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.

Aside from the delicious irony of someone using their beliefs to tell others they should tell other something is wrong because of their beliefs, this is nonsensical in and of itself. 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."