Thursday, January 12, 2017

Addison’s disease (Updated)


Addison Hodges Hart is a Christian author, former Catholic priest, and the brother of theologian David Bentley Hart.  (From here on out I’ll refer to David and Addison by their first names, simply for ease of reference rather than by way of presuming any familiarity.)  A reader calls my attention to the Fans of David Bentley Hart page at Facebook, wherein Addison takes issue with my recent article criticizing his brother’s universalism.  His loyalty to his brother is admirable.   The substance of his response, not so much.  Non-existent, in fact.  For Addison has nothing whatsoever to say in reply to the content of my criticisms.  Evidently, it is their very existence that irks him.
    
Addison confesses an interest in my “motives” for criticizing his brother’s views.  Well, that’s easy to explain.  People have been asking me to comment on David’s article ever since it appeared.  David is a very prominent figure in Christian theology, and the position he defends is, in my view and that of many other Christians, seriously misguided.  So, I judged it worthwhile to respond to him.  The fact that I had recently written up a series of posts on the doctrine of hell made it a fitting time to do so.  And there you have it.

But it seems that this rather mundane academic and theological motivation does not constitute a good enough explanation for Addison.  No, he is convinced that there must be something deeper going on.  Since I’m still on winter break and can afford to waste the time, I decided to scroll through David’s Facebook fan page to find out what my true motivations are.  Turns out that Addison’s proposal is that I am “obsessed” and “hung up” on his brother, regard him as a “threat,” and that it is to this “loopy” “fixation” of mine on David that one must look to find the true impetus behind my recent article.  It also turns out that Addison has as of Thursday afternoon devoted, by my count, no fewer than seven posts across two Facebook discussion threads over the last couple of days to developing this theme.

I suppose I should add at this point that, yes, Addison is a grown man, and not a thirteen year old girl with a new iPod.  Needless to say, there is indeed a “fixation” here, and it ain’t mine.

In point of fact, the last time I had anything to say about David was almost a year ago, in a review of his book The Experience of God that appeared in Pro Ecclesia.  And what sort of obsessive, loopy nastiness did I there fling at him?  Why, stinging barbs like this:

David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God has gotten a lot of praise, and deservedly, because it is a good book.  Hart is very smart, enormously well read, writes elegantly, is unafraid to question academic orthodoxy, and has a feel for where the deepest issues lie in the contemporary dispute between theism and atheism.

End quote.  And then there was that time when my mean-spirited fixation on David led me to defend him against Jerry Coyne

To be sure, I have indeed also been hard on David from time to time.  The last time was over a year and a half ago, in a couple of articles in which I was merely responding to a vituperative piece David had written about me in First Things.  Indeed, in every single case in which I have had harsh words for David, it has only ever been in response to polemical remarks he had made either about me personally or about Thomists in general.  David, after all, is no shrinking violet.  He can dish it out with tremendous gusto.  I have merely kindly tried to give him the opportunity to see whether he can take it as well.  Iron sharpening iron and all that.

In any event, after our most recent contretemps David and I had, it seemed to me, buried the hatchet.  I have no desire to dig it up again, and my recent piece on David’s universalism, though frank in its criticisms, is not abusive at all.  So whatever retaliatory snark I have directed David’s way in the past is irrelevant.

I will say this much for Addison.  His behavior is not as juvenile as that of many of his fellow commenters.  Here’s a sample of the other shrewd rejoinders to my arguments, generated by the brain trust that is the Fans of David Bentley Hart Facebook page:

Thomists pounding the head of a pin into its constituent atoms. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Until Feser agree's to take the Voight-Kampff test I will continue to assume he is a google AI algorithm, but at least he uses his enormous data processing abilities to fight Pope Francis's pagan proclamations of mercy by defending the Sates right to kill bad people in his upcoming book.

I don't think anyone here speculated about hidden motivations even though it's obvious Feser has a pathological psycho-sexual fetish for David and spends his nights writing Thomistic erotic fan fiction about him.

hey, lets' have some more respect for the philosophy teacher at the third most prestigious community college in los angeles county.

Etc. etc.

Back during our last exchange, David gently had to advise some of his more overenthusiastic admirers against “trading insults, and not very witty ones.”  Seems the Facebook guys didn’t get the memo.

I know what you’re thinking.  Sure, this kind of stuff is mildly annoying, but why call attention to it?  Isn’t it better ignored?

Absolutely, except for this:  When otherwise intelligent and educated people respond to rational arguments against their position, not with counterarguments but rather with the kind of stuff quoted above, one does rather suspect that that’s because that’s the best they’ve got.  And that’s well worth calling attention to.

UPDATE 1/13: In the combox below, Addison Hart and David Hart respond, and I reply to their responses. 

85 comments:

  1. Ed, I love your posts and books (although I have my quibbles here and there), and I also deeply admire Hart's work (with occasional caveats). But, I think you should be above this. Don't give Addison's (inefficient, in any sense that matters) comments any attention; don't let a worthy subject matter be taken off course. In fact, I hope that you won't even respond to this (or anything else that appears under this thread); I hope that you will just move on to bigger and better things. (Fyi, as an admirer of Hart, I consulted the FB fan page that someone posted on your site within the past few days, and I immediately got the hell away from it upon the discovery of the overwhelming presence of vitriol and inanity within it. I suspect many others do the same.)

    Best in Christ, stay away from what is petty, and fight the good fight (we need you!),

    Skyliner

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  2. "Feser has a pathological psycho-sexual fetish for David and spends his nights writing Thomistic erotic fan fiction about him."

    They wish!

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  3. Hi Skyliner,

    Sorry to disappoint you with a response, but here goes. I think you're missing the point, which is precisely, as you say, that "a worthy subject matter [should not] be taken off course." I'm putting it back on course by reminding people that Hart and I had buried the hatchet and that my post on Hart's universalism was non-polemical. Hence there is no justification for trying to make this about personalities, as Addison and some others are, regrettably, trying to do.

    If it were merely some anonymous loudmouth who had made the remarks, it wouldn't be worth replying to them. But it was Hart's own brother who made them, and I imagine he would have some influence on how Hart himself might perceive things. Hence if Hart himself is to engage seriously with the criticisms (as some of his own readers have said they hope he will) it seems to me important that he and his more serious admirers not be misled about the nature of what I said. So, it seemed that a reminder was in order.

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  4. Sean,

    Ugh, c'mon man, I'm about to go get some dinner! ;-)

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  5. Plus, Skyliner, you can't seriously expect me to let a bad pun go to waste.

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  6. Isn't it also the case people just don't post anything of worth on fb? I have never seen anything very intellectual written on fb. I've barely seen much intellectual linked to on fb.

    The political and social insinuations that some on that page made are futile: you can always just make them right back. If Y thinks X is only saying something because he is a conservative or reactionary or whatever then X can just as easily reply that Y is only saying that because he is a liberal or leftie or whatever.

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  7. Hi, a lot of those comments were jokes that were not intended to be taken seriously. This really is beneath the tone of the original conversation, we wouldn't discuss your opinions if we didn't think your opinions were worth reading in the first place.

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  8. Hello Anonymous,

    I think that's true. FB interaction seems to have the downside of blog comboxes without the upside. Its ultra-short form seems to encourage not just snark -- a little bit of which can be OK when balanced out by substance in the course of a longer thought-out piece -- but a spiral of nothing but snarky one-upmanship with more substantive remarks getting pushed aside. The commenter can always justify this behavior to himself by thinking "Well, who can expect me to say anything more substantive? It's just a FB comment." And yet that doesn't stop him from drawing conclusions that could be justified only by a longer and more serious train of thought.

    Unfortunately, such interaction nevertheless sometimes seems to some extent to mold the opinions even of academics. E.g the recent Rea/Swinburne controversy was essentially FB driven, with the "correct" opinion among a segment of academic philosophers being molded by a herd of foul-mouthed mutual "like"-ers.

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  9. we wouldn't discuss your opinions if we didn't think your opinions were worth reading in the first place.

    Hmm, well, with maybe two exceptions, I didn't see any actual discussion of them at all, unless you count the kind of stuff I quoted as "discussion."

    Nice back pedaling, though.

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  10. Somewhat off topic, but AH Hart's book on symbolism in the Gospel of John is really great.

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  11. Hey, Edward:

    Out of curiosity, I was wondering what your stance is on participating in public debates. I have seen dozens with WLC and that, frankly, is getting repetitive and he has some major shortcomings. Not that this is expected to ever happen, but what would you say if you were ever approached to a public debate against a Krauss, Harris, Coyne, Carroll, etc? Or do you believe it would be no use? After viewing many of WLC's outings, I think the latter may be a fair conclusion.

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  12. "I don't think anyone here speculated about hidden motivations even though it's obvious Feser has a pathological psycho-sexual fetish for David and spends his nights writing Thomistic erotic fan fiction about him..."

    Wow, that's so specific and thought out...

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  13. I once got into a "debate" with Addison Hart on FB. He lost his head, called me an a**hole and told me to kill myself. That's the kind of intellectual level we're dealing with.

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  14. Do you have evidence of this event, Joseph?

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  15. I see that Donald Trump isn't the only person who responds to other's comments about him in a thin-skinned manner. Anyway, let's be clear. My own comments were not "seven" in number, they were three, and the rest were back-and-forth responses that, for the most part, were meant humorously and weren't simply aimed at you.

    Joseph (whoever you are), my remark to you in a very different thread was a statement that, if you followed the nihilistic reasoning you were displaying in that thread to the end, you would have no reason not to kill yourself. That was my point, and it wasn't an invitation. Yes, I called you an a-hole, because -- after your persistent trolling -- that's exactly how you were coming across, and my patience is limited.

    Since my comments have been lifted from a Facebook thread without my knowledge, here are the four most offensive remarks in full:

    "One gets the rather pathetic impression that Feser views himself as a latter-day Athanasius doing battle with a new heresiarch. Ah, well. It's not my fight. But, lordy, how tedious."

    "It seems to me that, if you consistently dislike what another writes, you learn to bypass his writings and move on. Thus my crack above about "Athanasius" doing battle with a "new heresiarch". Feser must truly believe that David is a threat for him to keep mining his articles and books for subtle and not-so-subtle "heresies" (a word he has actually used, with minimal caution, this time around). Now, I confess, I find most "heresy-hunters" and apologists (not all) dull reading and I've long been disused to bothering with their stuff. But Feser seems to be hung up on David for reasons known best to himself, and there is something telling about his need to do little cut-and-paste pictures of my brother to accompany his pieces. Which makes me wonder, would Athanasius have done cut-and-paste pictures of Arius if he had had the technology? That's as deep as I care to go about this, really."

    "Of course, some of us question his "motives". I couldn't care less that Feser disagrees with David. Hell, I disagree with David occasionally (usually about writers he likes and I don't and vice versa, but that's irrelevant). And one disagreement/debate or two or maybe even three are fine and dandy. But this guy comes across as obsessed. Maybe he isn't. Maybe he just gets carried away. But it's so frequent as to appear, well, just a bit peculiar to an outside observer. It's like the troll who just can't let go of a pet irritant and must make rejoinder after rejoinder ad nauseam. I don't need to defend my brother and I don't, but I'd still find such persistence a bit of a fixation if, say, the roles were reversed. If David went after Feser as much as Feser goes after David, I'd take him aside and -- in older brother fashion -- tell him it was beginning to look odd. And, sorry, Ed, it is."

    "Oh, I take him seriously enough on occasion. But his fixation on David is starting to verge on the loopy."

    So, there they all are. I wasn't "defending" David or representing him. His opinions are not mine. Lastly, I certainly have no interest in engaging the "content" of your blogs. Why would I? I understand your perspective and it's what I would expect from a dedicated Thomistic thinker. But, that said, I still believe that my comments in those threads correctly indicate something more, and your quickness to write an entire blog about how abused you're feeling on a Facebook page only strengthens my opinion.

    Lastly, I write fast. My Thursday afternoon wasn't consumed with dashing off comments on Facebook. I spent, I'm sure, a lot less time doing that than you have writing a blog about it.

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  16. AH, no, you abused me because you had no response to my challenges on theodicy. Your personal abuse was totally uncalled for. However, given that most theologians move in a closed circle where they are never challenged I was not wholly surprised, nor am I by this latest outburst against Fesser. I notice that arguments do not seem to be a strong point in the Hart family, more the snorting patrician 'hrummpphh' and 'how can anyone take this ill-read ignoramus seriously?' with the standard refusal to participate in actual debate.

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  17. Dear Dr. Feser,

    I'm one of the commenters in that Facebook group you linked to. And (with all due respect) I'd reiterate what I'd said in that thread -- that you've missed the point Dr. DB Hart was making. God willing, I shall respond in the thread of the earlier post.

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  18. I have a question, Ed.

    Why are all of your comments, in regard to the David Bentley Hart (and apparently his family), so pointed? Disagreement is one thing, but you attack Hart with the same confrontational zeal that you assert towards  writers, such as Coyne and his crew of radical fanatics (as it appears to me). One of my favorite, recent, theological works is "The Beauty of the Infinite;" it's one of David Bentley Hart's better works, in which, you rather flippantly dismiss on the account of 'evolutionary psychology' in one of your observations of the book without giving an actual critique of Hart's work. Hart considers himself a "classical theist," but you seem reluctant to take sides with him when it comes to the larger spectrum of theistic thinker in academia. You seem to be very soft -- or give the sense of admiration -- towards writers, such as William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, and Richard Swinburne (all of whom you have grave disagreements with). Admittedly, you do give these men their fair share of criticism; and right so, but you attack Hart's work with a level of intensity and strife that doesn't make much sense to me at the end of the day. As you've acknowledge before, both you and Hart agree on far more then you disagree upon, which cannot be said about most of your (non-Thomists) theistic opponents. Moreover, I do understand "some" of your disagreements with David, but why bring Addison (his family) into this obviously pointed discussion over something said on Facebook? Comments made extempore on forms, such as the one mentioned above are totally different -- as you well know -- than anything prepared or formulated.

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  19. Joseph, are you a gnu? I don't think most of us here are interested in a gnu using this dispute to try to score points. Whatever DBH's faults, I'm sure many, including Feser himself as he says in this very post, think he has said much of worth.

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  20. Cole, yours is a "have you stopped beating your wife?" question and Ed shouldn't waste any time on it as it is merely smuggling in the sleazy-motives ad hominem. If Ed has spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. Otherwise, hold the baloney.

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  21. Addison,

    Lastly, I certainly have no interest in engaging the "content" of your blogs. Why would I?

    I don’t know. Charity?

    I’ve expressed my admiration for your brother’s work here before, but I’ve found that admiration tested by precisely the attitude your comment conveys. It often seems that any criticism of his writing is so obviously stupid that it would be beneath his dignity to give a direct reply.

    You evidently understand Thomists so well that you can predict what they will say in any given situation, but it’s also evident that the understanding is not mutual. Surely you can see how a dismissive refusal to engage could create the impression that there is nothing there to understand?

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  22. @ Cole

    You seem to be very soft -- or give the sense of admiration -- towards writers, such as William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, and Richard Swinburne (all of whom you have grave disagreements with).

    WLC, Plantinga, and Swinburne just make arguments. They don't try to make you feel stupid and evil, while characterizing your position in the most tendentious terms available. For instance:

    Not that Feser shows any interest in the scriptural issues. His argument against “puppies in paradise” is reducible to two points: that the final vision of God must be entirely an experience of the rational intellect, and that animals entirely lack a rational soul. As to the latter issue, Feser’s position is just doctrinaire Aristotelian boilerplate, uninformed by thousands of fascinating and sobering cognitive studies of animals, largely beside the point, and somewhat morally obtuse. That can be deferred for now, though. A more basic problem is his understanding of the human knowledge of God. The issue is not whether animals can “see God” (in a limited mode, they already do, for all seeing—as Nicholas of Cusa says—is already a partial vision of the divine); rather, it is whether we can see God apart from cosmic nature. In The System, a medievalist of my acquaintance likes to say, “God is a species of discursive knowledge, the ultimate Concept,” while the vision of God is essentially ratiocinative, a kind of eternal Q.E.D. For Feser, certainly, the final human knowledge of God is indissolubly bound to a capacity for abstraction.

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  23. To be fair, it’s true that not everyone is worth arguing with. Conversations with new atheists or their counterparts the fundamentalists rarely go anywhere, obviously. And perhaps it’s easy for classical theists in particular to develop a sense of futility, when confronting the full unquestioning weight of modernity. For what it’s worth, I thought most of the responses to your brother’s recent article on the conflict between Christianity and capitalism managed to miss his point entirely.

    I would strongly suggest to you, however, that Dr. Feser and his regular commenters are worth talking to. I’ve been hanging around here for several years, and I find they respond to arguments pretty well.

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  24. Although I tend to side with David Bentley Hart in the substance of the eschatological debate, I'm grateful Dr. Feser is entering into the debate. Hart's articles on the subject are provacative, and if they invoke a spirited debate, good! If David Hart responds to defend and clarify his position, even better.

    Personally, I look forward to these Feser's critiques almost as much as I disagree with them.

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  25. People find it insufferable to be on the receiving end of Hart's barbs because (at least in popular works) he always casts himself as above the nuts and bolts of discourse and disagreement. Feser's Thomism is a corruption of Aquinas's thought; it is in fact complicit with modernity; it contradicts studies on animal intelligence: these things can all just be asserted. They don't need to be discussed. If you want to dispute or qualify his sweeping claims, that is because you are small-minded and less well-read than DBH. You, like a robot, are automatically kicking into gear, because you "perceive an offense to The System."

    I think that's just a poisonous way to treat interlocutors. For two interlocutors to behave that way is for them to speak past each other and hold each other in low regard.

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  26. I don't know. Here are Feser's fans criticizing Hart for strong rhetoric. That's a bizarre starting point, not because it's unfair, but because Feser outpaces everyone in invective. It's certainly not true that Feser has responded harshly only to oh-so-nasty things Hart has said about him. The first time Hart mentioned Feser in FT, it was in response to a condescending and frankly clumsily argued attack on Hart. If Feser thinks his criticisms were stated mildly and respectfully in that article, he's delusional.

    Anyway, I like strong rhetoric, if it's witty. Hart wins the contest there.

    Then the Feserians say Hart doesn't make arguments. Is that a joke? Feser claims that, but in every instance Hart makes a very clear argument, and often an extremely subtle one. The eschatology columns are a good example: they are based on patristic readings of scripture, the actual content of scripture, and a traditional picture of the eschatological knowledge of God based on Maximus and others. Given what Feser had written in that silly article on the Witherspoon site (did any of you read it or notice how insulting it was?) Hart's criticisms of Feser were perfectly fair. Maybe Eddie doesn't like getting as good as he gives, in which case he's all bluster and no spine.

    Whether Feser always follows an argument or not is his affair. He certainly failed to follow the argument about universalism, and the sort of chopped up version he gives of it in his blog is either intentionally misleading or just the result of careless reading. I don't care which, since I don't think Feser understands theological tradition well enough to get into these debates. I also know that Hart only writes for publication, and that the full texts of the universalism lectures will be printed next year. My cousin went to them, and they do in fact deal at length on the scriptural issues, the nature of personal identity, and so forth. So you'll all be able to judge the argument in its entirety then. Or someone could ask him to answer questions for this site or some other--he's done that before with other sites.

    But if the Feser fans are going to complain about his manner or his strong rhetoric--oh, man, that's ridiculous.

    By the way, is there any way to record one's name in these comboxes without having a damned URL? I don't have one, so I have to keep signing on as Anonymous. Jim Henney's the name.

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  27. @ Jim

    It's certainly not true that Feser has responded harshly only to oh-so-nasty things Hart has said about him. The first time Hart mentioned Feser in FT, it was in response to a condescending and frankly clumsily argued attack on Hart. If Feser thinks his criticisms were stated mildly and respectfully in that article, he's delusional.

    Is this (a response to this) the article to which you're referring? So far as I can tell, this would be the first mention of Feser by Hart in FT.

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  28. Addison,

    I don't think it's fair to question Dr. Feser's motives and suggest he is obsessed with DHB or overly aggressive towards him. I'm not surprised at all that Dr. Feser received multiple requests to respond to David's essay on Universalism. In fact, after reading the essay (which blew me away), one of my first thoughts was "I'd love to see how Ed Feser would respond!."

    I say this as an unapologetic DBH "fanboy:" it's refreshing to see someone of Dr. Feser's intellectual pedigree take on DBH and probe for weaknesses in his arguments. And he does so without a trace of malice or contempt, but rather with that systematic rigor which characterizes almost every blog post he writes. I do get the sense that Dr. Feser is not quite as impressed with DBH as a thinker as his ardent fanbase (which includes me) might insist, but that's ok. Ed is pretty darn sharp himself.

    In short, we have two excellent philosophers who represent the best of Christian theology, approaching contentious issues from differing viewpoints (East Vs. West; Orthodox vs. Catholic; Platonic vs. Aristotelian) and neither will meekly concede the argument. I say enjoy the show.

    (Also I think the photoshop jobs are kinda funny myself)

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  29. This is David Hart. I do not know if my name will appear on the post, because I find the "choose an identity" function below somewhat difficult to fathom, since I am a cyber-age moron. (Even finding this article after I had been directed to it proved a challenge.)
    For the record, I have always liked the back-and-forth fisticuff exchanges. If they seem personal, I regret that. My memory of events differs from Dr Feser's, in that I seem to think he is the one who always throws the first punch. Perspectives vary. But neither of us is exactly a meek writer (which may be why neither of us is likely to inherit the earth). Apparently some people do not like the tone of some of my writings. I cannot help that, since the tone is not going to change. By the same token, those who find Dr. Feser distressing had better either stop reading him or accept the inevitable.
    I am not sure what goes on on the Facebook page, since I do not have an account, and only just learned of the page's existence a little while back. But I imagine that, like all open forums, it attracts the wise and the foolish in equal numbers. My brother's remarks as recorded here seem not very vicious to me, but I can't speak for any of the others. I think writing a blog on those remarks is a little on the oversensitive side, but that is not my affair.
    Also, for the record, yes, Dr Feser's reading of my lecture seems extremely poor to me, and I am surprised at how many of its points he misses. Perhaps I bear some of the responsibility for that, in that it is a very condensed lecture, each part of which points towards a later lecture. But the responsibility is not all mine. I do not write for blog-sites, not because it is beneath me but because I have only a certain amount of energy these days, which I direct toward writing for print. I am very mercenary and like to get paid. But I am happy to debate the matter of universalism later, perhaps after the book comes out.
    God bless you all. Try not to stay out of jail.

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  30. Try to stay out of jail, I mean. A bad joke badly delivered is a tragedy.

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  31. I guess I'll say that I think Feser's "A Christian Hart, A Humean Head" is rather mild and respectful. Its criticisms are also probative. Hart's original response was seriously and crucially ambiguous. It was not clear what strand of natural law theory he was critiquing, because there is no strand of natural law theory that holds all of the views he attributed to the view he was professedly targeting. And somehow--Feser was entirely right in his Public Discourse article responding to Hart's second post--Hart's reply managed to replicate the same ambiguities. (I think the most probable interpretation of Hart is that he meant to critique the new natural lawyers but didn't know what they believed and thus thought that they shared certain views with other natural lawyers that they do not).

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  32. Oh, and I meant to add:
    Dr Feser, this is genuinely meant as friendly advice, so please take it that way. I know biblical studies are not your field, so many of the fine points need not register with you. But, before quoting proof texts on things like hell, you might want to check on, first, what the actual Hebrew or Greek says; second, what the scholarship on the language used is; and, third, what the history of the text is. Quoting a prophet who had no notion of the sort of afterlife in question here, and using the wildly inaccurate English rendering when doing so, is not one of the better moments in your argument. And, again, the New Testament (in the Greek) contains three verses that might imply eternal punishment, but that need not. It contains considerably more that suggest quite the opposite, and more clearly so. If you would rather not wait for the book, I can send you a list of many of them by email. And maybe you could read Gregory of Nyssa's treatment of many of them in your spare hours.
    Also, the Photoshop stuff does strike me as a mistake. It trivializes your arguments. But to each his own.

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  33. Greg,

    We seriously disagree. The response to Feser's article was stuffed into a 1500 word column, but it was right on the mark in its critiques. I honestly think you guys who din't get what he was saying simply didn't want to. And I, for the record, don't have a very high opinion of Feser's philosophical gifts. He's a good summarizer, not the best reader.

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  34. Cole,

    Why exactly should Dr. Feser treat DBH with kid gloves? If anything, it's a *good* sign that he will dissect an argument from Jerry Coyne the same way he would an argument from DBH; that, if anything, shows he is concerned with the arguments themselves, and not the person making them.

    I find DBH more persuasive on this issue, but it's a bit silly to expect Dr. Feser to just roll over in fawning praise, or even dial back the rhetoric out of fear for causing offense. Neither man is shy about dishing out a jab or two, and neither could be said to have a glass jaw. Again, just enjoy the show.

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  35. Good God, that's DB Hart's music!

    (for all the poor saps like me who grew up watching "professional" wrestling)

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  36. DB Hart--does this mean you're writing a book about universalism? When will it come out?

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  37. @ Jim

    We seriously disagree. The response to Feser's article was stuffed into a 1500 word column, but it was right on the mark in its critiques.

    Well, serious disagreements are sometimes very difficult, nigh impossible, to resolve, but if your confidence is proportioned to the strength of your position, then this one should be easy. I claimed:

    It was not clear what strand of natural law theory he was critiquing, because there is no strand of natural law theory that holds all of the views he attributed to the view he was professedly targeting.

    This is a general claim, and thus I open myself to possible refutation: you can vindicate your rejection of it by citing an example of a natural law theorist who is the unambiguous subject of Hart's original critique. If you can't do that, then you will hopefully understand if I don't take seriously your insistence that Hart's original critique was "right on the mark" and that the ambiguities Feser saw in it were non-existent.

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  38. David Hart and Addison Hart,

    Hello and welcome, gentlemen, and thank you for your comments. Some responses:

    1. Addison, let me just reiterate that my response to David's article on universalism was motivated by my judgment that an article by David Hart on univeralism is something obviously worthy of a response. And I responded to it substantively, at length, and without invective. Plus, as I say, it seemed to me that David and I had reached a truce so that our past heated exchanges could be put to one side. So, when despite all that a person of substance such as yourself seemed to dismiss what I wrote as a product of mere personal pique, I thought that unjust and wanted to set the record straight. But anyway, I'm happy to let all that be water under the bridge.

    2. David, you are a mensch. My memory of the order of punches differs from yours, but I am happy to drop the matter and leave it to our readers to decide. Re: the lecture form, I am happy to make allowances for its limitations. Fair enough. But then, the blog post form has its limitations too. So, I agree that anyone who sees deficiencies either in your lecture or my blog post responding to it should keep all that in mind.

    3. Just to be clear, I was not proof-texting. Naturally, I am well aware that the translation and interpretation of the biblical passages I quoted are matters of controversy. I was only making the very narrow point that the scriptural considerations go well beyond merely three verses and well beyond merely some deeply ambiguous verses.

    4. I have always been baffled and amused at some Hart readers' strong reactions to the Photoshop images. This blog is well known for the levity I try to spice my posts with, on almost every subject. As my regular readers know and as a scroll down a page or two of the blog easily demonstrates, it has absolutely nothing to do with posts about David Hart, specifically. And some of the folks I've had exchanges with quite like the images.

    So, I think some people needed to lighten up a little. But, as David says, to each his own.

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  39. Well, it's wrong to ignore a gracious word and not to respond in kind, so thank you, Ed, for yours. If I have wronged you, I certainly apologize for it, and I confess that I was unaware of former "hatchet buryings" between you and David. My fault entirely.

    As I said above, I don't intend to defend my brother or need to do that. My (rather mild, actually) irritation was on another level entirely and appears to have been a misconstrual. At any rate, I hope we can conclude here by acknowledging that, in the broad scheme of things, we're on the same side. I am no anti-Thomist, I should add, and for that reason, I don't like to take on the "content" of a tradition that, in its essence, I respect.

    So, please forgive me, if that's needed, and I will do likewise in return.

    Lastly, I'm pleased that you highlighted my resemblance to Bruce Willis. Many have noted it before, but I'm usually too sheepish to acknowledge it.

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  40. Many thanks, Addison. The bygones are bygone. (And if Moonlighting cannot unite us, what will?)

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  41. To Catholics here, others of course won't take the source as authoritative, I recommend Diary of st Faustina, or at least a quick google of her more famous eschatological vision. As far as I know her visions are recognized as authentic by the Catholic church and hence bare at least some authority. In her visions, Christ spends most of the time proclaiming his mercy and calls for repentance for forgiveness of sins, but probably the most striking one tells us that after her, due to the authority of Christ himself who revealed himself to her in the visions, no one may deny that there is a Hell or that it will in fact have a lot of people in it. In fact, she comments that was stricken by the fact that most of the souls condemned did in fact not believe in Hell at all.

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  42. Hi Dr. Feser,

    Would it be easy for you to have a "subscribe by Email" option for your blog? I can't figure out how to otherwise get your blog posts to my email.

    Many thanks,
    Kyle

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  43. DB Hart,

    If you are still reading, thank you for your work.

    I'm tempted to offer you money to stick around and clarify some things, but I suppose I'd better not. I await the publication of your next book with great enthusiasm, as always, and only a bit of trepidation.

    If I may presume that your "all" included me, God bless you as well.

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  44. Thank you very much to Edward Feser, David Hart and Addison Hart for having that exchange in the comment section for all of us to read (and a special thanks to Dr. Feser for making me look up the word "mensch" which I must admit I originally thought was an insult based purely on the rather unappealing sound it has when spoken aloud). I'm always encouraged to see that despite adamant disagreement on certain matters, the bond of Christian fellowship reaches deeper.

    On a personal note, and at risk of seeming overly sentimental, I would like to say that I owe a great debt to both Dr. Feser and Dr. Hart. Your writings have both been very influential in restoring my belief and more importantly my trust in God. This may be oversharing, but what the heck... There have been many occasions in my life where I have despaired to nearly the point of suicide, due mostly to ongoing struggles with mental illness. I can point to several such times when the thing that kept me alive was something that one of you wrote. I wanted you to know that. It is unlikely that I will ever meet you in person, but please know that as long as I continue to find the strength to carry on, I will be offering up my humble prayers for you.

    May God grant you both a more wonderful vision of Himself in all His ineffable beauty and love.

    -Matt

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  45. @ Greg,

    You have your Anonymouses all mixed up. I'm not Jim. That's another Anonymous. I'm Henty.

    To be clear, I was talking about the second Natural Law column. The first one Hart admitted was ambiguous, because he was trying not to name friends. The second one was directed at a very particular Natural Law philosopher: one Edward Feser. There Hart laid out pretty clear critiques of Feser's understandings of revelation, of natural reason, and of the imperative power of nature in the age post-Darwinum. It was a set of very acute arguments. Now, maybe tghey made special sense to me because I am also deep into that nouvelle theologie stuff, and into Hart's beloved Blondel and Bulgakov, and share his preference for the Greek tradition. But it should have been clear what was being said to anyone. But Feser's response wasn't even respectable polemic. He pretended that Hart was just throwing statements around, and blustered his way through, trying to pretend that he understood what all the business about revelation and natural reason was. Okay, Feser ain't a theological scholar, but it was hard not to get annoyed at someone pretending that he hadn't been answered, and answered with real intellectual force. And it was clear that Feser literally had no answer of any substance on his own. And the feeble attempts he made were dealt with in the third column too, to which again Feser's reply was pathetic.

    I've got to be honest, that whole exchange lowered Feser in my estimation. I also don't see how you Feserians keep deceiving yourselves that he came out on top there. He never answered any of the objections well, and when Hart offered to recant if Feser could produce one Natural Argument from nature alone that couldn't be torn down by the problems that had been brought up, Feser predictably never came up with a reply.

    Now you'll claim I have this backward, blah, blah, blah.

    But since Hart and Feser don't seem to care to squabble any more, I'll give up too and go away. All these blogs are echo chambers, I guess, and I don't want to poison the harmony.

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  46. Mr Anonymous/ Henty,
    Enough of that, please. Thanks for the vote of confidence, but the argument is old and should be allowed to simmer down into polite debate.
    One last appearance from me, because I've been told someone asked about the book. The lectures on Apokatastasis will come out in a slim volume when I have put them in final form and added some extra commentary. John Milbank is providing a short preface. But there is no date set yet for publication, because the contract hasn't even been arranged yet. It was not clear from the Radical Orthodoxy piece that it was part of a longer series, so I apologize for not having attached an explanation to the original publication.
    The New Testament translation is well into the proof stage, and that has a philological apparatus at the back that deal with many of the scriptural issues.
    I will go away too, now, if that's all right. My nephew has asked to open and run a more official Facebook page for me, and I have agreed, as long as he does all the work. So I'll post when the lectures are due. I don't think Edward Feser is going to like the whole book any more than the single essay, but at least all the gears will be visible. Hell, I won't like his book on capital punishment either, so it's all fair in the game.
    And I mean it, really, try to stay out of jail. I can never emphasize that enough to my theology students.

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  47. In short, we have two excellent philosophers who represent the best of Christian theology, approaching contentious issues from differing viewpoints (East Vs. West; Orthodox vs. Catholic; Platonic vs. Aristotelian) and neither will meekly concede the argument. I say enjoy the show.

    I would like to second this. I have read and enjoyed books from both of them.

    I would also like to add my voice to what Matt (Young and Rested) said above. The work of both Feser and Hart has helped me not only intellectually, but personally.

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  48. @ Henty

    You have your Anonymouses all mixed up. I'm not Jim. That's another Anonymous. I'm Henty.

    My apologies. Nice to make your acquaintance.

    The first one Hart admitted was ambiguous, because he was trying not to name friends. The second one was directed at a very particular Natural Law philosopher: one Edward Feser. There Hart laid out pretty clear critiques of Feser's understandings of revelation, of natural reason, and of the imperative power of nature in the age post-Darwinum.

    Well, I think that Professor Hart is right that the topic is worth abandoning. In the interest of conciliation, I'll suggest that the source of misunderstanding was this line:

    I suppose I should savor that as a refreshing change from the invective I usually attract; but, honestly, what most interested me about Feser’s argument were its fallacies, chief among them a notably simplistic understanding of such words as “revelation” and “supernatural.” (emphasis added)

    Since Feser's column was not a defense of his own view, it is quite natural to take the referent of "Feser's argument" to be, well, the argument Feser did make in the column to which Hart was responding: namely, that Hart's original argument did not distinguish two very distinct theories, both of which he claimed to be targeting. (And that is not an ambiguity that Hart admits to in "Nature Loves to Hide".)

    You are right, though, that the remainder of Hart's response is far more intelligible if read as a critique of Feser's Thomism generally rather than as an attempt to answer the charge of ambiguity.

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  49. What can I say, that's a very interesting discussion.

    I follow Feser's blog because his pieces and especially the discussions that follow them give me food for thought and actually guide me to discovery. He is clearly very smart, hard working, and honest. But in my judgment he is also very wrong in several things, which to me says that the former qualities are not sufficient. Which is a rather momentous insight which has driven me to a more mystical understanding about the way towards truth.

    Feser and Hart are on the same side, or rather on the same coin. Feser's way appears to be that of cold reason. Hart's way to truth appears to be to extract the essence of Christian tradition. It seems to me his basic idea is this: By special providence Christ guides humanity's understanding since day one, and does so most directly or at least most relevantly from a Christian's point of view by His guiding of the theological thought in His church though the ages. But the work of God is always gentle, and therefore one must search carefully through all the noise to find the strand of light within tradition. A third way, close to Hart's really, is to go to the source, and despite one's imperfection try to directly sense the divine on one's condition. One thing I found out through this blog is St Catherine of Siena's teaching about “mental prayer”: If you want to know the truth then think all the time about Christ.

    Now since I am not afraid of being wrong (or in other words since I am not afraid of being a heretic, for I hold that God values our love for truth not our possession of it) I am also free to speak exactly as I see it. So what I see is that the reliance on scripture has in practice become a hindrance to theological truth, or in other words many are converting the written text into an idol of God. Which I might add is very very great sin – no in the sense that one is punished by God for it but in the sense that by doing it one punishes oneself by obscuring the truth which is Christ – Christ who is risen, alive, here among us, and happy to illuminate our thought should we ask.

    What I found most striking in Hart's delightful little texts above was this bit:

    ”before quoting proof texts on things like hell, you might want to check on, first, what the actual Hebrew or Greek says; second, what the scholarship on the language used is; and, third, what the history of the text is. Quoting a prophet who had no notion of the sort of afterlife in question here, and using the wildly inaccurate English rendering when doing so [is a no-no]”

    Who can find anything wrong with what Hart here writes? On the other hand isn't he also using weasel wording? I mean, if the prophet (or the apostle for that matter) had not the understanding we now have, why use what they wrote as our guide? Shouldn't we instead say: “Scripture records some of the best and most profound understanding of the reality of the divine throughout history, but through the continuous and living presence of the divine our theological understanding is steadily advancing and has in many ways exceeded the understanding recorded in the ancient text. Which recorded understanding is in any case difficult to determine and thus any interpretation should be left to the experts. Who in any case should interpret the ancient record by the light of the living Christ, and not the other way around try to extract the light from any and all bits of the ancient record.”

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  50. Young and Rested/Matt and jmhenry,

    Thank you, that is very gratifying, and very kind of you to say!

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  51. I discovered Dr. Hart first, and I’ve always delighted in his writing, but I’ve needed to read each page two or three times, and make a lot of notes, to “get it” (to the extent I do). (That’s not so with his fiction of course, which I wish he’d write more of.) With Dr. Feser though, I still make notes, but not to understand it, since it is much easier to do so directly, but from a simple pleasure of recording his arguments. I wonder if that was how it was with Plato and Aristotle, for their respective students.

    We’re blest with both such Christian writers.
    Raghn

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  52. You might find this of interest: A response to D. Hart on the intrinsic evil of capital: https://stream.org/when-christians-turn-against-freedom/

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  53. Holy crap! An initially fuzzy but nevertheless growing feeling of weariness and malaise over the poverty of debate on so-called social media, brought into focus by analyses such as those by Nicholas Carr and Jaron Lanier, and finally to a head in an early-in-the-year resolution that it might at last be time to ditch such things entirely has been weakened, perhaps to the point of producing at least a temporary stay on a death sentence served on my FB account, the source of that reprieve being nothing less than this jolly combox brawl, along with the various other related components including--I hate to admit--FB itself. Ed, Addison, David, (et al) bravo! Y'all may just have saved the Internet.

    And jmjenry and Young and Rested; well said. [LIKE] to both your comments re: personal impact.

    OK, sorry everyone, I interrupted. Back to work. Addison; hit him! Hit him!

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  54. John Zmirak,

    Yes, that is an interesting article. I do think you misjudge the purpose of First Things, though. More importantly, I wonder if you've considered the ramifications of that Brimstone test? It means people should use a higher authority found within themselves to judge biblical text. It implies people use the text to confirm what they want to believe -- as with this eternal damnation issue. As an outsider, I believe this is obviously the case. But in my many discussions with Christians, none has admitted that this puts them on the same foundation as the non-believer.

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  55. A die-hard materialist is advocating consulting a "higher authority found within" oneself?

    Whoa...

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  56. DJ,

    Amongst the variety of things which can be found in your short reply to John Zmirak above are these two:

    1) the non-believer uses the Bible to confirm what he wants to believe; and,

    2) the Christian does the same thing.

    But I wonder,

    How likely do you think it is that that one, sole and single reason exhausts the range of possibile reasons for why a non-believer or a Christian might use the Bible?

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  57. Glenn,

    My meaning was a bit different. The Bible covers a lot of material. I doubt I need to tell you that proponents on both sides of practically every big issue have used the Bible to support their cases. When only one side can be correct, I'm put into a position in which I must decide which is right. But the Bible itself does not seem to supply all the tools for making that decision. At least, historically that's hard to deny. If I have to invoke extra-biblical sources (Zmirak's brimstone smell test) to decide among several interpretations, then the extra-biblical tools are a higher form of judgment. Surely we cannot use a lower form of judgment to interpret the higher. My claim is that the higher form of judgment is the same, or could be the same as the non-believer uses without the need to consult the Bible at all. Or if you like, it means the non-believer could use the Bible as a source for inspiration (or whatever else we could call it) to guide him toward the best answer, but without conceding that the Bible is the final authority. I see nothing wrong with using the Bible or Shakespeare as a guide as long as the limitations are recognized. The same with reason or revelation, btw. It would be nice to have some solid, absolute, eternal foundation but, fact is, in the end it remains as elusive as the brimstone smell test.

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  58. DJ,

    My meaning was a bit different. The Bible covers a lot of material. I doubt I need to tell you that proponents on both sides of practically every big issue have used the Bible to support their cases. When only one side can be correct, I'm put into a position in which I must decide which is right.

    You mentioned in your prior comment "as with this eternal damnation issue". Is this "eternal damnation issue" an example of the kind of thing you're talking about just above? That is, do you think you have been put into a position in which you must decide which side of the "eternal damnation issue" is right? If so, then I definitely do not get why. For you have made it clear several times over that you do not believe in the existence of things such as souls. Well, no soul, no afterlife; no afterlife, no heaven or hell; and no heaven or hell, no eternal damnation or eventual or ultimate reconciliation. So I wonder how it could be meaningful to you in any way which side of the "eternal damnation" issue might be right.

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  59. When reading this you have to listen to Davie Addison by Boards of Canada during. It's a kind of war about the Great Purge after all.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1veGnAEZ2Q

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  60. Glenn,

    I grew up going to a Presbyterian church, Sunday school mainly. I dabbled in the supernatural until 18 or 19. So the issue crossed my desk at a time when maybe I should have taken it more seriously. I don't recall it ever being a big issue with me. I sure never perused the Bible for evidence for either side. I suppose I never thought I'd done anything so horrible as to warrant eternal punishment, so it was a problem for other people, not me. But you're correct that the concept has no meaning for me any more. Nevertheless, even a materialist can read a text and interpret the author's intent. I'm not a fan of the idiotic French school which asserts texts have no inherent meaning. The Bible was meant to mean something, even when that meaning has no relevancy for me personally.

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  61. Hey Anonymous,

    Nice Boards reference; that's where I got my pseudonym! And, their "Palace Posy" actually does come to my own mind whenever I think about eschatology . . .

    Best,

    Skyliner

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  62. But the Bible itself does not seem to supply all the tools for making that decision. At least, historically that's hard to deny. If I have to invoke extra-biblical sources (Zmirak's brimstone smell test) to decide among several interpretations, then the extra-biblical tools are a higher form of judgment.

    DJ, I don't think that follows. Let us admit and accept that it is possible to arrive at two opposed views of hell / eternal damnation from the Bible, it still is right that

    When only one side can be correct,

    as you say. Given that, it is indeed reasonable to bring to the table (of interpreting) all the tools one can bring to bear, including extra-biblical history, languages, science, etc. While these are useful tools, they do not constitute a "higher form of judgment", they are simply part of the mix of how to arrive at the right interpretation. To take an analogy: a detective has to figure out what happened at a muddled crime scene. He will bring to bear many different analytical tools, including the art of interviewing witnesses, biology (blood analysis), geometry (angles of view, etc), psychology, and other sciences. But these sciences do not constitute a higher form of judgment than the actual data present at the scene. The actual drops of blood, the actual impressions in the mud, the actual arrangement of furniture and walls and windows, these are not a lower form of understanding of "what happened" than biology, geometry, and psychology. All of them, rolled together with reason and judgment is what brings us as close as possible to the right understanding of "what happened". The biology and geometry are theoretical principles, but they need data upon which to operate. So also, history and language and science are useful analytical aids to interpreting the Bible, but they still cannot tell us what the Bible means in the absence of the actual biblical passages themselves.

    And at the same time, if the Bible has an internal meaning independently of what some 21st century person believes about it, that meaning has to be consistent with itself. And so any and all interpretive models are subject to the "higher" standard of "is it consistent with itself" across all of the data? But this is not a standard OUTSIDE of the Bible, it is internal.

    Finally, while I don't exactly cotton to Zmirak's description, I think you do him a slight injustice to suggest that the "smell test" is a standard consisting simply of something "found within oneself" that could be performed even without using the Bible. Obviously, the "smell test" has to be performed ON SOMETHING, which is different from consulting "what do I feel". More importantly, the "smell test", like the sense of smell itself, often involves an apprehension of truth that is quite valid and real and perceptive of "what is" that arises from outside oneself; the reason we use the sense of smell for this metaphor is that, unlike sight, it is an apprehension that is very difficult to put into words clearly. Driving in the country, you smell a skunk, quite strongly. Your observation is quite correct and certain. Can you describe the smell, and how you IDENTIFY that it really is a skunk? The fact that this truth apprehended is difficult to put into words doesn't mean that it is based on a standard that is "found within oneself" as if few others would be likely to agree that "oh, yes, that is the smell of a skunk". Indeed, all science rests on observations, which JUST IS the report of the senses to a person, found to be reliable because it is highly repeatable. Well, we cannot suggest that the senses are unreliable standards that are "found within oneself" and still put stock in science.

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  63. Nevertheless, even a materialist can read a text and interpret the author's intent.

    Whether THERE IS an eternal damnation to hell is a different question than whether the Bible reports that there is such a thing. To one who doesn't believe in the Bible as a testament to spiritual truths, the independence of these two questions ought to be easy and clear. A person suggesting "there is an eternal damnation because the Bible says there is" could theoretically be wrong even when he correctly says "the Bible says there is". In fact, one might suppose that a materialist atheist should have a kind of non-biased view of whether the Bible intends to point to an eternal damnation, or whether it points rather to an eternal heaven for all persons, since in his view BOTH views are completely wrong. It should be no skin off your nose, DJ, whether the Bible really does mean there is such a thing as final damnation. So do you have a POV on which thesis is what is in the Bible?

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  64. Skyliner wrote:

    Nice Boards reference; that's where I got my pseudonym!

    Gee, and all this time I thought it was Charlie Barnet:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsDXnYKkdqw

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  65. I've missed your Harty criticisms. I've been wondering for the past year when I could expect "Hart's Filthy Lesson."

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  66. Hello Andrew,

    Damn! That's fantastic! And think of the David Bowie Photoshop possibilities! Why didn't I think of it?

    Alas, it would no doubt come across as rather inflammatory, especially for readers who are either not familiar with the song or inclined to take mere playful punning too seriously. So, I think I will have to suppress my urge not to let a good gag go to waste...

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  67. Tony,

    Interesting analogy. Whether inspired by God or not, the authors of the Bible were the original collectors of the evidence. But they went further and issued findings. When we disagree on what those findings are, in effect, we're re-opening the case. Doing so implies their work -- their judgment -- was either insufficient, vague or inconclusive in some way. I say judgment because we're not merely taking a fresh look at the forensic evidence. The assumption is that the ancients already solved the case to their satisfaction. They went past "what happened." It's us who, collectively, aren't satisfied and squabble. We put ourselves in a position to judge, not them, but what they left us. Maybe it's because their text is hard for us to understand today. Or maybe it was poorly written. Or maybe... just maybe... -- I'll offer two alternatives:

    Maybe the authors fully understood the text was meant as a salutary tale, like when we tell children with a winking eye that Santa will leave coal in their stocking if they don't behave.

    Or maybe the authors meant to be vague, even challenging, like one of Jesus' parables, or like Jacob wrestling with God. It's the wrestling itself that builds character, and that's what they hoped for. It's a rejection of Islamic-like submission.

    Or maybe not. But I try to think the best of people.

    I never claimed I care what the Bible says about an afterlife. I do care about what passes for truth. Just to circle back, you say "history and language and science are useful analytical aids to interpreting the Bible, but they still cannot tell us what the Bible means in the absence of the actual biblical passages themselves." I say the biblical passages themselves often become irrelevant under the weight of those analytical tools as well as personal preferences. When that happens there is a de facto higher judgment taking place. It doesn't matter that those tools are outside ourselves. The decision to use them and which tools to use and how they're used is certainly within us.

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  68. @ Don Jindra,

    If God wanted us to be clear and certain about the truth then God would have done it so – do we agree on this? God on the contrary made the human condition such that clarity and certainty are not given (John Hick's theodicy explains why). In any case it's clear enough that God wants us to find the truth. Scripture, tradition, church, theology, mysticism, monasticism, contemplation, prayer – all are there to show us the direction towards the truth. But since Christ *is* the truth, one finds (knows) truth only to the degree one meets Christ. And the way to meet Christ is of course to follow His way by doing what He asks of us. Finally, if I am not mistaken Christ in the gospels tells over and over many things that we should do, but not once asks us to study scripture. So, clearly, it's not like Christ considered the study of texts to be particularly important let alone necessary for repentance.

    I became a, let's say, self aware Christian when I first read the gospels, so it's not like I ignore the value of scripture. But scripture is only an entry-point, a stepping stone. Those who spend their lives studying texts waste their lives. The world of the spirit – the living presence of Christ – is much much larger than that. To confuse the Bible with the Word of God, is to make for oneself an idol, albeit one made of paper and ink.

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  69. Dianelos,

    if I am not mistaken Christ in the gospels tells over and over many things that we should do, but not once asks us to study scripture.

    Yeah, so? Where in the gospels does He tell us to forsake the study of scripture?

    o Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures... Matt. 21:42 [1]

    o Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures... Matt. 22:29 [2]

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  70. Benevolent speculatorJanuary 17, 2017 at 9:58 AM

    Carrying over this combox the discussion going on in the previous one, I'd like to call the attention of Catholics to the hypothetical possibility of "natura pura", since it allows a more precise understanding of the issue. The term refers to the non-factual case of God not infusing man with sanctifying grace and charity, either originally or after the Fall as the result of Christ's redemption, and consequently not ordering man to the Beatific Vision after death, but to a state of everlasting natural happiness ("ENH"), a kind of Abraham's bossom of infinite duration.

    That "natura pura" is a valid hypothetical possibility was explicitely affirmed by Catholic pontifical magisterium, most recently by Pius XII in Humani Generis:

    "Others destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God, they say, cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the Beatific Vision."

    In the hypothetical "natura pura" case, the definitive state of a man after death would be either ENH or hell, depending on whether he was oriented toward God or not at the time of his death, with the possibility of a transient state of purgatory before reaching ENH. But in this hypothetical case, the orientation toward God would be purely natural, since nobody, either before or after the Fall, would be infused with the supernatural virtue of charity.

    Now, in the actual case God does not allow a "middle way" of a purely natural orientation toward God resulting in a purely natural everlasting happiness. Instead, a man is either supernaturally oriented toward God by having been infused with sanctifying grace and charity, in which case he goes to the Beatific Vision after death, or is not, in which case he goes to hell.

    The point of mentioning the "natura pura" case is to show that the orientation toward God, or lack thereof, is always the decisive issue that determines the definitive state of a man after death.

    Notably, St. Thomas Aquinas, when discussing the case of a NON-baptized child reaching the age of reason, states that the ("actual grace"-assisted) orientation towards God of such a child (who presumably has no idea of the ordinary means that God has disposed for insufing us with grace and charity, i.e. baptism) will suffice for God to infuse him with sanctifying grace:

    "But when he begins to have the use of reason, he is not entirely excused from the guilt of venial or mortal sin. Now the first thing that occurs to a man to think about then, is to deliberate about himself. And if he then direct himself to the due end, he will, by means of grace, receive the remission of original sin: whereas if he does not then direct himself to the due end, and as far as he is capable of discretion at that particular age, he will sin mortally, for through not doing that which is in his power to do." (ST I-II, q.89, a.6, Resp.)

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  71. @ Glenn,

    As a wandering teacher in first century Palestine, Christ naturally enough quoted from scripture. My point is that He never asked people to study scripture. Sometimes He explicitly contradicted scripture showing that the source of truth is beyond the written text, namely Himself. He never wrote down a single word Himself.

    Now contrast this with the many Christians who instead of doing what Christ actually asks pass their lives studying texts. I am not saying that reading (or writing) are worthless actions, I am saying that they miss on something greater.

    Finally, as a matter of fact Christian theology has grown through the centuries far beyond the NT, no matter the effort some people put in discovering seeds of that new knowledge in the ancient texts. Which proves that Christ is still teaching, albeit through the Spirit (which nicely fits with John 16, 12-13). It would be interesting some time down the road to discuss how in the human condition the presence of Christ and of the Spirit are different. (Incidentally I tend to interpret the Spirit here or the Comforter in a similar passage as the Holy Spirit, the third hypostasis of God. But another understanding is that Christ will not be with us in the flesh but in the spirit, which is better since it's for ever. I wonder what people think about this question.)

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  72. Dianelos,

    I ask you again: Where in the gospels does He tell us to forsake the study of scripture?

    Also, since it came up recently, do you think perhaps David Bentley Hart was wasting his time studying scripture as much as he did in preparation for his new book? Or, if not wasting his time, then simply missing out on something greater?

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  73. Oh shoot! @Dr. Hart and Dr. Feser,


    East versus West!

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  74. @ Glenn,

    ”I ask you again: Where in the gospels does He tell us to forsake the study of scripture?”

    Nowhere. But three facts remain: 1) Among the many things Christ does ask of us in the gospels He never mentions the study of scripture, and He never Himself wrote down a word - which kind of proves that He didn't consider the written word particularly important, 2) Those who did consider the written word particularly important, did study it a lot, and thought of themselves as the keepers of the truth and of tradition where precisely the people who feared Christ and moved to have Him executed. They had trouble understanding that the truth *is* Christ; Pilate suffered from the same kind of confusion. 3) In a particularly important and relevant passage at the end of John, we find Christ telling the church that He had so far revealed only the truth it could bear and that much more would be revealed later by the Spirit. John, the earliest and possibly the greatest theologian of Christianity was a humble person who knew his limitations. Those who try their hand at theology should not forget this.

    ”Also, since it came up recently, do you think perhaps David Bentley Hart was wasting his time studying scripture as much as he did in preparation for his new book?”

    I don't really know Hart enough to form an opinion. I have read and enjoyed his “Atheist Delusions”, feel kind of tickled that he is an Eastern Orthodox and kind of pleased that (as I have found out through this blog) he is a universalist, and have bought his “The Experience of God” mainly because I liked the title, but have not read it yet. Still from the very vague idea I have of him I suspect that he uses scripture like a painter uses colors or a poet uses pictures. Or rather like a cook uses food. Which is perhaps the best use one can make of the written tradition.

    ”Or, if not wasting his time, then simply missing out on something greater?”

    No, I don't think he is wasting his time. As I said I understand the great value and central position of the written text in our tradition. I have much profited from it myself. And the church needs and will always need scholars. And needs theologians of all kinds who leave us with texts that point towards the glory of God. On the other hand, yes I think he is missing out on something greater. And I would bet he knows this.

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  75. Dianelos,

    On the other hand, yes I think he is missing out on something greater.

    Above you made a point about how Christ is still teaching, albeit through the spirit.

    Isn't it possible that Christ was teaching David Bentley Hart through his spirit while he, the latter, was studying scripture

    Perhaps not the whole while, but at least during some part of it?

    If all light which is true light is (from) Christ, and DBH was enlightened with true light during his study of scripture, how could that encounter of His with Christ constitute missing out on something greater?

    I don't know that DBH was enlightened with true light during his study of scripture, of course.

    But I also don't know how you could be so certain that he wasn't.

    And I would bet he knows this.

    Well, he might not. Why not go tell him, just to make sure?

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  76. Glenn,

    When one gets lost in the dark, seeing the light of home is a great thing. But reaching home by that light is much greater, for then one dwells in it. Seeing the light is the promise, reaching the light is the fulfillment. Seeing Christ is like being thirsty and finding a well, repenting is like drinking of its water.

    No matter how great a blessing it is to meet Christ, to walk with Christ is immeasurably greater. The former is seeing the truth, the latter is joining it. The former is realizing how much our creator loves us, the latter is partaking in that love, being filled with it, becoming a fountain of it. The former is easy and pleasant, the latter requires a lot of faith and much effort. One fears heaven, for to go there one must overcome oneself. And it's not always that those who most clearly see the light will reach it. Consider the celebrated Moses who led his people to the promised land, but he only saw it from afar whereas his humble followers reached it and lived there.

    Now, one can of course see Christ in the gospels. The curious thing is not all who read the gospels see Him. It is this kind of thing that I suppose moves people to think that God gives grace to some but not to others. I'd rather think some are simply more fortunate than others in that they recognize Christ when they see Him. I am reminded of the learned scribes and Pharisees who actually met Christ in the flesh and still, in all their knowledge they were so fool that they didn't recognize Him – perhaps the simple-minded and child-like are the fortunate ones. For Christ is not really hidden, but is everywhere. Perhaps “hidden in plain view” is the expression. So one sees Christ in religious texts and indeed in the religious impulse of all humanity. One sees Christ in the beauty of nature, and in the meaning of art, or in the joy of mystical experience. One powerfully sees Christ in the kindness of others, and in their courage and happiness. Most powerfully one meets Christ when one cares for others - in how it is to do a good deed, no matter how small, when it is moved by charity. By doing good deeds the vision of Christ becomes deeper because by doing what He asks of us one comes closer to Him. Perhaps there are many ways to follow Christ, but doing good work is certainly the central one. For the soul's charity cannot be hidden but expresses itself in good work, and grows by it.

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  77. Dianelos,

    ...Now, one can of course see Christ in the gospels...

    And, of course, I said nothing at all, either explicitly or implicitly, about seeing Christ in the gospels. But save your comment; you may one day encounter something said by someone to which it is actually relevant.

    - - - - -

    I can't say why, or maybe I'd rather not, but your comments frequently call to mind the following from Nabokov's The Defence:

    It was during these first days of married life that Luzhin visited his father-in-law's office. His father-in-law was dictating something, but the typewriter stuck to its own version -- repeating the word 'tot' in a rapid chatter with something like the following intonation: tot Hottentot tot tot tot do not totter -- and then something would move across with a bang. His father-in-law showed him sheafs of forms, account books with Z-shaped lines on the pages, books with little windows on their spines, the monstrously thick tomes of Commercial Germany, and a calculating machine, very clever and quite tame. However, Luzhin liked Tot-tot best of all, the words spilling swiftly out onto the paper, the wonderful evenness of the lilac lines — and several copies at the same time. 'I wonder if I took... One needs to know,' he said, and his father-in-law nodded approvingly and the typewriter appeared in Luzhin's study. It was proposed to him that one of the office employees come and explain how to use it, but he refused, replying that he would learn on his own. And so it was: he fairly quickly made out its construction, learned to put in the ribbon and roll in the sheet of paper, and made friends with all the little levers. It proved to be more difficult to remember the distribution of the letters, the typing went very slowly; there was none of Tot-tot's rapid chatter and for some reason -- from the very first day -- the exclamation mark dogged him -- it leapt out in the most unexpected places. At first he copied out half a column from a German newspaper, and then composed a thing or two himself. A brief little note took shape with the following contents: 'You are wanted on a charge of murder. Today is November 27th. Murder and arson. Good day, dear Madam. Now when you are needed, dear, exclamation mark, where are you? The body has been found. Dear Madam! Today the police will come!!' Luzhin read this over several times, reinserted the sheet and, groping for the right letters, typed out, somewhat jumpily, the signature: 'Abbé Busoni.' At this point he grew bored, the thing was going too slowly. And somehow he had to find a use for the letter he had written. Burrowing in the telephone directory he found a Frau Louisa Altman, write out the address by hand and sent her his composition.

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  78. Glenn,

    ”And, of course, I said nothing at all, either explicitly or implicitly, about seeing Christ in the gospels.”

    But you did. Here is what you wrote (and I tried to answer, since I thought it was the gist of your previous comment):

    ”If all light which is true light is (from) Christ, and DBH was enlightened with true light during his study of scripture, how could that encounter of His with Christ constitute missing out on something greater?”

    My answer in short was:

    1) One does indeed see the true light who is Christ in the gospels (which are the heart of the scripture).

    2) One doesn't see Christ only in the gospels, but in all that is good in creation (for all goodness is grounded in Christ).

    3) Seeing Christ is great, but reaching Christ and walking with Him is far greater.

    I am sorry communication is so hard, but I trust you agree at least with 1) and 3) above, which I think constitute a direct answer to your question.

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  79. And somehow he had to find a use for the letter he had written. Burrowing in the telephone directory he found a Frau Louisa Altman, write out the address by hand and sent her his composition.

    That, Glenn, is a classic. Thank you.

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  80. Among the many things Christ does ask of us in the gospels He never mentions the study of scripture

    Among the many things that Christ does ask of us is to believe that He is the Messiah. Which He provides supporting evidence for, by (among other things) repeatedly REFERRING to Scriptures: "Scripture saith that"...and so on. It would be nonsensical to pointedly refer to Scriptures as supporting evidence without pre-supposing that people should know Scripture.

    Sometimes He explicitly contradicted scripture

    No, he didn't. That's bullsh hogwash.

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  81. Dianelos,

    "And, of course, I said nothing at all, either explicitly or implicitly, about seeing Christ in the gospels."

    But you did.


    Apparently, you confuse the goings-on in your mind with what actually transpired in reality.

    Here is what you wrote...

    "If all light which is true light is (from) Christ, and DBH was enlightened with true light during his study of scripture, how could that encounter of His with Christ constitute missing out on something greater?"


    Yes, that is what I wrote.

    But why would you take that as my saying something about "seeing Christ in the gospels"?

    Especially since it doesn't a) specifically mention the gospels; or, b) say anything at all, either explicitly or implicitly, about "seeing Christ in [X]"?

    Scripture is not restricted to the gospels -- you do know this, right? -- so even if I was talking about seeing Christ in scripture -- which I wasn't -- why would you think that by 'scripture' the gospels necessarily were meant? Do you think that if one is going to see Christ in scripture, that such seeing can only occur in the gospels portion of scripture? I hope not. Anyway, this really isn't relevant here, since, again, I wasn't talking about seeing Christ in something, but about being enlightened by Him. ("If all light which is true light is (from) Christ, and DBH was enlightened with true light[.]")

    Perhaps you think one must see Christ in order to be enlightened by Him. If so, that might help to partly explain your confused interpretation of what I wrote.

    Certainly, one may be enlightened upon seeing Christ; but there is no reason to think that seeing Christ is a necessary prerequisite for being enlightened by Him -- just as there as there is no reason to think that seeing God is a necessary prerequisite for receiving His grace.

    3) Seeing Christ is great, but reaching Christ and walking with Him is far greater.

    Again, I said nothing at all about seeing Christ, but about being enlightened by Him.

    Also, you'll have to explain to me -- and without resorting to or relying upon your usual propagandistic BS -- two things:

    1. how Christ might not be in the one Whom He enlightens; and,

    2. how if Christ is in the one Whom He enlightens, that one -- aside from actively rejecting Him or allowing himself to drift away from Him -- can walk without walking with Christ.

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  82. Tony,

    It would be nonsensical to pointedly refer to Scriptures as supporting evidence without pre-supposing that people should know Scripture.

    Exactly!

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  83. ("aside from" s/b "aside from his subsequently going on to")

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  84. @Scott W,

    Don't put quotations around something I didn't say. The misquote,
    "have you stopped beating your wife?," is taking too far; I hope Dr. Feser can understand my frustrations with this nonsense. From one Christian to another (or one human being to another), this is taking it too far. I'm a rather large fan of both Hart and Feser, so please show some sense of humility in your response. I'm baffled, to say the least... By the way, I admit to being emotional in my original response, but I don't deserve that treatment, to say the least!

    , Cole

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  85. 'Yes, I called you an a-hole, because -- after your persistent trolling -- that's exactly how you were coming across, and my patience is limited.'

    Nuff said, thank you. That will be all. The Proctology Dept is down there, third door on the right.

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