February 28, 2011

no surprise here...

My Political Views
I am a left social libertarian
Left: 4.33, Libertarian: 6.47

Political Spectrum Quiz
My Culture War Stance
Score: -8.18

February 27, 2011

Jesus' Love

It would never cross his mind to hate us even when we failed to mind his cross.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 22, 2011

Taking a Constitutional

I am happy to see that a group of diocesan chancellors has issued a response to the claims of the ACI and South Carolina that Title IV grants unconstitutional powers to the Presiding Bishop. I am also pleased to see that even as a legal amateur I anticipated a number of the arguments in defense of the authority of the PB that appear in this paper. The strangest of these claims by the ACI and SC is that the Presiding Bishop requires permission to exercise tasks assigned to her in the Constitution and Canons, based on the restriction of bishops’ exercise of their office to the diocese for which they are consecrated. The present paper defends the PB’s right, and indeed duty, to carry out these responsibilities, and there is no indication that permission is needed to do something mandated by law.

Good work. (Note, the link to the paper in the Episcopal New Service release is incorrect. Use this one.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 21, 2011

Of Fallacy and Falsehood

One of the things I have found so unsatisfactory in discussions on sexuality is the fallaciousness that makes up so much of the argument from the conservative perspective. I am not saying that the conclusions the conservatives reach are necessarily false — but that their arguments often are not really arguments. That is, they may begin with true premises and reach true conclusions, but the mode of getting from one to the other is not properly formed, and fails to prove what it intends to prove. One can, after all, reach a true conclusion by faulty means — but proof of the truth of a conclusion must rest on a train of what Hooker called “demonstrative reason.”

Let me give a simple example of a fallacious argument with a true conclusion. Let us for the sake of simplicity accept A and B as true. (It is admitted that a cat can lose a leg or two and still be a cat!)

A: Cats have four legs.
B: Augusta has four legs.
C: Augusta is a cat.

I hope you can see the problem with this syllogism. C is quite true (you can see from the photo!) but it does not follow from A and B by legitimate logic. It happens to be true, but not because of the argument! The proper syllogism, reaching a true conclusion if both A and B are true would be:

A: Cats have four legs.
B: Augusta is a cat.
C: Augusta has four legs.

So the problem with logical fallacies isn’t that they might not express a truth from time to time — much like Alice’s stopped clock which is right twice a day.* The problem is that a fallacious argument doesn’t actually prove anything, does not establish a truth by reasonable means.

There are, of course, literally dozens of logical fallacies — and you can find helpful summaries of them, with all their fancy Latin names, on any number of web-sites simply by searching for the terms logical and fallacy. Those who have followed the debates and discussions on sexuality will no doubt see how often certain of these fallacies are employed.

Perhaps the principal fallacy is the one that assumes the conclusion as a premise: “Same-sex marriage is impossible because marriage requires a man and a woman.” This may simply be a prevailing weakness of being a “reasserter” — some of whom become quite defensive when asked to do more than simply to reassert, and to demonstrate the truth of their premises as well as their conclusions.

Also common are the twin fallacies of reliance upon length of time a belief is held, or the number of persons who hold it. Neither, of course, proves something to be true; the antiquity or popularity of a tradition may simply show just how wrong people can be, once a truly reasonable examination of the premise or conclusion is undertaken.

The reason I raise this is that I long for a decent argument, but often find myself caught up either in a Monty Python-like cycle of mere contradiction, or facing a tangle of assorted logical fallacies.

Nor, of course, does simply noting the fallaciousness of an argument disprove the truth of a proposition; the problem is that argument requires more than a simple train of assertion and contradiction, but engagement with the substance of the premises to test their soundness. This is to say nothing of the occasional actual falsehood, or distortion of the facts either by carefully ignoring any evidence that doesn’t agree with the premise, or amplifying the evidence that goes beyond what is warranted. That is another difficulty entirely.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

*Update: the famed clock is described in one of the "Difficulties" Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) prepared for The Rectory Umbrella, a miscellany of short occasional pieces and drawings. It is, of course, exactly the sort of clock that Alice would have. I believe it can be seen in Tenniel's illustrations of her entry into Looking Glass House, on the chimney piece. The LGH version has a very snarky expression, no doubt very satisfied with itself at its precise accuracy twice a day. The advantage, of course, to Alice, is that between them she has the ability to be sure of the time precisely four times a day. How to do that? In LC's example, the clock says 8:00, and all you need do is "keep your eye fixed on your clock, and the very moment it is right it will be eight o'clock." To further protests, he advises, "That'll do... the more you argue the farther you get from the point, so it will be as well to stop." Which indeed sounds familiar.

Post 800: From yesterday's sermon

What are the grapes or grain
that you could leave untouched
for others to be nourished by?
Perhaps it is the wheat and grapes you leave behind
that go to make
the bread and wine that will become
the Body and the Blood of God.

What extra miles have you trod down,
or coats or cloaks provided —
and has your cheek once felt
the sting of an unearned slap,
and yet you’ve not returned it
with a blow or protest?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 20, 2011

Thought for 02.20.11

Why is it so often the case that people who offer the challenge, “Where in the Bible does it say X?” are conservative Christians who should know perfectly well where in the Bible it says X but apparently don’t know, and who when shown where in the Bible it says X immediately try to explain it away is irrelevant, immaterial, and unimportant?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 16, 2011

Forests, Trees, and Finding the Way

Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire, Jennifer Wright Knust. HarperOne 2011.

Jennifer Wright Knust’s Unprotected Texts does not explore a great deal of new ground, but the ground it explores it covers with considerable thoroughness, in a few cases with more than is needed. Writing from both her expertise as a biblical scholar and her life experience, Knust sets out to demonstrate that the Bible neither is nor should be a simple answer book for complex moral issues involving sexuality. Her primary method is to document the considerable concrete inconsistencies in the biblical text, as well as the seeming lack of discomfort the text evinces when particular biblical personalities stray from the purported strait and narrow.

She is much more successful, persuasive, and on firmer ground, with the former approach than the latter. The Bible is inconsistent or unclear on a number of topics related to sexuality, and while it shouldn’t take a scholar to point that out, it is helpful for one to do so, in particular to the extent Knust does. The second approach is far less useful — as is evident from a number of reviews written from a more conservative perspective than mine. That Rahab the harlot or Ruth the Moabite are lauded as persons will not be seen as an endorsement either of harlotry or premarital sex by anyone disposed to see these actions as sinful. Nor does the Scripture appear to endorse the actions themselves — or particularly to condemn them for that matter. This supports Knust’s larger case that we will not find easy answers to questions such as, “Is premarital sex immoral?” in a neat table on page 732 of a floppy Bible, next to the one for Biblical Weights and Measures. (Knust herself offers a number of tables that lay out biblical inconsistencies with great clarity.) But for a modern audience already well-settled in the cozy myth of a “biblical teaching on sexuality” more will be required than Knust offers to unsettle them and remove the scales from their eyes. It will take a brow of flint to confront the obdurate mind-set that looks but doesn’t see, hears but does not understand.

In spite of the weight of scholarship, insufficient as it might be in the long run, the book is a fairly easy read; it is divided and subdivided into fairly short sections with catchy subheadings. As the argument is not so much cumulative as a mosaic of individual elements, each of which highlights the central premise, the book is easily picked up or set down at leisure.

Although I resonate with Knust’s overall argument, I take some exception to a few of her particular readings. For example, when Paul counsels the Corinthians (1 Cor 6) not to be joined with prostitutes, I do not think Paul’s use of the word member is in reference to the sexual organ of an individual man. (The English member used for the male sexual organ is a relic of Victorian squeamishness, and a confusing word choice still with us in the NRSV, where member has another primary meaning; a better translation would be “meat” or “flesh” as in the KJV. The “member” of which Paul speaks is a different word entirely.) I must also note that transliteration of Hebrew is inconsistent, and in one case in error.

To the general reader, however, the greatest disappointment will be the last full chapter before the short conclusion. It includes an exhaustive, and somewhat exhausting, exploration of everything you ever wanted to know about circumcision, and much you didn’t want to know; and knowing, wonder why it is of help to know it. As such it seems to be at a remove from the primary concerns of the book. And in spite of the rousing coda which follows it, this long chapter comes as a bit of a letdown.

Still, Knust has some important things to say, and they are well worth hearing. It is unfortunate that much of what she says will fail to persuade those more comfortable with simple answers to complex questions. There is a difference between not seeing the forest for the trees and not seeing the trees for the forest — in this case, the “forest” as the largely unfounded belief that there is a “biblical teaching on sexuality,” which blinds most people to the actual complexity and richness of the biblical text. Knust’s book highlights these complexities, but not to the extent or with the clarity to shatter the myth once and for all. Some will insist — in spite of the detailed evidence Knust lays out — that there is still some clearly discernible sex ethic to be found in Scripture.

And to some extent, there is — just not the one they think. Knust is not claiming that there is no help from Scripture when it comes to sex. What she affirms is that the Bible will not give us easy or specific answers to the questions now being asked of it. It is not, as she suggests in her concluding chapter, about physical perfection but faithfulness. It is about treating the Bible not as a mere answer book but as a rich history and revelation, from which guidance will be gained only by an approach that engages with it as it is, finding the way through the forest by minding every tree and discerning every path. And the same goes for life itself, doesn’t it?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

This review is part of the TLC Book Tour for this volume.

Thought for 2.16.11

I believe the proposed Anglican Covenant is more problematical in the things it might lead us not to do than in the things that might be done to us.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
ps Blame (or credit) Mimi, who brought this thought to mind in the comment thread below.


In forming a "tighter" Anglican Communion, whether on the basis of a Covenant or any other process, it is good to remember that there is always a danger of creating or further instituting an "us / them" regime. Even the Chicago / Lambeth Quadrilateral, for all its impulse towards breadth and inclusion, created clear boundaries. (A "quadrilateral" as Huntington used the word meant an area defended by four fortresses!) If our institutional reality is an incarnation of "us against the world" I'm not so sure it is a Gospel institution. To model the love of Christ — and his Incarnation — surely it must be "us for the world."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
inspired by Christopher's comment on the previous post

February 14, 2011

Compare and Contrast: the Covenant

Inspired by a conversation with Dr. Katherine Grieb, and my own creeping suspicion that folks are still reacting (and abreacting) to clauses in the earlier drafts of the proposed Anglican Covenant that are no longer there, I have prepared a handy parallel "disharmony of the versions" to show some of the movement that has taken place over the course of the various drafts. It can be accessed through this link. You can read on line or download the pdf from there. I take full responsibility for any errors in transcription, but have made every effort to give an accurate reflection of what the Covenant said and says.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 10, 2011

Some Transatlantic Dialogue

Theo Hobson of The Spectator has presented a lively and chatty interview with Bishop of New York Mark Sisk, on the state of things in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church. Thanks to Episcopal Cafe for pointing it out.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Thought for 2.10.11

A bishop is called to guard the faith of the church, but that doesn’t mean keeping it in prison.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 4, 2011

Playing our Song

The Instruments of Communion provide background music for the real life of the Anglican Communion. 

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 2, 2011

Presentation Anthem from the Brothers

At the end of day, when the brothers gather in Convocation, this is one of our common settings of the Nunc Dimittis, the Song of Simeon. In this video from a few years back, we remember some of our departed brethren. The text and music is from my setting of Mountain Vespers.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

February 1, 2011

Thought for 2.1.11

It’s one thing not to be able to see the forest for the trees, and another not to be able to see the trees for the forest. 

The first is a metaphor for getting so caught up on details as to miss the big picture. The latter, a more pernicious illness, is getting so caught up in a Big Idea (or worse, a Big Lie) that you no longer can see the details that refute the idea. 

This is a prevailing fault of those who misunderstand the adage, “The exception proves the rule” to mean the opposite of what it means to those who understand that proves means “tests.” If there are exceptions, it’s not a rule.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG