Announcement = Lections, Hebrew and Greek notes, now being posted at another website

Parma Psalter Psalm 1

Psalm 1, Parma Psalter (13th century)

This is important. For the past several months I have been posting Lections, Hebrew notes, Greek notes, and even sermons at another website. I can tell from the Stats (how many people visit this website, where they live, which posts) that (1) this website does not see a lot of traffic and (2) some of the traffic is for my Lections and Hebrew notes posts. To those people I say welcome and thank you.

However I created a second website which is devoted more to Bible and theology. Which includes Lections, Hebrew notes, Greek notes (which I have started preparing and posting), Sermons, and occasionally some cool quote or not so cool thought about Scripture and Christian doctrine. The idea was…

To start a separate blog that focuses on theological and biblical topics and stays away from politics and culture. So if church members peruse this blog hopefully they will not come across anything too controversial. Although good theology must sometimes risk controversy by challenging false teachings and the spirit of the age.

I was inspired partly by a an Anglican priest in Massachusetts (apparently from my home town) who maintains at least two separate blog sites. One is more strongly focused on Scripture, theology, and so on. The other is more “personal” about his hobbies and interests. I was increasingly concerned that Mangy Dog – which regularly delves into culture and politics – was mixing the personal and sometimes more controversial with more “neutral” topics like Scripture, theology, Christian ministry, and so on. What if people are interested in what I post on these topics and are put off by what I post on other topics?

The point of this specific post is to say thank you for visiting! you are very welcome! if you are here to check out posts on Scripture and theology – including Lections, Hebrew and Greek notes – I encourage you to visit my other blog site Plenum Creaturis. I will start the process of deleting and/or moving to the other site those posts that deal with Scripture, theology, and ministry. I greatly appreciate your interest in those topics and those posts.

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Posted in Announcement, Aramaic, Bible, Greek, Hebrew, Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Notes, Language, Lectionary, New Testament | Tagged | 1 Comment

When good and intelligent people say stupid things

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This will probably be a rather unfocused post.

Something that has surprised me over the last few years is how often I see otherwise good and intelligent people say or write things that are – to be perfectly blunt – stupid. This is frustrating for a few different reasons.

First I take it personally. “This is stupid. And you think I should nod along and say oh yeah this is so smart and clever and profound? Do you think I am stupid? This is an insult to my intelligence”. That sounds a little arrogant and perhaps overly sensitive. But I am being honest here.

Second it forces me to reconsider my opinion of that person. “You are intelligent and well educated. You have a good reputation as a pastor minister whatever. Why did you think this was a clever or intelligent thing to say? If you were an undergraduate student taking one of my classes and you wrote something like this on an exam it would hurt your grade. This is a terrible argument. And no not simply I disagree with your position. But this argument does not hold up well at all. Almost anyone can see right through it. It is not logical. It would apply to other things that make no sense. And/or you do not know what you are talking about. You talk as if you are oh so well read on this subject but this is garbage. In five minutes I can check standard works on the topic and show that you are just blowing smoke”.

(This happened somewhat regularly at the church where I served for 18 years. People who thought they were so smart and well informed and said things during Bible studies that made no sense and/or were just plain wrong according to my understanding of biblical scholarship. However I felt unable to challenge them publicly and it was difficult to have a fair and honest conversation with them. On one occasion I checked what a standard textbook said and it was almost the exact opposite of what was said earlier that day. I was surprised to discover this person who clearly fancies himself as a kind of great teacher did not know what he was talking about.)

This one is tough. Because to be perfectly frank this happens sometimes. It has been happening recently. Good and intelligent church leaders writing things (on the subject of sexuality and marriage) and what they write is pretty bad. Again the issue is not oh I hold different views and I cannot handle another point of view. I can handle differing opinions. I dealt with that all the time during my nine years at Cornell University. I can handle a different point of view if that person knows what s/he is talking about and makes a good case. I have over the years changed my mind about certain issues.

On one occasion it was a rather abrasive fundamentalist pastor that many of us thought was a bit of a twit. He made a good argument about grammatical versus ontological gender. I had to pause and reconsider. And he persuaded me.

The dirty little not so secret is that sometimes people might be correct about some question or issue. However they make a terrible case for it. I plan to write another post about this soon. Sometimes people might be right but for wrong reasons. (I see a lot of this right now within the United Methodist Church regarding the “presenting issue” of sexuality and marriage.)

Third is that it forces me to reconsider my opinion of the person who says “hey check out this blog post or article or tweet”. That person is good and intelligent and has a good reputation as a church leader. And s/he encourages us to read some half baked drivel that a bright middle school student could tear apart. Oh and then – thinking of a recent example – that person says “no hate no trolling be respectful”. Which almost sounds like saying “do not give it the critical response it might deserve”.

So they are allowed to say “you guys are wrong and have been wrong about this for the last two thousand years until we came along and said something that of course everyone has been aware of since the beginning of history”. But somehow it is rude or disrespectful or hateful to say “this is bad this is a terrible argument frankly you should know better and you honestly thought we would be impressed or even persuaded?”

I admit this is venting. It is frustrating and discouraging when good and intelligent clergy offer and/or promote deeply flawed and terrible arguments. And they expect us to smile nod and say “wow this is so good”. Their arguments neither impress nor persuade. And leave me wondering why they expect the rest of us to go along with them.

Posted in Bible, Ethics and Morality, Hermeneutics (Interpretation), Logic and Reason, Methodism, Ministry, Same-sex, Theology | Leave a comment

Different ways to use words are not facts (or) Embryo fetus person

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During the last couple weeks there have been a few examples of people tweeting rather loudly that a fetus is not a person. And women who have experienced a miscarriage have pushed back hard saying – among other things – that when women experience miscarriage they cry and grieve because they know they lost a baby.

I hate to say this but in these exchanges are a few different misunderstandings.

For three years I was the president of the pro-life group at the university I attended. I know more than most people about abortion and how babies develop in the womb before birth. I have read and heard almost every basic kind of argument for and against legal elective abortion. This does not automatically mean I am correct. But I have some background knowledge even though I have not been involved in abortion activism for thirty years.

Person

People on both* sides of the debate surrounding legal elective abortion sometimes make a category mistake. They think that the use or non-use of certain terms somehow determines whether elective abortion should be legally proscribed or not. The pre-born human being is a “baby” and that is a humanizing term and we naturally want to protect babies so therefore… What exactly? What exactly does it prove if we consistently refer to the pre-born human being as a baby?

Similarly when advocates of legal elective abortion repeat over and over again not a person not a person not a person therefore – and this is where the discussion becomes muddled – what exactly? It is not a baby. It is an embryo or a fetus. It is not a person. Therefore does not deserve legal protection. Therefore legal elective abortion.

In my experience both sides sometimes miss a crucial point. “Personhood” is not a fact. It can be a true belief or conviction or stance about something or someone. Or it can simply be a majority of people have the legal collective authority to say “this is where we stand and that shapes the law”. This is something Congress discovered back in the early 1980s with the Human Life Bill. After lots of experts and doctors and scientists giving testimony and plenty of discussion there were two basic important conclusions.

  1. The pre-born human being – the something that is developing inside a pregnant human female – is a human being. And the life of this distinct human being (or human beings if we are dealing with twins or triplets and so on) begins at biological conception. One can say “life begins at conception” and that is scientifically correct. One semester I took a course that met in the same room where Biomedical Ethics was finishing up. Among other issues that course dealt with elective abortion. And I overheard the professor (who supported legal elective abortion) explaining very matter-of-factly to an undergraduate that scientifically speaking the life of a human being begins at conception.
  2. That does not however mean the pre-born human being is a “person”. Not because s/he truly is not a person. But because that is a different type of claim. In response to different kinds of questions. Within the context of law and politics to say someone or something is a “person” means that someone or something deserves or should be afforded certain rights and protections. To put it very simply to say something is a “person” is to say “we value this thing in a particular way”. Yes that means one can say “this creature is  scientifically and biologically speaking a human being that we do not value and therefore do not regard as a person”.

It falls within the realm of biological and scientific fact that the embryo or fetus within a human female is a human being whose life (biologically speaking) begins at conception. Many people who support legal elective abortion agree with this.

However that does not in and of itself mean the embryo or fetus within a human female is a person. That is a different category. That is not a fact. That is a moral legal philosophical and/or theological stance or opinion or conviction. One can start with the biological-scientific fact and with a host of other premises and arguments make the case that the embryo or fetus is a human person and therefore deserves some kind of legal protection. Other people might agree with that. And if enough people agree with that one can try to pass legislation. And/or argue that case and hope to persuade a federal court that there is no “right to abortion” that overrides this pre-born human person’s “right to life”.

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Posted in Abortion, Biology, Ethics and Morality, Law and Justice, Logic and Reason, Rhetoric, Science | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

They were from Bethlehem – full stop

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For years I have habitually merged the birth narrative in Matthew with the birth narrative in Luke. I have in mind the geography of the birth narratives.

  1. Matthew basically tells us Jesus was born in Bethlehem. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to warn him about what Herod was planning. The Holy Family fled to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.* Although Herod was dead there must have been concerns about his son and successor Archelaus so they made their home in Nazareth of Galilee. Bethlehem -> Egypt -> Nazareth
  2. Luke begins the story in Nazareth where Mary lives. But the Messiah is supposed to be from Bethlehem. How to get the family there from Nazareth? By means of  census. Joseph has to go back to the place from which his family originally comes namely Bethlehem. So Mary and Joseph are not from Bethlehem. They travel to Bethlehem when Mary is basically ready to deliver.** Mary gives birth to Jesus. The family returns home to Nazareth. With no hint that I can discern about time spent in Egypt. Nazareth -> Bethlehem -> Nazareth 

*Herod the Great died in 4 BCE. If Michael Molnar is correct about the “star of Bethlehem” then Jesus was born around April 6 BCE. Which means Jesus could have been born during the time of Herod. And the family could have returned from Egypt when Jesus was two years old or later. It does leave me wondering how and why Herod ordered the death of all male children aged two or younger.

**My mother did not attend her own graduation from Framingham State College for the simple reason she was 8 months pregnant and did not feel up to going. I am not saying Joseph and Mary could not travel from Nazareth to Galilee when Mary was 8 or 9 months pregnant – on foot or with the assistance of an animal such as the donkey we so often see in depictions. Especially if the government says to do it. Only that this is surprising.

What is my point? My point is simply that Christians generally take the two birth narratives and combine them. So Matthew simply leaves out the whole Nazareth -> Bethlehem thing. And Luke completely skips over the dramatic flight to Egypt.

Also Matthew does not bother with shepherds. And Luke does not bother telling us about these Zoroastrian visiting scholars from Persia.

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Posted in Art, Astronomy, Bible, Biblical, Hermeneutics (Interpretation), History, Logic and Reason, New Testament, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

REPOSTED = Brad Schaefer – Michael Molnar and the Star of Bethlehem

(Reposted from October 2014.)

A wonderful young man who grew up in this parish and completed his undergraduate and graduate studies (and postdoc?) in Astronomy at Louisiana State University let me know about a special seminar yesterday. Professor Brad Schaefer (whose accomplishments in astronomy are impressive) gave the “conference version” of his talk on what he thinks is the best solution to how we can explain/understand the Star of Bethlehem in Matthew 2. This was an Astrophysics Seminar – the room almost entirely students professors and postdocs from the department – but Professor Schaefer graciously let me stay as the “new guy” and even asked me to field a couple questions.

Because this was not a “general public” presentation I want to respect the privacy(?) of the occasion and not give a complete summary of his talk. By which I mean let Schaefer decide how and when to share his presentation so people can hear it for themselves. Let me share that he supports the solution offered by Rutgers University astronomer Michael Molnar in his book The Star of Bethlehem: The Legacy of the Magi. Two sentence preview = not as astronomical event so much as an astrological event. That takes seriously the understanding and practice(?) of astrology in that time and culture. I was persuaded. Schaefer is participating in a conference in the Netherlands on the Star and will surely be hearing some good feedback and comments from linguists theologians and biblical scholars.

Professor Schaefer gives a “general public” version of the presentation every December at the Highland Road Park Observatory right here in Baton Rouge. I missed it last year because of miscommunication regarding the start time.

Addendum – At risk of contradicting myself these are notes I took. Some of them are points from Schaefer’s talk but most are my own thoughts as he spoke.

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Posted in Academia, Astronomy, Bible, Greek, New Testament, Personal, Religion, Science | Leave a comment