Monday, August 18, 2014

Yes, you're entitled to your opinion

Like everyone else I'm for herd immunity, and like some people I believe the Holocaust of six million Jews was a sad and real historical event and that Al-Qaeda organised the September-11 attacks. But when it's appropriate to respond to Holocaust deniers or such like, we should do so with reasoning, not ad hominem attacks. John Dickson linked to this article by Philosopher Patrick Stokes; which was meant to argue that people who have opinions should defend them with arguments. However what Stokes really does is argue for "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." He says as much here: "And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse." No Stokes, amateurs and experts alike can weigh up the validity of arguments.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Jars of Clay thing: logic, gender, sex and culture

Reductio ad absurdum is a useful tool for testing the truth (correspondence to reality) of a premise by seeing if it's true in all cases. However it's also just that, a tool. Logically an argument can be valid (arguments should be valid, premises true and terms clear) if the claim is that 'gender and sexuality should be ordered a certain way.' Firstly, there is no contradiction if an exception is found, for example gay dolphins or consenting adults; because the original argument is contingent, gender and sexuality should be ordered a certain way. But secondly it's a fallacy to say 'gender and sexuality are whatever we want them to be because of those examples', that's making a inductive claim about the whole world based on a limited set of exceptions, an argument from selective observation.

At the moment it's very controversial to link a discussion of gender to the male and female sex organs. This isn't say that the expression of gender is cultural; with lots of regional variation but nonetheless the categories exist and Scripture wants us to affirm the cultural expression of distinct genders. In other words the Christian claim is that God made genetic gender differences and the cultural differences which flow from those genetic distinctions. Regional cultural variations, ambiguous gender at birth and variations in your internal sense of gender are not in of themselves logical arguments against affirming gender distinctions.

Sexual activity, like all of ordinary life has an existential effect on our psyche but like other ordinary activities (such as eating or travelling) shouldn't be the source of our identity. The essence of being human isn't our rationality, appetites, appearance or our sexuality. There are a range of sexual activities, desires and situations that we have access to; that's why those Old Testament laws focus on sex acts and not on sexuality. This is also why "same-sex attraction" is a more accurate term than "homosexuality", which seems to mean a certain set of cross-gender behaviours.

So the front man of Jars of Clay has come out in support of same-sex marriage, you can read out it here. My knowledge of the Christian music genre is limited, but for me they represented the archetypal Christian-band. After the Enlightenment, it seemed the world was divided between the real rational stuff and the esoteric irrational stuff, with the history of philosophy since then defending the primacy of one or the other. The variety of relationships between Gospel and Culture are often an echo of this philosophical history. Jars of Clay represented the impulse to Christianise certain aspects of the real rational world, 'see Christ does speak to the real world, this is a Christian pop-band.' I think this Jars of Clay thing signals the end of that particular approach to Christ and Culture. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Christians in Mosul, Iraq

The crash of MH17 and the war in Gaza is currently catching most of the media attention. A little while ago however, global attention was focused on north-western Iraq as the ISIS (Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, now called the Islamic State) swept through the Sunni areas of north-western Iraq from their bases in eastern Syria, overturning Iraqi sovereignty in a few short weeks and everything that had been gained by nearly a decade of American intervention. The Islamic fighters are building on their gains from the Syrian civil war and continuing an old Sunni-Shia conflict. There's lots of diplomatic activity around putting an end to the fighting in Gaza, giving the Islamic state time to consolidate it's gains and turn on moderate entities in the region such as the neighbouring Kurds. Just last week the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a massive car-bombing in Bagdad targeting Shia Arabs, killing approximately 150 people.

Sadly though for the Christians living Mosul and north-western Iraq, the creation of the Islamic State, a modern Muslim caphalite is bad news. Following a strict version of Islam, they are demanding local Christians; convert, pay a large tax or die. In God's providence some are able to flee and become refugees in Kurdish controlled areas, living their homes and livelihoods behind. But it's not a pleasant exit, there are reports that the Islamic state is responsible for murder, rape and the burning of church buildings.

  • Pray for the Iraqi Christians; that they'll survive, find refugee and be protected within the Kurdish areas of Iraq. 
  • Donate to Barnabas Fund here.
  • On Facebook and Twitter there's been a wave of people changing their avatars to the Arabic letter "n", shown on the right, which stands for "nazarene" the strict Muslim designation for Christian living in a Muslim controlled area. 
[I replaced the picture of the burning church, with a print of a church from Mosul during the 1850's, because there seems to be lots of misinformation floating around, see this report here.]