31 October 2016

Happy Halloween. Or Lemuria. Or Samhain.

Halloween, or Hallows eve, is the evening before the celebration of All Saints Day in the Catholic Church. Hallow, of course, is an old English word meaning holy or saint, as in the passage from the Lord's Prayer “hallowed be thy name.” All Saints Day, or All Hallows, originated when when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to Saint Mary and all the martyrs of the church on May 13, 609. It set aside that day to remember those who died in faith. The Pope probably chose this date in an attempt to suppress a Roman pagan day of the dead called the Feast of Lemures. In this pre-Christian holiday, Roman citizens cleansed their homes of spirits of lost souls by an offering of beans.

Later Pope Gregory III began a tradition of remembering the faithful dead on November 1. Many decades passed, however, before Europe more uniformly recognized this new date. Interestingly, November 1 fell on the same day as a Celtic day of the dead festival called Samhain. This marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the Celtic new year. The Irish recognized the day with the burning bonfires, lighting candles in hollowed out turnips, and dressing is disguise to ward off spirits of the dead. Adults and children practices “guising” by going house to house costumed in disguise offering entertainment in return for food and money.

In North America this tradition continues with the lighting of pumpkins and children “guising” door to door requesting “treats” with the implied threat that a “trick” may follow if the one does not comply with the demand for a treat.

Now some mainline Protestant denominations retain All Saint's Day on their calendar of religious holidays. Other more traditional reformed churches recognize Reformation Day. On October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther posted his protests on the door of All Saint's Church in Wittenberg.

Many American fundamentalist and Pentecostal bodies who believe they derive their theology straight from the bible and know next to nothing about church history hold “Harvest Festivals.” Christians kids can avoid the pagan habit of dressing up in costumes and “trick or treating” door to door by, well, dressing up in costumes and “trick or treating” at the church gymnasium.

And then there's those churches who use the season for evangelism by creating their own versions of haunted houses . These houses usually sport the name "Tribulation House" or "Hell House" and  dramatically portray the "Good News" of the great tribulation and damnation. Below is the trailer for one these evangelistic enterprises.

So happy halloween. Or Lemuria. Or Samhain.

30 October 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: Revelation and Divine Manifestations

Past posts have surveyed the biblical texts and contemporary claims about God revealing his thoughts, dictates, and future plans to mankind. He allegedly utilizes dreams, visions, and angelic messengers to convey what's his mind. (I hope I expressed that correctly, since if God exists he must be nothing but mind.  So does he have a mind or is he a mind?). But sometimes to insure the clarity of his message he makes cameo appearances and communicates directly himself.

These episodes of divine presence occur early in the scriptures. God regularly visited Adam and Eve in the evenings once the heat of the day passed (Gen. 3:8). God is described in scripture as “a consuming fire” but he apparently cannot endure those murderous Mesopotamian afternoons. After the fall of man, he visited to accept sacrificial offerings (Gen. 4:3). Gradually, however, he became increasingly disengaged from his creation. Conditions deteriorated to such an extent that he decided wash everything away and make a fresh start. From this point on, the most common type of direct communication from God comes through some kind of voice without any visual manifestation of himself. It is not clear if these conversations consist of some form of inspiration, vision, or an audible voice.

God resumed his personal appearances with the call of the patriarchs. God told Abraham in a voice to leave Ur for those coastal breezes of the Mediterranean. When Abraham arrived in Canaan, God appeared directly to him to confirm that this was, indeed, the place (Gen. 12:7). He appeared to Abraham again later to promise him an heir and to initiate circumcision as a sign of his covenant.(Covenant means “cutting” as in the animal sacrifice involved in the covenant promise recorded in Gen. 15; God initiated this second cutting perhaps as a symbolic continuation of the promise to Abraham's offspring). God's final appearance to Abraham occurred while God accompanied two angels on a social call to Sodom. God and the angels look like men for, in show of Semitic hospitality, Abraham brought water to wash their feet and fed them. The Lord lingered while the two angels went on to Sodom. Abraham knew something was up and so began to intervene on behalf of his nephew Lot, who lived in Sodom. Once he acceded to Abraham's request, God left to incinerate the residents of Sodom.

Although God continued to address people “out of heaven,” he made no appearances other that to Isaac (Gen 26:2,24) and to Israel (Gen 35.9) in order to confirm the covenant promises to Abraham's descendants. For several hundred years God was silent. His people, now numbering in the tens of thousands, found themselves enslaved in Egypt. “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant. . . .”

God tapped Moses as a new tribal warrior chief to lead Abraham's descendants back to the land promised to them. God first communicated through the vision of the burning bush. Subsequently, as he conveyed his directions about the exodus and his provisions of his divine law, God spoke through a voice. Then once Moses gained enough familiarity, he requested to see God.

“And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:18-23

And so God gave Moses a peek at his divine derriere.

After Moses, no similar manifestations of God occurred. He maintained his presence in the form of a pillar of clouds during the day and a pillar of fire at night as he led them. All divine revelation onward came through visions, dreams, and voices largely through prophets.

That is until a Jewish apocalyptic rabbi named Jesus (Yeshua)appeared on the scene some two thousand years ago. The followers he attracted claimed that he was God manifested anew—this time in human flesh.

This remarkable claim proved too extravagant for the majority of Jews to believe. But in the effort convey the uniqueness of this man and the distinctiveness of his identity, his followers made claims that contradicted their traditional writings. Despite the well-known accounts of Moses and God, according to the author of the gospel of John,

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18)

After the rabbi's execution, his followers promised that he would come again in their lifetimes. Every generation of new followers still wait.

29 October 2016

When Virtue Fails

So how does one fail in the the pursuit of virtue?

Aristotle notes the existence of another impulse in the human personality contrary to reason and virtue. He writes “there is also observable another element by nature irrational, which struggles and strains against the rational.”

This is what he called passions---emotions and desires.

There is nothing wrong with emotions in themselves. The most meaningful and memorable moments in everyone's lives are such because of the intensity of emotions accompanying those moments. But emotions can be destructive. The worst decisions made often result from basing those decisions on emotions or making the decisions under emotional duress. Aristotle asserts that people must subject their emotions to reason so that they benefit us rather than harm us. This cannot by done through instruction. It is accomplished by training and habituation.

Our desires, too, need the moderation of reason. Aristotle warns that many people “go wrong in enjoying the wrong objects, others enjoying the things with abnormal intensity, or in the wrong way.” These three reasons explain in many cases why virtue fails.

First, Aristotle teaches that the virtuous person must seek the right objects. Everyone chooses what appears to be good. Sometimes, however, what appears to be good is not the real good. The wrong objects simply means choosing the apparent good over the real good. Everyone has made the mistake of desiring something believed to be good  only to find out otherwise. One of the most obvious and common modern examples of this mistake is narcotics. People never use narcotics to grow addicted or destroy themselves. They use them because they appear good--say to alter ones mood or anesthetize emotional pain.

Enjoying things with abnormal intensity means enjoying a good to excess. Wine is good until one becomes a drunkard. Food is good until one becomes a glutton.

Sometimes enjoying a good in excess involves making it the supreme good to the exclusion of others. For example, many men and women take the good of work and elevate it to the supreme good, so that they fail to develop other virtues, In addition,  family relationships grow weak or one's health suffers. And many young people pursue video gaming with such a passion that they sacrifice friends, school, and work.

According to Aristotle, we must have right desires that follow right reason. In his words, “If the choice is to be a good one, the reasoning must be right and the desire must pursue the same things that the reasoning asserts.”

When emotions and desires follow reason, Aristotle calls them moral virtues.When we fail, they become moral vices.

27 October 2016

Wireless Word of Knowledge

Peter Popoff established himself as one of the more popular television evanglists some years ago. He based him ministry chiefly on healing. And as with all healers, he never healed anyone of any disease with obvious physical symptoms. He never healed people of physical deformities, small pox, or even baldness.

Along with his healings, however, Popoff claimed the spiritual gift of the word of knowledge. God allegedly communicated to him the name and circumstances of people in his audience. He would seek them out and heal them.

James Randi, a former illusionist who used his knowledge of the craft to expose psychics as frauds, turned his attention to Popoff. Randi eventually discovered that Popoff's "Word of Knowledge" did not come from God; it came from his wife. She collected prayer cards before the healing service began and communicated the content of those cards to Popoff. Randi picked these communications up on a radio receiver.

26 October 2016

Even More Divine Words of Knowledge

It's difficult to discern whether or not this is real . . .

A spiritual advisor who calls herself Mother Knowledge shares a divine revelation received through a word of knowledge. I infer that she calls herself Mother Knowledge because of the the frequency with which she receives words of knowledge from God.

God gave her the name of a sister in Christ, who she does not know naturally and personally, but somehow knows spiritually, whatever that means.  Mother Knowledge explains that she prepared this video to convey God's message. Why God did not directly contact this sister and depended instead upon Mother Knowledge is unexplained.

The communication becomes garbled, however, as Mother Knowledge received a additional communication from God while trying to convey the first one. Like some preternatural pop-up message, God interrepted her stream of consciouness with a communcation from the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues.

24 October 2016

Divine Words of Knowledge Today

Yesterday's Sunday School Lesson considered the general question of epistemology. Knowledge begins with experience--sense data from nature and our rational reflections upon it. Some people claim, however, that they have supernatural experiences as well. They say a supreme being communitcates with them through dreams, visions, or inspiration.

Believers post accounts of their experiences frequently on the internet. Others post bible lessons on how to receive, interpret, and react to such divine communications.

In the presentation below, King shares revelatory words of knowledge that she received from God. The message, however, was intended for another individual.

As I listen, I wonder, "Well, why did not God just give the "words of knowledge" directly to the person for which he intended them? Isn't he taking a big chance on that person  reason missing this television broadcast and never receiving the revelation that God intended for them?

Well, what kind of knowledge does King offer? She addresses a person who works with someone who professes a different religion. Its a religion that "works against Christianity." That would be all religions, according to the Bible. This person "feels a spiritual warfare" because of this other person's religion. Of course, from the information provided, it appears that the Christian is about to provoke a skirmish in the perpetual spiritual warfare, not the non-Christian. King says that God will put a "dome of light" as a protection. This dome of light will protect the Christian from the spiritual energy from this other religion, because the light penetrates the darkness. (Is this anything like the "cone of silence" used on the old television show, Get Smart?)

King then speaks to another person who will receive a vision. "He just comes right into their vision." Glad she gave this person the heads up. Finally, she speaks to another person that God will provide the funding for their building. And this provides the sedgeway into her pitch. She has plans for a new building, too. And she needs funding from her viewers so we will not need a bank loan. You know the rest.

                                      Patricia King promises the Done of Light

The Cone of Silence

23 October 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: Revelation Through Inspiration

In addition to divine revelation through dreams and visions, Christians claim that God communicates also through the less spectacular method of inspiration. They do not use this word in the same way as when we say some artist was inspired in their creativity or that some athlete exhibited an inspired performance on the field. The Greek word is theopneustros. It means “god-breathed.” The expression may derive from that fact that according the Christian dogma, the Holy Spirit empowers this kind of revelation. The Greek word for spirit is pneuma, which means breath or wind.

No account in the Bible attempts to explain revelation by inspiration. God's spirit indwells believers and God somehow moves some to write down what he wants them to know. It is not divine dictation, however. According to Christians, God preserves the rhetorical styles and vocabulary of the medium through which he works.

The biblical text teaching inspiration of scripture a letter Paul wrote to a disciple named Timothy that is is: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The passage refers chiefly to writings of what is commonly called the Old Covenant, since at the time that Paul wrote this letter, the writings commonly called the New Covenant had not even been recorded, much less collected and organized.

In a similar passage, Peter attributes Old Testament writings to God's inspiration though the Holy Spirit: For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21).

These holy men introduced their proclamation with “Thus saith the Lord.” That phrase appears over 400 times in the Bible. Most of the time the message came not through dreams or visions, but by means of inspiration through prophets or seers.

These New Testament writers claimed that their writings, too, contained divine revelation. Paul warned his church in Corinth that “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord ( 1 Cor. 14:37).Warning may seem a harsh word, but apparently some other itinerant religious teachers challenged Paul's authority. And this brings up one problem with claims of divine revelation. It is easy to claim divine inspiration since it would be a private, subjective experience that occurs in the prophet's mind that no one can verify. When religious teachers assert competing claims of divine revelation, how do followers arrange a "theological throw-down" to decide who is God's mouthpiece?

Most Christians today belief that God has completed his inspired written word, Some Christians, however, believe that God still provides inspired revelation by means of something called a “word of knowledge,” The Bible contains this expression just once in a list of spiritual gifts and is nowhere explained. For some reason, however, these Christians who receive a “word of knowledge” never write it down to be incorporated in the Bible. I wonder why not.

The next few posts will feature God giving “words of knowledge.”

22 October 2016

The Path to Excellence

Earlier posts noted how Aristotle defines happiness—the end, purpose, or goal of life—as a rational activity of the soul in accordance with virtue or excellence.

Moreover, he identifies specific virtues or excellencies that a good man should acquire. He notes that these virtues reflect that right balance between intellect and desire, reason and emotion, or head and heart. Right reasoning must be accompanied by right desires.

So how do we actually acquire these virtues?

Aristotle gives a strange answer, one that is counter-intuitive to most people.

Using the example of the virtue of courage, Aristotle writes that the path to become a courageous person starts with performing courageous acts.

Wouldn't someone have to possess courage already to perform a courageous act? Wouldn't someone already have the ability to act bravely under a sudden attack or persevere and overcome the fears that often accompany disease or poverty or some other challenge?

To a point, yes. Aristotle, however, conceives of virtues not as a one time or occasional manifestation. He sees them as parts of a person's permanent character. And that comes through habituation. When one performs that first act of courage, that makes is easier to perform a second, and a third, etc. Soon courage will become an ingrained habit.

The same goes for other virtues as well. 

For example, everyone knows people who seem  to always be there for others in a time of need. Sometimes we say they have the gift of compassion, as if they came into the world that way. Not really; they have the habit of compassion. They responded to some one's need that first opportunity and then repeated that response again and again. Soon it became a habit. Now they do not even think about it anymore.

Again, everyone knows people who respond to crises with fits of rage. They curse, they throw things, and they hit things (or people). How did they get that way? They made it their habit. They may at one time have reacted in frustrations in all kinds of ways. Through repeated fits of rage, however, they eventually made that their habit. And now people who know them, when a crisis arrives, come to expect a display of a fit of rage.

From the perspective of the big picture, it gets back to the question of human nature.

Everyone has an opinion about what is exactly human nature. Some people, especially liberals, seem humans as essentially good. Others, like Christian fundamentalists, refer to human nature as “sin nature.” Many anthropologists, aware of the endless diversity of customs around the world, deny that humans have a nature at all.

If someone asked Aristotle, he might answer that human nature is potentiality. And we actualize our potentiality through the choices we make by our reason and will. Unlike animals driven by instinct, humans must use reason to reflect upon what kind of persons they will be. In that sense, we are the only creatures that make ourselves.

So through our choices and repeated actions, we create habits good and bad. Many actions or habits become so ingrained that we do not even think about them. They become second nature.

So when our reasoning is right and the desires are right, human virtues or excellencies become part of our character through habituation. When they do, Aristotle evaluates that person as morally virtuous. 

Likewise, when the reasoning or desires are wrong, human vices likewise become part of our character through habituation. Aristotle calls people dominated by these vices the morally vicious.

21 October 2016

Trump the Worse . . . Until Next Time

Trump is the worst Republican nominee for president ever . . .

That is, until 2020. Then Democrats will look back fondly on Trump as they slander the 2020 Republican nominee.

Over at the National Review, Daniel Payne flips through a few pages of what he calls the Progressive Playbook.

They almost always have nice things to say about Republicans--even conservative Republicans--at least until they receive the party's nomination for President. Payne only covers our most recent elections, but this play goes back as far as Barry Goldwater. The original maverick, he was a standup guy and real "straight shooter" (back when even Democrats used such expression without trigger warnings.) But when he ran for President . . .

Read Payne's account here.

19 October 2016

A Tale of Three Foundations

The Clinton Foundation has generated its share of controversy as a "pay for play" vehicle for those seeking influence with former Secretary of State and future President Hillary Clinton. The Middle Eastern despots and their supporters surely donated  their millions for other reasons than creating opportunities for women and girls--one of the missions of the Clinton Foundation. And it serves as a source of employment for Clinton political operatives.

Foundations in general are good things. They exemplify in a modern way what Aristotle called the virtue of magnanimity--large scaled generosity for a public purpose. America's wealthiest individuals and families create foundations--Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Charles Koch, Bill Gates, and the Walton family, for examples.

And some Americans, like the Clintons, establish foundations primarily  funded by others.

Over at the National Review, a short comparison of three contemporary foundations--those of Carter, Clinton, and Trump.

Read it here.

16 October 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: Revelation and Angels:

According to the Bible, sometimes God declines to communicate directly with an individual through visions which interrupt that individual's conscious state of awareness or through dreams during that individual's unconscious state of sleep. Instead, he sends a divine angelic messenger.

Angels are called holy ones (Heb. 1:1-4), spirits (Ps. 89.5-7), and “sons of God “(Job 1:6). As suggested by the term spirit, they are invisible. Christian philosophers attempt to establish the intelligibility of their ontological status by suggesting that they simply creatures of another order whose properties vary slightly from existing living things. Just as lower animals are bodies without minds and human beings are bodies with minds, angels are minds without bodies. See, they're not all that different.

The Bible describes angles as great in power (2 Pet. 2:11). They know more than us and because they possess not physical senses, whatever knowledge they possess must be intuitive. Scriptures, however, describe them as “looking into” human affairs to learn (1 Pet. 1:12).

Because they possess a spiritual existence, they are invisible. On occasions, however, God enables humans to see them (Num. 22.31, 2 Ki 6.17, Luke 2.13). It is not clear if these are physical perceptions or  visions.

Other times, angles take on human form and perform human activities like eating and drinking (Matt. 28:5; Heb. 13:2). Again, the scripture do not clarify if these accounts describe the incarnation of immaterial spiritual entities or more games-playing with our senses.

And like the human societies which believe in them, angels exhibit a hierarchical spiritual order of Thrones, dominions, principalities,and powers. (Col 1:16).

So what exactly do angels do?

It seems their primary mission is to delivery communications from God. Most scriptures describe them performing this task. Indeed, the Greek word for angel means messenger. Angels called to Abraham "out of heaven" (Gen. 22:11). An angel provided revelation WITHIN a revelation when one gave Matthew direction in a dream (Matt. 1:20). Other angels provide prophetic messages about the future (Zech. 1:9).

Angels protect believers (Ps. 34.7, 91.11, Dan. 6:22, Acts 5:19-20, Heb. 1.14), except when they're not. Believers suffer from the same human and natural evils as everybody else. According to the scriptures, angels especially look over children (Matt 18:10), except when they're not. Again, believers suffer the same tragedies involving their children as everybody else. And they are no friends of the unborn. Conservatives detest the modern barbarism of abortion. But conservative Christians have some explaining to do about the lack of angelic protection for the unborn. Maybe in conformity to the guidelines established by Roe v. Wade, they only get involved after the second trimester.

Angels not only deliver divine messages and guidance, but also execute divine plans. They initiate plagues in judgment.(2 Sam. 24:16-17). They intervene in battles to effect geopolitical changes (2 Ch. 32:21). They manipulate the cognitive faculties of humans to move humans to do God's bidding (2 Ch. 18:19-21). And the horrors of the “end times” vividly described in the book of Revelations are unleashed by angels. These are, by the way, the good guys.

When people are not talking to angels, they are singing about them . . .

15 October 2016

Aristotle and The Good

Most people today consider ethics--when they think of ethics at all--as a set of rules to follow or perhaps ends or goods to be sought. As seen in previous posts, Aristotle primarily considered ethics to be a matter of character. Indeed, the most accurate translation of the title of his book Nichomachean Ethics is Character. Aristotle divided the virtues or excellencies possessed by a man of good character into moral virtues and intellectual virtues.

One character trait or intellectual virtue, however, does appeal to modern sensibilities regarding ethics: prudence.

Aristotle defined prudence as  the "formed faculty which apprehends truth by reasoning or calculation, and issues in action, in the field of human good."

According to Aristotle, "it seems to be characteristic of a prudent man that he is able to deliberate well about what is good or expedient for himself, not with a view to some particular end, such as health or strength, but with a view to well-being or living well."

Some philosophers later called this practical reasoning about well-being or living well natural law.

Aristotle did not elaborate on the details of prudence. In his introduction to the virtues earlier in the book, however, he made some observations that help flesh out this virtue of prudence. Aristotle discusses differences of opinion on the motivations of men and what they seek. He notes that "desire . . . is for the end, but whereas some hold that the object of desire is the good, while others hold that it is what seems good."

Aristotle concludes that "perhaps we had better say that the good is the real object of desire but what seems good is the object of desire to each man."

In other words, every man seeks what seems to be good. What every man ought to seek is what is really good.

So how to distinguish apparent goods from real goods? Apparent goods consist of things that men do IN FACT seek. Another name for these is wants. Real goods consist of things ought to seek. Another name for them is needs. Prudence dictates that men seek those things which are really good for them and not those things that only appear to be good for them.

Real goods consist of those things that fulfill human needs. All human beings by nature possess the same species specific properties. They have the same needs. Some of these are physical such as food, clothing, and shelter. Some of these are psychological such as friendship and love. And because all humans possess the same basic human nature, the maxim that human beings should seek those things that are good for them seems to be a self-evident truth that is universal its application. In other words, ethics is not a matter of "to each his own" or exercising one's "right" to live one's own version of the "good life."

This finally brings us to the point of difference in core beliefs between conservatives and liberals: conservatives believe in the primacy of  the good over the right; liberals believe in the primacy of the right over the good.

14 October 2016

Of Pussy and Pushback

The fallout from Trump's bawdy talk with Billy Bush continues. (Ironically fitting in this most bizarre of campaign year is that Trump's pussy  talk involved a man named Bush.) Now multiple women have come out to accuse Trump of --what catch-all euphemism shall we use--inappropriate behavior.

Trump responded, of course, in part of a lengthy speech here.

Yes, the mainstream media is against him. Yes, it coordinates with the Democratic Party. And yes, Hillary Clinton can tweet her shock and outrage with a straight face.

Trump should have anticipated this long before he began calling  Fox and Friends  every morning and receiving free air time to spout off unchallenged about current events and lay the groundwork for his presidential run. Talk about "friends."

As many conservatives lamented and progressives anticipated long ago, the campaign has devolved into a reality show about Donald Trump. Even this egotistic blow-hard is recognizing that occupying the center of attention is not always what it is cracked up to be. And as long as the campaign remains about him, he will lose.

Campaign spokespersons also began the obligatory tour of the news-talk circuit to try to throw the breaker switch:

Trump supporter and conservative bomb-thrower Ann Coulter, too,  reminds readers of  the hypocrisy of the left and their fluffers in the mainstream media. Even she, however, concedes the futility of the pushback:

"Now the networks are holding casting calls for some loon willing to falsely accuse Trump of sexual assault, so they can hype it like the Duke lacrosse case, Mattress Girl and Rolling Stone's fraternity rape. Unfortunately -- for us, fortunately for the media -- by the time the truth comes out, the election will be over."

10 October 2016

Trumped-Up Outrage

One of the sub-themes of this year's campaign is the vigilant watch--by both Democrats and Republicans--for the Trump campaign implosion.

Trump will say, or do, or tweet something that will start the synchronized nodding of the  mainstream media bobble heads.

This weekend it was not so much an implosion of improvisation from Trump as it was a blast from the past.

While Trump's vile and disgusting comments are not surprising, neither is the reaction of the mainstream media.

Heather MacDonald puts it in perspective, however, over at City-Journal. The left always displays outrage at sexist crudity and misogyny in our culture--except when it doesn't.

09 October 2016

Aristotle's Intellectual Virtues

Aristotle divided human virtues or excellencies into two classes: moral and intellectual.

The last two Saturday posts looked at moral virtue in Aristotle's world and in our own.

Today a brief look at the intellectual virtues.

Brief--because an in depth look is beyond both my competence and my readers' interests.

Below, one translated version accompanied by the Greek:

understanding (nous)
knowledge (episteme)
art or skill (techne)
prudence (phronesis)
wisdom (sophia)

These all describe different kinds of knowledge. Aristotle describes and gives examples of each of these intellectual virtues, but much less so than with the moral virtues.

And in an  even briefer description:

understanding: knowing that
knowledge: knowing why
art: knowing how to make
prudence: knowing how to act
wisdom: all the above intellectual virtues

Aristotle suggests that in the same way that the man who possesses all the moral virtues is just, the man who possesses all the intellectual virtues is wise.

Now the moral and intellectual virtues are conceived by Aristotle as desirable character or personality traits. Indeed, the title of his main work Ethics is best translated character. This differs from modern understanding of ethics. We usually think of ethics as a set of rules to obey or goals to achieve. For example, many larger companies have "Rules of Acceptable Conduct" or a "Mission Statement." These provide both rules to follow and ends to seek. Aristotle's teachings on character do not directly appeal to that kind of thinking.

There is one of Aristotle's intellectual virtues, however, that provides some guidance on that point.

Consider the virtue of prudence. This is the practical wisdom concerning ends and means. Aristotle describes the prudent man as "the man who can deliberate well about what is good or expedient, not only with a view to a particular end such as strength health, but with a view to well-being or living well."

Some later philosophers call this practical wisdom about proper ends natural law.

This virtue helps distinguish between good ends and bad ones--right ones and wrong ones. Next Saturday's post will look at prudence--the practical wisdom about well-being or living well.

04 October 2016

More Divine Revelation Through Visions Today

In this lesson, Benny Hinn attempts to make the idea of divine revelation through visions intelligible.

First, he attempts to distinguish between visions and dreams. He does this not based upon their ontological status, but upon their frequency and purpose.

First, he asserts that visions from God happen much less frequently than dreams. According to Hinn, Christians receive visions once in a few years, perhaps during turning points in one's life. Maybe he also asserts this because some not all dreams are from God. Some are brain functions and some apparently are from Satan. But visions come only from God. This last claim brushes aside the logically possible scenario that Satan creates visions.

Second, he claims God reveals his nature in visions and his plans in dreams. Of course, this claim flies in the face of many scriptures to the contrary.

Then Hinn lists list five keys to interpreting visions, based upon his exposition of Habakkuk.

First, Hinn directs his listeners to pray. Prayer fulfills visions. That is an interesting claim. In the very text he cites, God claims that the vision will surely come. It is not contingent on prayer or anything else. So how can someone pray to fulfill the vision? Moreover, it sounds like Hinn suggests that Christians actualize certain states of affairs through their prayers. Obviously, those states of affairs may impact others unrelated to the vision or the prayers. And what happens when prayers collide?

Second, Hinn advises listeners to  wait on the Lord to make the vision clear. It appears God prefers to communicate an unclear message and then follow it up with clarifying memo.

Third, Hinn exhorts his listeners to act on the vision.

Fourth, Hinn reminds them to wait on God to fulfill the vision. Of course, waiting on God to fulfill the vision is contrary to the previous key of acting on the vision. Hinn revises his exhortation to act on the vision to mean prepare to act.

Five, Hinn encourages his listeners to keep the faith. Do not become discouraged if fulfillment of the vision is delayed.

And delayed just might mean never.

03 October 2016

Divine Revelation Through Visions Today

"God Almighty is speaking again through dreams and visions today, and I know he wants to talk to you."

So claims evangelist Benny Hinn.

In this week's first look at divine revelation through dreams and visions, Benny Hinn presents a theology of dreams and visions. He attempts to provide his audience spiritual discernment so that they can distinguish between those occasions when God is communicating with them in a dream and when is communicating in a vision. He does not entertain the question of whether or not God is speaking to them at all.

He begins  by teaching on the most well-known Biblical accounts of dreams. In conformity with biblical texts, he teaches that God does not restrict his communications through dreams and visions to Christians only. Hinn acknowledges that even Muslims today receive visions from God.

He makes the following distinctions between dreams and visions.

 In dreams God reveals his plans. Dreams take place in sleep. Conversations detailed in dreams do not really take place. One cannot talk back to God in a dream. Any  conversation that takes place in a dream reveals what God wants one to say when awakened.

In visions, God reveals his nature. Visions do not take place in sleep. One can engage in conversation with God when receiving a vision.

But then there are something called visions in the night. These are visions that come as dreams in the night, which are called visions of the night. But those who experience them call them dreams. And they are so real one wakes up.

Got it?

02 October 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: Inner Visions

“We interrupt this conscious apprehension of external reality with a message largely symbolic and probably incomprehensible in the form of a vision from Almighty God.”

If we experienced such an announcement invading our cognitive faculties, we might run to put ourselves in the hands of the nearest psychiatrist. But in the Bible these are the occasions to throw oneself on the mercies of God. For he has spoken.

Earlier posts here at The Rational Right asserted that knowledge of material reality begins with experience. We acquire different degrees of knowledge though common sense everyday experience of living and through the specialized controlled experiences of the laboratory. Adherents to revealed religions, however, assert that an invisible spiritual reality exists as well. Moreover, the most important resident of that spiritual realm, God Almighty, has spoken to mankind.  He is an additional and  infallible source of knowledge.  Persons who experienced these revelations recording them in a book known as the Bible. These alleged revelations come through several different means. This week at The Rational Right-- a look at divine revelation through visions.

The Bible is filled with alleged accounts of God communicating through visions. He communicates through this means with both believer and unbelievers and with both officially anointed prophets and laymen. Visions appear in both Old and New Testament writings.

Revelations through visions can be generally classified. These visions contain images of God speaking directly to give guidance or warnings. Examples include Abraham's visions about his future descendents in Egypt (Gen. 15:1-17), Jacob's visions to actually make the migration to Egypt (Gen. 46:2), and Paul's visions of the religious seeker from Macedonia (Acts 16.9).

Apocalyptic prophesies of future divine judgments comprise by far most of the biblical accounts of divine revelation through visions. The narratives of the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zachariah, and, of course, Revelation are built around visions. Usually these visions contain extensive symbolism. Often the symbols serve as object lessons such as the dry bones in Eze. 37:1-14, the plumb line in Amos 7:7-8, and the flying scroll in Zech. 5:1-4. Some symbols require angelic assistance in  interpretation as in Daniel's vision of the four beasts in Dan. 7:1-28. Other symbols remain unexplained and provoke considerable speculation among Christians today.

Finally, some visions purport to be perceptions of the spiritual dimension that is not evident to our physical senses. Examples include Elisha's vision of the chariots of fire taking Elijah into heaven (1 Ki.3:15), Elisha's vision of an army of angels (1 Ki. 6:17), and Isaiah's vision of the heavens. Paul,too, experienced visions of heaven which he describes in 2 Cor. 12:1-4).

Like dreams, these alleged revelations occur as private, subjective experiences that no one can really confirm. This, of course, opens the door to anyone claiming to experience visions. If one cannot confirm another person's private, subjective experience (and one cannot), how are we to respond to anyone proclaiming a new revelation from God?

And all over the internet readers can find uploaded videos of modern day prophets sharing their alleged revelations.

01 October 2016

Virtues Then and Now

Last Saturday's post noted that Aristotle identified some specific virtues or excellencies that a good man must develop. He divided them into intellectual virtues and moral virtues.  

When one reads his list, some items appear to be more about manners, especially those desirable for a gentleman living in a fourth century BC Greek city-state like Athens. In fact, Aristotle suggested that the average farmer or day laborer did not enjoy the opportunities to cultivate these virtues. Moreover, as men devoted to long hours of manual labor, they did not possess the leisure time to exercise these virtues in public life--participating in a leadership role. An individual of any background can--and should --cultivate Aristotle's virtues for the sake of living a good life.

Notions of virtue, however, change over time.

The rise and spread of Christianity introduced different thinking about virtues.

Catholic teaching recognized Seven Christian virtues. The first four cardinal virtues came straight from the pre-Christian and pagan classical era: 

1) temperance




To which the Church added the following:

5) faith

6) hope

7) charity

Some of the Christian virtues make sense only if one presupposes an afterlife--where cosmic justice will reign. 

Then there are those virtues somewhat inaccurately described as the Protestant work ethic. The list below is a version by Benjamin Franklin. Some reflect the light of Aristotle across the centuries. Some of them, however, describe not Aristotle's generous man of leisure, but the thrifty, hardworking, man of the middle class:

1) Temperance- Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. 

2) Silence- Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. 

3) Order- Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. 

4) Resolution- Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. 

5) Frugality- Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing. 

6) Industry- Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions. 

7) Sincerity- Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly. 

8) Justice- Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty. 

9) Moderation- Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. 

10) Cleanliness- Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloths, or habitation. 

11) Tranquility- Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. 

12) Chastity- Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation. 

13) Humility- Imitate Jesus and Socrates

Again, it seems only common sense to acquire these virtues for the sake of living "the good life." 

Now Aristotle and Franklin differed in their approach to "the good life." For Franklin, one purpose of developing these virtues was a pragmatic and utilitarian one. The virtues listed here and his proverbs of Poor Richard suggest that material prosperity is the primary goal.

Aristotle differed, of course. He believed that the cultivation of virtue fulfilled our nature as human beings. For him, becoming a certain kind of person was the goal. 

Aristotle noted,however, a connection between virtue and material well-being. Aristotle observed that "mankind does not acquire or preserve virtue by the help of external goods, but external goods by the help of virtue."

As will be shown, the connection between virtue and material prosperity divides conservatives from modern progressives.

                                                    Ben Franklin--scientist and ethicist