Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Is There a Difference Between Fatalism and Determinism?

Fatalism refers to inevitability. What happens could not have happened otherwise; or in other words, what will be will be because it is preordained, or necessary. Efforts of agents to thwart a fated end (e.g. Greek tragedy) or their efforts to produce any end are not the governing issues in determining what ends will be--fate is. This seems to me an inherently religious perspective.

Determinism refers to pre-existing causes. What will be will be, because causes and conditions that have "gone" before have set forth cause and effect chains that determine the end. Secular determinism is the framework of Godless science (not that science is necessarily godless). Theological determinism is the framework of Calvinism.

By way of illustration, let's say there is a person who sees the probability of an unpleasant future looming ahead of her. She decides to take action and change the course of her future. She takes what action she can, and experiences a chain of events she would not have if she had not taken action. It appeared she had changed the course of affairs and the initial probability wasn't so probable anymore. Unfortunately, the thing she feared came upon her anyway.

A fatalist would say, "I told you so, there is nothing that can be done to avert or change what is fated." The outcome proves the premise. What would the religious determinist say about that end that would be different in any useful way? The thought to avert the future was predetermined; the course of mitigation attempted was predetermined; the apparent success of that course was predetermined; and the ironic result of the whole affair was predetermined. How is the analysis of the end result any different for one viewpoint as opposed to the other?

If a theological determinist is to be a determinist, that one is also, ultimately, a fatalist. Whether one looks at an end occurring regardless of intervening actions, or examines consequent actions step by step, the result is the same--what ends up happening happens because it was necessary and it could not have occurred otherwise. That one cares more about the steps to get there than the other, seems to me to make precious little useful difference, in the end, at all.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jury Duty

I just finished an experience I've always managed to avoid one way or another all these years. I sat on a jury in a civil trial. I never want to do it again. I don't think I'll have to worry about a criminal trial, since I'm absolutely opposed to prison and would not send any non-violent offender there regardless of the evidence or the law. I doubt that would pass muster in the pre-selection process.

The OJ Simpson trial (and more recently, even the Casey Anthony trial to some degree) have thoroughly undermined my confidence in the jury system. The jury system no longer works (if it ever did) because not all jurors are capable of following simple cause and effect trails, let alone difficult ones; jurors are purposely kept ignorant and information limited by the system so decisions have to be made on the basis of less than the totality of facts or science; a host of legal technicalities and terms make the process of weighing and determining facts very uncertain; etc., etc., etc.

My own experience has only served to validate my concerns. Did the jury I served on do justice? Maybe, but I have my doubts. We took the best guess we could given what we were presented. We were offered precious little, and very purposely I might add. We were deadlocked until a couple of people were willing to acknowledge that the situation meant that there just wasn't enough evidence to make the plaintiff's case. Such is justice in the US, heaven help us.

I think lawyers ought to make up the bulk of juries. They understand the proceedings, the terms, and the nuances of legal determinations. They are the ones making money off the system (would it be too much to ask them to serve some time every year rendering verdicts?). As long as they do not have a horse in the race, they would make the best jurors. They can be mixed with people who, instead of not knowing anything about the fields in question, are familiar with them. We would get more just verdicts, and probably quicker ones I would think.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Arminians Cannot Logically Adopt Perseverance

If grace is resistible and election is conditional, then there remains no basis for the perseverance of the saints. To maintain such, one would have to posit a transition in God's governance of the believer such that God initiates salvation according to Arminian principles (freedom and grace), but after rebirth continues salvation according to Calvinistic principles (determinism). Though a biblical mechanism for such a shift could be posited on the basis of texts like Philippians 1:6, or John 6:39, there is no way to harmonize such a conception with the book of Hebrews or other passages warning that all is lost if one ceases to persevere in faith.

There is no need to. From God's perspective (either looking back from the end or seeing all at once), of everyone who is finally and eternally saved it can be said that they will have made it because of God's efforts to preserve them. For everyone who made a turn to God, even who came to know him intimately, but at some point ceased to believe in Christ and walked away from him, it can be said that they will have fallen irretrievably because of their own freedom to believe or not believe. That God loses none of those he foreknew does not mean he will not lose some of those he knew along the way.

If it is intrinsic to God's will that mankind be free (as any Arminian would attest), then on what basis would a shift to Calvinistic precepts for the saved be justified? It seems to me, any such basis would have to be established by ignoring some scripture on its face in order to emphasize other passages of scripture. What would drive that? Emotion? Comfort? Make no mistake, any such an effort thoroughly undermines the Arminian conceptions of soteriology in the first place. If one knows God's grace is resistible, then one cannot posit a perseverance that is not.

Monday, November 7, 2011

An Alumnus Speaks About Penn State

I am a Penn State grad ('81). I have always been proud to say that. At the moment my emotions would betray that sentiment. I am more than a little ashamed. Like all the vast horde of the Blue and White, I am in shock and dismay over the scandal that has overwhelmed Penn State.

I can't say that I was ever a Paterno fan (though I've always respected him as a person and his approach to the football program), but I have always been a fan of Penn State. I listened to the games on the radio when I was a kid, and do not remember missing a game in Beaver Stadium for the four years I was a student at University Park. I can justifiably say I've seen some of the best players to ever play the game, play the game.

In light of the revelations that have come forth, and I do not believe it is a rush to judgment, given the findings of fact of the grand jury, Joe Paterno must go. I do not see how he can coach another game. I hope that Penn State has the good sense to announce an interim coach immediately, and to start the selection process for a replacement.

Ultimately, I think a clean sweep is required: a new coach, a new coaching staff, a new Athletic Director, a new VP for Business Affairs, and... a new University President. Graham Spanier is more blameworthy than even Paterno for the inaction and travesty that has come to light, and should be fired immediately. The coaching staff should get pink slips effective the end of the season with whatever severance is customary, and JoePa should be cashiered now, never to coach a game again, not even a scrimmage, not even a practice session.

JoePa has announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season. Not to kick a guy when he's down, but that is not good enough! A criminal investigation against the perpetrator was undertaken in '98 and JoePa suddenly, mysteriously forced him off his staff in '99. It seems like he might have known something untoward about the guy. A horrendous eyewitness account in '01 by someone still on his staff now (does that not imply that JoePa found him credible?) should have set off JoePa's alarms full blast. Yet the perpetrator was still bringing young boys to football games, to the locker room, to the campus years later--under Joe's nose!

Joe Paterno has lost any consideration his years of exemplary service may have afforded him. His judgment is suspect, and with the crimes in question of the nature they are, Joe is in no position to represent an institution such as Penn State. He should not be allowed to.

Addendum II:
I am in favor of the Board of Trustees decision to fire Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, effective immediately. They need to do the same with AD Curley and VP Shultz.

Some Final Thoughts:
Jerry Sandusky has ruined the lives of more young men than we may ever know. He did so with malice and a cold-bloodedness that would do a viper justice. Even after the now open wounds he left behind scar over, the pain of their memory will linger behind. He stole something time allows no one to ever get back--youth. He deserves no consideration from us.

I don't think he should get the opportunity to drain the joy out of one more young man's youth. In that spirit I wish the student body and the Nittany Lion Football Team a good finish to their football season. The simple joys of your youth should not be sacrificed on the altar of a monster. You're young once, if God grants you the grace and opportunity, enjoy the moments while you have them.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Biblical Economics

The world's in turmoil and capitalism and free markets seem to be getting most of the blame. What position on these economic matters should a Christian take? Let me sketch out an outline of Biblical Economics that may help you make up your mind.

Private Property
The foundation of freedom under God and economic prosperity is private property. When Moses led the formerly enslaved out of bondage into a land flowing with milk and honey, freedom and opportunity lay in each man having inviolable land rights in perpetuity. When a person has what they have, unassailable by fellow citizens or governmental power, that person has the basis to work and make a future for himself and his family, and at least the basis for freedom from tyranny.

Entrepreneurial Freedom
God gives people the ability to create wealth. Folk anywhere who have the freedom to take risks and prosper from their efforts, make such efforts to their own benefit and that of those around them. The entrepreneurs gain wealth, those around them gain goods and services they desire. Capitalism (even in it's muted form practiced in the West) has been the only reliable engine of economic development and rising standards of living the world has ever known. Why not, it was God's idea for the economy of a fallen world.

Equality in Justice
Government is responsible under God to maintain justice between people. Me and mine should be protected from violations coming from you and yours. Justice must be blind, with the economically weak standing on equal ground before the bench with the economically strong. That in NO WAY means that justice can be, or should be, equated with economic equality. The poor will always be among us, the law should never allow them to be trampled under by rest of us. Certainly, making everyone poor in the name of equality is the very worst injustice.

Care for the Poor
Since the unfortunate, the feeble, the young, and the disabled will always be among us, sustenance should always be made available to them. However, no provision whatsoever should be made for the able but idle: they should be left to their condition in the hopes that their belly might teach them the lesson of life--no work, no food. The unfortunate, the feeble, the young, and the disabled are no burden to society despite their need. The idle are parasites and fools.

Workers' Wages
A worker's labor is as much an entrepreneurial risk as the investment of intellectual and tangible property. Workers, therefore, deserve to benefit from the profits of any entrepreneurial endeavor as much as do the entrepreneurs themselves. There would be no need for the disaster that is unions, nor the myriad socialistic and inefficient governmental impositions on business if workers were allowed to "freely" share in the profits of the organizations they work for. Perhaps worst of all has been the shill game (SS, healthcare) which in effect refuses to pay workers their wages for today, today.

The Wealth Gap
When economic activity sifts people into the haves and have nots over time, differences in economic prosperity and power can become entrenched and widen. The richer gain more of the means of production and power, the poorer lose more and the result is a loss of freedom and opportunity. A mechanism to reshuffle the economic deck in about every other generation (about every 50 years) would be helpful to long-term, overall economic activity and opportunity.

Relative weakness between the parties in a transaction, the existence of urgency, and sheer greed should not be allowed to so color interest rates that they become so burdensome that they lock intransigently the borrower into a perpetual state of debt, or threaten (just by their extent) the on-going ability of the borrower to continue economically. Whereas it is economically beneficial to have a ready pool of capital within any nation that can be borrowed by those with a need or with an idea to exploit, it is anything but economically useful to have the burden imposed in order to do so be so weighty as to crush further economic activity from the borrowers.

Monetary Manipulation
Dependable scales are necessary to continuing market activity. If measures are constantly shifting, someone is getting the shaft and the resultant uncertainty will depress economic activity. When the value of money is constantly shifting, either arbitrarily or through manipulation, it is as if a pound is a pound one minute but not the next, or for one customer but not the next. Policies that allow central banks and government printing presses to manipulate currency values seem to me destined to artificially benefit some economies at the expense of others. Ultimately, the result will be depressed economic activity that otherwise could be greater and political instability.

These are temporal considerations that affect this age of sinful man. None of them will transition into eternity, but today, for this age, they form the basis of understanding what a biblically informed approach to economics would look like. I think it interesting that no politician is even remotely promoting such an approach to economic policy, nor is any political party. For all the posturing that comes from such quarters, it is obvious that politicians pay no attention whatsoever to what the Bible might suggest concerning practical considerations of governance. But maybe the Cubans are starting to.