Lately, there has been a huge emotional reaction against the Trump administration for separating children of illegal immigrant parents who are undergoing criminal proceedings for crossing the border illegally. The loudest voice is on the left because they obviously hate Trump for everything (ironic, given their disdain for the family unit in general), but many on the right as well have been vehemently critical of the administration’s handling of this issue because it seems to strike at the family. Though most children in federal custody came across the border alone, there are still about 2,000 children that have been separated from their parents (or alleged parents) that the federal government has to figure out what to do with.
However, though simplistic takes are legion (as usual), this is a more complicated situation than many think. Frankly, it is obviously more complicated than what the Trump administration itself thought because it severely underestimated the problem that would be on its hands after adopting this zero tolerance policy against illegal migrants. Add yet another bungled reference to Romans 13 from AG Jeff Sessions, and you have an administration that isn’t exactly on top of things here. On a summary note: No, Mr. Sessions, Romans 13 does not mean absolute submission to the government and certainly does not mean we cannot criticize it.
In any case, Christians should be concerned about this because while Sessions’ and Jeffries’ use of Romans 13 in the past have been bad, the text still teaches that we should try to be good citizens who obey and respect laws. We should also obviously care about the family unit and children, and certainly, the family is far more important to Christians than to progressives who often find it to be an institution of oppression. Also, Christians should care about those in need. Even if someone is not a Christian, they should be able to agree that children are important, laws are important, and families are important. It creates a tricky problem for this reason (and let me make this very clear): If the law is enforced thoroughly and consistently, then this situation is unavoidable if illegal immigrants are caught and especially if they claim asylum.
I haven’t updated this blog for a while, a combination of being busy and… watching too much basketball. In any case, there’s a situation that I do want to briefly address, but I’ve held off due to the fact that I am a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and didn’t want my words to be twisted to target anyone else that has nothing to do with me voicing my opinion. It’s probably a good time to state something obvious but often needed: What follows are my thoughts alone and nobody asked me to write them down.
The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was recently held in Dallas, and it occurred during a time of controversy. One of the stalwarts of the Baptist faith, Dr. Paige Patterson, was supposed to preach at the meeting but removed himself due to first being pushed into early retirement and then being fired outright from being the president at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If he didn’t remove himself, there was probably a good chance that they would have changed to someone else anyway. From what I hear, it didn’t get prettier at the meeting because someone put up a motion to immediately remove the executive committee of the trustees for the school due to them firing Patterson while he was overseas in Germany. The motion overwhelmingly failed (though evidently an internal report on the actions of SWBTS’ executive committee will be given next year), but it illustrated the fact that Patterson’s firing was polarizing, just as the man himself often was.
I was listening to a podcast recently which featured a friendly discussion between two philosophers: W. Paul Franks, a Wesleyan libertarian, and Guilluame Bignon, a compatibilist Calvinist. They talked about several things, and it was a great example of intelligent, civil, and charitable debate between Christians. Bignon even said that if all people get from the podcast is that they can see that a Calvinist like him can be good friends with a libertarian, it would be a success. I think that’s a very mature attitude that is missing from a lot of Christians. I just got his book where he defends Calvinistic determinism, and I hope I can find time soon to read through it.
Nonetheless, here I want to hone in on Bignon’s claim that God’s freedom is a clear counterexample to the libertarian’s argument that one must be able to do otherwise in order to be free (the principle of alternative possibilities, aka PAP) and morally responsible. God is impeccable (he cannot sin), so this principle obviously does not apply to God, Bignon argued. Franks holds to source incompatiblism, which either diminishes or even eliminates the need for PAP, but Bignon still argues that it still doesn’t make sense of God’s freedom.
Over a month ago, there was another school shooting in Parkland, Florida at Stoneman Douglas High School. The more this happens, the more Americans get tired of it, and we should. These are terrible, and solutions need to be discussed that are careful, nuanced, and sober. Unfortunately, that is normally not what happens, as I’ve written about before after mass shootings like this. Usually, discussions turn into political mudslinging contests full of red herrings, strawmen, emotional appeals, and groundless accusations. The mainstream media tends to ramp up controversy only to rile up the right wing media to throw hay-makers back. Politicians do much of the same. Unsurprisingly, precious little gets done despite there being real research on general gun violence and mass shootings. It is not an easy problem to diagnose, so instead of thinking carefully, people jump to their preferred slogans and cry and shout. Even calling for calm is a quick way to become a target of emotional insults because somehow you are not empathetic for trying to tell people to use their reason.
I have stayed away from Donald Trump news for a while since it gets so annoying, but some of it is impossible to avoid. Truth be told, there are some policy decisions that I have liked, such as his Supreme Court choice, the tax plan (mostly), and scaling back on regulations that helped encourage investors. There are also things that are not so great and even predictably stupid, such as the disaster of a healthcare plan, the annoying Russia thing that won’t go away, trade tariffs, and dumb comments from him. But Donald Trump is a weird politician, seemingly impervious to scandals that would crush other politicians. This whole absurd saga with a pornstar that he allegedly had an affair with and paid hush money to is a great example of this. Many of us already cynically think that at least some politicians get involved in shady stuff anyway, but can you imagine if a “normal” politician got hit with a scandal like this? It would be politically disastrous, and yet for Trump, people’s reactions are kind of just like, “Oh yeah, well, there’s Trump for ya.” At the same time, his approval numbers are low despite the economy doing well, which is normally something that correlates with high approval ratings (whether the president actually did anything to truly affect the economy or not). He is some mutant politician; the things that would normally destroy a career don’t affect him that much, and the things that would normally help a politician don’t really assist him.
I have been reading about the horrifying case of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, former doctor for Michigan State athletics as well as for USA Gymnastics. It is astonishing, sad, and infuriating that he got away with it for decades, ruining so many lives and even leading to the loss of life as a couple of people committed suicide, partially as a result of his crimes. This is a man who already was sentenced to 60 years in prison for having tens of thousands of images of child pornography and videos of him molesting kids. Now, over one hundred victims have come forward to share their stories, making certain that even an elixir that doubled the average human life span would not allow him to ever leave prison.
He is a grotesquely evil man, and in many ways he is more dangerous than other traditional criminals because he is the kind who befriends people and gains their trust before abusing their beloved children. The bitterness and anger that his victims unloaded on him the past few days to go along with the anger of the wider world is richly deserved. Here is a piece of human garbage that one victim aptly called “a spawn of Satan.” A coach who sent over 100 girls to Nassar for treatment, ignorant of what was happening, said to him out of guilt and anger, “Go to hell,” a sentiment that is probably shared by even those people who generally have a problem with the doctrine of hell. If he were put in a room with every father of those girls to beat him in whatever way they chose, that would still be too light a sentence.
And yet, as Christians, we are to believe that if he were to put his faith in Christ, he would be saved and given eternal life. At first glance, such a statement makes even Christians uncomfortable and downright enrages atheists. Sam Harris finds such a belief to be utterly unjust and disgusting. Harris has never made an argument that has impressed me, but I understand his emotional reaction here; it seems deeply unfair. Sure, Jesus saves sinners, but come on: There’s a massive difference between a serial child sex abuser and someone who cheated on a test or has mild anger issues.
My primer on open theism has made me think that it’d be useful to write ones for other theological systems or topics, as I often receive questions about them as well. A good one to do is Calvinism because it is so prevalent, yet many Christians (including a good number of self-proclaimed Calvinists) do not really understand it. Now, this one is a bit more difficult to condense into one article because it is more of a full blown system than open theism, but I think it will help to stick to what can be considered “classical” Calvinism and largely ignore certain varieties such as “four-point” Calvinism (Amyraldism) and libertarian Calvinism. Still, what follows will be heavily simplified, though I think it will still be largely accurate.
As usual, I’ll attempt to give a charitable portrayal of Calvinism despite being a pretty sharp critic of it (as readers of this blog know). I’ll then give a brief critique, though I won’t say much and will just invite the reader to find other articles I’ve written on the topic.
Recently, I was asked by a college student to explain what open theism is, so I might as well make my answer into a blog post.
Open theism does not alarm me nearly as much other Christians who react like it’s some crazy heresy, but I do think it’s in error and I’ll explain why. As always, I’ll aim to give a charitable portrayal of the view, though my explanation and critique will naturally have to be short if I don’t want this post to get too long.
Open Theism: What it is and Who Believes it
In a nutshell, open theism is the belief that the future is at least partly “open” even for God, such that he does not know with 100% detail what is going to happen. This comes from the alleged incompatibility between these two ideas:
- Human beings have libertarian free will.
- God universally knows exactly what every free creature will do.
Libertarianism is the view that we have free will and that it’s ultimately incompatible with determinism. Since open theists hold strongly to libertarianism, they think #2 should be dropped or amended. The reason is that if an omniscient God, who cannot be wrong, knows ahead of time what people will do, then those facts about the future are “settled” and cannot be changed, thereby jeopardizing freedom. Interestingly enough, most Calvinists, seemingly their mortal enemies, agree with them about this incompatibility but instead opt to drop #1, advocating for a theory of free will called compatibilism (free will and determinism are compatible). In any case, examples of Christians who are open theists are pastor/philosopher Greg Boyd, philosopher William Hasker, and the late theologian Clark Pinnock.
As many know, the very controversial Senate race in Alabama is over with the Democrats winning a big victory in an overwhelmingly conservative state. The big reason for this victory, other than the fact that Roy Moore was already pretty unpopular to begin with, was the sexual assault allegations on Moore and the accusations that he went after under-aged girls when he was a young man. Many viewed these accusations as credible, including a lot of conservative Alabamans, which is why there were over 22,000 write-in votes (many of which cheekily voted for Nick Saban). Moore denied these allegations (though he seemed to change his story a couple of times), and his defenders complained that to punish Moore for them was to invert the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” Moore was not convicted of anything and likely never will be, so why give an ounce of credibility to the accusations?
I think this line of thinking is mistaken and forgets to evaluate Moore’s situation carefully. Now, I’m the first person to tell people not to overreact to headlines, and I generally think it is deplorable that people jump to conclusions regarding people’s guilt. We’ve seen how doing so can destroy the lives of people who are actually innocent, such as Officer Wilson in the Michael Brown case and the Duke lacrosse players. Still, there is a difference between having enough evidence for a criminal conviction (which should meet a very, very high standard) and enough evidence for rational people to smell that something stinks. The evidence against Moore doesn’t meet the former right now, but I think there is enough to justify people’s reluctance about him and for him to face some consequences, such as losing an election (which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t exactly some hefty punishment).
‘Tis the season for sexual assault/harassment allegations, apparently, as several prominent celebrities have gotten hit with them and eventually saw their careers bite the dust. First there was Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and then others in entertainment and media followed such as Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer. Politicians were not immune, so figures such as Roy Moore (R), Al Franken (D), Trent Franks (D), Blake Farenthold (R), and John Conyers (D) were accused of sexual assault and/or harassment.
On the one hand, it is undoubtedly good that women are willing to speak out against misconduct and that some of these figures, who had gotten away with this behavior for years if not decades, finally saw some consequences for their actions. On the other hand, all of this has given us more evidence of how fractured America is along party lines. Both parties are trying to claim the moral high ground, not because they seem to really care about morals (if they did, they would police themselves a lot better) but because it is politically advantageous to do so while painting the other side as monsters. Consider how some of this played out regarding Roy Moore: