26 February 2017

Marriages Made in Heaven

The section of Genesis subtitled the “Generations of Adam” concludes with a very unusual development. Angels, apparently expelled from heaven, began to take human women as wives.

“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” Genesis 6:1-2

The phrase sons of God most commonly denotes angelic beings (Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Dan 3:25).

The text does not explain how spiritual beings could engage in carnal relations with humans. Medieval Christian philosophers distinguished animals, humans, and angels according to the following scheme: animals were bodies without minds, humans were bodies with minds (or minds with bodies), and angels were minds without bodies. Just how do minds without bodies engage in sexual relations? Perhaps the text assumes angelic or demonic possession; but that seems to be a New Testament phenomenon.

Interwoven with this story is God's disgust with human evil and impending judgment through a worldwide flood.

“And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” Genesis 6:3

God warns that in one hundred twenty more years, he will no longer strive against man to restrain his evil ways.

As a result of the trans-dimensional sexual intercourse between angels and women, a race of giants roamed the earth who became men of renown.

“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” Genesis 6:4

The phrase giants means “fallen ones,” perhaps derived from the idea of fallen angels.

The text returns to the theme of impending judgment.

“And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.” Genesis 6:5-7

Although not explicitly stated, the context suggests a relationship between the wickedness that displeased God and the fallen ones.

God impending judgment, however, seems unjust. If the flood intended to destroy this race of fallen ones, it failed. Centuries later, when the Hebrews left Egypt for Canaan, they encounter more of these giants. Apparently another outbreak of trans-dimensional intercourse occurred. (This might be implied by the phrase “and after that” in Gen. 6:4 above).Moreover, it the destruction of non-human animal life appears to be a misdirected expression of divine anger. Finally, it is difficult to believe that the imagination of every human being was of only evil continually. Some humans, however, were spared:

“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:8

These supernatural suitors made quite an impression.  Women have been singing about them ever since.

25 February 2017

Conservatism's Wrong Turn

Or, should it be, the wrong turn that became remembered as conservatism.

As individuals seek a life of happiness or thriving by means of virtue, some will thrive to a higher degree than others. This includes material well-being. As Aristotle noted, wealth will often follow virtue. This results in economic inequality.

The connection between virtue and wealth, however, it not a necessary one. Sometimes the wealthy mistakenly claim that it is.

Aristotle noted the development of political factions based upon economic status.

"For one party if they are unequal in one respect, for example in wealth, consider themselves unequal in all; and the other party, if they are equal in one respect, for example free birth, consider themselves to be equal in all."

The faction that came to be known as conservative made the first error.

This party became, at least in Europe, the party of an artificial aristocracy. This aristocracy emerged through historical developments too complex to be detailed in a virtually unknown blog like this one. Suffice it to say, European states and principalities came to be dominated by Kings, Princes, Lords, and high church officials who claimed ruling authority from God Almighty and their own virtue. They encoded their authority in legislation creating hereditary monarchies, a entitled nobility, and legally established churches.

In Aristotle's scheme of things, such governments distorted or perverted the legitimate forms of government. Aristotle recognized a type of government called an aristocracy, in which the virtuous (usually--but not always men of wealth) ruled for the common good. He also noted its perversion--an oligarchy in which the wealthy (who may or may not have possessed virtue) ruled for the benefit of themselves.

These ruling authorities eventually faced a challenge during the European Enlightenment by men who sought to enlarge the influence of men of demonstrated virtue--an aristocracy of talent if you will. The ruling authorities resisted on "conserving" the traditional order.

Those who advocated opening public life to an aristocracy of talent in a sense embodied the spirit of Aristotle's conservatism. Those who defended the traditional order of Kings, nobility, and clergy represented a pseudo-conservatism that denied a role in public life for anyone. For them the political community was a realm of the monarch--and not a "public thing" or republic.

22 February 2017

Genesis and The State of Nature

The two most recent installments of "Blogging the Bible"--a simple quest for any truth or truths it may contain-- looked briefly at the so-called "fall of man." You know the story: God creates mankind in his image, places him in a garden that provides for his nutritional needs, and subjects him to one law: do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Through the wiles of a talking serpent, mankind disobeys. God curses mankind, the ground he tilled, and apparently all other species of animals. He casts mankind from the garden. Some years later, Adam and Eve bring forth children. One of them commits the first act of fratricide. God casts him away as well.

Does the philosophical idea of a "state of nature" fit anywhere in this narrative?

Can it fit anywhere in this narrative?

The answer depends on how the state of nature is described.

Thomas Hobbes traditionally receives credit for originating the concept of a state of nature, although I do not recall that he actually uses the term. He entitles the chapter in Leviathan in which he introduces the concept "On the Natural Condition of Man, As Concerning Their Felicity and Misery." He describes individuals as created by nature equal in both mind and body. In addition, every man also possesses equal hope of acquiring his desires. This creates the philosophical problem that Hobbes tries to revolve. Individuals will inevitably desire the same things. And without the means to resolve conflicting claims to the same objects of desire, individuals potentially may  engage in violent conflict. And according to Hobbes, "Hereby it is manifest,that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called WARRE." Hobbes asserts that this is war not because men actually engage in fighting, but that their willingness to fight is known. Under these conditions, as Hobbes famously writes, life is "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." Consequently, according to Hobbes, men covenant with each other to create a common power, or artificial person, called the sovereign to "overawe" individuals and maintain the peace.

More famous for the concept of the "state of nature" is John Locke. He begins his account by  closely following  Hobbes. Like Hobbes, Locke sees individuals a free and equal. Instead of a state of war, however, Locke quotes Richard Hooker to establish that this state of nature is "that foundation of that obligation to mutual love amongst men."  In Locke's view, the state of nature is one of "Peace, Good Will, Mutual Assistance, and Preservation." Locke is hardly a naive optimist. He, too, recognizes the potential for conflict. Instead of calling such a state of affairs a state of  war,  however, he calls it merely one of the "inconveniences" of living in a state of nature. According to Locke, God appointed civil government as "the proper remedy for the inconveniences of the state of nature. Because God put mankind "under strong Obligations of Necessity, Convenience, and Inclinations to drive him into Society," individuals eventually unite into  a political or civil society--establishing an authority to enact and enforce law for the common good.

So what about Genesis?

As different as they are, element of both accounts by Hobbes and Locke can be seen in Genesis. As readers follow the Biblical narrative, they see examples of  "Peace, Good Will, Mutual Assistance, and Preservation." Even under the primitive conditions in the Genesis narrative, agreements between individuals and tribes abound over land, wells, marriages, etc. But readers also encounter encounter marauding bands engaging in war, murder, theft, slaving, and rape. And in the second book of the Bible, Exodus, God's people become the marauding bands

There is one very important difference between Genesis and the state of nature as elucidated by Hobbes and Locke. In the Biblical narrative, a common power already exists to "keep them all in awe;" Almighty God. Throughout Genesis (and even the whole Bible), he is talking, guiding, warning, and even punishing not only the Hebrews, but also foreign peoples as well.

Hobbes and Locke share the goal of  justifying an earthly authority to maintain justice--however much they believe such an authority may be derived from a divine plan.

Their contrasting conceptions of  the law of nature and the different conclusion they make result from the intentions of their writings. Hobbes, writing after the English Civil War, builds a case for the duty of obedience. Locke, writing under the threat of Stuart absolutism, builds a case for the right of revolution.

19 February 2017

When a Murderer Invented Civilization

Adam and Eve gave birth to two sons. In this strange episode, the two sons of Adam and Eve bring offerings to God. Cain, a tiller of the ground, brought his produce. Abel, a keeper of sheep, brought a sacrifice from his flocks. God accepted Abel's offering (by fire out of heaven?) by not that of Cain. No explanation occurs as to why God accepted one offering and not another. Indeed, no passages provide any information about God communicating the time and place for offerings or their purpose.

God recognized Cain's disappointment. He encourages him that well doing will receive a reward, but that the sin of envy lies at the door. Everyone knows what happened next.

 "And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.  And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?  And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.  And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;  When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.  And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.  Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.  And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.  And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.  And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.  And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech." Genesis 4:8-18

Interestingly, God banished Cain rather than executing him. Perhaps this passage attempts to explain the ancient practice of exclusion through "hating out," ostracism, or religious excommunication. Because Abel's blood cried up from the ground, God pronounced a curse that the ground will not yield its strength for Cain. (A bit redundant, since God allegedly afflicted all of mankind with that curse after the fall in Eden. Is this yet another story attempting to explain the origin of natural evil, why men must engage in intensive labor to survive?) God also declared that he will live as a fugitive and vagabond. Cain left for the East.

But God's curse came to naught in any meaningful way.

Cain left for the East. Somehow, the East was peopled already. The Bible does not answer that enduring question asked by skeptics about the origins of Cain's wife. He married and had a son named Enoch. Sometime after he settled, the Bible says he built a CITY. This is, of course, the foundation of civilization. (The word civilization comes from the Latin, civilis, which pertains to citizens and cities.) Moreover, in the genealogy of Cain, the bible credits some of Cain's descendants for building on that foundation. In the biblical pattern of attributing the origin of certain skills or practices to a particular individuals, the text explains the role that Cain's tribe played in the development of civilized life. Tubal-cain became an artificer and instructor in working with brass and iron. He invented the manual arts or useful arts. Jubal was “the father of such as handle the hard and organ.” He invented fine arts, or the arts of the beautiful. But then Jabal is described by the Bible as “the father of such that dwell in tents and of such as have cattle.” But this claim is as questionable as the others. For the rest of the first family remained back in Western Mesopotamia dwelling in tents as uncivilized nomadic shepherds.

18 February 2017

Conservatism and Diversity

As noted in last week's post, Aristotle as the original conservative asserted that one of the primary tasks of the state is to inculcate virtue and develop to the fullest extent human potentialities. Human beings are the only creatures than can be said to make themselves. With reason and a free will, they shape their destiny over a lifetime of decisions.This does not occur in a vacuum. Every person is born into a family. And the primary non-economic task of family life is personality formation. Moreover, people are shaped by the broader culture and by the laws of the state.

Does this leave room for diversity? What is a conservative view of culture and of multiculturalism?

Multiculturalism in one sense is simply the recognition of the cultural diversity that exists in nearly any given group of people. This common sense observation transcends  political ideology or political party.

The United States always has been a diverse nation. Even though the vast majority of settlers and immigrants came from Great Britain, significant and enduring differences marked those first generations of Americans. These differences included speech patterns, housing, food, marital and child rearing practices, and nuanced differences about the concept of liberty.  You can read about it here. And cultural persistence has preserved some of these differences over the last two centuries. They did share, however, a broader cultural united rooted in language, religion, law, and national identity as free Britons.

Over the decades, the United States has grown even more diverse. Millions of immigrants speaking different languages, worshiping different gods, carrying cultural baggage very different from Great Britain and Europe have come to American for freedom and opportunity. Over several generations most of these immigrants have assimilated to varying degrees--most adopting English as their primary language and conforming to general American cultural norms--even while retaining important elements of their own important cultural practices. This state of affairs is captured by the by the historical metaphor of America as a "Melting Pot."

Our immigration policies helped preserve this state of affairs. Policies based quotas and caps for immigration on existing percentages of the population. In effect, this gave preference to immigrants who largely shared European cultural norms. This helps maintain something of a cultural continuity even in the face of technological and social changes.

Most Americans in general ,and Conservatives in particular, have embraced this vision of society as a unity that also preserves diversity.  It conserves the core of American cultural norms; at the same time it defers to  immigrants the freedom to maintain some of their own traditional cultural norms. Conserving our cultural norms is desirable because, first they are ours, and second, they best maintain the conditions for human thriving. Conservatives recognize that some cultural practices are superior others.

This is where conservatives and liberals part ways.

Moderns Liberals--more accurately described as Progressives-- have challenged these traditional views. They have done so on two general grounds--pluralism and multiculturalism.

Progressives challenge the idea that the state or really government authority at any level should enforce virtue or morality in general on the citizens. They envision a pluralistic nation in which people choose different versions of  "the good life." Moreover, they argue that because all citizens are equal, no version of "the good life" is superior to any other. And more recently, in the renewed "culture wars" over same sex marriage and transgender rights, they seem to think that society needs to embrace and affirm every version of "the good life." They ignore the fact that the basic virtues that families, society, and the state should inculcate in citizens are rooted in human nature and human needs. In that sense they are objective truths about human nature itself and not subjective desires reflecting simply some other vision of "the good life."

Progressives also challenge conservatism on the grounds of multiculturalism. In their view, multiculturalism is more than simply the recognition of diversity. It is the celebration of diversity, Like their idea that all versions of "the good life" should be affirmed by others, the Progressive notion of multiculturalism is that all cultures should be affirmed. Moreover, this view is often accompanied by efforts to increase that diversity. The slogan, "Diversity is Our Strength" captures this perspective. But that is all it does. No one ever offers any evidence or arguments in support of that claim.

Consequently Progressive lawmakers had made concrete efforts to bring this about. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 fundamentally changed our policies. The United States opened its doors to much larger numbers of immigrants from third world countries. Like most earlier immigrants, they, too, have come for freedom and economic opportunity. Unlike most earlier immigrants, however, their cultural norms differ in fundamental ways. Assimilation becomes more difficult as well. When immigrants arrive in massive numbers over a sustained period of time, they tend to ethnicise rather than assimilate. Moreover, the emergence of Telemundo and Univision as sources of entertainment and news for America's Hispanic population additionally acts as a disincentive for assimilation. Finally, American corporations to non-English speakers; walk into any Home Depot or Lowes and look around.

Sometimes assimilation is actually discouraged. Modern liberals have abandoned the earlier consensus on diversity by celebrating cultural diversity and encouraging its persistence. Liberals condemn even the most benign efforts to encourage greater assimilation--for example, English usage for communication--as racist. Some liberals seem to celebrate every culture but their own.

Finally, many liberals even abandon the pretense of immigration laws altogether. They welcome and encourage illegal immigration. When borders and laws do not matter, it is outsiders who determine our immigration policy--not us.

As Conservatives suspect, the results of such policies are not encouraging. Harvard political science professor Robert Putnam published a lengthy study of the relationship between diversity and social trust. Diversity not only erodes trust between ethic groups, it also erodes trust of a community's traditional social institutions.

The money quote:

"The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us."

—Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam

Meanwhile below, the data-driven Heather MacDonald.

17 February 2017

Entertainment Entrails

Some links to stories deep in the entrails of entertainment . . .

A few weeks after expressing her preference for a military junta over a democratically elected republican government, Sarah Silverman now sees swastikas painted on the streets. No wait--they are only construction markers.

Herman Melville wrote that "Ignorance is the parent of fear" in his often praised but rarely read masterpiece, Moby Dick. A contemporary musician named Moby does his best to personify that observation by naming some allegedly "baffling and horrifying crimes" including colluding with the Russians, provoking a war with Iran, and becoming the subject of a coup from right wingers whose fundraising has been hurt by Trump. He is "in the know."

Meanwhile, low information celebrities such as Demi Moore, Kaley Cuoco, Emma Stone, and Sugar Ray Leonard accidentally registered as members of a "far right" political party called the American Independent Party.

And then on to some moral preening at the Grammy Awards  . . .

And the Flat Earth Society has a high profile potential new member.

12 February 2017

Cast from the Garden

After Adam and Eve failed the test of their faithfulness and obedience, God pronounces his judgments.

First, he curses the serpent:

"And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." Genesis 3:14-15

The literal common sense reading of this passage confirms that the serpent is not a symbolic of some supernatural angelic being but a garden variety snake. Like in earlier passage which introduces the serpent, this passage classifies it among the cattle and beasts of the field. The fact that he is cursed among them may imply that the belief that the serpent originally possessed legs. The locomotive skills of serpents fascinated at least some ancient Hebrews (Prov. 30:18-19)

Second, he curses the woman:

"Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Genesis 3:16

God ordains the traditional patriarchal family in which the woman defers to and is subservient to the man in return for provision and protection. Moreover,  God curse explains the evils of struggle and pain in childbirth. The word "sorrow" in this passage means labor or toil.

Third, he curses the man:

"And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Genesis 3:17-19

God ordains that the ease of tending and keeping the garden is to be replaced by sorrow and toil of the ground until death returns the man to the ground.

Finally, God expels them from the garden:

"And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." Genesis 3:22-24

Despite creating man in God's image, now God finds alarming the fact that man has become like gods, knowing good and evil. And although God previously gave no commandment about eating from the Tree of Life, now he expresses alarm that Adam might do so. Eating from the tree will allow him to live forever, and be like gods in yet one more attribute. Consequently, God casts man and woman from the garden and introduces "the world as we know it" with all its attendant evils.

This chapter begins the epic Hebrew explanation of the problem of evil--in this case natural evil. Although the Genesis story is more about "history," it seems to contain the implicit question of how to reconcile belief in a omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent deity with the evils of this world. This passage contains the simply and primitive answer--mankind has sinned against that deity. In so doing, mankind forfeited paradise and now must struggle in a hostile natural environment.

Interestingly, this passage says nothing about that other part of the question of evil--human evil. The answer to that question was left to Christian theologians who created the notion that the act of disobedience or a curse from God for that disobedience changed man's nature. After Eden mankind is spiritually dead and antagonistic to God and goodness and is in fact enslaved to sin.

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11 February 2017

The State and The Good Life

As noted in several earlier post, Aristotle outlined a historical or developmental model for the formation of the state: households grow into villages; villages grow into states. And, of course, what Aristotle had in mind was the city-state or polis of classical Greece. The main purposes behind all these institutions include meeting basic needs and inculcating virtue or habits of excellence in individual members. This perspective contrasts with the contractual version of state formation based upon consent with the purpose of protecting rights--however they may be defined.

Aristotle notes, however, the inability of households and villages to provide adequately for the needs of individuals. He notes that the goal of life is not just to live, but to live well.

"It is clear, therefore, that the state is not an association of people dwelling in the same place, established to prevent its members from committing injustice against each other and promote transactions. Certainly all these features are present if there is to be a state.The state is an association intended to enable its members in their households and the kinships to live well.; its purpose is a complete and self-sufficient life."

Only with the rise of the state do people reach a level of self-sufficiency requisite for "the good life."

According to Aristotle, and conservatism in general, the state is more than simply an economic association. Living well includes more that just securing one's biological needs. It means fulfilling our nature as rational beings--cultivating virtue or excellence.

As noted in previous posts, instruction in virtue begins in the household:

“The instruction and habits prescribed by a father have as much force in the household as laws and custom have in the state, and even more because of the tie of blood and the children's sense of benefits received, for they are influences from the outset by natural affection and docility.”

The well-lived life, however, needs life-long reinforcement to retain the habits of virtue. This is done through laws. And because most people will fail to cultivate right desires or will lose them through the development of contrary habits, these laws must have appropriate sanctions for their transgression.

“It is not enough to have receive the right upbringing and supervision in youth; they must keep on observing their regimen and accustoming themselves to it even after they are grown up. So we shall need laws to regulate these activities too, and indeed in general to cover the whole of life; for most people are readier to submit to compulsion and punishment than to argument and fine ideals.”

This, according to Aristotle, is the most basic and fundamental task of government—to cultivate virtuous habits in their citizens by means of law.

In his words:

“Legislators make their citizens good by habituation; this is the intention of every legislator and those who do not carry it out fail of their object.”

And it is not just for the good of individuals that the state cultivates virtuous habits for its citizens. It is for the good of the state itself. In Aristotle's conception of the city-state, the success of the community depends upon the moral quality of its citizens, who deliberate about how to govern the community and who take turns ruling and being ruled. (And it seems evident to contemporary conservatives that this observation remains true today.) That is why in Aristotle's day the ultimate punishment for the incorrigible--those who fail to develop personal and civic virtues--was ostracism, i.e, deportation. It clearly sends the message that such a one is NOT the kind of citizen desired by the community.

And this, after all these preparatory remarks, is the first fundamental conservative principle: the task of government is to make citizens good.

And this is the principle that distinguishes conservatism from liberalism.

05 February 2017

A Sunday School Lesson: The Genesis of Evil

God's intentions in the garden are inscrutable from the text of Genesis alone.

The basic outlines of the story are well-known to all.

God placed man and woman in a garden that provided all their needs. God required that they “tend” the garden and “keep” it. Tending the garden meant work. As inferred from later passages in Genesis, this work differed from the difficult, frustrating labor mankind faced after expulsion from the garden. Keeping the garden meant protecting it. The text does not elaborate on the nature of any threats.

The trees in the garden included a tree of life and tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both grew in the midst or center of the garden. God forbade eating from the latter tree. He never explained what it was or why he excluded it from their use. The warning of immediate death for doing so contrasted this tree with the tree of life. Nothing, however, is told about this latter tree.

God occasionally visited the garden.

This formula seems to set up some kind of test of obedience that would lead to life or death. But of what kind of test? Tests generally seek an evaluation or assessment of a subject's knowledge or skills. The purpose of tests is to acquire information about a test subject that was not previously known. If this is the case, it suggests that the God portrayed in Genesis is not omniscient. He needed a test to acquire knowledge about man's obedience. The reaction of God to man's failure of the test confirms this view. In contrast, if God possesses omniscience and  knew already the result, then it is not so much of a test as a temptation. The circumstance then appears to be an attempt to lure man into acting against God's command. But if God lured man into sin, he did it indirectly. He used a serpent.

A literal reading of the passage suggests that the tempter was nothing more than an ordinary serpent. The passages describe him a more “subtle”or crafty than any beast of the field made by God. This seems to include the serpent among those beasts of the field. The fact that a serpent talks at all testifies of the mythical nature of this story. Usually in mythical stories, the world in which the stories take place differs from the world as we know it. Perhaps the underlying assumption is that animals talked in the time before "the world as we know it." Or perhaps as biblical literalists sometimes assert, Satan possessed the snake and gave it power to talk. Or maybe the talking snake simply is humorous irony. Instead of humans charming the snake, in Eden the snake charms the humans.

In the Genesis account, the serpent inquires about God's command:

“And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Genesis 3:1

After Eve confirms his inquiry, he challenges God's statement:

“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4-5

The text does not elaborate on the appeal of being like gods. The bible already described man as created in the likeness of God. And why does the text refer to gods (plural). Are there other gods than the creator? Neither does the text does explain on what the knowledge of good and evil adds to mankind's similitude to divinity.

At any rate, serpentine intruder succeeded in his tempting of Adam and Eve.

The account is unclear in its temporal progression. Traditionally, Eve takes from the tree alone in the serpent's presence and only later shares with Adam. The passage, however, is unclear on this point.  Adam may have been present during the entire temtpation. Or only later after the departure of the serpent Eve brought Adam to the tree and plucked from its branches the forbidden fruit.

"And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat." Genesis 3:6

Nothing obviously extraordinary transpired at this point. Most significantly, they did not die that day as God threatened.  And the only new knowledge of good and evil mentioned is that concerning their nakedness.

"And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons." Genesis 3:7

The passage alluding to the opening of the eyes uses sensory perception as a figure of speech for cognitive understanding. They always perceived their nakedness. Now they understood it. And thus the Genesis author introduces the naked truth  about the long obsession of the Semitic peoples to nakedness, sex, and women  seen primarily in the Arab and Islamic world today.

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04 February 2017

The Village and The Good Life

In this ongoing Saturday series of reflections on conservatism, an earlier post noted Aristotle's account of the origins and ends of the state.  Family, Village, and State argued that Aristotle's description is more than just a more  historically accurate account of the origins of the state than, say, contractual models. It also provides  hierarchically ascending authorities or institutions for creating the conditions for living the good life--an traditionally important element in conservative thought.

Several posts last month looked at the household--both from Aristotle's economic perspective as a means of securing the necessities of its members and from his moral perspective as a means of personality formation--the inculcation of virtue. These posts offered, too, some observations on how this applies to  the modern household.

Reflections about the village, however, are a bit more problematic. Aristotle writes very little about the village. He suggests villages consist of several households that themselves originated as "colonies" of children and grandchildren from other families. He seems to hold that the village, like the household, only provides individual members with necessities. Aristotle adds almost nothing more, as he moves on to his primary concern--the formation of the city-state. the institution required for living well.

So what can one say about "village life?" What if anything does the concept offer to modern life?

If we consider the village as the "extended family" (to employ modern usage), we can make a few obvious common sense observations.

Most of us recognize the valuable assistance provided by our extended family--loans of money or equipment, transportation, emotional support, and childcare to name just a few. And the extended family offers assistance in the way of personality formation as well--reinforcing the moral norms of the immediate family. My cousin and I received numerous valuable lessons on cooperation from my grandmother and her switch from the hibiscus hedge that she used on the back of our legs.

(In retrospect, only now do I understand why she was so "quick with the switch." Because of the early passing of her husband, she raised nine children on her own. When you have nine children, you do not have time to investigate and get to the bottom of every dispute. Just whip everybody involved. And during those couple of months that she watched my cousin and I, that was all she knew to do.)

In addition, perhaps we can include our immediate neighbors as well within the borders of the village. Good neighbors provide all kinds of assistance to each other--tools and equipment of all kinds, transportation, job recommendations, etc. My wife and I had to use a neighbor's oven when ours suddenly died on Thanksgiving Day when the turkey was only half done. And  I vaguely remember two different neighbors taking take of me, my sister, and my friend from next door for a couple of hours each day after school. And when we grow old enough to run on our own (I was a "free range" kid), neighbors serve as an additional set of eyes on behalf of the parents. I remember "looking about" for the unwanted presence of other adults when considering mischief. And when I missed them, the ominous phone call to my parents served as a reminder.

Finally, the idea of the village perhaps can be extended to other institutions as well--churches, schools, clubs, and even county parks and recreation programs. All these institutions at least possess the potential contribute to the economic and moral well-being of a household.

Now I have not read Hillary Clinton's book It Takes a Village to Raise A Child. I do not know now she framed her "African proverb."  At least one reviewer offered some thoughtful insights that comport with my general views.

On that note, I offer the conclusion that it really does take a village to raise a child.

03 February 2017

This Week in Entertainment Entrails

A few links

Sarah Silverman called on the United States military to overthrow the government. She apparently prefers living under a military junta than in democratic republic. Well, at least all the immigrants from south of the border will finally feel at home. See her screaming in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS here.

Then there is President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch. Celebrities have neither researched his judicial history nor have even heard of him. Yet that does not inhibit them in the least from Tweeting about the impeding  reversal of Roe v. Wade, the establishment of religion, discrimination against LGBT people etc. etc. Oh, and one actor/ writer Hill Harper attened Harvard Law with Grosuch--another reason to RESIST! Read it at Big Hollywood . . .

And at the award ceremony for the Screen Actors Guild, thespians put on their best performances that feigned religious passion, love of country, and a willingness engage in some good old fashioned fisticuffs. If only award ceremonies gave out trophies for  performances at  award ceremonies. See it here.

Meanwhile, entertainment reporters conveniently have forgotten to follow up on all those celebrities who promised to move out of the country if Trump won the election . . .