Sunday, May 15, 2016

Canons go Boom

Courtesy cbcs
I recently had a friend challenge me on the canonicity of the so called "apocrypha" - what Catholics call the deuterocanonical books. These are the seven books of the Bible which Protestants reject as being part of Scripture, but Catholics accept. The challenge gave me the opportunity to examine the matter in way more detail than I had before. It was a real eye-opener, and I thought I would share what I learned.

I was hit with 31 reasons why the apocrypha are not Scripture, and found problems with all 31 reasons. I will not go into each on in detail (you're welcome) but there are some general principles. First off, the whole issue of canonicity brings up the whole question of authority (since all differences between Catholics and Protestants is ultimately a matter of authority). Science fiction author John C Wright has written a few articles on this that are far better than anything I could write. A couple of quotes (with links to the articles):

" cannot argue that the books of the Bible are canonical and argue at the same time that neither the Church nor any one has the authority to canonize them." - John C Wright

"The redacted sections of the written message provide a logically insurmountable paradox for the Protestant messengers. If their sole authority for the authenticity of their message is the written part of the message, then they have no authority to redact or remove parts of the message on any grounds. The cannot throw away the Book of the Maccabeus or Tobit or the Letters of James or anything else because they claim that neither they nor anyone has the authority to define the cannon." - John C Wright

Now, onto the 31 reasons... I was able to fold all 31 down to five different reasons. You get 31 reasons by repeating the same thing from a slightly different angle or by claiming each church father as a separate authority. Here are my five reasons. If you can think of something that is claimed by Protestants that is not in these five categories, please let me know - I'd by happy to add a sixth.

1. The Catholic Church rejected the books, then changed the canon in the 1500s. This is simply not true, as you can find the documents of the earlier councils in the 300s which list the same canon (for instance

2. The Jews rejected the books - although they did not until at least 100 AD, which means they were accepted during Jesus' life time (yes, there were certain sects that rejected various sets of books, but of course that is true all throughout history). Additionally the Jews rejected the books of the New Testament, so if we are to accept the Jews as authorities for the canon we have to discard the entire New Testament. I've heard the counter argument that the Jews have authority over the books that don't include Jesus, but claim is ridiculous on the face of it as all of Scripture is about Jesus, as there is one God.

3. The Church Fathers rejected the books - but of the dozens of Church Fathers, there are only a tiny minority that didn't, and it is unclear if they themselves didn't accept them or they were saying that others didn't accept them. For instance, St. Jerome wrote that "I wasn't relating my own personal views, but rather the remarks that they [the Jews] are wont to make against us." (

4. Jesus and the Apostles rejected the books - but they didn't. In fact Jesus refers to Maccabees as being a Messianic prophetic book (John 10:22-36). He also paraphrases Sirach in Mathew 7:17-20. There are other examples, but these are sufficient to dispute the claim. Nowhere do Jesus and the Apostles define or refute any canon of Scripture.

5. The books are "different" in some way (either in historical errors, discrepancies, doctrine, genre, etc.) and therefore should be rejected - but each of these arguments are arguments against many of the books of the Old Testament (and New Testament). These books are no "different" than any other book in the Bible is from any other. I won't go into specifics, as there are literally dozens of things that can be brought up, but suffice it to say that every difference you can point out in a deuterocanonical book can be found in a non-disputed book in the canon.

Should we reject all the books that are "different" in some way from some other book? In addition, there are many non-canonical books that are "similar" to canonical books - should we add them? Who decides what is "similar enough" to warrant inclusion? Again we have that issue of authority

Ultimately the historical fact is that the Pharisees removed those books, along with the entire New Testament, after Jesus' death, in order to suppress Christianity. Christians accepted those books, with few exceptions. The Christians held several councils to resolve the matter and the issue of the canon was settled in the 300s All Christians accepted them as canonical for 1200 years until Martin Luther unilaterally changed the canon. His authority was not enough to remove all the books he wanted removed (such as James, Jude, Hebrews and Revelation) but citing the Jews as authoritative he was able to make those 7 "stick."

Luther made no bones about why he wanted to change the canon - it didn't fit his theology. In fact, in the Old Testament he also wanted to jettison the Pentateuch, Job, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Jonah (he couldn't find an excuse to do so, but his commentary on these books says that he didn't consider them to be canonical). He even added the word "alone" to Romans 3:28 to make it say "For we hold that a man is justified by faith alone apart from works of law." in order to make it support his theology.

So, it seems that the real reason for dropping the apocrypha from the canon of Scripture was to change God's word to fit Luthers' word, and that is just plain wrong.

Friday, May 13, 2016

On Libertarians and Religion

The following are thoughts based on a discussion with a friend who quite suddenly changed his viewpoint from self-described "conservative" to self-described "libertarian."

The proximate cause for this post is the graphic on the right, which was posted by this and several other of my friends, and which I have seen posted numerous times by other self-proclaimed Libertarians, atheists, and people of other politically correct (aka non-Christian) faiths.

In case you can't see the graphic, is says (with a background image of galaxy M31, as if that is pertinent):

Perfectly acceptable. That is religious freedom and I will fight for you to have that right until the day I die.


Those are fighting words. That is persecution through religion, and I will speak out against it and fight it until the day I die.

So let's take a little detour and talk about basics. First, a couple of basics:


The Cambridge English Dictionary online says:
law noun:    a rule, usually made by a government, that is used to order the way in which a society behaves
Now let's look at morality:
morality noun: a set of personal or social standards for good or bad behaviour and character
Thus, a law is a government imposing morality on the governed. This is always true (by definition). Every law is the imposition of morality on another. So all laws are "You can't do that, it's against my beliefs" whether those beliefs be part of a recognized religion or not.


In other words, every "shall not" can be expressed as a "shall." For instance "You shall not kill" is "You shall respect life." Conversely "You shall give people the choice of which bathroom to use" is "you shall not keep men out of the ladies' room."

Just on the face of those two facts you can see how inane the above graphic is. But the graphic, and those like it, remain popular. Why? Because of an unconscious persecution of religion (how's that for irony).

Let's add another basic to the two above:


Let's face it, if nobody wanted to steal there would not have to be a law against it. It is only to change someone's behavior against his will that we have laws. Therefore all laws must be imposed by force.


This follows from the previous truth. If a superior power didn't like a law, it could not be imposed on that power. Conversely, if the superior power wanted to impose its rule, it simply would. Therefore it is superior power that has the ability to make law.

Throughout most of human history that power was assumed to be God. Certainly there is no higher power, and therefore, nobody more appropriate to define morality. Only recently, when God was declared dead, do we have people asserting something else as the definer of morality (aka law). Of that there are two choices:
  • They who have guns. (aka statism)
  • Everyone or no one. (aka anarchism)
It's easy to show why each of these is self defeating. Statism has lead to the death (by government) of over 100 million people in the last century (which makes modern day socialist all the more of an enigma).

No one (anarchism) is not really a serious thing. Every anarchist wants at least his own right to life to be respected by others.

Which brings us to Libertarians. Libertarians believe in "maximum liberty for individuals." That sounds great, and it is. In fact, it is the basis for all laws in all societies at all times. The question is "who decides what maximizes liberty?" That's where morality comes in, without which libertarianism is useless, and with which libertarianism is not neeeded.

Is the rapist's liberty to control his own body more important than his victim's right to control her own body? There, the libertarians have an answer to that in the form of "personal sovereignty." By that, each person is a little kingdom, and we only have to look at which kingdom is invading the other kingdom's space.

And like all errors, it is very close to the truth. They espouse a general principle that sounds good, but fails in some cases. The libertarian will say "but I am right in this case, and you are wrong." But of course they are then asserting an outside arbiter of morality, which contradicts individual liberty right there.

For that matter, what makes libertarianism itself "right?" Why should personal liberty be a defining principle? They will say it is innate to man - it is his natural state. However, that's cultural bias, as throughout history very few people would have agreed with them. And libertarianism running its natural course produces The French Revolution (TM) - with all that that entails - essentially the same end as statism, but with a different state dong the killing. As French Revolutionary Loius Saint-Just said "No liberty for the enemies of liberty!"

So let's look at some cases where libertarians have no answer, or flat out get it wrong:

Abortion: The Libertarian party says that abortion should be decided by the states, not the federal government. First off, it's a cop out. Either the unborn baby is a human being, and by the laws of libertarianism should have its "personal sovereignty" weighed against that of the mother, or the unborn baby is not a human being, and the mother's "personal sovereignty" is unchallenged.

If the former (the baby is human) then it is federal law that should defend its life (both the Declaration of Independence and the 14th amendment say that everyone is entitled to the right to life, and that nobody should be deprived of life without due process). So the states should legitimately defer to U.S. law in this case.

If the latter is true (the baby is not human) then again, clearly the Declaration of Independence and the 14th Amendment affirm the right to liberty which should not be denied without due process. So right away, the party violates its own principles.

But who decides whether the baby is a human being? Libertarians can go either way on the subject because of their personal beliefs. Se we see that even if you accept libertarian principles prima facie you run into the issue of needed an additional moral authority.

Let's take another case - "same sex marriage." Again libertarians are at odds. While most of them would say "the state should stay out of the marriage business" many will also affirm the "rights" of people to receive service, even when it means forcing another to do something that is against their religion. The problem is that marriage is not an individual right, it is a state recognized by force of law. Again, we have the problem of needing an external authority as arbiter of principle. You can't have your cake and not bake it too.

Another case, suicide/drugs/alcohol. Most libertarians say "let 'em kill themselves!" and save us all the problem of having to deal with them. It's their personal sovereignty after all. But again, the problem is that we are not all little kingdoms - we are little villages. Anybody who has had to deal with friends or family who have committed suicide knows that suicide is not a victim-less crime. Likewise anyone who has had a friend or family member addicted to drugs or alcohol knows those are not victim-less either. Does one's liberty depend on their relationship to others (as the libertarian would, in fact if not in word, rule), or all all men equal in dignity (as the Christians would have it)?

Consider the case of divorce. Libertarians would almost universally accept no fault divorce, since the parties involved can choose to associate how ever they want. Yet, is that justice to children to have adults "do whatever they want?" What about their rights?

I could go on with case after case where libertarianism gets it wrong, but there are a few of the more obvious ones. Again, that's not to say that libertarians are always wrong - on the contrary, they are most often right, which is what makes these cases all the more dangerous, because people think that because they are right in most cases, they must be right in all.

Which brings up the question - were the founding fathers libertarians? I think not, or the American Revolution would have gone like the French Revolution. Certainly they held the principles of liberty high, but if you read the founding documents, liberty is always second, after life, and both of these are acknowledged to ultimately be derived from God, and therefore subject to His law.

As Robert Cardinal Sarah says: "Without a Christian reference, in ignorance of God, a democracy becomes a sort of oligarchy, an elitist inegalitarian regime. As always, the eclipse of what is divine means the debasement of what is human."

Friday, April 29, 2016

What Would Socrates Do?

I've been thinking, as I'm sure most of you have, about the coming presidential election. As you are probably aware, I've been backing Ted Cruz since day one. He is the only candidate with an actual record of standing on the principles of the Constitution (unlike Hillary Clinton who actually stands on the Constitution - couldn't resist a little dig - Hillary does respect the fifth amendment, at least).

So at this point in the race it looks like the election will be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton has so far received 55% of the Democratic vote, and Trump has gotten 41% of the Republican vote (so much for the "will of the people"). If these things do not change, and given recent polls, and recent election history, I'm calling Hillary Clinton our next president by a landslide.

For her part, Clinton has already started maneuvering her positions to take away as much of Sanders' power at the convention. And Trump long ago ceased caring about his constituency or positions (which is why his base has been eroding, or as he would say, which is why he's being cheated out of what's rightfully his).

But that's not what this post is about. What I'd like to address is, if you are a Cruz or a Sanders supporter, what do you do when faced with a Clinton/Trump ballot? Quite a number of my friends subscribe to the "you must vote with me or "X" will win (where "X" is a candidate they know I don't like). However, this to me is political blackmail - it is using a negative consequence ("X" will win) to try to make me do something I don't want to do (vote with them). It is a fact that if you will always vote for someone you don't like over someone you do like, then you will always get a candidate you don't like, and will never get one you do like.

So let's talk about some of the principles involved. I am not trying to convince you to vote one way or the other, I am telling you why I will vote the way I will, and why I don't want to listen to the same old arguments of people trying to influence me to vote for their candidate, for whom I do not want to vote.

1. Vote for the lesser of two evils. This is based on two fallacies. First, that there are only two choices, and second, that choosing an evil is good.

In voting for president there are more than two choices. At this point someone will no doubt chime in with "Oh, but Mike everyone knows that only one of the two big parties will win." That's only true if everyone follows the "vote to keep 'X' out of office" strategy. There is nothing preventing large numbers of people from voting for a third party, or even writing in the candidate they like. So, faced with a myriad of choices, why should I vote for evil, even if it is less than another evil choice?

2. Don't vote like Onan. If you recall, in Genesis 38, Onan neglects his duty to produce a child for his sister-in-law by spilling his semen on the ground. I've heard the term used to describe voting for a candidate who has no chance of winning (aka is not one of the big two parties).

The fallacy here is that your vote matters more if it is for one of the two parties than if it is for someone else. In reality, your vote counts as... ready for this? One vote, regardless of who you vote for. When you look at it from a mathematical perspective it is one vote. From a philosophical perspective we could say that only one vote actually counts - the one that puts the winning candidate in the lead. But I think that's a pretty negative view, and doesn't do justice to the democratic system of elections. If my vote counts for little it's because there are so many other votes, not because it doesn't count.

3. Don't let perfect be the enemy of "good enough." The problem is, who defines "good enough?" There is a problem in ethics called "The Trolley Problem". It goes like this. There is a trolley going down the tracks. five people are on the track ahead and will be killed. If you pull a lever, the trolley will be diverted to a different track on which there is one person, who will be killed. Do you pull the lever? Don't be too hasty to pull it - with minor changes to the description of the scenario you will say "no."

Socrates said "it is better to suffer evil than to do evil." Likewise, the "correct" answer depends on whether the pulling of the lever is cooperating in evil (explore the variations on the problem if you think the answer is obvious). The principle on which the lever can be pulled (or not pulled) is called "double effect" and I find t interesting. You can read more about it here.

You may say "well, neither candidate is going to kill people" but that's not true. Abortion kills a million Americans a year. A(nother) war could kill millions. Foreign policy and/or immigration policy could allow thousands to die from terrorist attacks. The things many people think will kill people (elimination of entitlements or an environmental policy) are unlikely to have much of an effect, but it's something to think about. So it is literally a matter of life and death. Don't think I don't take that aspect seriously.

But if I say "candidate A will get us into a war and not really change anything else" and conversely "candidate B will get us into a war and make things worse" why should I participate in electing either of them? It's the trolley problem, with a third option. I could yell "stop" and hope the trolley stops. The odds are as small as my voice (e.g. my vote), but at least I will not have contributed directly to the deaths of millions.

4. It's fine for you because you have the luxury of not having your vote matter. Yes, I live in NJ, which is a heavily "blue" state. No matter how I vote (one might be cynical and say no matter how everyone votes) my state will throw it's measly 14 electoral votes behind Hillary Clinton (I also think "winner takes all" policies are the worst abuse of power in the political system).

So, does this mean that my vote counts for less, and therefore I can throw it behind whomever I choose? I don't see it that way. As I said above, my vote counts for one vote, no more no less. I take voting just as seriously as if I were the only one voting, which is precisely why I will not vote for someone whom I do not like.

Conclusion? Let's see who actually gets on the ballot and we'll see. If it's Trump/Clinton you can bet I'll be researching third party candidates. Worst comes to worse I can write in a name. Laugh all you want, I will do what I feel is right, as long as I have a country that let's me vote I will vote my way. I recommend you consider carefully who you will vote for, and why...

Now, here's a shiny video of why our voting system sucks:

and some alternatives to think about (I am not endorsing these candidates, just mentioning them)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Opposite Donalds

Another story from the Opposite Files. For newcomers, the opposite files are my record of double standards and hypocrisy. You can click on the link to see the whole list - and more are being added all the time.

Won't be held responsible for what supporters do.

Picture of Trump's wife posted by supporters
Trump holds Cruz responsible for what supporters do,

Friday, April 15, 2016

These Eyes

There are blue eyed people ad brown eyed people, right? Well, it's not that simple. You see, not all blue eyed people have 100% blue eyes, some have flecks of brown. And not all brown eyed people have perfectly brown eyes. There are even people with one blue eye and one brown eye. So, in fact, there is a whole spectrum of colors, and the term "blue" or "brown" shouldn't be applied to people's eye color.

In fact, since we have shown there really isn't any "blue" or "brown" we should allow people to choose what eye color they believe they should be. They could buy contacts to change their eye color, but even if they don't, if they identify as "brown" or "blue" or any combination of those or other colors, who are we to judge?

Therefore I'm petitioning to have the state remove eye color from all recognized identification. States that don't should be boycotted and given economic sanctions. Don't you agree?

Friday, April 8, 2016

We the People

With Antonin Scalia's death, the subsequent 4-4 split on the union case, and the twists and turns in the Little Sisters of the Poor case, I've been thinking about Scalia and his approach to constitutional law. Scalia was what is termed an "originalist". That means, when interpreting the constitution, the interpretation should be based on what a reasonable person living at the time of its adoption would have declared the ordinary meaning of the text to be.

Scalia defends originalism in this article:
“My burden is not to show that originalism is perfect, but that it beats the other alternatives, and that, believe me, is not difficult,” Scalia said.
Even the most ardent non-originalist will have to resort to historical inquiry at times to understand legal concepts like the writ of habeas corpus or cases of admiralty, he said. 
Scalia pointed to District of Columbia v. Heller, a 2008 Supreme Court case in which several D.C. residents challenged the District’s ban on handguns and restrictions on other firearms. Defenders of the law said the right to “bear arms” as outlined in the Second Amendment had an exclusively military meaning, but a 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court showed the meaning was different by looking at historical texts. 
The right to have arms for personal use for self-defense was regarded as one of the fundamental rights of Englishmen, Scalia said. 
The prologue of the Second Amendment, “a well-regulated militia being necessary for the defense of a free state,” could not be reconciled with the personal right to keep and bear arms unless one had the historical knowledge behind it. In England “the Stuart kings in had destroyed the people’s militia by disarming those whom they disfavored.” 
Critics of originalism exaggerate the difficulty of determining original meaning, Scalia said... But in most cases, especially controversial ones, the originalist point of view is clear, Scalia said. No provision of the Constitution guaranteed the right to abortion, homosexual sodomy or assisted suicide, and nothing prohibited the death penalty, he said. 
“All these questions pose enormous difficulty for non-originalists, who must agonize over what the modern Constitution ought to mean with regard to each of these subjects, and then agonize over the very same questions five or 10 years later, because times change,” he said.
...and there's the rub, and in my mind the best argument in favor of originalism, regardless of which side of which issue you are on. If the Constitution means what we think it ought to mean, instead of what it says, then we no longer have a republic. We have a "democracy" where only nine people get to vote. We are never more than several votes away from tyranny, and American citizens have no rights except those granted to them by five justices.

If, on the other hand, we fix the Constitution with regard to what it says, we have a republic, where rights are guaranteed b law. But what about cases where the Constitution is legitimately wrong? What about things it never mentioned?

First off, the Constitution is about limiting federal powers, not about being a litmus test for every law and every issue. Where it is mute, the states or the people have the right to decide for themselves. Making issues constitutional is a bad idea. Justice Scalia once said in an interview:
Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box. You don't like the death penalty anymore, that's fine. You want a right to abortion? There's nothing in the Constitution about that. But that doesn't mean you cannot prohibit it. Persuade your fellow citizens it's a good idea and pass a law. That's what democracy is all about. It's not about nine superannuated judges who have been there too long, imposing these demands on society.
And where the Constitution si flat out wrong we are still ot in a hole. Consider the nineteenth amendment. The states have the right, under the Constitution, to decide who can and cannot vote. At one point some states allowed women to vote and some did not. On this point the Constitution was mute. How was the issue solved? By installing judges and justices who magically found "implied" rights for women to vote? No, they went and ratified an amendment:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Had they not done so, and instead relied on justices to settle the matter, the rights of women would depend on the good will of five individuals, and that right could be overturned by a future administration installing justices who would magically find some different view.

Instead, we have a written amendment which guarantees women's rights regardless of what people think about it.

Today we have a runaway court, which finds all sorts of implied rights. If those rights are to be real, and not just the opinion of five people, we need to stop the tide of judicial activism and do things "the right way."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy VD

Although not much of St. Valentine's life is reliably known, most scholars agreed that St. Valentine was martyred and then buried on the Via Flaminia to the north of Rome.

The way he became the "saint of love" is interesting. In order to ensure a supply of soldiers unencumbered by wives and children, emperor Claudius II banned traditional marriage. St. Valentine, who was either a priest or bishop, secretly married couples in violation of the law.

But his more serious crime was being a Catholic. He refused to renounce his faith and worship Roman gods. For that he was imprisoned. While in jail, he healed his jailer's blind daughter, after which the jailer and his whole family converted to Christianity.

Valentine was beaten with clubs and stoned, and when he didnt' die fast enough, beheaded. Legend has it that on the day of his execution he left a note for the jailer's daughter, signing it "from your Valentine" - the first Valentine's card.

Yesterday Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. It is expected President Obama will nominate a replacement soon. It is further expected that he will use this opportunity to try to pack the court with justices who are politically motivated to uphold the laws he favors, rather than to enforce the Constitution.

This could radically affect some upcoming cases, such as that of the Little Sisters of the Poor. The sisters, under ObamaCare, are required to purchase contraception and abortifacients, in violation of their religious beliefs.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are a religious order formed in 1839 in France. A group came to America in 1868. They provide care to the poor elderly so they can live out the last years of their lives in dignity and peace.

What does this have to do with St. Valentine? In Valentine's day, citizens were required to purchase a little incense, which was to be offered to the Roman gods. The penalty for not doing so was martyrdom. The law was made specifically to target the Catholic Church. Today we have the HHS mandate under ObamaCare, that requires citizens to purchase contraceptives. the penalty for not doing so is $36,500 per person per year. This would efectively ban all Catholic religious orders and institutions in the United Stated, and in fact, it was learned that the mandate was specifically designed to target the Catholic Church. Welcome to the new persecution.

Antonin Scalia, Requiéscant in pace.

St. Valentine, ora pro nobis.