passages of verses 9-10 quoted above. Genesis 1:1 does not describe the creation of the celestial heavens and planet earth. It refers to the creation of the open expanse above and the land or ground beneath.

See more detail from some excellent video productions at the Bible Skeptic over at YouTube.

17 December 2016

Lo Saturnalia!

Its that time again. Eating. Drinking. Music. Exchanging gifts. Decorating trees.

Its Saturnalia!

Well, maybe not. It used to be Saturnalia. But with the emergence of a small Judean religious sect and its remarkable growth in adherents in the West that far exceeded its adherents in its native land, Saturnalia is all but forgotten.

They have taken Saturn out of Saturnalia.

Saturn is the name of the Roman god of agriculture and harvest. He is associated with the goddess of plenty. The weekly time of partying, Saturday, is named for him.

Between December 17 and 23, Romans honored him with a feast. Romans decorated the trees on the grounds of their villas. They ate, drank, exchanged gifts, and made merry by saying “Lo! Saturnalia.” Slaves and their owners exchanged roles. The slaveholders served and the slaves enjoyed be served. The holiday also served as a transition into the celebration of the Dies Natalis Solis Invictis, or Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun. This latter festival honored the birthday of the sun god, which fell on December 25, the date of the winter solstice according to the old Julian calendar. Disagreement exists over how early and in what form worship of the sun took place.

Meanwhile, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. The resurrection emerged as the most important Christian festival because of its theological importance. In addition, the Church more easily could settle on a date since the crucifixion and resurrection coincided with the Hebrew Passover Feast. Over several decades, however, the celebration of the birth of Jesus grew in importance. But the church celebrated it on different days in different parts of the empire. The Church in Rome celebrated the day on December 25, possibly based upon calculations by Pope Julius 1. As Rome grew and achieved primacy over the rest of the church in its theology and authority, the December 25 date became standard through out the Church for “Christ’s Mass.”

No direct evidence suggests that the Church authorities chose the date to obscure the pagan festivals of Saturnalia or Sol Invictus. But some church fathers noted the coincidence. Cyprian (?-258) noted “How wonderfully acted providence that on the day when that sun was born, Christ should be born.” In addition, Chrysostom wrote that “Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December. But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered.' But who indeed is unconquered as our Lord?”

As Christianity spread, Christmas became intermingled with additional pagan winter celebration traditions: yule logs, mistletoe, and Christmas trees. Today it offers a syncretistic something for everyone.

So, “Lo Saturnalia.” And “Merry Christmas.”

13 December 2016

Traditional Marriage: A Brief Defense

The first time I heard some Christian say "God made Adam and Eve--not Adam and Steve," I thought it funny. It does not resonate very much to those of us who do not share their religious views--but funny none the less.

When Christians baptize biblical marriage as traditional marriage, it is not so amusing.

(See several posts last week on what the biblical authors wrote about marriage.)

Conservatives hold a deep respect for tradition. Every generation possesses a cultural inheritance bestowed to them by earlier generations. Whatever traditions constitute part of this inheritance rest upon the reasoning of those earlier generations. Traditions can be changed; some should be changed. Conservatives hold that tradition remains the default position, however,  and that suggested changes must have compelling reasons as justification.

Traditional marriage between one man and one women is such a tradition. It is, of course, a Western European tradition as part of our cultural inheritance from the Greeks and the Romans. It is NOT a biblical tradition, although Christianity has sanctioned traditional marriage. Biblical marriage, of course, is polygamous.

Traditional marriage is a social reality created by humans. It is not a divine institution. But it is based upon biological reality. Men  and women engage in sexual intercourse, procreate, rear their offspring, and form kinship networks based upon consanguinity. Homosexual couples cannot do these things. They cannot engage in sexual intercourse properly speaking. They cannot procreate. They cannot form new kinship networks based upon consanguinity.

Obviously, some same sex couples cannot procreate. Although evolution designed two genders for the continued preservation of the species, some people are unable to have children. Moreover, some couples elect to not have children. The fact that some couples cannot have children or that some couples choose not to have children seems irrelevant to the question of same sex marriage. Traditional marriage assumes  the potentiality for children. No same sex couple possesses even the potentiality for children.

Centuries ago, Aristotle argued that to understand the justice of any social practice, one must understand its telos--its end or purpose. Only traditional marriage fulfills the fundamental purposes of family formation. Consequently, it is just to restrict marriage to the traditional formula of one man and one woman.

And this is why in every state the laws defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman constitute part of family law or family code. And these laws define what kind of voluntary associations count of marriage. Marriage has never been defined in terms of individual rights or personal autonomy.

Marriage is a social convention with social purposes that we as a society can change and define anyway we want. We can change the definition of marriage to include couples of the same sex. We change the definition of marriage to include good old fashioned Biblical or Koranic polygamy. We can change the definition to include new fashioned gender neutral polyamorous relationships.

There just do not seem to be any compelling reasons why we should.

11 December 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: "Let There Be a Firmament: " The Second Day

After creating the cycles of day and night, God began transforming the world.

"And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day." Genesis 1:6-8

Modern translations of this text call this firmament an expanse or dome. Significantly, the expanse is not described as being around the earth; it is above it. This implies that the authors believed that the world was a flat expanse of oceean--not a sphere. In creating this expanse, God divided waters in the atmosphere from surface waters. This act provides the primitive explanation for precipitation.

Anticipating the account of the catastrophic flood described in Genesis chapters 6-9, some modern interpreters assert that the waters above the heavens constituted a water vapor canopy. It was the collapse of this water canopy that created Noah's flood. This enables believers in a world wide deluge to explain the source of the waters. In addition, these commentators suggest that water canopy explains the incredible longevity of human life described in the early chapters of Genesis.

The authors of Genesis, however, probably intended nothing more than an attempt to account for weather. The authors--and their readers--understood that the waters above the firmament  accounted for both Noah's flood and all subsequent rainfall. The Psalmist believed that the waters above the heavens--or at least some of them--remained there (Ps. 148:4). With the primitive state of knowledge about  meteorology and the earth's surface features, the authors had no "explaining to do."

Below, another well-produced video from The Bible Skeptic:

10 December 2016

Marriage--Social, Anthropological,and Legal

One more look at marriage--from yet another perspective.

Although rooted in biological realities, marriage exists mainly as a social convention.

Marriage is historically understood as a union between a man and woman. Efforts to describe just what kind of union reveals its multifaceted character. The most common models understandings include marriage as a social practice, a religious rite, a legal contract, and a civil institution.

First, marriage as a social practice is the most fundamental. As a social practice, marriage precedes political society and the modern state’s establishment of marriage as a legal institution. Marriage brings together a man and woman into a new relationship between them and into a new standing before the larger society. For most of human history and in traditional patriarchal societies today, fathers arrange the marriages of their children. Arranged marriages usually are endogamous in that they maintain existing kinship networks. Marriages between relatives sharing some degree of consanguinity reinforces tribal or clan identity. Of course, families arrange exogamous marriages outside the existing kinship ties as well in order to establish new ones. Enhancing the economic well-being or status of the families motivates many if not most arranged marriages. As a social practice, traditional marriage serves the related functions of regulating sexual behavior, establishing the legitimacy of offspring, and defining property arrangements. Romantic love or passion between spouse either do not constitute a crucial aspect of arranged marriages at all or is expected to emerge during the marriage. The rise of modern romantic marriage, however, fundamentally altered traditional practices. In the West and in other less traditional societies, modern marriage is understood as a matter of individual choice.

Second, because most societies contain one or more religious traditions, marriage is also considered a religious rite. The ceremony informs the event with religious meaning as the couple assumes a new standing before God--however he is conceived. This usually means some religious official presides over the ceremony, confers divine blessings on the union, and provides some sort of theological understanding of marriage within that society‘s religious tradition. Marriage as a religious right endures even in today’s more secular age. In most nations, the state authorizes religious officials to conduct marriages.

Third, because marriage involves some agreement between parties, whether between family heads in an arranged marriage or between individuals in modern marriage, it is also described as a contract. In fact, most civil or family codes today define it as such. When a proposal for marriage is agreed upon, the couple exchanges promises regarding rights and duties. Marriage differs from other legal contracts, however,  in that the parties rarely write out the rights and duties as clauses in a  formal agreement. The modern state has assumed regulatory powers over marriage through licensing. The state establishes licensing procedures and specifies who may enter into marriage contracts and what kinds of marriage contracts it will recognize. The state accords recognition based upon the interests of the state or perhaps the children produced by the marriage.

That last point is the essential but lost one the in the contemporary debates about same sex marriage. Few people oppose, or at least possess any standing to oppose, a same sex marriage ceremony conducted in some liberal mainline church or Las Vegas wedding chapel. Any same sex couple has the freedom to walk an aisle, make mutual pledges of love and fidelity,  and declare to their friends that they are now  . . .  well, spouse and spouse.

The point of debate is whether or not states lie under any moral or legal obligation to recognize such unions.

The Supreme Court, of course, ended debate and any prospect of reaching a public consensus on the controversy in Obergefell vs. Hodges.

09 December 2016

Biblical Marriage: All in the Family

In this last installment on "biblical marriage"--keeping it all in the family.

Another feature of "biblical marriage" that remains irrelevant today  concerns who the people of Yahweh may marry. The ancient Hebrews engaged in endogomous marriages, or marriages within their tribe.

Abraham secured a wife from his family: he married Sarai, his half sister. According to Gen. 20:12, they shared the same father but not the same mother.

Abraham arranged an endogamous  marriage for his son Isaac with relatives back in Haran.

" And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.  And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:  And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:  But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac." Gen 24:1-4 (KJV)

Isaac arranged an endogamous marriage with relatives back in Haran:

"And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.  Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother." Gen 28:1-3 (KJV)

Isaac's brother Esau, in contrast, displeased his parents by marrying outside the tribe:

"And Esau was forty years old when he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bashemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite:  Which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah." Gen 26:34-35 (KJV)

These well-established cultural practices later evolved into commands from Yahweh to the Hebrews through the Mosaic Law that included the religious basis:

"Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly." Deut 7:3-4 (KJV)

Not sure what to make of this last command, given that  Yahweh permits the marriage to foreign women captured in war.

08 December 2016

Biblical Marriage: Polygamy

Biblical marriages not only were endogamous arrangements within the tribe that often included a bride price, but also were polygamous.

Readers in Genesis learn that several of the "patriarchs" had more than one wife. Abraham married Sarah and Hagar. Jacob married Rachel and Leah. Esau married Judith and Bashemath.

This cultural convention of the ancient Hebrews received recognition in the Mosaic Law. In Deuteronomy  Moses provides the following directions for inheritance problems caused by polygamous marriages:

 "If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated:  Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn:  But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his."  Deut 21:15-17 (KJV)

And, of course, later examples of polygamous marriages in Hebrew history include, Gideon, David, Solomon, and virtually all the Hebrew monarchs.

Polygamy is something we do not hear about when Christians talk about "biblical marriages."

We do hear about polygamy from Christians when they argue that state recognition of same sex marriage opens the door to polygamy. Once the laws rip marriage from its heterosexual foundation and childbearing purposes, they argue, then anything goes. No reasonable grounds remain for any definition of marriage.

This is sound as far as it goes.

Because polygamous marriages were a cultural tradition among the ancient Hebrews and recognized by the Mosaic Law in the bible,  Christians cannot make this argument and remain consistent with the propositional truths contained in their collection of sacred writings.

Not that it is a bad argument. But unfortunately for the Christian, only we non-Christian supporters of traditional Roman marriages of one man and one woman can make it.

07 December 2016

Biblical--Er--Brotherly Marriage

 Another kind of "biblical" marriage is known among anthropologists as livirate marriage.

Let Moses explain it.

Moses shares Yahweh's regulations regarding a marriage broken by the death of the husband. Although Yahweh might simplify matters by not permitting the death of the husband in the first place, he places on obligation (of sorts) on the brother of the deceased to take the widow as his bride.

"If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.  And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.  And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother.  Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her;  Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house.  And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed." Deuteronomy 25:5-10 (KJV)  

Later known as livirate marriage, it seems designed to vicariously continue the blood line of the deceased and to provide heir for his property. The marriage prevented the widow from remarrying a stranger or foreigner. This probably means someone outside the tribe or extended kinship network rather than a non-Hebrew. Perhaps Yahweh could have simplified matters by not letting a man die until after he reproduced.

It also appears that this is a Semitic custom that Moses uses religion to affirm, rather than some divinely inspired provision of marriage and family law. Back in Gen. 38, for example, Judah contracted a marriage for his son Er with a local gal named Tamar. Because of the wickedness of Er, Yahweh took his life. Consequently, Judah directed his other son Onan to take Tamar as is wife. He agreed, but on his honeymoon, he squirted his goo on the ground. He knew that whatever child that came from the union would not be reckoned as his own--and neither would any property.

So Yahweh killed him, too. 

06 December 2016

Biblical Marriage: Servants and Slaves

Yesterday's post expanded on the assertion that marriage is a social reality created by mankind, not a divinely revealed plan of "holy matrimony." In it a distinction was drawn between the notions of "traditional" marriage and "biblical" marriage. The most typical of biblical marriages is the arranged marriage. The families involved negotiate an exchange of a bride for a bride price.

Not many "biblical marriages" are formed this way, at least not in this country.

Another type of  biblical marriage includes servitude and slavery.

A Hebrew man could buy a female servant and betroth her to either himself or his son :

"And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.  If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.  And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. 1 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.  And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money." Ex 21:7-11 (KJV)

A Hebrew man could also acquire  sex slaves from captives in war. This arose as an afterthought. When the Hebrews later began their occupation of their "promised land," they waged war against neighboring tribes. One of the tribes included the Midianites, relatives of the wife of Moses. After one clash, Moses issue the following command:

 "Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.  But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves." Num 31:17-18 (KJV)

Young girls thus considered as "war booty" makes this out to be an iron age "Booty Call."

Before occupying the promised land, Moses repeated the law first given by Yahweh at Sinai. This second giving of the law included information that Yahweh overlooked the first time. Some of this information detailed what to do with captives in their war of conquest: if you find attractive women, you can make they wives--after killing her parents, of course.

"When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,  And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;  Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;  And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.  And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her." Deut 21:10-14 (KJV)

In addition to arranged marriages, these are two more examples of "biblical marriage" that we do not see much in this Christian nation.

05 December 2016

Biblical Marriage: Arrangers and Exchangers

Last Saturday's post on marriage noted that marriage is a social reality created by human beings. I asserted that it is not a divine institution.

In the recent unpleasantness about same sex marriage, opponents argued on behalf of what they called "traditional marriage." For some this means biological marriage. For others , it means something more: biblical marriage. The concept of biblical marriage as defined by its proponents has little to do with biblical marriage as presented in the Bible.

So what about biblical marriage?

First, biblical marriages are arranged marriages. The Mosaic Law does not state it explicitly or specify any legal parameters regarding arrangements. It is implicit in many related passages, such as Exodus 22:17. Readers can find examples of arranged marriages in the Bible before the giving of the Law. Some examples include the following:

God arranges a marriage for Adam: Gen.2:18-25.

Abraham negotiates a marriage for his son Isaac with Bethuel: Gen.  24:1-67.

Isaac and his son Jacob negotiates a marriage with Laban:  Gen. 29:1-35

Even single mom Hagar arranges a marriage for her son: Gen. 21:21.

Second, as arranged marriages, they usually involve some economic exchange--the bride price.

Some examples:

Abraham's servant offered a bride price after Bethuel and Label agreed to the marriage proposal"

"Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the Lord: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good.  Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master's son's wife, as the Lord hath spoken.  And it came to pass, that, when Abraham's servant heard their words, he worshipped the Lord, bowing himself to the earth.  And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things." Gen 24:50-53 (KJV)

Isaac's son Jacob arranging a marriage without any property to speak of, worked seven years for his first wife:

"And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.  And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.  And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her." Gen 29:18-20 (KJV)

When Laban swindled him and pulled the old switcheroo, giving him the elder sister Leah instead of Rachel, he spent another seven years working off the bride price for Rachel:

 "And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also."
Gen 29:28 (KJV)

A couple of observations:

First, arranged marriages and bride prices seem to be a cultural feature of the ancient Middle East. They are not obviously some grand idea from divine revelation. necessary to overcome mankind's inability to craft just laws because of they sinfulness.

Second, arranged marriages and bride prices constitute part of marriage in the Bible but not "biblical marriages" as touted by pastors, theologians, and Christian counselors.

04 December 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: "Let There Be Light:" The First Day

As the Mosaic account of the creation of the cosmos begins, the readers receive the first indication that the Bible  preserves a conception of the universe that reflects the speculations of a primitive people rather than the revelations of an omniscient deity.

"And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day." Genesis 1:3-5

According to this account, God created one of the most fundamental of human experiences: the passage of day and night. Not only does the passing of day and night serve as the basis of tracking time, but also until modern times governed human patterns of work, leisure, and rest.

This account, however, gives no indication that a relationship exists between daylight and the sun. The creation of the sun on day four confirms this conclusion. Moreover, the account  conceives darkness as a thing in itself. It is not merely the absence of light. It, too, was created by God (Isa. 45:7). The passage of day and night simply occurs without end and without explanation.

Another video by Brett Palmer at the Bible Skeptic channel at YouTube:

03 December 2016

Marriage--Biological and Social Reality

In last Saturday's reflection on the meaning of conservatism, I contrasted conservative views of the origins of the state with liberal views. Most liberal theorists move from the individual directly to the origins of the state in some kind of compact among those individuals, Conservatism sees a more historical account of the state with the emergence of intermediate institutions such as household and village before the state. The importance of these intermediate institutions and the conservative theory of government will become more apparent in subsequent posts.

In that last post, I noted Aristotle's view that the state is made up, not of individuals, but of households. Some reflections, then, on the origin of the household.

The household as traditionally understood begins, of course, with marriage. So what is marriage? This post will look at marriage as both a social reality and a biological reality.

Marriage constitutes part of the social reality created my human beings. Marriage, government, money, religion, schools, professional associations, and economic institutions are the most obvious constituents of the social reality of modern mankind. Marriage has been constituted in various ways in different places and time.by human beings. Societies have establish all kinds of customs regarding how many wives or husbands constitute a marriage, minimum age requirements,  what degrees of consanquinity between partners is acceptable, whether marriages should be exogamous or endogamous, and on and on. It is not, as Christian call it, holy matrimony created by God. As such, we can define marriage any way we want. This social reality is based, however, on a fundamental biological reality: the existence of two genders.

Over the course of four million years, biological evolution has yielded two sexes for the reproduction and rearing of offspring to perpetuate the human species. Human reproductive organs possess an evolved compatibility. The male's external reproductive organs and the female's mostly internal reproductive organs when properly functioning enable intercourse and reproduction. Although instinct does not determine human behavior the same way that it does in other species, natural tendencies involving various visual, auditory, and olfactory cues influence human mating. Facial appearance, voice pitch, and the more subtle influences of pheromones such androstadienone and copulance draw the sexes together. Sexual desire itself as a visceral urge is expressed through human sexual intercourse. These biological phenomena assist in establishing human mating generally and finding genetically advantageous mates specifically.

Some interesting and informative videos can be found here.

 (yes, it's capitalism, so you have to watch some commercials)

Men and women have been engaging in sexual intercourse, giving birth, rearing children, and forming extensive kinship networks based upon consanguinity since the emergence of homo sapiens. Wherever humans inhabit the globe, they establish families. And wherever humans establish families, they do so through the pairing of the two genders.

Despite the rise of modern thinking on marriage as partnerships and sex as recreation or physical expressions of emotional affections, it still seems that the begetting of children and family formation constitute the object or purpose of marriage. Scores of young people today even have children before they marry.

Another somewhat esoteric way to see this is to look at marriage from the perspective of Aristotle's four causes:

Formal cause--the institutional reality of marriage as defined in family codes.

Material cause--a man and a woman.

Efficient cause--visceral drives for sexual intercourse, the act of intercourse, and pregnancy itself.

Final cause--birth of a child.

An intractable social problem from which our country suffers today is that missing formal cause, where children are born out of wedlock.

One way perhaps to clarify discourse on this topic (at the expense of brevity) is to define the biological reality as the bonding, pairing, or conjunction of the sexes and the institutional reality as marriage.

02 December 2016

Why Trump Won: The Ideology

Ideology is a slippery concept. To some it means a cluster of core moral and political values. To some it connotes a intense, even delusional devotion to some kind political principles that makes one impervious to contrary evidence. To others, it appears to be a vague or inchoate emotional attitude or worldview.

Although the first definition best captures my own conception, it seems to me that in this astonishing presidential election, an ideology in this last sense was at work. It resembles an old ideology with a long history in the Anglo-American world and on occasion seems to reappear in America. According to one historian, it emerged among English gentry during the Stuart dynasty in the 1620s-40s. These members of the gentry, whose affection and influence resided in the counties in which they lived, grew increasingly suspicious of and hostile to the Court--the monarch and all those who gravitated to it. It was the Country against the Court.

Lawrence Stone, in his Causes of the English Revolution, describes it:

“It was a vision of environmental superiority over the city; the Country was peaceful and clean, a place of grass and trees and birds, the city was ugly and dirty and noisy, a place of clattering carts and coaches, coal dust and smog, and piles of human excrement. It was also a vision of moral superiority over the Court: the Country was virtuous, the Court wicked; the Country was thrifty, the Court extravagant; the Country was honest, the Court was corrupt; the Country was chaste and heterosexual, the Court was promiscuous and homosexual; the Country sober, the Court drunken; the Country was nationalist, the Court xenophile; the Country was healthy, the Court diseased; the Country was outspoken, the Court sycophantic; the Country was the defender of old ways and old liberties, the Court the promoter of administration novelties and new tyrannical practices; the Courts solidly Protestant, even Puritan, the Court deeply tainted by popish leanings.”

This "Country" ideology served as the backdrop to the English Civil Wars of the 1640s and of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, both of which ended the Stuart dynasty's attempts at arbitrary rule without the assent of Parliament. It even persisted into the 1720s, as Whig Party adherents calling themselves "Patriots" and growing disgusted with the perceived corruption of government by their own party (Whigs in Name Only? WINOs?), began a  sustained polemical attack on Court Whigs.

The most famous collection of those verbal volleys were collected and published as Cato's Letters.

And aside from its anti-Catholicism, this "Country" ideology persists to this day in the United States. Instead of the "Country party" call it Nixon's silent majority, or Reagan's moral majority, or the Tea Party, or Trump's populist revolt. Instead of the Court, call it the establishment.

Does this election portend a triumph of the Country party? Only time will tell.

01 December 2016

Why Trump Won: The Issues

Donald Trump not only shook up the electoral map, but also completely changed the conversation.

Going into this election, I thought the big issue remained the budget and out of control government spending. This is what animated the Tea Party Movement which helped Republicans regain control of both houses of Congress. Like many voters, I anticipated to good debate among Republicans about how to address this critical problem.

Trump, however, made illegal immigration the centerpiece of his campaign, accentuating it with references to disappearing American jobs. The influx of illegal immigrants from central American and the Obama Administration's plan to take 10,000 Syrian refugees as a start made Americans more conscious than ever of this looming demographic and economic disaster. Trump dared to speak about what progressives and other pro-immigrant groups believe is the unspeakable--facts they do not want Americans to know: that millions of immigrants comes here illegally for work, even though it is illegal to hire them; that the majority of immigrants--legal and illegal--receive public, tax payer funded benefits; and many illegal aliens had criminal records in their place of origin and have committed additional crimes since coming to the United States. And politicians have done nothing about it. Trump inflamed the issue with the false charge that Mexico is actually sending these immigrants, implying that Mexico determines our immigration policy. It might as well be true. Mexico does little to stop it, and it solves some of its economic problems. Remember--the reason we absorb so many immigrants from Mexico is NOT because our immigration system is broken. Rather, it is Mexico that is broken. And, of course, he made those undeliverable promises about building a wall and making Mexico pay for it.

Trump also focused on jobs. Again, he found someone to blame--the politicians for trade agreements that send jobs overseas such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the soon to be considered Trans-Pacific Partnership. He also blamed companies themselves for laying off American workers for cheaper labor elsewhere, even threatening a hefty tax on goods manufactured in American owned plants in foreign countries and imported into the United States. He thus painted a picture of the worst economic scenario imaginable--exporting high paying jobs abroad while importing uneducated, low-skilled, and low wage immigrants from Latin America.

Hillary Clinton, in contrast,  offered nothing new. As the representative of the incumbent party, she had to run on the uneven achievements of the Obama administration. Her message was essentially a stay the course message. The economy has come a long way from 2008; Clinton would build upon Obama's success. She would continue to work on creating more jobs. She would work for better wages. She would work for more social mobility. She would work for more social equality. She specifically addressed those Americans left out of the recovery. And, of course, noting the presence of millions of illegal immigrants, she would work on creating a path for citizenship. (It is noteworthy that she did describe them as immigrants, and not illegal immigrants; but everyone knew who she was talking about).

For too many Americans, staying in the course meant more years of struggling to make ends meet.

They voted, once again, for hope and change.

30 November 2016

Why Trump Won: The Candidates

In this most usual and divisive of presidential elections, the observation that probably garnered the largest plurality of agreement about from voters concerned the aversion to both candidates. Both provoked strong feelings of disapproval from Americans. Maybe that helped ensure a close election. But why Trump instead of Clinton?

As an experienced career politician, Clinton on the campaign trail and in the debates, displayed more knowledge about the issues important to progressive voters. In the debates especially, she appeared to be well prepared for whatever questions came her way--even the ones not leaked to her in advance by Donna Brazile.

But as an experienced career politician, she carried  a lot of baggage. Older voters no doubt remember the controversies over Whitewater, the Rose Law Firm, Cattlegate, Travelgate, and those, shall we say, seminal scandals surrounding her husband. It all came back with the investigations of her private server and her foundations. Newer voters seemed uninspired by her knowledge and methodical preparation. She always came across as stiff, cold, and humorless. Even Clinton's nomination speech, which reads so well on paper, she delivered with precision and organization--but no passion. The whole Clinton campaign appeared to run on the premise that her nomination and election were inevitable.

Nothing is inevitable, however, until it happens.

The passionless Clinton campaign resulted in passionless voters. In the popular vote Clinton came up short of President Obama's numbers for both 2008 and 2012. Clinton exceeded the number of votes garnered by Kerry, but the United States contains 30 million more people in 2016 than it in 2004.

And in spite of her campaign theme of "Stronger Together," its sub-theme was identity politics. Although identity politics was not the primary context of her policy prescriptions or her obligatory nods in her nomination speech, they came to the forefront in one of her attacks on Donald Trump. It is customary for backers of political candidates to not only attack the opponent, but also attack the opponent's backers. Progressive pundits impugned the motives of Trump supporters repeatedly, appealing to the various minority groups that make up the base of the Democrats these days.  The candidates themselves, however,  rarely resort to such tactics. Unfortunately for Clinton, she did just that. And the way she did it conveyed the message that she just does not care much for white, Christian, working class folks--at least in comparison to those other groups that make up the Democratic base;

Donald Trump, not a politician, carried his own sort of baggage--much of which voters learned about only in the middle of the campaign. And his rhetorical style left much to be desired. He spoke, however, in a direct, even crude style, that appealed to voters weary of politicians dancing their usually waffling waltzes around the issues. In place of "working together with Democrats for comprehensive immigration reform" he promised to "build a wall."  Trump's campaign theme of "Make America Great Again" energized voters far in excess of Clinton's "Stronger Together" message accompanying her promise of the same as the last eight years only more so.

Trump's excesses, of course, troubled many voters, including Republicans. The personal attacks, name calling, and pejorative comments about rivals wives lowered the political discourse in the primary to the level of a high school contest about who will be freshman class president. Trump's style served him well, however, once the primaries ended and he directed his invective against the Democrats and their fluffers in the mainstream media.

Trump's outsider status and his blunt rhetoric convinced many voters to overlook the lack of experience and the questionable temperament and to cast their votes for change--any change. Trump's victory on the surface appears as, and has been described as, a populist surge. It is difficult to say. He did not spark a huge turnout. Fewer voters participated in 2016 than in 2008. Moreover, Clinton actually won more votes. Trump, however, tapped into those voters who have been neglected by both parties and openly disdained by progressives. Rural voters and working-class Democrats, who voted for Obama twice in the last two presidential elections and others who may not have been voting at all, turned out for Trump.

Hillary Clinton's "blue wall" of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan came tumbling down.

And with that, Donald Trump, in the most unusual election in my lifetime, became president-elect.

28 November 2016

Genesis: From Science Text to Literary Framework

Those Christians who desire to establish the compatibility of the bible with science and yet find that the  "gap theory" and the "day-age theory" fail to maintain the integrity of the scriptures turn to the "framework hypothesis." (Interesting how these interpretive schemes for reconciling the bible to science have such scientific sounding names). The framework hypothesis changes the temporal sequence of the creation narrative into one of forming environments and filling them with living things. For example:

Day One: light
                                           Day Four: sun, moon, and stars

Davy Two: sky and water

                                           Day Five: fish and fowl

Day Three: land

                                           Day Six: land animals and man

By turning from a temporal sequence into a literary framework, this interpretive scheme better than any other achieves the goal of reconciling the bible to science. The cost, however, is the traditional understanding of the opening chapters of Genesis. For this reason, the "framework hypothesis" does not command much support from the majority of Christians.

Fall into the Gap

One of the earliest of the modern attempts by Christians to reconcile the biblical account of the cosmos with science is known as the "gap theory." The gap theory was as a small part of a larger complex view of history and eschatology known as dispensationalism that emerged in the last quarter of the 19th century.

Traditionally,  Christians optimistically (or faithfully) believed that the majority of the world's people would embrace the Christian religion. They believed that once the church established the millennial kingdom, Christ would return. This belief became known as postmillennialism, because Christ would return after the millennium. As conservative evangelicals recognized the true scope of unreached peoples around the globe, witnessed the increased secularization of Europe, and experienced the rise of liberalism within mainline denominations, they began to draw the conclusion that the church could not establish the millennial kingdom.  In fact, the world seemed to be growing worse. This led to the increasing popularity of premillennialism. According to this view, the world would grow increasingly more decadent and ungodly. Only the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom  promised to stem the tide of evil.

Most premillennialist theologians extended their pessimistic analysis to the past. They reinterpreted the scriptures in such a way to discern different eras in which God dealt with mankind in different ways. Each era constituted a test of the faithfulness of mankind. And each era ended in judgment for mankind, because he always failed the test.  Theologions called these eras dispensations. Their theology became known as dispensational premillennialism.

With the rise of Darwinianism, some of these theologians extended their dispensations back to prehistory.  According to this scheme, a gap existed in the biblical narrative betweeen Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. In Genesis 1:1, God created the heavens and the earth. This earth was the prehistoric world of dinosaurs. After an unspecified time, God destroyed this world with a flood alluded to in 2 Peter 3:5-7. Then God began the six day creation of the world as we know it in Genesis 1:2. Throught the use of the "gap theory," early twentieth century Christians accounted for the fossil record and the apparent immense age of the earth while remaining faithful to the six day creation acccount of Genesis.

A chart from Clarence Larkin's modestly titled, Greatest Book on Dispensational Truth in the World

Below are a couple of video trailers that resemble those old science films we suffered through in school in the 1960s. One supports the gap theory while the other opposes it. Interestingly, the "scientist" in the latter video claims that Christian liberals crafted the "gap theory." It shows how far young earth creationism has come when it denounces as liberals fellow fundamentalist Christians who hold different views. It also shows that he knows as little about Christian history as he knows about science.

27 November 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: . . . Created the Heavens and the Earth

That first and most familiar verse in the Bible continues:

  “ . . . created the heavens and the earth.”

Biblical scholars differ over the nature of this creative act.

Most biblical commentators interpret this as God creating the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, or out of nothing. He simply called things into existence with his words.

In contrast, some commentators maintain that “out of nothing, nothing comes.” They suggest that perhaps God created the universe out of some portion of himself. According to this view, the universe originated from the energy (or whatever kind of substance which makes up God as an entity) but is now existentially separate from him. This maintains the distinction between the creator and the creation, avoiding any confusion with pantheism.

And then others suggest that the the opening verse should actually be translated, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth. . . .” This offers a contrasting view to creation ex nihilo in which God works with pre-existing material, either eternally co-existing with God or, as in the view above, material produced by God's transmogrification of some portion of his being into the particles which constitute the material universe.

Biblical scholars also disagree also over the temporal reference of this verse. Some deny any temporal reference and claim it is simply an introductory statement to the creation account that follows. That account has been understood historically to refer to six literal twenty four hour days.

Not surprisingly, biblical commentators have attempted to interpret that account within the framework of whatever scientific understanding of the cosmos prevailed at that time. Today, some commentators propose that the opening verse describes the “big bang” that brought forth the universe. Often interpreters add to this a “gap” between that opening verse and the remaining passages describing the creation. They concede that the forces and material particles that constitute the universe are billions of years old. According to this view,  God subsequently created the earth out of that material in six literal twenty four hour days. And finally, others attempt to maintain the historical and scientific veracity of the scriptures by interpreting the six days in a figurative way, meaning either eons of time or simply as a literary framework.

One thing should be obvious. ALL modern interpretations of the account of creation in some way accommodate the text to modern scientific understanding of the cosmos. This includes creationists who insist that both the earth and the rest of the universe resulted from six days of creative work by God. For when even creationists interpret that phrase, “the heavens and the earth,” they maintain that it refers to the planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies of the immensely large and expanding universe as understood in modern cosmology.

The state of earth creates its own special problem:

"And the earth was without form an void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

 The Biblical author begins his account with water existing before the stars. This is the first of several chronological errors in this account.

Brett Palmer, over at the YouTube channel The Bible Skeptic, has uploaded some well produced video essays on Genesis and other religious topics. His series entitled What Genesis Got Wrong explores many of the scientific problems that confront Genesis. In Episode 2 Palmer looks at this Bible verse quoted above.

26 November 2016

Family, Community, and State

Modern conservatives and liberals both naturally focus on the individual when considering the questions of the purpose of life, happiness, virtue, rights, and equality. And both usually move from rights and equality to analysis of the state--the political community to which individuals belong and the authority structure established by the people in order to protect those rights and to secure equal protection of the laws. Usually some kind of contractual scheme describes this process.  Insecure in their rights within a pre-political state of nature, individuals contract together to establish a government to protect those rights.

Again, using Aristotle as a conservative touchstone, a different perspective emerges of the origins of the state. Contrary to modern conservatism and liberalism, the state is not made up of autonomous rights-bearing individuals who compact to form a state.  In Aristotle's words, "the state is made up of households."

Aristotle's analysis of the state begins with family formation:

"In the first place, there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other, namely, of male and female, that the race may continue (and this is a union formed, not of deliberate purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind  have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves), and of natural ruler and subject, that both my be preserved."

In his Politics, Aristotle devotes extensive treatment to the household. He conceives of the household as the fundamental economic agent in the production and management of wealth to meet the bare needs of its members. In fact,  the Greek word for household means economy.

As children mature, they form their own households. By the multiplication of households, the village emerges.

"But when several families are united, and the association aims at more than the supply of daily needs, the first society to be formed is the village."

The village is the first cooperative society. It members work together to secure a greater abundance of goods than mere daily needs.

Finally, as villages multiply, the state arises.

"When several villages are united in a a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bares need of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life."

In Aristotle's world, this means the Greek city-state. The emergence of the city-state provides the conditions by which the members of the community can acquire the external goods necessary for "the good life."

Aristotle's account is, of course, historically more accurate than the contractual model. Moreover, it lays out a conservative hierarchical scheme for society and how its members secure their natural needs. Family first, local community next, and the state last.

24 November 2016

The Pilgrims and Proclamations

Cultures throughout the world have held and continue to hold feasts at the close of the growing seasons after the final harvest. Usually these feasts involve giving thanks to whatever divine being(s) the particular cultures acknowledge. In the United States, the tradition loosely relates to the first “Thanksgiving" feast held by the English settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts

The original one hundred or so settlers consisted of members of a separatist church who refused to worship in the England’s established Anglican Church. They arrived on the Mayflower in November 1620, just in time for the onset of winter. After an exploratory party located an advantageous site, the settlers came ashore that December. The site selected had been a Patuxet village that the natives abandoned after its decimation by small pox. By March 1621, however, about half of the English settlers themselves had perished from diseases contracted spread during the voyage or the harsh winter living conditions.

The new settlement took root that year with assistance from the local Wampanoag tribe. Their help had been secured through the efforts of Squanto, a Patuxet native. Years before he had been captured and brought to England as a “specimen” by an English explorer. While living in England he learned the language. Later he was sold to a Spanish merchant who eventually returned him to the North America. He served as a translator. That fall, after a successful harvest and hunting, a feast was held with some of the Wampanoag neighbors.

One settler preserved an account in a journal:

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

And so a local tradition, although inconsistently practiced, began. Other parts of the English colonies celebrated their own traditions on different fall days. These gradually became unified through proclamations of the government.

Here are a couple:

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation (3 October 1789):

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789

And below is Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation (3 October 1863):

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Subsequent Presidents followed Lincoln in declaring the last month of November a day of Thanksgiving. Several years passed before the holiday took root here in the South. Christmas, complete with seafood, fowl, and firearms, was the traditional holiday for gluttony and drunkenness. And none of the traditional Thanksgiving fare was eaten in the South. 

Gradually Southerners, too, embraced the New England culinary customs. And Thanksgiving finally became a federal holiday after President Franklin Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress 26 December, 1941.

Meanwhile, on a lighter but political note . . . 

23 November 2016

Electoral College Follies

With Hillary Clinton's shocking defeat, many of her supporters blame the "archaic" electoral college system. Progressive organizations like Move On have begun petitions to abolish it. The usual mainstream media fluffers of the Democratic Party like writers at New York Times, Huff Post, MSNBC, and the Daily KOS have argued for it. And outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer has introduced a bill to replace it with a popular vote. You can read some of the arguments hereherehere, and here.

Most arguments note that it is undemocratic. The distribution of electoral votes among the states does not accurately reflect the population of those states. This is because the number of members of Congress has been limited to 435. Electoral votes get shifted around with the population growth after every census, but the total number remains the same. For example, Wyoming has one electoral vote per 177,556 persons while Texas has one elector for per 715,499 persons. From the perspective of Clinton supporters, the electoral college does not reflect the population of Democratic Party bastions like California and New York.

Other arguments actually look at the original intent of the Founders--noting that their intent was to prevent a Donald Trump from becoming President. Aside from a section containing yet another post-election rant about Trump, an article over at the Atlantic provides an accurate assessment.

Meanwhile, over at CNN, Akhil Reed Amar makes the preposterous claim that slavery is responsible for the electoral college and, ergo, the election of Donald Trump. In his screed, he paraphrases James Madison to that effect, without identifying his source. Meanwhile, he ignores some basic history.

First, the original plan of government drafted by James Madison and introduced at the Constitutional Convention called the election of the President by the Congress. And in that plan,  representation in the Congress was based upon free inhabitants--not slaves. Second, the idea of an electoral college was introduced by James Wilson from Pennsylvania. In 1780, that state passed a law establishing the gradual emancipation of slaves. It therefore hardly could have been designed to enhance the political clout of slave states in the election of a president. Although set aside, the plan eventually found acceptance as a compromise between those who desired the Congress to elect the president and those who preferred a popular vote. Contrary to the claims of Mr. Amar, the electoral college means of electing the president was explicitly adopted out of a skepticism about democracy, especially the doubts about the ability of voters to acquire enough knowledge about the candidates to make an informed decision.

Unfortunately, because we have no access to the contents of Dr. Amar's consciousness, we cannot know if he is ignorant or is a liar.

22 November 2016

The Comey Factor

Meanwhile, many Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton, blamed F.B.I. Director James Comey for the election loss. In post-election conference call with supporters, Clinton asserted that "Comey’s letter raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, proven to be, stopped our momentum.”

The New York Times reports here.

When Comey made his announcement, Hillary spun it effectively, at least in the minds of her supporters, turning the attention off of herself and on to Donald Trump.

Comey and the F.B.I. would not even be an issue in this campaign if it was not for Clinton's poor judgement and penchant for secrecy. Four months earlier, Comey announced that no charges were forthcoming after the F.B.I. investigation into whether or not Clinton mishandled classified documents on her personal server. This announcement stunned Republicans. At the very least, Paul Combetta, the technician who ran the BleachBit program that erased the server, should have been charged. Instead, the F.B.I. incomprehensibly granted him immunity . . .  and got nothing to show for it.

Is Clinton just "Too Big to Jail?"


She is not too big, however, to be called a shameless liar.

21 November 2016

Democratic Soul Searching

After this most unusual presidential campaign and  most unexpected ending, the Democrats began their soul searching--at least those who have souls.

Among those who don't, they make a futile effort to explain what is, from their presuppositions, unexplainable.

Before the election, Democratic pundits on television and in social media accused Donald Trump of blatant racism, sexism, and Islamophobia. In addition, they slandered his supporters with the same vices, throwing in homophobia for good measure. Disregarding the idea that Trump's supporters may have planned to vote for him on issues like the economy and jobs, progressive pundits insisted that just by voting for Trump they endorsed everything he said. No doubt they felt free to level such charges because Trump had no chance to win. What repercussions could possibly follow?

After the stunning election, these Democrats doubled down. Instead of asking themselves if such pre-election tactics fueled the turnout of not only Trump supporters but also the many undecideds that felt the sting of the slanders, many Democrats attributed the election results to, well, the fact that Trump supporters are racist, sexist, Islamophobic, and homophobic. In a reaction closely resembling confirmation bias, the Democrats witnessed their cynical and jaded images of American  come to life.

Over at the Daily Kos, we learn that those who want to keep blacks in their place, to pat their secretaries on the ass, and to call others "fag" voted for Trump.

Over at ThinkProgress, we learn that it was not just Hillary that failed. It was not the Democrats that failed. It was AMERICA that failed. Why? Because America is sexist and racist.

And of course Van Jones put it all in the progressive perspective election night:

20 November 2016

God . . .

The Bible at this point attributes the origin of the material universe to a supreme non-material being that the Hebrews call Elohim, Yahweh, and several other names.

The Bible offers no explicit argument for the existence of God. Genesis takes the existence of “the heavens and the earth” as evidence for God. In this respect the Hebrews did not think any differently from other primitive peoples. Arguments for the existence of a supreme being came much later.

Many philosophers—Christian and non-Christian have constructed different arguments for the existence of God based upon the presence of the material universe. The most common and enduring are different versions of what are called cosmological arguments. They rest on the concept of causation. Everyone recognizes the law of cause and effect within our universe. Is the universe itself subject to that law? Below are two versions of cosmological arguments reduced to their most simple forms without sub-arguments.

The first is the Kalaam cosmological argument based upon causation:

(1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence.

(2) The universe began to exist.

(3) Therefore The universe has a cause of its existence.

(4)The universe cannot cause its own existence.

(5) If the universe has a cause of its existence, then that cause is God.

(6) God exists.

The second more esoteric cosmological argument is based upon the contingency of existence and the assumption of an eternally existing universe. But once the existence of a preserver of the universe is established, then one can supplement this argument to establish the existence of a creator.

(1) The existence of an effect requires an efficient cause implies the existence of that cause

(2) The cosmos exists. But it exists contingently. That is, it is one of many possible universes. It could exist differently that it is. And anything that can exist differently can also not exist.

(3) Because the cosmos exists eternally, it requires an efficient cause to preserve it and prevent it from being replaced by nothingness.

(4) If the cosmos exists contingently and requires an efficient cause of its preservation, that cause must be supernatural rather than natural.

(5) That supernatural cause must itself be uncaused, that is, a supreme being.

So far so good. Philosophers have challenged these arguments and evoked revisions to accommodate objections. This to-and-fro no doubt will continue indefinitely. Both of these arguments seem reasonable to me and actually make me open to the idea of the existence of some kind of creator. That is why I call myself an agnostic rather than an atheist. They do not go very far to establish, however,  the existence of a personal deity that has any interest in me and anyone else. The more religious philosophers refine their arguments down to prove the divinity of Yahweh, Jesus, or Mohammed specifically, the less certitude they possess. This is especially true when the argument must ultimately rely of the sacred scriptures of these religious traditions. The truth claims of these writings have fallen one by one to the conclusions of modern science.

19 November 2016

Equality as a Conservative Principle

A couple of weeks back a contrast was drawn between two key ethical concepts embraced by conservatism and liberalism.

Conservatism prioritizes the good over the right. People should seek those things that are really good for them, i.e. that meet their natural human needs. Because all human beings possess the same human nature, the needs are the same for every human being. It is these basic needs that serve as the basis for natural rights.

Liberalism prioritizes the right over the good. Although liberalism, too, acknowledges the good, it holds that people have the right to choose whatever version of "the good life" they want. Moreover, society and especially the government should be non-judgmental and neutral on this question. Liberalism rests these conclusions on rights and equality.

Last week's post contrasted the conservative and liberal perspective on rights.

Now a turn to the concept of equality.

Liberalism holds that all human beings are equal. It follows that all human beings are worthy of equal respect. And for many, if not most, liberals  this includes respect every other person's choices on what constitutes "the good life." Society needs to be non-judgmental and tolerant of the diverse lifestyles that people choose. And the government should be neutral regarding "the good life" as well. It should not discriminate between different lifestyle choices.

In addition, many modern liberals seem to believe that these lifestyle choices do not impact the extent to which people thrive. Liberals do not say so explicitly; it flies in the face of common sense to make such an argument. Too often, however, modern liberals attempt to explain the different degrees to which people thrive on reason other than the relative merits of persons. They blame the capitalist economic structure, the wealthy, overt racism, institutional racism, or most or some ill-defined “forces of history.” Rather than apply some standard of justice to individuals and their accumulated decisions, liberals find injustice in external circumstances beyond the control of individuals.

Consequently, artificial enhancements such as seniority, affirmative action, quotas, minimum wage hikes are erected by liberals against virtue or merit--all designed to burden those who  thrive for the benefit of those who languish.

So what about the conservative perspective of equality?

As in other posts, I use Aristotle as the best starting point.

In contrast to my assertions in previous posts, Aristotle on this question made a bit of a false start.

As Greeks looked about at other peoples around the Mediterranean, they developed a sense of their own superiority. (This should not be surprising. Almost all groups believe they are superior to others.) One particular contrast they noted, however, was the apparent docility of the peoples of the near east living under tyrannies. The situation was so widespread that it seemed natural, i.e., as part of their nature to be slaves. This led Aristotle to reach false conclusions regarding human equality. In the opening chapter of The Politics, when addressing the question if slavery violated nature, Aristotle writes “from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”

Aristotle's ancient error persisted until modern times.

As suggested already in an earlier post, human beings are equal in their humanity. They possess the same human nature and have the same human needs. We know this from modern biological science.

And this is really the only meaningful sense that human beings are equal.

One aspect of human nature—a free will, or the ability to deliberate over different desires and to choose different courses of action-- accounts for the distinctiveness of individual personalities and differences in cultural practices. Although humans have the same needs, they have diverse wants. More importantly, when humans exercise their wills in pursuit of the desires and courses of action, all kinds of inequalities emerge.

So although all humans possess natural equality, over the course of their lives people come to have acquired inequalities. We see people manifest different degrees of achievement in education, business, politics, and sports-- just to name a few. When these inequalities emerge from circumstances free from artificial enhancements that benefit some person's thriving and obstructs that of others, conservatives see those inequalities as just. Under such circumstances, everyone's varying degrees of honor received for  their educational, economic, and athletic achievements are their due—what is owed them. This is where Aristotle is correct: justice is rewarding people according to their due.

In Aristotle's words,

“It is thought that justice is equality, and so it is. But not for all persons; only for those who are equal. Inequality also is thought be be just. And so it is. But not for all; only for the unequal.”

Aristotle—and most conservatives today—see reward as something that should be explicitly tied to virtue or merit. A just society will manifest all kinds of inequalities.