Foundationalism Rebutted, part one.

One of the epistemologies of modernity is foundationalism. W. Jay Wood helpfully states (but does not endorse) the strong foundationalist position: “If one starts with self-evidently true starting points and accepts what can only be validly derived from the same, one thereby ensures that one’s entire set of beliefs is untainted and error-free.” Given the foundationalist’s demand about self-evident propositions forming basic beliefs, no one has more helpfully-exposed the faults in this reasoning than Nicholas Wolterstorff in Reason within the Bounds of Religion. Wolterstorff states, “Even if there is a set of foundational propositions, no one has yet succeeded in stating what relation the theories that we are warranted in accepting or rejecting bear to the members of the community.20” As John Frame has stated, starting with abstract self-verifying laws of logic do not tell us much. The only thing that can come from the laws of logic is more laws of logic. Foundationalism can give us nice starting points, but these points do not take us anywhere.

Chrysostom on Romans 5:13

From Farrell’s God, History, and Dialectic.

But for Chrysostom, and indeed for all of the fathers and ecclesiastical writers of First Europe, salvation is tied to the total humanity of Christ, from his seedless and virginal conception to his Crucifixion, Ascension, Heavenly Intercession, and Second Coming. It is this “recapitulationalist” view of the Economy of Salvation and its “physicalism” that therefore distinguishes the exposition of St John Chrysostom on the doctrine of ancestral sin

(GHD, 187)

Chrysostom places “justification by faith” as an opposite of “death and sin.” For Chrysostom death includes the separation of body and soul. It is not merely legal or mentalist, but physical. When Chrysostom turns to the economy of salvation, he deals with what Adam and Eve’s progeny inherit from them as a result of their sin. He answers,

How then did death come to prevail? ‘Through the sin of one.’ But what means (the last phrase of Romans 5:12) ‘for all that have sinned?’ This: he having once fallen, even they that had not eaten from the tree, did from him, all of them, become mortal.”

Second Europe had subtley reinterpreted Genesis’s “in the day you shall eat of it you shall surely die” to mean “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die and your progeny shall inherit your guilt and be culpable for it.”

(GHD, 188)

Romans 5:13 states that “until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed where there is no law.”

Chrysostom denies that this passage means “before the giving of the Table at Sinai.” He asks, “How does one explain the presence of death if death is the reward of sins imputed by the Law given at Sinai?:

The phrase till the Law some think he used of the time before the giving of the Law— that of Abel, for instance, or of Noah, or of Abraham— till Moses was born. What was the sin in those days, at this rate? Some say he means that in Paradise. For hitherto it was not done away, (he would say,) but the fruit of it was yet in vigor. For it had borne that death whereof all partake, which prevailed and lorded over us. Why then does he proceed, But sin is not imputed when there is no law? It was by way of objection from the Jews, say they who have spoken on our side, that he laid this position down and said, if there be no sin without the Law, how came death to consume all those before the Law? But to me it seems that the sense presently to be given has more to be said for it, and suits better with the Apostle’s meaning. And what sense is this? In saying, that till the Law sin was in the world, what he seems to me to mean is this, that after the Law was given the sin resulting from the transgression of it prevailed, and prevailed too so long as the Law existed. For sin, he says, can have no existence if there be no law. If then it was this sin, he means, from the transgression of the Law that brought forth death, how was it that all before the Law died? For if it is in sin that death has its origin, but when there is no law, sin is not imputed, how came death to prevail? From whence it is clear, that it was not this sin, the transgression, that is, of the Law, but that of Adam’s disobedience, which marred all things. Now what is the proof of this? The fact that even before the Law all died: for death reigned, he says, from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned.

Chrysostom’s portrayal of the relationship between sin and death is the reverse of the order in which second Europe portrayed it: death is the cause of sinful actions of those born after Adam and Eve, and even if one were sinless personally, one would still be subject to the law of death, the literal “falling apart” of one’s nature, that resulted as an affect on that nature of Adam and Eve’s sin. The guilt and culpability of their sin was not imputed to their posterity, but the corrupting consequence to human nature was transmitted. Death was both physically and morally corrupting to human nature, since the soul and body were designed in their natural state to be together.

GHD, 189)

Learning not to react…

It’s said that a sign of the rightness and confidence in your position is how you react to criticism/slander. If one erupts violently and responds in kind, then that person isn’t too confident in their position (and could very well be wrong). If one takes the criticism calmly and responds with calmly asked (and usually unanswerable) questions, then that person is very confident in my position.

Ultimately, I don’t know how confident I really am in my beliefs. I think I am right on most topics but I know how frail my worldview can be at times. In any case, to the subject at hand…

I guess Doug Wilson is doing some kind of 3 minute interview series on various questions people ask. Really, that’s a genius move that few people have picked up on. I wish more people would do that. Nobody is going to read that 30 page essay you wrote on “The Strains of Nestorianism in post-Leonine Ontologies” (yes, that’s a real book). A few more might listen to that 30 minute talk you gave on Leo I. But 30 minutes is a lot to ask of someone. Most, whether they are really interested or not, will probably listen to the short interview.

Given the savage hatred most Federal Vision guys have of Eastern Orthodoxy, Wilson’s interview was surprisingly mild. He really didn’t say anything to noteworthy, either good or bad. There were a few howlers. EOx do not worship or pray *to* icons. A casual reading of Letham–which I know for a fact Wilson has read Letham–would have corrected that. Also, it’s funny when these guys define “the gospel” with “the Reformed faith,” so that disagreeing with the latter is abandoning the former. But this raises the immediate question: What of those who lived before the Advent of Calvin? What if I’m simply taking St Ignatius of Antioch (who literally sat at the feet of the Apostle John) as a reliable guide to the faith? Did Ignatius fall “into doctrinal sin” by not holding to the Reformed faith?

I’m not bashing the Reformed faith. It was the Reformed faith that gave me a deeper understanding of Scripture. It was Reformed mentors like Greg Bahnsen, Keith Mathison, and Robert Letham that taught me to read well and ask the “real questions.” Never once do I seek to “deny sola fide.” I simply asked questions on the canon and the nature of the Church.

Anyway, Wilson’s talk really didn’t bother me. I got a little irked when he said looking East is “serious doctrinal sin.” I wonder if he would have said the same thing to Athanasius.

But a friend of mine told me, “Don’t get defensive when people challenge you. They might be helping you see the truth. Look at their challenge and see 1) is there truth in it? and 2) if/where do they err? 3) how would you respond?”

My thoughts on a new Korean war

First, I think America/South Korea would win decisively. True, Pyongyang is the most heavily defended city in the world, but it is defended with out-dated equipment. Antiaircraft flak is great when you are shooting down B-24s over Germany. It’s not so impressive against missiles coming in from outer space. To win a war you need a good economy, something North Korea does not have (true, America doesn’t have a good economy either, but we have enough of an economy to fight one more war–though this war would probably bring it tumbling down).

Fighting an air-war against North Korea, I think America will do well. America/NATO’s “shock-and-awe” style of fighting is impressive. The problem is actually taking North Korea. Fighting tank-warfare on flat terrain like Iraq and Western Europe is one thing. Mountain fighting is quite another (and this is one reason I think the US did NOT initially send ground troops into Serbia in 1999. Serbian special forces holed up in the mountains would have easily brought down yet another empire).

Secondly, while I normally despise neo-conservative/neo-liberal adventurism, I probably would support this war. North Korea truly does enslave and terrorize its people. It would be sad to see a free, market economy of South Korea reduced to slavery.

Thirdly, even if I think a war with North Korea is morally legitimate, I do not think it is a good thing. There could be massive loss of military and civilian life on both sides (both armies have roughly one million men, corralled into a very small land mass). Wars are expensive (the Iraq war costs the average family in Texas $46,000 per year) and really hurt economies. Even when we win this war–as I think is beyond doubt–this will be another nail in the coffin of the American Empire. Like the British said after they won Bunker Hill, “Let’s hope we don’t have too many more victories like this.”

While neo-conservatives/neo-liberals have never been too concerned about morally justifying their actions, I think a better case can be made for war with N.Korea than with Iran. Ahmaninjad, for all his problems, is a lot saner than some of the leadership in Washington D.C., and light years morally superior to the leadership in Tel Aviv. North Korea, as mentioned above, actually does pose a legitimate threat to much of Asia.

One other thing to keep in mind: a lesson we failed miserably in learning from the post-Cold War is there are worse things in the world than Communism. The mythos of the West (mythos means story of salvation) is the inevitable march of democratic capitalism throughout the world (funny how this sounds very similar to the inevitable march of the global proletariat). Therefore, in removing a communist country, so the reasoning goes, we are making the world purer and safer.

Ah, but as Samuel Huntingdon points out, the 1990s were far more horrific for world peace than the Cold War. It’s great that Communist regimes fail. But there are other evils in the world. Not to mention America is 0 for 10 in successful regime changes and nation-building. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t defend against a legitimate threat. It’s simply putting realist glasses on unbridled patriotism.

Anatoly Karlin at Sublime Oblivion gives a very fascinating scenario of how the next Korean War will be fought.

Stratfor on the Coming Russo-German Alliance

They summarize their main argument,

Therefore, if we simply focus on economics, and we assume that the European Union cannot survive as an integrated system (a logical but not yet proven outcome), and we further assume that Germany is both the leading power of Europe and incapable of operating outside of a coalition, then we would argue that a German coalition with Russia is the most logical outcome of an EU decline.

I imagine Germany is tired of “footing the bill” in Europe for the past 60 years. And I don’t see Greece as the main problem. Sure, bailing out Zorba lifestyles doesn’t seem fair, but if you are going to have an integrated market where one action affects all actions, then you have to deal with this. Likewise, if Germany bails out Greece then in large part Greece loses its sovereignty. I’m entertaining the idea that in the day of global credit and moves toward a global market, national sovereignty is defined more by economics than borders (though borders are important).

In any case, I suspect Germany knows that bailing out Greece won’t solve anything, since even worse problems are going to happen in Spain, Ireland, and Portugal.

Germany could look east, then. As Stratfor suggests, Russia has most of the world’s energy supply, but it needs happy buyers and markets. Germany has this. Germany needs a stable labor supply that isn’t in the form of 3rd World Immigration. Russia could alleviate this.

Economic questions, since they now determine national sovereignty, are also military questions. While Germany has strong NATO connections, Germany realizes that NATO is functionally synonymous with “America’s overseas military colonies in Europe.”

Germany likely wants to assert its national identity, but realizes it cannot do this alone. Germany’s strength is Germany’s weakness: German power makes others nervous. But to alleviate the fears of WW2 armchair historians, this isn’t the days of Molotov and Ribbentrop. Stalin and Hitler aren’t carving up Europe in 2012.

Finished *Clash of Civilizations*

I finished Samuel Huntingdon’s Clash of Civilizations. It was truly the work of a genius. The longer review is coming later. Huntingdon is too pro-D.C. and very naive concerning the purity of NATO’s motives, but other than that he is prescient on about every major issue (He wrote this book in 1996). Here is the skeleton of the review, along with some tentative conclusions of my own:

  • Civilizations assume the reality of objective cultures, but they are not identical to culture(s). I can’t remember exactly how SH defines civilization. There is an extended discussion on pp. 40-44. Frankly, I don’t think his definition, if any, is really that important. His book deals more with the empirical identity and clash of civilizations, rather than objectively defining them.
  • Civilizations have core states: states that have at least de facto leadership over smaller states in the civilization. For example, Russia is the core state of the Orthodox civilization (which includes Ukraine, Belarus, and the Balkans, though the latter are compromised by their membership in NATO; likewise, China is the core st ate of the East Asian civilization, excluding Japan).
  • Wars between actual core states of civilizations are quite rare. However, fault line wars are quite common. These are wars/battles/century-long skirmishes between two smaller states of two different civilizations that border each other. The obvious example is the Balkans: Orthodox Serbia fought Muslim Bosnia, both of whom were at war with Catholic Croatia
  • While ideologies (Marxism, democratic capitalism) are nice and make academics and news pundits feel good, civilization/culture has a more primal claim upon people groups/ethnicities/states and in the absence of one ideology (say, Marxism) a nation will more likely identify with prior civilizational loyalties rather than the opposing ideology. For example, an old joke in former Soviet Union: our leaders lied to us about communism, but they told us the truth about capitalism.

Pros of the book:

analysis is top-notch. We are reading a world-class scholar. Unlike 99% of elites in America, he knows that simply waving the magic wand of democratic capitalism will not make the nations swoon and willing become colonies of New York–and Huntingdon was actually attacked for making this obvious point!

He calls the Islamic threat for what it is. He is notorious for his famous “The borders of Islam are bloody.” I don’t really know how people can objectively respond to this claim. Yeah, it might be mean and bigoted, but look at the major hot spots of the world today–what religion is causing most of the trouble? In 1996 (at the time of the writing) 49 of the world’s 58 current conflicts had Islam involved. If it looks like a duck…

He gives an accurate (though extremely dated) analysis of the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Of course, a lot of his musings are moot considering NATO’s bombing of civilians in Belgrade in 1999. Still, per his thesis on civilizational clash on fault lines, he does a stellar performance. Catholic Germany supported Croatia, the entire Muslim world–along with Hillary Clinton and Sean Hannity–supported the Muslim Bosniaks, and Russia supported Serbia. (he also documents American double-standards and calls them for what they are: when Muslims massacre a village and kidnap teenage girls it is because they are noble freedom fighters w. When Serbs execute 8,000 men in the 28th Bosnian Muslim infantry, it is because they are evil and genocidal. Even more strange, American conservatives who are almost 100% anti-Islam never challenge this fact and actually support Muslims).

Along similar lines is the Turko-Armenian-Azeri wars of the 1990s. Armenia was an Orthodox state who was beset by Muslim Turkey and Muslim Azeribaijan. During the Cold War the Soviet leadership had Armenians serving in high-rank positions and being trained by elite special forces. When the USSR fell, the Armenian military, keeping the Motorized Rifle divisions of that region, had a fairly impressive, if small, military. Russian intervention in the 1990s kept her smaller sister Armenia from being overrun by Muslims.

And these are just two examples. Huntingdon ends with a fairly interesting scenario on what WW3 will look like and how it will start. A few qualms with the book: he actually thinks NATO is preserving Western civilization and evidently he ignores the fact that his best friend, Zbignew Brzezinski advocates using the War on Terror as a way to surround Russia with missiles and bases. Ironically, Huntingdon had argued that doing so would actually make America lose the next world war, which will be a clash between a Chinese or Islamic (or both) civilization.

Huntingdon didn’t write many more books after this. He had a high standard of writing and actually threw away many top-notch manuscripts because they weren’t good enough. Too bad, for he is definitely worth reading.

When “Celtic” Christianity Isn’t

Even with some massive failures in thinking, there is hope:

One of the exciting–or at least generating a lot of mental energy–is the revival (or goal) of a Celtic Christianity. Many people are aesthetically drawn to “Celtic” stuff (let’s not define “Celtic” for the moment). It stirs up visions of a wild and green land, wild yet strangely symmetrical music (Celts and Aristotle????), and a vision of one who is at peace with God and nature.

None of this stuff is bad, mind you, and there is much in the above that can be quite medicinal to a Christian’s soul. Even better, I believe that many locales in America can claim some form of kinship with the above culture and inculcate (is that the right word?) it in some way.

I will get to the good parts of Celtic Christianity, but we need to address some huge problems with the current project. Generally, the people who are originally attracted to this are hippies and disgruntled Catholics who hate the current pope who hate the current pope and are more interested in feminism and homosexuality than they are about any ancient expression of Christianity. To be fair, though, this group is rather small and doesn’t represent “Celtic Christianity,” but they are quite vocal and have dibs on most of the major publishers.

Even those who are a bit more sane, and actually have read something of Christian history, err greatly. I have in mind Philip Newell’s Christ of the Celts. Most of the book is pure excrement. I reviewed it here. Newell’s original project is quite interesting. He tries to place many great early thinkers within a Celtic context (St Irenaeus, John Scotus Eurigena). He fails miserably and even if he were right, he would still probably be wrong, but it’s an acceptable mistake to make. He tries to make the argument that because these guys believed in the goodness of Creation, they were secretly Celts. With respect to Irenaeus, this is just silly. Perhaps it might work with Eurigena, since he was Irish. Newell also doesn’t understand the history of philosophy, or he would see that he shouldn’t quote both the gnostics and St Irenaeus to make the same argument!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

However, I was interested in a recent book on Eurigena. It was his commentary on John. Most of the work looked very interesting. And since there is a dearth of material on Eurigena, I almost bought it. Again, this author, like Newell, tried to make the case that Eurigena “walked in the wild Irish glens, communed with bunnies, and listened to the heartbeat of creation.” Okay, now we are just silly. Don’t get me wrong, I would very much like to walk in Irish glens and stuff, but I don’t think that’s what Eurigena had in mind. And that’s not the worst part of the book. The author makes the argument that “Celtic Christians had deep, ancient ties the earlier paganism and shamanism of Ireland, and both should be respected.” Never mind that most of these Irish monks destroyed the Shamans in the land.

So what is Celtic Christianity? I don’t really know. Generally speaking, it is an older expression of Christianity that is distinct from Roman Catholicism but still in communion with the larger church (in other words, they weren’t flower children who hated institutionalised religion). They had many ties with Byzantine Christianity but are a separate liturgical expression (though doctrinally they do line up with the Byzantines).