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Why I Avoid Standard Academic Terminology for Dates in History

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In my latest book, Aerobics for the Mind: Practical Exercises in Philosophy that Anybody Can Do, I chose to use the old-fashioned B.C./A.D. system of dating rather than the usual academic B.C.E./C.E. system. Why go against the vast majority of academia who prefers “Before the Common Era” and “Common Era” to “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini”? It’s simple–I’ve had it with the oversensitivity of many academics. Even using the newer terminology, dates in the West are measured from the birth of Christ (miscalculated by about four years, give or take two). If I were in a Moslem country that used dates from an event in Mohammad’s life, I would not be offended. If a Buddhist country were to measure dates from an event in The Buddha’s life, I would not be offended, even if I had to use that system in an academic paper. Others should not be offended either. Many are offended, but for many academics in their sheltered little corner of the world, Christianity, at least in its traditional forms, is an offense so they want to wipe out any trace of its doctrines from the calendar and from academic speech in general.

The culture of offense in academia becomes worse year by year with some Evangelical Christians and some fairly traditional Roman Catholics caving in to the insanity of the crowd.  Most academic journals require the newer dating system, and I will use it if I have to–but when I do not have to use it, I refuse to so so. If a scholar doesn’t believe that Jesus is Lord, he is free to understand the “Domini” of A.D. as a fiction. So far scholars have continued to use “Jesus Christ” to refer to Jesus even though “Christ” means “Messiah.” I continue to use “The Buddha” for Siddhartha Gautama, though “The Buddha” means “The Enlightened One.” If academics were consistent, they would force other academics to say “Jesus of Nazareth” instead of “Jesus Christ” and “Siddhartha Gautauma” instead of “The Buddha.” If they do something along those lines, my prediction is that they would only make the change for Jesus Christ and not for The Buddha. If people are offended by my use of the old system, that is something with which they need to deal.

David Wainwright Evans, MD, FRCP: Rest in Peace

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David Wainwright Evans was a good man, a good scholar, and a good friend. His vita would be impressive by any standard: service in the Royal Air Force in World War II, both as a bomber pilot and a fighter pilot, Fellow of the Royal Society of Physicians, Consulting Cardiologist, Papworth Hospital, UK, and Fellow Commoner, Cambridge University, UK. I first met Dr. Evans via e-mail in 1996. I was planning to edit a book of scholarly articles in opposition to brain death criteria for declaring a person dead. Dr. Evans immediately agreed to contribute to the volume, and he wrote a fine chapter, “The Demise of ‘Brain Death’ in Britain.” He worked with a number of scholars and physicians on article on brain death and on ethical issues that arise if brain death is not death. This has obvious implications for the ethics of organ donation. Dr. Evans believed, as I do, that removal of unpaired vital organs from the “brain dead” individual is the taking of innocent human life and is therefore morally wrong. Dr. Evans remained true to his values even when pressured to change, and he retired early from cardiology in order to express openly his beliefs. That takes a great deal of moral courage, and I admire Dr. Evans for that. He was also an opponent of war, having seen its destructiveness as an RAF pilot. Dr. Evans was a fine Christian gentleman, a member of the Church of England who was faithful in his duty to God.

I had the privilege of seeing Dr. Evans twice in person while visiting England, first to attend a conference, and next on vacation (or “holiday” as the British call it). He and his wife, Rosemary, were gracious hosts and both visits were pleasant for me and (in the second visit) for my wife as well. Dr. Evans and I exchanged hundreds, perhaps thousands, of e-mails, in an excellent personal and professional friendship. The suddenness of his passing was a shock, but he was well into his eighties and died peacefully in his sleep. He is in the hands of God now, and I hope to see him again one day in a far better world than this one. Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithfully departed in Christ, rest in peace. A-men.

Christian Fiction, “Show, Don’t Tell,” and Edginess

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Reblogged from “Southern Angst: An Author’s Blog” at Google+

The problem with much Christian fiction (with the exception of fine writers such as Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker) is that it often descends to preachiness–to “telling” rather than “showing.” Fiction writing is primarily telling a good story with strong characterization and plot. Still, there is nothing wrong with fiction reflecting the world view of its author. J. R. R. Tolkien, for example, stated that The Lord of the Rings was a Catholic novel, explicitly so on revision. Yet he tells, rather than shows, so that we do not see that the “Secret Fire,” to which Gandalf refers when confronting the Balrog, is a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Christian Trinity.

Yet even Christian fiction that shows often fails to capture enough of the complexities and temptations of life in its attempt not to offend its predominately Evangelical Christian readers. Sometimes it will not do to merely say “John swore,” or “David cursed.” The author should show this through dialogue even if the work has “bad words” in it. There are times that violent scenes are integral to the plot. There are even times in which explicitly sexual scenes are integral to the plot of the story. When that is the case, “telling” alone will result in a poorly written story which deserves the disdain of the secular critic and the general public.

I would consider my novel, Unpardonable Sin, to be primarily a horror novel. Yet it is also a Christian novel in the sense that it clearly reflects a Christian world view. It has cursing, blaspheming, swearing. It has violent scenes. There are scenes of masturbation and of sexual intercourse, including an older woman having sex with an underage boy. Now I do not approve of underage sex, even if it is “consensual” and even if the underage person is “mature for his age.” Yet it is a scene that is integral to the overall plot of the story and reveals the main character, Jeffrey’s, failure at spiritual warfare against a demonic entity. Now Jeffrey may or may not recover and win the war–read the book to find out–but the novel is a horror novel about spiritual warfare against not only a supernatural demonic entity, but against the temptations that arise during puberty and early adolescence. Another theme is the threat that an overly legalistic religion poses to spiritual development. The edgy scenes do not take one iota away from the overall theme, but they add to the plot and make the atmosphere of the story more vivid–that that vividness is an important part of horror fiction. Now it is fair to say that my book is not for young children–probably anyone below sixteen would find it too disturbing. I believe it is a good story for adult eyes to see the horror of a boy facing both an outer demon and his own demons in a world that, while flawed, still offers hope.

Christian writers need to remember that the world they describe is a fallen world, and a fallen world is not always pretty. It is sinful, gritty, and often reveals the worst in people. If fiction is to “tell the truth” about the world, it must tell the whole truth, not just what is palatable to the too-often overly sensitive eyes and ears of Evangelical Christians. This will broaden the appeal of the literary work and encourage others to think about the story more when they have completed the work. Show, don’t tell. Show life in its fullness.

A Critique of the “Emerging Church” Movement

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The term “emerging church” identifies a loose collection of individuals from both Evangelical and Liberal Christians traditions who want to go beyond current ideological divisions between the two groups. They tend to be “postmodern” (or “ultramodern,” as I prefer to say), and are often willing to place all Christian doctrines as contingent and changeable given sufficient dialogue between Christians and between Christians, adherents of other religions, and agnostics/atheists. In a way they are radically individualistic, holding the Kierkegaardian view that people must find their own path to Christian faith. However, many also focus on small groups and house churches in order to build community. They believe that worship styles must adapt to the current chaotic postmodern world. Many also tend toward socialism or social democratic liberalism, which they include under “social justice,” though many emerging church adherents participate in projects to better their communities. They emphasize spirituality and spiritual formation, using an eclectic approach with resources from different Christian (and sometimes non-Christian) traditions.

Although my focus will be on critiquing the movement, I first will focus on positives. A major strength of the emerging church movement is its emphasis on spiritual formation. In the past, churches have de facto ignored spiritual development, and seminary training was intellectualistic with little room for developing spirituality. Although the New Testament, particularly the Pauline letters, emphasize all of a Christian’s life as part of spirituality, surely there is room for prayer, meditation, and other forms that help draw a person closer to God in his whole being, not just in his head. Good spiritual formation should help in moral development, including the habituation in good actions that leads to moral virtue.

Another positive is the works of mercy performed in communities by Christians in the emerging church. They put their labor where their mouth is, and work at homeless shelters, at educational programs for disadvantaged youth, and for programs trying to transform crime-ridden communities into communities of virtue.

There are a number of theological difficulties, however, with the emerging church movement. First, the theology is amorphous, varying widely fro individual to individual. There may be a loose unity of thought, but even then there lacks a commitment to the finality of any dogmas the church has pronounced. Influenced by the epistemological relativism of postmodern thought, these Christians flounder about as they seek their own personal theologies. How far a person drifts from traditional orthodox Christianity is left up to the individual. There is no firm theological ground on which a person can stand. What if someone, in his personal journey, denies the bodily resurrection of Christ or the Virgin Birth? What if someone challenges traditional sexual ethics on marriage, which has already been tried by some emerging church members, including scholars who have influence on young people? If such conclusions are part of one’s “personal jouney,” do they apply to others? If so, this is inconsistent; if a person denies consistency as an epistemological norm, there is no room for further discussion. The Christian who accepts the bodily resurrection of Christ, is on the postmodernist account of knowledge and belief, no better off than the person who denies it. There is no metanarrative, no “Truth” with a capital “T,” The result is theological chaos, and William Butler Yeats cry, “the cenre cannot hold” becomes reality. Even spiritual formation, rather than using approaches in one tradition that can only be adequately understood within that tradition, takes A from the Eastern Orthodox, B from the Roman Catholics, C from the Baptists, and so forth, to some up with suggestions for members to find their individual methods of spiritual formation. The loosening of tradition to the point that it has no meaning can only lead to significant numbers of Christians leaving the faith and turning to Buddhism, Hinduism, or some other non-Christian religion. Others may turn to Humanism. What could be wrong with that on the emerging church’s conception of truth?

Of least importance, but deserving to be mentioned, is the political naivety of the emerging church movement. It assumes that the best way to gain “social justice” is by a socialistic or left-wing social-democratic system of government and economics. “Social justice” is often considered to be synonymous with “socialism.” This view ignores other alternatives to the greedy corporatism dominating America – examples include redistributionism what encourages more local ownership of  property or agrarianism. Usually the best efforts to aid communities are small scale, within an individual community, where those who help are the residents or know the residents well. The Roman Catholic principle of subsidiarity surely applies here.

Overall, I believe the emerging church movement is more of a negative rather than a positive for Christianity. A creative recovery of tradition is a better alternative to the individualistic theological chaos of the emerging church movement.

Culpable Ignorance

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In an otherwise excellent book by Shaun Nichols and Stephen Stich, Mindreading (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003), Nichols and Stich dismiss telepathy as a “supernatural” ability. Later, they mention “mystics” saying they have telepathic ability. The term “mystic” seems to be used in a pejorative sense, in which “mystical” means “anti-scientific.” These claims amount to ignorance that approaches being culpable. No one who has read the literature of parapsychology would hold that they claim that psi, including telepathy, is a “supernatural” ability. It is considered to be a natural power just as other powers of the organism (circulation, respiration, the five senses, etc.) are natural powers. Although some parapsychologists are Cartesian dualists (J. B. Rhine and Charles Tart approach Cartesian dualism, though with qualifications), even in those cases the soul is not considered to be a supernatural entity. There are theories of psi based on quantum physics (Dean Radin) and there are evolutionary theories of psi (James Carpenter) which do not even imply the existence of a spiritual realm.

To make the claim that psi is a supernatural ability, Nichols and Stitch require evidence. Instead of actually reading the parapsychological literature, they allow their personal biases to get in the way of objectivity. The only way a philosopher can make such broad and misinformed claims is failure to read the appropriate scholarly literature. Now if one has an a priori bias against psi to the point that one assumes that any putative scientific work on psi is “unscientific” (unless it is to “refute” psi), then one will fail to read the relevant literature. This an emotional, not a reasoned, reaction. I can respect a critic’s statements opposing the reality of psi if the person has done the appropriate reading and research. What I cannot respect are broad claims made from ignorance–and to dismiss an entire phenomena as non-science is both a claim from ignorance of the literature and is an ignorant claim. Philosophers surely can do better than this.

Baby Fuel

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I suppose, like Wesley Smith, I should not be surprised that over 15,000 aborted babies were incinerated as medical waste in the UK, with some of the remains used as fuel. The systematic dehumanization of the unborn child began with the rebellion against traditional norms in the 1960s. The UK was the first of the two to legalize abortion with the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act. The United States Supreme Court, in an act of judicial fiat, legalized abortion in the January 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. As Smith notes, incinerating aborted babies is the end-result of denying personhood to the fetus. The body of an adult who dies is considered to be a body of a former person and worthy of some respect. Aborted babies, having never been considered persons, are treated like any other piece of medical waste. If they have never been persons, they are things and can be treated as mere utilitarian objects. “We need to recycle fuel instead of just throwing it away, so why not use aborted fetuses.” While logical given the premisses of the pro-abortion crowd, this use of aborted babies marks a new low in the decline of morality in the West. A society that kills its most vulnerable cannot escape the social consequences, including a cheapening of human life in general. How much lower can the UK (and Canada and the US) go? I doubt there is a bottom limit.

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