Twilight of the Idols, or,
How to Philosophize With a Hammer

The four great errors

§4 The error of imaginary causes. To begin with dreams: a cause is slipped after the fact under a particular sensation (for example, the sensation following a far-off cannon shot) — often a whole little novel is fabricated in which the dreamer appears as the protagonist who experiences the stimulus. The sensation endures meanwhile as a kind of resonance: it waits, so to speak, until the causal interpretation permits it to step into the foreground — not as a random occurrence but as a “meaningful event.” The cannon shot appears in a causal mode, in an apparent reversal of time. What is really later (the causal interpretation) is experienced first — often with a hundred details that pass like lightning before the shot is heard. What has happened? The representations which were produced in reaction to certain stimulus have been misinterpreted as its causes.

In fact, we do the same thing when awake. Most of our general feelings — every kind of inhibition, pressure, tension, and impulsion in the ebb and flow of our physiology, and particularly in the state of the nervous system –excites our causal instinct: we want to have a reason for feeling this way or that — for feeling bad or good. We are never satisfied merely to state the fact that we feel this way or that: we admit this fact only — become conscious of it only — when we have fabricated some kind of explanation for it. Memory, which swings into action in such cases without our awareness, brings up earlier states of the same kind, together with the causal interpretations associated with them — not their actual causes. Of course, the faith that such representations or accompanying conscious processes are the causes is also brought forth by memory. Thus originates a habitual acceptance of a particular causal interpretation, which, as a matter of fact, inhibits any investigation into the real cause — it even excludes it.

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Saint Albert confronts the gay peril

This is fun: Albert Mohler has decided it’s time to wake-up the Godly and force them to confront the menace which now lies before them.

Evangelical Christians in the United States now face an inevitable moment of decision. While Christians in other movements and in other nations face similar questions, the question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no way to remain silent. To be silent will answer the question.

The question is whether evangelicals will remain true to the teachings of Scripture and the unbroken teaching of the Christian church for over two thousand years on the morality of same-sex acts and the institution of marriage.

For some mysterious reason, as I read that I was transported in memory to those old World War II movies where the good guys’ submarine lies deep in the water as enemy destroyers circle overhead and the captain, with dramatically sweat-soaked armpits, nudges the periscope upwards.

Never mind; I’m sure that Mohler would sooner liken himself to Horatius at the Bridge.

Meanwhile the Tuscan army, right glorious to behold,
Came flashing back the noonday light,
Rank behind rank, like surges bright of a broad sea of gold.
Four hundred trumpets sounded a peal of warlike glee,
As that great host, with measured tread, and spears advanced, and ensigns spread,
Rolled slowly towards the bridge’s head where stood the dauntless Three.

The Three stood calm and silent, and looked upon the foes,
And a great shout of laughter from all the vanguard rose:
And forth three chiefs came spurring before that deep array;
To earth they sprang, their swords they drew, and lifted high their shields, and flew
To win the narrow way;

The cause of all this quavery-jowled indignation, you should know, is a soon-to-be-published book by Matthew Vines which argues that Christians have misread the Bible, that the Big Guy is just fine with gays.

Since Christian theology holds that Our Invisible Friend loathes all of humankind, who are innately wicked and born inherently deserving of eternal torture, and the Bible emphatically condemns gays, I’m finding Vines’ argument a bit much to swallow. Nevertheless, I wish Vines success, and I wish Pious Albert effective blood pressure medications.

I will tell you right now exactly how all of this is going to play out. The public at large has realized that, in Thomas Jefferson’s imperishable phrase, same-sex marriage “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” so … fine, leave gays alone to live their lives. That is happening now, and happening rapidly, and it’s a good thing. Church business departments will realize that full-throated hostility toward gays is very bad for business and urge a softer tone, and when that isn’t enough to eradicate the hard feelings they’ll start recommending special Rainbow Sunday services.

Mohler is going to be left standing in a remote corner of the parking lot, glowering and stamping his feet — and, fifty years from now, some Southern Baptist preacher will unembarrassedly claim credit for Christianity for the progress of gay rights. Seriously.

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Feel-the-love department

Is there any one story that has had so much malign influence over the ethical thought of the West as the (probably apocryphal) tale of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac?


“I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”

E. M. Forster


The story is told today, every Sunday morning, at churches throughout the world, and rehearsed as a sort of gold standard; Abraham exhibits the obedience to Our Invisible Friend that is expected of all of us. “Are y-o-o-o-u that faithful?”, the pastor will croon. So deeply is the ready betrayal of family and friends embedded in Western ethical thought that the Inquisition required it of defendants as evidence of rehabilitation.

The point, of course, is the complete eradication of distracting corporeal loyalties, the breaking of the bonds of family and community, for only then does the church and its officers truly ‘own’ its flock.

I’m reminded of all that by this nugget from Uganda, unearthed by Michael Hamar.

The Bishop of the Jinja Diocese of the Catholic Church, Bishop Rt. Rev. Fr. Charles Wamika, in today’s Easter Message delivered at St. Chalres Lwanga Catholic Church, praised the Members of Parliament for the Anti-Homosexuality Act that provides life in prison for gay (LGBTI) people in Uganda. The Bishop called for a blessing for Uganda’s Christians who worked so hard to ‘free the land of gays.’ The Bishop also asked for parents to hand over their gay children to authorities, so they would be rewarded in heaven.

Well. That’s an uplifting message, don’t you think?

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Range wars

I suppose we’ve all heard by now of the standoff between the Federal government and a Nevada rancher who refuses to acknowledge its existence or pay fees for grazing his cattle on public land. The language with which the dispute is discussed is a good indication of the perversity of the far-Right’s ‘thinking.’

The dispute over their grazing rights on land administered by the federal government brought the Bundy family into tense confrontation with the Obama faction. Obama and his cohorts intended to make an example of the Bundy family, one that would discourage all Americans tempted to stand on their rights from doing so. But what was supposed to be a spectacular execution, striking fear into the heart of Americans who still think they live in the land of the free …

Faction? Execution?

This piece by perennial Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes is entitled, no kidding, “At the Bundy Ranch: a ‘Rosa Parks moment’?” Seriously? Being expected to pay for the use of public lands is now akin to being sent to the back of the bus?

How can there be a sane public conversation with those who draw such grotesquely inapt comparisons?

The humdrum truth is that the loony Right is at odds with the whole of the modern world, its sometimes-bewildering complexities and its steadily increasing disdain for their Bronze Age superstitions — a world in which they are unable to thrive and which is leaving them behind. They aren’t interested in talking; they believe they face an existential threat, and they want to stop it cold. There will be more of this, and it won’t end happily.

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Character in the pulpit, ctd

Andrew Sullivan is about to launch a discussion of Bart Ehrman’s latest book, How Jesus Became God, on his Web site. I haven’t read the book yet, though it’s in my queue.

The ancients did not conceive of god(s) as, in Alvin Plantinga’s stunningly vacuous expression, the “ground of all being;” they conceived of the gods as exaggerated, super-powerful humans. They quarreled fiercely and went to war with each other, snuck into each other’s beds, drank and danced joyfully. Undoubtedly, Jesus was first conceived as a god in that sense, for the word ‘god’ was otherwise meaningless, and my understanding of Ehrman’s book is that it takes up the subsequent evolution of the idea of Jesus as god.

As the conversation begins, Sullivan quotes a reviewer:

There is a live conversation among biblical scholars about how most Christians came to regard Jesus as divine. In other words, Ehrman’s book raises questions that should interest us all. This is not about liberals and secularists attacking the church. It’s an ongoing debate that crosses the usual party lines. …

Most Christians, however, have no idea that Ehrman’s book represents a genuine conversation among informed scholars. This is unfortunate. Nothing Ehrman is saying would surprise a biblical scholar at even the most conservative theological school. This knowledge gap constitutes a failure of educational ministry in the churches. We Christians should be learning to engage legitimate public conversations about Jesus, about the Bible, and about our faith.

Longtime readers will recognize this as one of my recurring peeves; the exact same thing might be said of Reza Aslan’s Zealot, Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution, and Joel Baden’s The Historical David.

I have an almost complete set of the textbooks used at Southeastern Seminary a decade ago, and I can vouch for the fact that their graduates are well aware that they can identify only a few of the Bible’s authors, that there are grotesque inconsistencies in the narrative, that there is a lot of axe-grinding and score-settling in the texts, that there were centuries of debate over which texts should be accepted as canonical — that the Bible is no less a political document than the United States Code.

When a seminary-educated pastor stands in his pulpit and howls and bellows and stamps his feet and gets red-faced about inerrancy, he is lying — and I use that word accurately and with deliberation; he knows of the uncertainties and unresolved questions and shenanigans and expediencies that produced what is today the “Inerrant Bible.”

That matters. It goes to character — especially when they remain silent as believers undermine their local schools and demand their statehouses enact public policies consistent with the Bible. It isn’t Satan that is destroying Christianity, and it isn’t wicked secularists, and it isn’t liberal scholars: It is cowardly and dishonest pastors in subservient thrall to ignorant congregations.

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