Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Alliance

…an unholy alliance between a bunch of atheists and evangelical Christians was born.

A conference was recently held at the Gladstone Library: Speaking Truth to Social Justice.  The conference brought together the atheists behind the so-called Hoax papers (Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian, and James A. Lindsay) alongside Michael O’Fallon, the evangelical Christian founder and editor-in-chief of Sovereign Nations.

At stake, it seemed, was the complete takedown of liberalism and, with it, Western civilization.

The issue is the post-modernist tidal-wave aimed at taking down the grand narratives that have guided Western discourse and replacing these with social justice based on weaponized identity.

The hoax papers were bogus – but published – research papers on topics of gender studies, queer theory, critical race theory, intersectional feminism, fat studies and postcolonial theory.  The purpose was to highlight the lack of academic integrity in such topics – as long as the subject was the “right” topics.  Topics like “canine rape culture” and the like.

While this conference is identified as an “inaugural conference,” it is a topic that has been discussed across the lines of this same unholy alliance going on several years now.  One must look only to Jordan Peterson for kicking off this discussion; if he wasn’t the first, he was certainly the one to bring it to broad public attention.

From here, conversations have been ongoing between and among Peterson, John Vervaeke, Paul VanderKlay, Bishop Barron, Bret Weinstein, Eric Weinstein, Jonathan Pageau, Peter Thiel, the leadership at Liberty University, Sam Harris, and dozens of others.

On the list you will find Christians and atheists, Jews and Gentiles.  All are working through the meaning crisis that is the child of our times, with this social-justice-intersectional god being merely a result or unavoidable outcome of the extreme individualism derived from liberalism.

This most recent conference was held in a venue named after the ‘Grand Old Man’ of liberalism: William Ewart Gladstone.  The focus was to come together to defend the ‘rules of engagement’ and cognitive liberty. 

Principled-based rules of engagement create an environment in which dialogue can be fostered and cultivate a culture that values freedom of speech and dialectics that eschew ad hominem attacks and mischaracterization. … this is the way to preserve all that is good and effective about free liberal societies that tolerate and welcome differences of opinion.

That’s good enough as far as it goes, but it won’t be the end of the road.  Some of the grand narrative must be taken down – and in this, the post-modernists aren’t completely wrong. Western intellectuals and political leaders – both Christian and secular – have brought this on themselves by upholding too many lies.

But it must go further.  If the participants in this conversation want to succeed in cultivating “a culture that values freedom of speech and dialectics,” they will sooner or later have to deal with something much deeper and much more foundational than materialism and humanism.  A few critical bridges must eventually be crossed.

First, we need not invent some new man-made ethic as the New Atheists desire.  The Golden Rule – or versions thereof – have been known to men in all major civilizations almost from the beginning of recorded history.  Second, this rule must be applied to all men and women – as all men and women are created in God’s image (a very Christian concept).  Third, this reality leads one to Natural Law in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. 

All of these must underlie any Western society that wants to defend true freedom of speech and live in liberty.  But even this is still not enough.  It was in the birth of Western Liberalism that Western man killed God.  And by killing God, reason and the individual were lost, and the first three bridges have been burned.

In other words, if the final objective of the conversation is to have conversation then the participants in such conferences will never achieve their objective.


It is this spirit that these evangelicals and atheists are fighting to restore. Faith or no faith is no longer the dividing line here. Bad faith is. And you don’t need to be religious to argue in bad faith.

This is only the first step.  Even if one assumes arguing in good faith is the proper end or purpose of man, arguing in good faith is not sufficient to defend arguing in good faith.  There are – and must be – first principles that are not subject to question.  From C.S. Lewis:

All the practical principles behind the Innovator’s case for posterity, or society, or the species, are there from time immemorial in the Tao.  But they are nowhere else.  Unless you accept these without question as being to the world of action what axioms are to the world of theory, you can have no practical principles whatever.

There are principles that must be accepted as given – to be discovered, not invented.  Continuing with Lewis:

The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

It is these first principles that many atheist thinkers refuse to accept and many Christian leaders refuse to defend.  And it is on these first principles – and nowhere else – where liberty can be built.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Burn the Boats on the Beach

René Girard begins Part 5 of his CBC interviews with a comment straight out of Jordan Peterson when the latter confronts Sam Harris and other celebrity atheists:

We think we live in a secular society, but this is imaginary.  There is no society without religion, because without religion society cannot exist.  What we live in today is a form of Christianity that we do not recognize. 

The celebrity atheists and others who are trying to build a religion that is not a religion are all trying to recreate that which came from Christianity: The Golden Rule (which other traditions also recognize) and that all men are made in the image of God (which other traditions do not recognize).  They want these foundations, without the One who built the foundations.

Girard continues, offering an interesting interpretation of Matthew 10:

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.

Why would Jesus create division and discord?  Girard offers: order was created and maintained by channeling hatred toward scapegoats.  Ritual violence institutionalizes this practice.  Jesus challenges this system, announcing the innocence of all sacrificial victims.  Jesus removes the possibility of ritual sacrifice as a means of bringing peace.

But this brings the violence to the fore, into the open.  Thus, we are left with a choice: either we are going to love each other or we are going to die. 

This is how Girard sees the apocalypse.  When we no longer sacrifice and also refuse to repent, violence will grow worse.  The apocalypse (Daniel, Revelation, Jesus, etc.) is read as fire coming from Heaven – God’s judgement on man.  But what it actually foresees is the raging of human violence when it is neither checked by sacrifice or by Christian love.  The ultimate violence comes from man’s sin, not from God.  Today, the apocalypse is either ignored or blasphemously turned into a tool for Christian support of Middle East war. 

It is believed that violence comes from differences – if we just do away with borders, cultures, traditions – the purpose of borders is to keep violence inside and protect from violence from the outside.  Without borders, nothing will contain or prevent violence.

Here again Girard’s views mesh with those of Peterson, this time on the necessity of borders.

Girard returns to the self-critical nature of Christianity, the call to always examine one’s heart relative to Christian love:

Christians see themselves as guilty from a Christian point of view, and this much is true.  But they are not guilty from the point of view of many other cultures and religious traditions – who find it appropriate to spread their views by the sword or other coercive means.

Christians are blamed by non-Christians who use Christian values to blame Christians.  Calls for reparations and equal treatment are possible only through a Christian lens. 

A Roman guard would never have entertained such notions from an enslaved minority: who are you to complain, you are not a citizen.  Off to the scaffold.

We further blame our ancestors.  It is a form of scapegoating our ancestors, hence sacrificing them in order to supposedly bring peace today.  We believe that we would have done better.  We lack gratitude.  We are self-righteous. 

We mean to say that we would do better if we were in the place of God.  The Enlightenment critiques Christianity, yet wants to keep its ethics.

There follows discussion of Nietzsche and Heidegger: the death of God – we killed him; we can only be saved by god – but not the Christian God.  This continues with a discussion of Nazism and today’s political correctness and social justice – we will show Christians how to actually defend victims; a super-ethic, reducing the world to nothing but victimization, oppression and power. 

This super-ethic takes up the victims but attempts to do so without Christianity.  This is the new totalitarianism – promising to keep what is good of Christianity while getting rid of what is supposedly bad.

He speaks of the idea of indemnification for slavery – despite most Americans being descendants of those who came after the Civil War.  We have a competition of victim status.  It is this new totalitarianism that advances the revelation we are living – reflecting Girard’s view on the apocalypse.  We will either move to ever-increasing violence or Christian love.

A colleague of Girard’s tells a story:

He wants to write a book in defense of Girard’s views, a book necessary because Girard is excluded from mainstream academic thought as “too Christian.”  He starts writing, but then decides that he might make matters worse – realizing that his book will also be deemed too Christian. 

He raises this point with Girard, who replies: Well then, let’s burn our boats on the beach!

Once again, returning to something from Jordan Peterson: recognizing that there would be a tremendous cost for speaking out as he has, Peterson felt that the cost would be even higher if he didn’t speak out.


Christian love or ever-increasing violence.  Or, I guess, we can return to sacrificing innocent victims as scapegoats.  Under which scenario do you expect liberty could thrive?  Because just chanting the NAP will not end the violence.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Seeing Through the Bible

This post will tread closer to topics that I would rather not debate at this site, yet I feel as if it is important for me to write it out – it helps me to think it out.  So…I ask for some leeway and will also offer some leeway in the comments.  Just remain polite and respectful of others.


It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles.  If you see through everything, then everything is transparent.  But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world.  To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.

-          C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

A conversation between Sarah and Paul VanderKlay, at about the 38-minute mark:

Sarah: Do you think the Bible can be an idol itself?

Paul: Oh, yes.  Absolutely.  And we see that played out often.  Idol and icon: what’s the difference.  An icon we are supposed to see through.  Jesus is the icon of the invisible God; I am quoting Greek here. The book of Colossians.  We are supposed to see through the Bible to the Bible’s source.  That’s the whole idea of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

When we stop seeing through the Bible to its source and just divinize the Bible itself, well, now you’re worshipping a book and we are not supposed to worship a book.

Of course, the Bible is the Word of God.  But it isn’t God.  Can words capture God?  Words that are comprehensible to humans?

The Bible was originally written in many languages, all – to varying degrees – languages lost to history.  The Bible describes that which is almost incomprehensible to humans...in any language.  Both conditions drive us to difficulty in interpretation – a challenge ongoing even today.  Sola Scriptura hasn’t resolved these issues.

Regarding the Hebrew Bible of 39 books:

The texts were mainly written in Biblical Hebrew, with some portions (notably in Daniel and Ezra) in Biblical Aramaic. Biblical Hebrew, sometimes called Classical Hebrew, is an archaic form of the Hebrew language.

The first translation was into Greek, but this wasn’t the Greek of opah and ouzo.  It was Koine Greek, “spoken and written during the Hellenistic period, the Roman Empire, and the early Byzantine Empire, or late antiquity.”

The Latin Vulgate by Jerome was based upon the Hebrew for those books of the Bible preserved in the Jewish canon (as reflected in the Masoretic Text), and on the Greek text for the rest. …Christian translations also tend to be based upon the Hebrew, though some denominations prefer the Septuagint (or may cite variant readings from both).

We haven’t even come yet to the New Testament….

The books of the Christian New Testament are widely agreed to have originally been written in Greek, specifically Koine Greek, even though some authors often included translations from Hebrew and Aramaic texts.

Some scholars believe that some books of the Greek New Testament (in particular, the Gospel of Matthew) are actually translations of a Hebrew or Aramaic original.

And some believe the original language of Mark was Latin.  That’s wild.

But WWJS?  In what language did Jesus converse?

It is generally agreed by historians that Jesus and his disciples primarily spoke Aramaic (Jewish Palestinian Aramaic), the common language of Judea in the first century AD, most likely a Galilean dialect distinguishable from that of Jerusalem.

Keep in mind: people didn’t travel much then.  There was no such thing as mass media beyond one’s village.  Language and dialect varied even from village to village – a “Galilean dialect distinguishable from that of Jerusalem.”

The villages of Nazareth and Capernaum in Galilee, where Jesus spent most of his time, were Aramaic-speaking communities. It is also likely that Jesus knew enough Koine Greek to converse with those not native to Palestine, and it is also possible that Jesus knew some Hebrew for religious purposes.

Of course, Jesus knew enough of any language necessary; He spoke in the language common to the people to whom He was speaking.  Koine Greek, Aramaic of a Galilean dialect, Hebrew.  And I am certain: none of these could be understood by any speakers of Greek or Hebrew today.  As to Aramaic:

Neo-Aramaic languages are still spoken today as a first language by many communities: predominately by the Christian Assyrians, followed by the Mandaeans, and nearly extinct among the Jews of Western Asia. There are numerous variants spoken by Assyrians…

And I am certain it isn’t the Aramaic that Jesus spoke.

What is my point.  The difficulty of interpretation was built into the Bible from the beginning.  The Bible, from the beginning, was a translated text.  Think about what this means – both regarding our humility toward it and about it as well as the necessary nuance and subtlety with which we must approach our understanding. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Sign of the Cross

Continuing with Part 4 of René Girard’s CBC interviews from 2011, Girard connects the scapegoating mechanism to the story of Jesus:

When everyone believes the lie that the scapegoat is guilty, the violence of the group is transferred outside and the group can continue in peace.  The Bible undoes these illusions: the whole surrogate-victim mechanism is from Satan.  Jesus dies like any guilty hero, but the Cross does not ratify His guilt; it proclaims His innocence.

Of course, not everyone saw Jesus as innocent at the time.  Some saw Him as guilty.  But for scapegoating to work in preserving the peace, all must see the scapegoat as guilty.

Scapegoating preserves the peace as long as the scapegoaters believe the scapegoat to be guilty.  Jesus doesn’t work as a scapegoat, as He divided people – some saw Him as scapegoat, others as an innocent victim. 

We are living through continued attempts at scapegoating today.  Consider the scapegoating done by the social justice warriors.  Yet, this will not bring any peace as a good portion of society does not see the intended victims of this scapegoating as guilty.  This reality will play right into Girard’s points made later in this interview: focused violence via scapegoating no longer works to bring peace.

The discussion next turns to some interesting and thought-provoking views.  The first might offer an insight into why Christian societies have led the evolution from cultural acceptance of violence into a drive toward peace (and also therefore damns those current Christians who cheer on war):

Why do you notice the mote in his eye and ignore the beam in your own?  This self-critical spirit will transform the world. 

It is often pointed out by critics that Christians have not always lived up to the best of this self-critical spirit.  Girard confronts this challenge directly:

Christians will also be accusers, but will never break free from this constantly repeated call to examine themselves and reform.  We are the one society in the world that has this capacity for self-criticism.

It is also pointed out – as Girard hints at in the above – that slavery existed in Christian societies, war and the Crusades existed in Christian societies, the Inquisition gained fame in Christian societies, etc., etc., etc. 

Yet Christians continuously self-criticize – as long as Jesus is kept in view as the target for our ends and purpose, such practices diminish or are eliminated.  This didn’t happen despite Christianity; it happened because of it:

We constantly criticize ourselves, and rightly so.  But from what point of view do you criticize?  The permanence of Christianity is found in this self-critical power. 

Girard expands this point:

It is the Cross that gave us the key to decode mythology.  …We even use the Gospel to criticize such practices [as witch hunting]: how could such things have happened during Christian times? 

Yes, how could those terrible Christians advocate for such things?  Girard points out that those with such views are looking at history in the wrong direction:

The interesting thing about witch-hunting isn’t that it happened in Christian times – all societies had such practices.  The interesting thing is that it ended in Christian societies.  We recognize that witch-hunting is scapegoating. 

He makes a second thought-provoking point (including some commentary from the interviewer):

We didn’t stop burning witches because we invented science; we invented science because we stopped burning witches.  This sounds backwards to us, but Girard explains: we used to blame droughts on witches; once we stopped blaming witches, we looked for scientific explanations for drought.