The Book!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Real Reason for the 2nd Amendment

... to the US Constitution.

I have no strong views in the debate over gun control, but this piece is interesting for the quotes it offers from the founders of the US, and for the fact that it appears in the Daily Kos. Usually pretty left wing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Imnmorality in the Bible: Abraham and Isaac

The story of Abraham and Isaac: Ethiopian icon.



On the subject of immorality in the Bible, our next exhibit is quite a famous one: Abraham’s near-ritual sacrifice of Isaac.

Let’s give the whole story:

Genesis 22:

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Rembrandt's version.

This, the site religioustolerance.com presents as a “near child sacrifice.”

Fair enough. Nothing untoward actually happened; but that does not matter. Sin is in the intent, not in the act.

If, therefore, Abraham willfully intended to execute his son, he was guilty of a moral wrong.

But he did not. The passage itself indicates that the act was entirely against Abraham’s own will: God himself refers to “your only son, whom you love.” He was doing it in obedience to God, who of course has the right of life and death.

Moreover, it is not clear that Abraham actually believed he would have to kill Isaac. Note his answer when Isaac asks about the sacrifice: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”

Is he, the righteous Abraham, lying? Odd, then, that his words turn out to be literally true. Did he actually anticipate that this would happen?

After all, God had already promised him that he would be the father of many nations, through his son Isaac. Killing Isaac presumably would make that impossible, meaning that God had broken his covenant with him. Yet God is supposed to be all-good.

St. Paul suggests this in the New Testament: that Abraham’s faith was that God, capable of any kind of miracle, was going to ensure that Isaac would not die:



Frederick James Shields' interpretation.

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:17-19).

The incident was a severe test of Abraham’s faith, i.e., trust, in God; as we might trust a good friend to be acting morally towards us even if it appears he might be acting immorally. Abraham’s faith, then, was that God would somehow ensure that it all worked out well in the end.

If Abraham had not intended to kill Isaac, but God had, this too would have been immoral—on God’s part, not on Abraham’s. And it would not have been an injustice to Isaac, but to Abraham—he would have lost his only son, and his posterity, and God would have broken faith with him, and Abraham would have done nothing to deserve this. Isaac would be in heaven.

However, rather obviously, since he did not allow Isaac to be killed, God never intended to kill Isaac.

Hence, there is no immorality shown in the passage.

The passage is significant for another reason: we know that, later on, Yahweh is distinctive in the Middle East for being associated with the complete rejection of child sacrifice as an abomination. And we know that child sacrifice was the common practice in the Ancient Middle East. One important reason for the story, then, is surely to make the theological point that God has the right to demand child sacrifice in terms of his power and primacy, but that, as a moral and good God, he refuses this tribute. This is necessary, perhaps, because perverse human sentiment tends to imagine that the brutality of an idol or an authority is some kind of validation of its reality and power. See, for this, Aesop’s fable about the frogs who wanted a king.

Activist government.

Of course, for Christians, the story also has obvious significance as a precursor and model of the story of Jesus Christ: of God himself, like Abraham, sacrificing his only begotten son, and of the son being “resurrected from the dead” in the end. Pondering what Abraham must have felt gives us insight into the depths of God’s love for us.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Immorality in the Bible: The Conquest of Canaan



Continuing our theme from yesterday, here are the next “immoral passages” cited at

http://www.religioustolerance.org/imm_bibl.htm

They describe the Hebrew invasion and conquest of Canaan.

Deuteronomy 7:1-2:

"... the seven nations greater and mightier than thou; and when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them."

Joshua 6:21:

"And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword."

The Canaanite goddess Astarte standing on a heap of skulls.


As mentioned before, so long as Joshua and the Hebrews were operating under God’s direct command, there was no immorality to this. God has the right to kill as and when he sees fit.

Did all the Canaanites individually really deserve such punishment? It is not punishment, given an afterlife.



Old Bible illustration: An offering to Moloch.

Was it fair of God to favour the Hebrews over the Canaanite nations in battle? Not automatically; but according to the Bible, God had a reason. The Bible says that the Canaanites were dispossessed not because God preferred the Hebrews, but as a punishment for their own transgressions. They were a depraved culture. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah?

The Canaanites are to be destroyed “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20.18).

What abominable practices? First and foremost, child sacrifice, which is, according to the Bible, “an abomination in God’s sight.”



Buzzard Roost, Georgia, in the wake of Sherman's March.

It might well, therefore, be in the best interests of all concerned if such a doctrine and social structure were anathematized and even wiped out by violence—just as the culture of slavery was wiped out by war in the US South, just as the doctrine of Nazism was wiped out in Germany, just as the Thuggi were wiped out by the British in India. And extirpating the culture might have necessitated and justified a scorched earth policy, like Hiroshima or Sherman’s March.

The bad news is that we again tolerate and even celebrate child sacrifice again today. As abortion.

Uh oh…

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Immorality in the Bible: The Flood




An atheist friend has challenged me with the suggestion—not unfamiliar—that the Bible promotes immorality.

Let’s grasp that nettle by the prickly bits. Here’s a web essay that tries to cite such passages comprehensively, at religious tolerance.com.

http://www.religioustolerance.org/imm_bibl.htm

Let’s see what they’ve got.

First cited: the familiar story of Noah.




The Flood: 16th century.


Genesis 6:5-9:

"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. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God."

The Flood: 17th century.

This is described by the site as “genocide.”

The truth is that we are all going to die. Death is part of the natural order. It follows that, while our instincts make us fear and seek to avoid death for as long as possible, death itself is not evil. It serves some necessary function. It is killing that is evil, not dying.

If death is not evil, why is killing evil? Because it assumes a right that belongs properly to God. In the end, God kills all of us. Just as individuals may not wage war or shoot people, but the state can, so God, as governor of the universe, can morally do things that humans cannot.

Now consider: is he objectively doing harm to these people? We do not know what comes after death, but a believing Christian assumes that, for the good man, heaven follows. For the good, dying is not a punishment, but a reward. For the less good, either purgatory or hell—as justice requires. In either case, necessarily, no injustice.

The same logic applies to most reports of killings in the Old Testament. If they are done by God directly, there is no immorality. If they are done by someone else under God’s direct command, again, no immortality. God has that right.

And if they are neither done by God, or at God’s command, how do we know whether the Bible approves of them? Much of the Bible is straight history.

Of course, it is entirely likely that the Noah story is not: that its flood is a metaphor for the fact that we all die in the flood of time.

Friday, January 25, 2013

What Causes Revolutions?

Very interesting piece.

He's right about China. I was there in 1992, and nobody even then took Marxism seriously.

Glenn Reynolds on the Future of El-Hi

Reforming the Canadian Senate




Nobody really likes the Canadian Senate as it is, except sitting Prime Ministers. Yet it has never been reformed, because it is an ideal opportunity for patronage appointments. It also serves some small use as a way of getting a desired person into cabinet who does not have a Commons seat.

On the left, the NDP wants to abolish it. On the right, the old Reformers and Westerners commonly want a “Triple-E” Senate on the American model: elected, equal, and effective. Equal here meaning equal representation for each province. This would boost Western representation in Parliament.

To my mind a Triple-E senate is a non-starter. There is no constitutional justification for it. In the US, sovereignty resides with the states. In Canada, the provinces are supposed to be creatures of the federal government. As for accommodating regional differences, a Triple-E senate in Canada would reduce minority representation, rather than enhance it, by drastically reducing the voice of Quebec in federal affairs. In democratic terms, a Triple-E senate is an abomination: it gives one Prince Edward Islander over 100 times the influence of one Ontarian. And a bicameral legislature in which either house can introduce legislation is a perfect recipe for constant crisis. What if one party holds a majority in one house, and another party in the other? Witness, for example, the US's current negotiations over the debt ceiling. Worse, a foreign government can negotiate a treaty with the US President, in good faith, and then it turns out not to be passed by the legislature. The US has always been able to get away with this kind of gridlock and unreliability, first because it was so isolated from the rest of the world, and now because it is so powerful. A smaller, less influential country may not be able to afford it.

There is nothing wrong, on the other hand, with simply abolishing the Senate. Other than the fact that no sitting Prime Minister is ever likely to do it, because it is so convenient for patronage.

Here's an alternative proposal. First, make the Senate a national body elected by a national vote, by proportional representation, from party lists.

The riding system already represents the regions. What we do not have, in Canada, is a body of individuals—or even one individual, with the possible exception of the Queen or Governor-General--who represents the interests of the federation as a whole. This promotes division in a federation rather prone to division. The Senate, in this elected form, would do precisely that. Each senator would be answerable to the national electorate as a whole, and would have to face them again next election.

The proportional representation model might also let minority voices be heard that are not in the first-past-the-post system. At present, a party like the Greens can get eleven or twelve percent of the vote nationwide, yet not hold a seat.

This form of Senate has, I think, some chance of getting passed by a party in power, because it does not completely remove the patronage function of the current senate. It simply spreads it out among the different party leaders, so that there is more ideological diversity. A valuable player or a revered war horse could be more or less assured a seat by placing them at the top of the party lists for the Senate elections.

This still does not address the issue of gridlock between the two chambers. For that, I offer part two of my proposal: assign a different legislative role to each house. The Commons could continue as at present, initiating legislation. The Senate would have only the power to repeal.

This would eliminate any direct conflict between the chambers. It eould, however, give the Senate an effective veto over any legislation, retaining its historical mission as a place of “sober second thought.” And it would do something more, and something worth having a separate chamber to do. At present, the tendency is for laws and government to just keep piling up, extending further and further. This, as Ibn Khaldun pointed out hundreds of years ago, is what causes most nations and dynasties to eventually collapse. We would have a chamber dedicated to preventing this.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Ancient Civilization that Dare Not Speak Its Name


A model modern US grade 6 curriculum at which I am looking currently seeks, admirably, to avoid the ethnocentrism of the old ancient history curriculum, which limited the birth of civilization as we know it to Greece and Rome. I'm all for that. In a delirium of inclusion, it adds to the mix Egypt, Mesopotamia, early China, Persia, India, East Africa, and Mesoamerica. Indeed, fearful of letting anyone feel their ancestors are left out, it also throws in “hunter/gatherer” and “tribal” generically, despite the fact that, not having had cities, these groups were not, literally, civilizations.

But hey, despite all this inclusiveness, do you notice a problem here? Do you notice one group awkwardly missing from that list above? One group that has had an undeniably important influence on civilization as we know it?

Apparently, Jewish students are to understand that their ancestors had no part in the ancient world, or in civilization. Where are the Hebrews or ancient Israel? The guys who gave us three great world religions, our basic moral code, and all that?

One can certainly understand the problem with including them. Their history is also sacred history, to Jews and Christians. Including them, perhaps, would be too controversial for a public school. But ignoring them does not work any better; and the very attempt to be inclusive makes their absence far more troublesome.

And it certainly denies schoolchildren a proper understanding of the development of civilization.

There is only one real solution here: religion-based schooling.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Public Schools and Parental Malpractice


Glen Reynolds of Instapundit, observed recently that sending your children to public school amounts to parental malpractice. He is referring to recent cases in which children have been suspended from school for such nefarious violations as playing with a pink toy gun that shoots bubbles, or pointing a finger at another child and saying “bang!”

He is right enough about that—traumatizing young children for no reason but to satisfy some endemic urge to bully.

But there is far worse. Most public education systematically prevents children from learning. Why else would homeschooled children consistently outperform public school kids?

It's a predictable result of trying to make teaching a “profession.” Anyone who has themselves attended school for twelve years, let alone seventeen or more, will have a thorough education in two things, in about equal measure: the subjects taught, and how best to teach them. A far better grounding in teaching, in other words, than in any other conceivable trade they could choose. Those who have earned the highest marks will of course be those who have learned best how to teach and learn.

Selecting a teacher should therefore be a simple matter: hire the person with the highest marks over the longest years of schooling.

However, this leaves no justification for a teaching “profession.” Necessarily, in order to justify its claim to special expertise and demand higher rates of pay, education schools must offer something that cannot and will not be acquired in the school classroom.

In other words, something that has nothing to do with good teaching.

To survive, they must take the common teaching practice, and turn it on its head. To prove you are a “qualified” teacher, you must do something that defies common sense, so that nobody who has not been to teacher's college would think of doing it this way.

Something, in all certainty, that is going to interfere with the natural process of learning as much as possible. Things like avoiding all memorization, or insisting on group work at all times, or actually not teaching.

This is not at all likely to produce the best results for our children.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Do Americans Still Dislike Atheists?


A leftist friend—apparently an atheist—sends a link to a Washington Post op-ed lamenting the continuing discrimination against atheists, “long after blacks and Jews have made great strides.” It is titled “Why do Americans still dislike atheists?”

This author answers his own question. He writes, “On basic questions of morality and human decency – issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights – the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers.” Problem is, most of these are not moral issues, but political ones—much less “basic questions of morality.” All of them might be purely political, depending on how he is interpreting them.

On the evidence of his own concept of morality, then, atheists seem to lack a moral compass. This is reason enough to be wary of them.

He does then cite one or two real moral issues: murder rates, for example. But his research on this seems to be little more than eyeballing a map. This site, on the other hand, cites real studies that suggest murder rates are lower in US cities and states with greater church attendance. It also cites studies suggesting that the religious are less likely to commit domestic violence or indulge in extramarital sex, while more likely to donate to charity or volunteer their time. For what little such social studies are worth.

The author also asserts that atheists are more likely to “practice safe sex.” But this does not signify. This too is not morality, but self-interest. Morality involves sacrifice for others.

For what it's worth, of the Ten Commandments, the traditional code of morality in the Western world, atheists automatically violate the first two or three. Jesus sums up the commandments as only two: first, love God with your whole heart, next, love your neighbour as yourself. Atheists are necessarily not meeting the requirements of this first commandment. Now, you may want to argue that Jesus and Moses are wrong on what morality is—which is to say, in Christian or Jewish terms, that god is wrong on what morality is—but it remains true that arguing that atheists are as moral as the next guy requires you to redefine what morality has always meant in Western civilization.

You might object that it is not reasonable to condemn someone for believing something he happens, in good faith, to believe. Very well: how about if he happens to believe, in good faith, that it is okay to kill Jews? How about if he believes, in good faith, that his self-interest trumps everything else? How about if he believes he has the right to kill anyone who disagrees with him?

No, some thoughts or moral positions are in themselves immoral. Atheism might well fall in that class. We have traditionally believed throughout the Western world that it does.

Should it be illegal? That is a different question. But we may well have every right and reason to look askance at or mistrust atheists.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Righteous Among the Nations



St. Maximilian Kolbe.

Wikipedia features a page listing those "righteous gentiles" recognized for helping Jews persecuted during the Nazi years. One subcategory is for "Religious figures." Here it is, in total:
  • Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Zakynthos,[49] who, when ordered by the Axis occupying forces to submit a list of all Jews on the island, submitted a document bearing just two names: his own and the Mayor's. Consequently all 275 Zante Jews were saved.
  • Archbishop Damaskinos - Archbishop of Athens during the German occupation. He formally protested the deportation of Jews and quietly ordered churches under his jurisdiction to issue fake Christian baptismal certificates to Jews fleeing the Nazis. Thousands of Greek Jews in and around Athens were thus able to claim that they were Christian and were thus saved.
  • Archbishop Johannes de Jong, later Cardinal, of Utrecht, Netherlands, who drew up together with Titus Brandsma O.Carm. († Dachau, 1942) a letter in which he called for all Catholics to assist persecuted Jews, and in which he openly condemned the Nazi German "deportation of our Jewish fellow citizens" (From: Herderlijk Schrijven, read from all pulpits on Sunday 26 January 1942).
  • Alfred Delp S.J., a Jesuit priest who helped Jews escape to Switzerland while rector of St. Georg Church in suburban Munich; also involved with the Kreisau Circle. Executed February 2, 1945 in Berlin.
  • Rufino Niccacci, a Franciscan friar and priest who sheltered Jewish refugees in Assisi, Italy, from September 1943 through June 1944.
Archbishop Damaskenos of Athens.

Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty.
Now, isn't it troubling that there is only one member of the Protestant clergy on that list? It is just possible that the author of the Wikipedia post is deliberately suppressing actions of the Protestant clergy, of course. But this may say something about the Protestant clergy, too.

The world is too much with them. They tend to go along with whatever the popular or politically advantageous line is at the time, as opposed to standing firm for the eternal verities.

As they have generally done, in recent years, on subjects like abortion, or the ordination of women.

This may be because, unlike the Catholic or Orthodox clergy, they are entirely dependent on local popular approval for their livelihoods.

An argument against democracy in religion.

The Massacre at Regiopolis

Regiopolis School Crest. Is it discriminatory that it's still kind of red?


Regiopolis-Notre Dame High School, in Kingston Ontario, has a long and fabled history. It began as Canada’s first English Catholic High School. In 1886, it was actually granted university status, and theoretically still has the legal authority to award degrees. Its sports teams long competed as the Regiopolis Redskins. Then in 1988, someone decided this name was culturally insensitive. Goodbye to over a century of history and tradition.

The obvious and original choice then was to rename the teams the “Regiopolis Rams,” preserving the alliteration. But this was rejected as sexist: Rams are male.

So they are now, for no particular reason, the “Regiopolis Panthers.”

This pretty well tells you what you need to know about Kingston.

First question: how come it is discriminating against Indians to name your teams after them, but discriminating in favour of males to name your team after them?



Call the Human Rights Commission! Aren't Rogers employees an identifiable group?

Second question: how come, if it is insulting to name your sports team after someone, how come Air Canada is not suing over the name of the Air Canada Centre in Toronto? How come Rogers Cable is not suing over the name of the Rogers Centre? In Kingston, how come K-Rock Radio is not protesting the name of the K-Rock Centre, where the Kingston Frontenacs play?

Of course, others have noticed the absurdity of protesting against sports teams named after Indians when nobody seems to get upset about the Minnesota Vikings or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

“There are no two ways about it;” however, writes a correspondent for Yahoo Sports. “The name [Redskins] is derogatory. A sports team that uses such a name responsible for the personal struggles of a group of strangers, or a people, [sic—I don’t understand what he’s trying to say either] but names such as Redskins, Braves or Indians can reaffirm the sense of powerlessness many Aboriginals encounter daily. It also is different from other nicknames which represent a people such as Patriots or Vikings, because it involves co-opting someone else's culture and heritage.”



Funny... you don't look Irish.

That’s the claim, then? It is “co-opting” someone else’s heritage? And how many players on the Notre Dame squad do you suppose are actually Irish? Or on the Minnesota squad Swedish? Or on the Boston Celtics Celtic? Or on the Toronto Argonauts Greek? Or on the Ottawa Senators Roman? Or on the Gananoque Trojans Trojan?

And does the writer really want to make the claim that native North Americans have made no contribution to Canadian culture? Should he presume that no Regiopolis players have native heritage? Isn’t that a classically prejudiced assumption?

But that’s Kingston. Like Toronto, only more so.