7 Quick Takes (4/1/11)

7 Quick Takes (4/1/11) April 1, 2011


Blogger’s rolling out new features, so I figured I should let you know that you can now read this blog in any of the five new dynamic templates.  Of the five, I only like the sidebar view and, to be honest, I find Blogger’s enthusiasm about this new feature to be a little hilarious.  I’m not planning to start viewing blogs this way (especially since I mostly read them on Google Reader, rather than their actual pages), but let me know if you try it and have any problems.

Looking at the sidebar layout makes me wonder if this site is due for a redesign.  Does anyone have any things they’d like to see added/eliminated or any tweaks you’d suggest?


In keeping with the last two Friday’s quick takes (one on common myths about Catholicism, one offering some clarifications) I want to highlight some more resources/handy cheat guides for Christians talking to atheists and atheists talking to Christians.

The most persistent question atheists (me included) have been raising on this blog is How does any specific Christian denomination figure out the proper way to read the Bible?  I’m still looking for guest posts on this topic, but, in the meantime, it’s probably worth taking a look over Mark Shea’s overview of Sacred Tradition at the National Catholic Register.

Catholics interpret the bible in light of Sacred Tradition, and, since I find both the analysis and the history it’s based on very confusing, I’ll probably go whole hog and read Shea’s By What Authority? one of these days. For now, the article is loads better than my old resource, Wikipedia.


The next link isn’t really the answer to anyone’s question unless you’re much cooler than me and were already wondering, “What would it be like to read the thoughts of a Soviet-born, Israeli-reared, cultural Jew turned Orthodox convert?”  The answer is: it’s wonderful.  The blog started last week, and every post so far has been beautifully written and raised complex questions about Jewish identity and membership.  Here’s an excerpt:

I know my parents feel dishonored by my conversion, and I know they are not the only Jewish parents who do. It’s not the kind of dishonor that more traditional parents may feel when their child refuses to follow in their intellectual footsteps: they did not raise me religious, and have probably even less regard for observant Judaism than for Christianity. It took me years to understand – or, rather, to stop denying – that the root of their sadness and anger is that they see my becoming a Christian as choosing another family over theirs. They see my godparents as substitute parents that I have chosen over them, my Christian friends as a substitute extended family; and while they accuse me of having chosen to love strangers more than family, they also blame themselves for, allegedly, being such bad parents (which they weren’t at all!) that their child had to go looking for an alternative family.

Head on over to read more!


I always like Richard Beck’s explanations of his theology, and his most recent installment on the development of his Universalist beliefs is delightfully clear.  I’d be interested to hear what the Christian readers of this blog make of his struggles with Talbott’s three propositions as laid out below:

  1. God’s redemptive love extends to all human sinners equally in the sense that he sincerely wills or desires the redemption of each one of them.
  2. Because no one can finally defeat God’s redemptive love or resist it forever, God will triumph in the end and successfully accomplish the redemption of everyone whose redemption he sincerely wills or desires.
  3. Some human sinners will never be redeemed but will instead be separated from God forever.

Beck is pretty sure you can only get believe two out of three, and he’s ended up sticking with 1 & 2.


After I complained about the hypocrisy of Christians who believe their friends are going to hell but don’t bother to evangelize to them, Tristyn took me to task in a truly exceptional post that turned into an apologetic for her brand of crypto-fideism.  Here’s a quick quote:

A lot of the questions I get asked about Christianity seem to boil down to a bizarre kind of absolutism– most of the conversations end with a “what happens if?” “What happens if the fast is broken?” “What happens if someone throws an icon away?” “What happens if you don’t cross yourself?” Perhaps I’m misreading my friends, but they always seem to be looking for a line that, once crossed, will definitively send one to Hell, and if a particular behavior doesn’t, they can’t seem to understand why it’s relevant. I chalk this up, too, to the inability to understand Christianity not as a system but as a relationship. What happens if I don’t bum my friend a cigarette? What happens if I forget his birthday? What happens if I steal from him? A friendship can survive many transgressions. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t avoid them.

It’s times like this I feel compelled to nyah-nyah that I get to have these discussions with her in person.  But don’t look so glum, her whole blogis excellent (especially if you like Tom Waits)


On the atheist side, NFQ is starting a new series this week working through moral problems from a secular perpective, so watch that space.


Tonight, I’m heading out to hear an ex-gay speaker (Christopher Yuan from Exodus) at an event sponsored by the Yale Christian Fellowship and Yale Students for Christ.  That is, assuming it’s not an April Fool’s Day prank.  I assumed it must be, but now I’ve heard that the YCF and YSC boards are both schisming over the sponsorship.  If there’s anything of interest, I’ll write something up over the weekend.

Also in the category of surprisingly not an April Fool’s prank, (though I guess you could show it to people today, let them assume it was a trick, and then reveal that these actually exist) coffee bean-shaped stainless steel casings for phase-change materials.  They’re meant to quickly cool your coffee to an appropriate temperature and then keep it there for a long time by slowly releasing the heat stored by cooling it down from scalding.

We live in the future.

[Seven Quick Takes is a blog carnival run by Jen of Conversion Diary]

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  • This is a great quick takes, L! (May I give you that nickname? I don't want you to feel left out of the nicknameology.) I especially liked 3 and 5, although I loudly DITTO ROBISON on number 1: blogger is soooo excited! I don't use that stuff, so I'm vaguely amused more than anything else, interested slightly piqued at the most.Happy Friday! Enjoy the speaker tonight! I hope the weather is warming up for you too. 🙂

  • Michael Haycock

    Huh, Talbott's three propositions sound quite like LDS soteriological thought. 1 & 3 are definitely true to the LDS Church, but 2 would require a different explanation – not that God's love is irresistible, but that even most sinners (the vast majority) will acknowledge God's rightness and justice (think "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess") in assigning them one level of heaven or another according to what they deserve. The ones who are outside of God's capacity for forgiveness are those who choose to not recognize His salvific power, who 1) fully know the power of God's redemptive strength, His righteousness and reality and 2) reject it willfully. Because of how infinitesimally small the number of people who meet criterion 1), the number of people outside the bounds of God's grace is going to be almost negligible.

  • Much as I like people buying my books, I feel it only fair to warn you that By What Authority is written to an Evangelical reader and not to an atheist. So it takes for granted things you don't and may not scratch where you itch. On the other hand, if you can perform the effort of imagination to apply the proper filters and not demand of it things it was never designed to supply, you may find parts of it useful.In a certain sense, I actually suspect that Mary, Mother of the Son may be more useful to you since it gives you a sort of grand tour of the interior life of the Tradition and (along the way) talks about what Tradition is, how Scripture is read in light of it, and how it develops over the ages.Your call. If you order the books, get 'em from me http://www.mark-shea.com/books.html Then I get all the money instead of a faceless corp like Amazon.

  • I second Mark's comment – I absolutely loved By What Authority, but I don't think it addresses your questions. I think Before Abraham Was: The Unity of Genesis 1-11 would be a much better read. Unfortunately it is out of print and the used copies are insanely expensive and I lent my copy to someone who proceeded to lose it! But perhaps they have it at the Yale library.http://www.amazon.com/Before-Abraham-Was-Unity-Genesis/dp/0898702399I also suspect that Rober Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative would be a good choice for you, but I haven't read it yet.

  • " I'd be interested to hear what the Christian readers of this blog make of his struggles with Talbott's three propositions as laid out below."He's converted me from Arminianism to Universalism. (Granted, I was primed for it by a particular professor in my undergrad.)

  • @Michael: What is the reason someone who "fully knew the power of God's redemptive strength, His righteousness and reality" would be able to offer to reject him utterly? I've heard other Christians argue that truly understanding the depth of God's goodness and love would compel belief and reciprocal love. In fact, the necessity of loving God, once you know Him, is a premise in some arguments about why God is hidden from us. If we could know him, they say, his goodness would compel our love and destroy our free will.Do you buy into this argument? On what basis would anyone reject a God they believe to be perfectly good?

  • @Lukas and Mark: thanks for the heads up on the book(s). Sadly, for me, it's all moot, since my pleasure reading is tightly rationed until me senior essay is done.@Christian: Thanks for sharing. I'm becoming increasingly confused by non-Universalist Christianity.@Julie: The weather here taunted us on Wednesday, and I even ended up spending most of the day in just a t-shirt. But, alas, New Haven was playing with my heart and now we're back to a wintery mix.

  • @Leah: If you want to chat universalism, our very own philosophy dept. has Mr. Keith DeRose, a prominent universalist, available for the chatting.

  • Re: Leah (specifically your question to Michael about how someone might reject the perfect love of a perfectly good God), I actually addressed this very question in another thread. I'll post the relevant paragraph here.>>It's quite easy to forget that being good is really extraordinarily difficult, in any context: whether being a good husband, a good father, or a good person generally. It takes effort, and often a lot of pain, to do the right thing. Because many people are hedonists, they don't want to suffer in order to be good. They choose the easier path, of less perfection, to avoid pain. But without that preparation (sometimes called 'purification') it would be impossible for them to withstand the Presence of God — for the purest and holiest good would also be the most unendurable for those who are not prepared. Thus, hell (as the absence of God) may be seen almost as a mercy: those who cannot withstand God's Presence, are allowed to exist outside of His Presence. This means they are deprived of all good things (which are derived solely from Him), but they do not have to endure the pain of being near Him. They avoid pain, rather than enjoy goodness. But that was their choic in the first place.

  • Patrick

    Also, the definition of "perfectly good God" doesn't necessarily mean something worthy of love or affection. For a lot of Christians the idea of a "perfectly good God" is just a truism- because "good" is defined as "what God is/does." Combine that with divine command theory and a belief that all human beings are unworthy of God's love, and in a lot of Christian theology's God is utterly unlovable.But in any case, I do have to note the sheer… paganism of the argument that hell is the destination for those who God can't place in heaven. One of the biggest differences between the Abrahamic monotheistic traditions and the various polytheistic pagan traditions is that in paganism the god's regularly wrestle with a pre-existing cosmos that has rules and realities that the god's themselves cannot change. Certainly they may have some degree of mastery over them, but nothing more. Whereas in monotheism, with its idea of omnipotence and God as the originator (to greater or lesser degrees) of every aspect of creation, there is no outside universe with which God must wrestle.This gets forgotten quite often, because when you need to explain why God does this or that, its very convenient to argue that the nature of reality is such that God had no other choice. But that's very, very problematic when your idea of God is such that he created the nature of reality itself. That's why experienced apologists and theologians do not resort to claiming that God's choices are limited by a reality external to him. Instead they resort only to one of two things, if they pursue this path at all: first, logical impossibility of other options where logical impossibility means literal logical impossibility in the modal sense, and second, God's nature.Thing is, the heaven/hell dichotomy where you must go to one or the other after you die isn't an aspect of God's nature, unless you really, really gerrymander your definition of God's nature. Nor it is a logical impossibility that things should be otherwise. This is particularly true if you define heaven as the presence of God, and hell as the complete absence of the presence of God. Earth provides an obvious counter example, where God is apparently somewhat present but not totally so.I think a creeping realization that this argument doesn't really work is the reason that people who advance down this path always go for the option of claiming that those in hell deserve it and/or chose it. That's a particularly tough argument to make, unfortunately. It generally requires one of two approaches. There's the "we're all filth" approach where you argue that everyone, even the nicest, sweetest child, deserves infinite agony forever. Lets leave that one by just noting that its easy to say, but hard to live, and I've never met anyone, ever, who lived it. The other option, where you claim that its people's choice to end up in hell, is more morally palatable. But its factually suspect, and requires you to either believe that the choice for salvation can be made after death, or else to believe that everyone secretly knows God is real and is just pretending otherwise because they're of their flawed characters. And that's a shaky premise from a factual point of view. And in any case this amounts to a complete change of topic- this is not a buttress to the "no better option" theory, its an entirely different theory that provides independent justification, not a supporting argument.Anyways, yeah, claiming that God has to send people to hell because he hasn't got any better option? Paganism. The argument only works if you don't believe God is omnipotent.

  • taosquirrel

    Hey Leah, long-time lurker on your blog, just wanting to finally make a first post, hopefully from an orthodox Catholic perspective.In response to item 4, number 2 is wrong, because people can close themselves off to grace. Additionally, when considering number 3, it must be remembered that "separation from God" is insofar that the damned have rejected God's grace. Total separation from God would mean non-being, and the Christian has to understand (unintuitive though it may be, considering the way these things are often talked about) that it is more merciful of God that the damned exist, even in that state, than that they be annihilated utterly. Obviously the damned do not see things this way, but that is an example of their error.Also, in an article on divine impassibility, David Bentley Hart, my favorite living Eastern Orthodox theologian, comments briefly on Hell. The article (No Shadow of Turning) is worth reading in its entirety, because impassibility is vital, but rarely talked about. Here's the excerpt:"Another way of saying this is that God has—indeed is—only one act: the single ardent movement of this infinite love, delight, and peace. Indeed, so insistent are many of the fathers on the simplicity and singleness of the divine essence—that is, the trinitarian event—that they will not acknowledge that God in any literal sense ever tastes of any other "feeling" than this love. Even the wrath of God in Scripture is a metaphor, suitable to our feeble understanding, one which describes not the action of God towards us, but what happens when the inextinguishable fervency of God's love towards us is rejected; according to Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, Isaac of Ninevah and others, even hell itself is not a divine work, but the reality we have wrought within ourselves by our perverse refusal to open out—as God himself eternally has done—in love, for God and others, for when we have so sealed ourselves up within ourselves, the fire of divine love cannot transform and enliven us, but only assail us as an external chastisement:50 For our God is a consuming fire, and the pathos of our rage cannot interrupt the apatheia of his love."Anyway, thanks for writing this blog Leah! As a former atheist now converting to Catholicism, reading your posts is a unique, and rather weird, experience. If my views hadn't become all wacky two years ago, I'd agree now with almost everything you post on here, except perhaps regarding certain Harry Potter fanfiction…

  • Elizabeth K.

    taosquirrel, that was a great post. The passage from Hart (one of my favorite writers as well) reminded me of the ending of the C.S. Lewis' Narnia series, where Aslan is trying to break through the inwardness of some of the characters and they can't hear him. He isn't angry, but they perceive his presence, when they do, as extremely uncomfortable and, if I recall right, as pain.

  • @taosquirrel: thanks for delurking, especially with some nice recommendations. What led you from atheism to Catholicism?

  • taosquirrel

    Oh that's a long story. Will you be at the joint debate tonight? I'd love to chat at some point.(My username doesn't make it difficult to guess who I am, haha.)

  • Yup, I will. (though I didn't realize who you were til just now!)