Iranian president’s theological troubles

Theology may be bringing down Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.  So says Karim Sadjadpour, writing in the Washington Post:

While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery and Holocaust revisionism on the world stage have earned him alarmist comparisons to Adolf Hitler, his recent, ignoble fall from grace reveals the Iranian president for what he really is: the dispensable sword of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The marriage of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad should be understood in the context of Iran’s internal rivalries. Since the death in 1989 of the revolution’s father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — whose austere nature and anti-Americanism set the tenor for Iran’s post-monarchic order — Tehran’s political elite has been broadly divided into two schools.

Reformists and pragmatists argued that ensuring the Islamic Republic’s survival required easing political and social restrictions and prioritizing economic expediency over ideology. Hard-liners, led by Khamenei, believed that compromising on revolutionary ideals could unravel the system, just as perestroika did the Soviet Union. . . .

Ahmadinejad’s pious populism resonated among Iran’s working classes, and his revolutionary zeal and willingness to attack Khamenei’s adversaries endeared him to the supreme leader, whose backing of Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election proved decisive. The balance of power between the two was exhibited during Ahmadinejad’s inauguration, when the new president prostrated himself before Khamenei and kissed his hand.

Under the supreme leader’s approving gaze, Ahmadinejad’s first term as president was spent bludgeoning Khamenei’s domestic opponents, taking a hard line on the nuclear issue and taunting the United States. Ahmadinejad’s newfound fame abroad, however, confused his true position at home.

What Khamenei failed to realize was that Ahmadinejad and his cohorts had greater ambitions than simply being his minions.

They spoke of their direct connection to the hidden imam — Shiite Islam’s Messiah equivalent — in an attempt to render the clergy obsolete. In “private” meetings — which were bugged by intelligence forces loyal to Khamenei — Ahmadinejad’s closest adviser, Rahim Mashaei, spoke openly of designs to supplant the clergy. The last straw came earlier this year, when Ahmadinejad tried to take over the Ministry of Intelligence, whose vast files on the financial and moral corruption of Iran’s political elite are powerful tools of political persuasion and blackmail.

The supreme leader was publicly nonchalant about Ahmadinejad’s insubordination; privately, however, he unleashed jackals that had long been salivating for the president’s comeuppance. The powerful Revolutionary Guards — who helped engineer Ahmadinejad’s contested 2009 reelection — swiftly declared their devotion to Khamenei, and several of the president’s advisers were arrested.

One former Guard and current member of parliament, Mohammad Karamirad, sent Ahmadinejad a message last weekin the form of a macabre Persian proverb: “If [Khamenei] asks us to bring him a hat, we know what to bring him,” i.e., the head of the person wearing the hat.In addition to proving the primacy of Iran’s supreme leader, the rise and fall of Ahmadinejad exemplifies the contempt that Tehran’s ruling cartel has for the intelligence of its citizenry.

Ahmadinejad’s tainted reelection — which spurred millions to take to the streets — was hailed by Khamenei as a “divine assessment” and the people’s will. Two years later, Ahmadinejad and his cronies are accused by former supporters of being “deviant Zionist agents” and “possessed by the devil.”

Khamenei’s desire to project a unified front to the world is likely to keep Ahmadinejad in office until his term expires in 2013. Khamenei seeks to wield power without accountability; this requires a president who has accountability without power. A disgraced Ahmadinejad can conveniently absorb blame for the country’s endemic economic, political and social disaffection.

via The rise and fall of Iran’s Ahmadinejad – The Washington Post.

Clarifying the cosmological argument

Philosopher Edward Feser clears us misconceptions about the cosmological argument for the existence of God:

1. The argument does NOT rest on the premise that “Everything has a cause.”

Lots of people – probably most people who have an opinion on the matter – think that the cosmological argument goes like this: Everything has a cause; so the universe has a cause; so God exists. They then have no trouble at all poking holes in it. If everything has a cause, then what caused God? Why assume in the first place that everything has to have a cause? Why assume the cause is God? Etc.

Here’s the funny thing, though. People who attack this argument never tell you where they got it from. They never quote anyone defending it. There’s a reason for that. The reason is that none of the best-known proponents of the cosmological argument in the history of philosophy and theology ever gave this stupid argument. Not Plato, not Aristotle, not al-Ghazali, not Maimonides, not Aquinas, not Duns Scotus, not Leibniz, not Samuel Clarke, not Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, not Mortimer Adler, not William Lane Craig, not Richard Swinburne. And not anyone else either, as far as I know. . . .
What defenders of the cosmological argument do say is that what comes into existence has a cause, or that what is contingent has a cause.  These claims are as different from “Everything has a cause” as “Whatever has color is extended” is different from “Everything is extended.”  Defenders of the cosmological argument also provide arguments for these claims about causation.  You may disagree with the claims – though if you think they are falsified by modern physics, you are sorely mistaken– but you cannot justly accuse the defender of the cosmological argument either of saying something manifestly silly or of contradicting himself when he goes on to say that God is uncaused. . . .

“What caused God?” is not a serious objection to the argument.

Part of the reason this is not a serious objection is that it usually rests on the assumption that the cosmological argument is committed to the premise that “Everything has a cause,” and as I’ve just said, this is simply not the case.  But there is another and perhaps deeper reason.The cosmological argument in its historically most influential versions is not concerned to show that there is a cause of things which just happens not to have a cause.  It is not interested in “brute facts” – if it were, then yes, positing the world as the ultimate brute fact might arguably be as defensible as taking God to be.  On the contrary, the cosmological argument – again, at least as its most prominent defenders (Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, et al.) present it – is concerned with trying to show that not everything can be a “brute fact.”  What it seeks to show is that if there is to be an ultimate explanation of things, then there must be a cause of everything else which not only happens to exist, but which could not even in principle have failed to exist.  And that is why it is said to be uncaused – not because it is an arbitrary exception to a general rule, not because it merely happens to be uncaused, but rather because it is not the sort of thing that can even in principle be said to have had a cause, precisely because it could not even in principle have failed to exist in the first place.  And the argument doesn’t merely assume or stipulate that the first cause is like this; on the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to try to show that there must be something like this.

via Edward Feser: So you think you understand the cosmological argument?.

He goes on, in some fascinating and lucid philosophizing.

HT:  Joe Carter

Journalists gone wild

Are you following the scandal swirling around media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s empire, which includes The Wall Street Journal and Fox News, just to name two of his American holdings?  It seems reporters from his British tabloid News of the World have been caught hacking into voice mails of celebrities, crime victims, members of the Royal family, and even families of 9/11 victims.  Now investigators have uncovered evidence that reporters have bribed police officers for story tips–leading to the resignation of the head of Scotland Yard, no less–as well as questionable connections to leading politicians, including Prime Minister Cameron.

Murdoch has shut down News of the World, whose editor has been arrested.  Here is the best overview I have found of the whole tangled story:  News International phone hacking scandal – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

And of course some people are hoping that the scandal might pull down Murdoch and his conservative-leaning news outlets, including Fox News, though there seems to be no obvious connections.

First, does anyone know how a reporter could hack into someone else’s phone or voice mail?

Second, does this scandal teach us anything about contemporary journalism?

Prosecuting Roger Clemens

The great pitcher Roger Clemens testified before a Congressional hearing that he had not used steroids.  But then came evidence that he had.   So he was brought to trial for perjury.   The prosecution used hearsay evidence that the judge told them not to use, resulting in a mistrial.   So do you think Clemons should be retried?

Notice that steroid use was not illegal, nor was it then a violation of the rules of baseball.   I don’t see why steroid use back then should keep a Mark McGwire, a Sammy Sosa, or a Barry Bonds out of the record books, even with an asterisk.  It wasn’t cheating, since it didn’t violate any rules.  Now it does, so it’s a different story.  As my cousin Mark observed, there have been different eras in baseball–such as the dead ball era and the juiced ball era–so we just need to realize there was a steroid era.  Perhaps we should ban all of the vitamins players take these days.  Other sports such as cycling are outlawing “doping,” including practices such as injecting one’s own blood, so as to increase stamina by increasing the number of red blood cells.  And yet our whole Olympic team trains in Mark’s home of Colorado Springs at an altitude that increases red blood cells.  Yet one is OK, because labeled “natural,” and the other is banned because labeled artificial, even though the effect is the same.

Clemens was hauled before a court for lying to Congress, not for using steroids.  He was speaking out against steroids, probably also trying to protect his reputation so he could get into the Hall of Fame.  Once again, it isn’t the action but the lying, or, better yet, the hypocrisy, that gets people into trouble.

Is it worth the expense and the time of our court system to once again try to convict a baseball player?

Those edgy, dangerous Lutherans

You’ve got to read Mollie Hemingway on the Lutheran/anti-Christ controversy, in which she notes the irony of the media becoming indignant over the “anti-Catholic bias” of the Lutheran confessions, while they themselves savage Roman Catholic beliefs at every opportunity.  An excerpt:

Also, you’re kidding me that Lutheran views on the papacy are controversial. Again, there is no doubt that they were controversial back when Pope Leo X was in power. Where’s the controversy now? Except in the pages of papers that are normally working overtime against Catholicism and its views on abortion, euthanasia, the priesthood, marriage and social norms? And traditional Christian views on homosexuality are now “controversial,” too. How come that never works the other way? You know what word wasn’t used once in that 5500-word hagiography of Dan Savage and his support for consensual adultery that the New York Times Sunday magazine frontpaged two weeks ago? “Controversial.” . . .

But the WELS is controversial. Got that? I want everyone to remember that confessional Lutherans are the new dangerous, edgy people. I have so wanted this reputation for so long and I don’t want this opportunity to be missed. We’ve been tarnished as the people of casseroles and you-betcha for too long.

But who thinks that we’re so edgy? Hard to tell. Here’s how the Post puts it:

It has been criticized in part because it holds that the Catholic pope is the Antichrist.

By whom? By noted theologianreporter Joshua Green? By 16th Century Catholics? The passive voice is really inappropriate considering how much this article is built around the claim of a controversy that presumably extends beyond the Washington Post newsroom or liberal blogs that never would have supported Bachmann in any case. I mean, I doubt that lapsed or collapsed Catholics give much of a hoot about it and I’m pretty sure that all of the more regular Mass-going Catholics I know would pick the media over the Lutherans when deciding who’s involved in a coordinated, if not vicious, campaign against their church.

Lutheranism & the Antichrist

The teaching that got Michele Bachmann into trouble–that the papacy is the antichrist– and made her leave Lutheranism in order to be a creditable presidential candidate (see the other post for today) is not limited to the Wisconsin Synod.  It is a tenet of the Lutheran Confessions, serving as the climax of Melanchthon’s Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (41-42) and affirmed throughout the Smalcald Articles.  This, however, is not in the sense of the premillennialist understanding of the Antichrist, as in the Left Behind series or in the various historical figures from Napoleon to Henry Kissinger who have been given this label.  Rather, it is in this sense, as explained in another one of those confessions, referring to the notion that humanly devised ritual, rather than the Gospel, confer saving power:

If the adversaries defend these human services as meriting justification, grace, and the remission of sins, they simply establish the kingdom of Antichrist. For the kingdom of Antichrist is a new service of God, devised by human authority rejecting Christ, just as the kingdom of Mahomet has services and works through which it wishes to be justified before God; nor does it hold that men are gratuitously justified before God by faith, for Christ’s sake. Thus the Papacy also will be a part of the kingdom of Antichrist if it thus defends human services as justifying.  Apology of the Augsburg Confession XV. 18.

Now Lutherans are not alone in this.  Reformed confessions say the same thing in the Westminster Confession, Chap. 25, Art. 6, though conservative Calvinists in the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have apparently repudiated that section. (Perhaps someone from one of those traditions could explain how it is  possible to be a confessional body, as these groups claim to be, while rejecting part of the confession.)  The Reformed Baptists also associate the pope with anti-christ in their statement of faith.  (See this Catholic site, which keeps track of such things.)

Perhaps a better question could be asked by reporters to ferret out “anti-Catholicism” with an even broader application:  “Do you consider Roman Catholics to be Christians?”   Many, if not most, evangelicals will say, “no.”  Lutherans, on the other hand, including those who believe the pope to be antichrist will say, “yes.”   The Church of Rome is still part of the church, since it retains the Word and Sacraments, which are the marks of the Church, and the Gospel is still present in its liturgy and in the teachings of many of its pastors and theologians.  A major argument that Roman Catholics are part of the true church is precisely that, according to 2 Thessalonians 2, the antichrist will arise in the true church!  Lutherans, unlike many other conservative Protestants, do affirm that Roman Catholics may well and often do have saving faith in Christ.

These theological subtleties, of course, will go over the head of most reporters and other outside observers.  Does that mean it would be impossible for a confessional Lutheran–or a Calvinist who confesses the whole Westminster Confession or an Evangelical open about his or her beliefs about who is a true Christian–to win the Catholic vote and thus win national office?


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