The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, December 2, 2022

For God So Loved the World That He Gave His Only-Begotten Son

The most familiar and beloved verse in all the Holy Bible is the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of the Gospel according to St. John.   It has been called “the Gospel in a nutshell” and “the Bible in miniature”.   Here it is in the English rendition of the Authorized Bible:


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.


One would think that if there was any verse in Scripture that all Christian believers would agree should be beyond acrimonious disputes about interpretation it would be this one.   That is not however the case.   There have been several such disputes about this verse.   We shall examine three of those here, each having to do with a different word in the Greek text.   Here is that Greek text:


Οὕτω γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν,

 ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ' ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.


The above is the text as it appears in the Textus Receptus, the text underlying the Authorized Bible.   The Nestle-Aland and UBS critical editions have Οὕτως instead of Οὕτω as the first word and leave out the αὐτοῦ.   Neither of these differences affects the meaning of the text.   Οὕτως and Οὕτω are two different ways of spelling the same word.   Most often the former is used before words beginning with vowels and the latter before words beginning with consonants but it is not a hard rule.    αὐτοῦ is the word that means “his” in “his only begotten son”  (1) but this meaning is implicit in the text even without it.  


The easiest of the disputes to dispense with is the one pertaining to the seventh word in the verse, κόσμον.   This is the word for “world” and in the first clause of the verse it stands as the direct object of the verb ἠγάπησεν (“he loved”), with ὁ θεὸς (God) as the subject.   A certain type of Calvinist objects to this word being taken in its ordinary sense in this context but it conflicts with his idea that God only loves a tiny portion of the people of the world, His elect, and hates all the rest, having unalterably determined their eternal damnation from before the beginning of time.    This kind of Calvinist argues that κόσμος does not always mean the world in its entirety but can be used in a more limited sense.    This is true, but it by no means follows from this that the term can be used in the specific limited sense that the Calvinists imply, i.e., as referring to God’s elect.   Technically, the basic meaning of the word is “order”.   It can have the subordinate meanings of “good behaviour” and “government” and can even mean such things as “ornament” and “ruler”.  From the basic meaning of “order”, however, it developed the sense in which it was used in serious abstract thought, i.e., the world or universe, considered in regards to its structure and order.  It is in this sense and its subordinate meanings such as “the present world” (as opposed to that of a future age) “mankind in general” (as opposed to a specific people) and the like that we find it in the New Testament.   “Mankind in general” is the sense in which most people would understand this word in John 3:16 and it is itself a subordinate sense to “universe”.  If the common understanding is erroneous, a strong case could be made based on passages like the eight chapter of Romans that the error is in understanding κόσμος in only this limited sense rather than as meaning all of Creation which clearly is part of God’s redemptive plan.   Another limited sense of the word that is prominently used elsewhere in the New Testament is as the designation of the spiritual forces arrayed against God’s kingdom operating in and through human society.   This could hardly be the sense in which the word is used in John 3:16.   What both of these limited senses of the word have in common is that they both refer to something that is so large in scale that calling it by the name of the whole created order does not seem ludicrous or inappropriate.   This could hardly be said of the hyper-Calvinist interpretation of the word in John 3:16.   Yes, hyper-Calvinist is the appropriate term for the interpretation that “world” in John 3:16 does not mean the whole of mankind but only a select number chosen from out of the whole.   “Hyper-Calvinist” suggests taking the ideas of John Calvin and taking them to an extreme beyond what he himself taught.   Here is what Calvin himself had to say about this in his Commentary as translated by the Rev. William Pringle:


That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.   (bold indicates italics in the original, underlining indicates what I wish to emphasize).


Calvin went on to mention election in the sentence that immediately follows this quotation, but unlike many of his followers he had the good sense not to force its intrusion into the meaning of the universal terms within the verse.


The next controversy that we shall look at pertains to the word μονογενῆ.   It is the singular masculine accusative form of μονογενής, a third declension adjective belonging to a class of adjectives that are highly irregular even for the third declension.  This is the word translated “only-begotten” in the Authorized Bible.   A great many today insist that this is a mistranslation and modern versions tend to use “only”, “one of a kind” or “unique” in place of “only-begotten”.   I have addressed this in the past in the context of discussing the closely related contemporary theological problem in which many recent prominent evangelical leaders have denied the doctrines of the Eternal Generation and Eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ and taught instead Incarnational Sonship while claiming to be sound Trinitarians, a problem compounded by the fact that an even larger number of evangelical leaders who do not reject Eternal Generation and Sonship have nevertheless accepted the claims of the Incarnational Sonship teachers to be orthodox Trinitarians.   The Eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ is part of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, of course.   The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not merely that the three co-equal, co-eternal, Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One in Being, but Three in Person, so that as Persons they are distinct from each other, but each is fully God, and the same One God as the other two.   It is also that the three have distinct relations to each other.   None of the three are created, all have no chronological beginning but are co-eternal, however, the Father is neither begotten nor does He proceed from another Person, whereas the Son is begotten of the Father (eternally, not in a moment of time to which there was a before), and the Holy Ghost proceeds in a manner distinct from what the Son’s being begotten denotes from the Father (the entire Church affirms this, the Western Church adds “and the Son” which the Eastern Church considers to be heresy).   If you fail to see the importance of this, note that Incarnational Sonship, taught by the late Walter Martin, and John F. MacArthur Jr. before he recanted, confuses the Persons of the Trinity.   The Agent in the Incarnation is identified in the Gospels of SS Matthew and Luke as the Holy Ghost, and if Jesus’ being the Son is due to the Incarnation and not to His eternal pre-Incarnation relationship with the Father, that makes the Holy Ghost the Father. 


With regards to the word μονογενής the claim is made that while this was previously thought to have been formed by adding μό̂νον (only) to γεννάω (beget) it was actually the noun γένος rather than the verb γεννάω that went into the compound adjective’s formation and since γένος means “kind” the adjective means “one of a kind” or “unique” rather than “only-begotten”.   This first thing to observe about this argument is that even if it is correct to say that μονογενής is formed from γένος rather than γεννάω, the conclusion by no means necessarily follows.   While γένος can be translated “kind” this is somewhat misleading.   The first meaning that Liddell and Scott give to this word is “race, stock, kin”, and the other meanings given are arranged in such a way as to indicate that they are all derivatives of this primary meaning.  A clarifying subhead to the first meaning emphasizes that it refers to “direct descent” as opposed to “collateral relationship”.   The second meaning given is “offspring, even of a single descendent”, which the subhead “collectively, offspring, posterity”, and the third meaning is “generally, race, of beings”.   The meaning “class, sort, kind” is the fifth in the list, and the subentries to it demonstrate that even here it is classes, sorts, and kinds of things that are biologically related that is primarily intended.   The significance of all this is that γένος is a noun that incorporates the verbal idea of γεννάω in itself.   This should surprise nobody as the two words are closely etymologically related.   It is not that γένος first means “kind” or “sort” in a general sense and “race” or “kin” is derived from the general meaning through specific application.  It is the other way around.  The word γένος first denotes groups that share a common biological descent and it is by metaphorical extension that the more general sense is arrived at.   In other words the meaning of γεννάω cannot be eliminated from μονογενής simply by tracing the second part of the compound to γένος rather than to γεννάω.


A look at how μονογενής was used both in the New Testament and in ancient Greek literature as a whole shows that those who object to rendering this word “only begotten” have no sound scholarly reason to do so.   The adjective appears nine times in total in the New Testament.   Five of these, including the one we have been discussing, refer to Jesus Christ as the μονογενής Son of God.   One is a reference in the book of Hebrews to Abraham’s offering of Isaac.   The other three, all in the Gospel according to St. Luke, are references to children – the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and the possessed son of the father whom Jesus encountered upon coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration – and in each case μονογενής was used to indicate that the child was the only child of his or her parent.   This same pattern occurs throughout Greek literature as a whole.   The adjective μονογενής is almost as tied to nouns like παῖς, τέκνον, υἱός and θυγάτηρ (child, child, son, daughter) as Homer’s πολύφλοισβος (much roaring) was to θάλασσα (the sea).   This is a strong indicator that the primary meaning of the adjective pertains specifically to children and that when it is used in a more general sense this is the secondary meaning derived from the primary.  


It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this insistence that μονογενής means “one of a kind” rather than “only begotten” has less to do with Greek scholarship than with hyper-Protestantism.   Orthodox Protestantism rejects the errors that are distinctive to Rome, especially the Rome of the late Medieval Period, but accepts what is genuinely Catholic, that is to say, the doctrines, practices, etc. that belong to the whole Church going back to the earliest centuries before the major schisms.   Hyper-Protestantism goes beyond this and opposes much that is Catholic as well as that which is distinctively Roman.   Orthodox Protestants confess the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed.   Hyper-Protestants do not all reject the Nicene Creed per se, but their thinking is filled with all sorts of wrong ideas that generate suspicion of the Creed as being too “Catholic”.   It is from this sort of thinking the idea has gained traction in certain evangelical circles that one can have orthodox Trinitarianism without the doctrine of Eternal Generation.   The Fathers of the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Councils of the fourth century had it right, however.   It is because we confess about Jesus that:


τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων


(He was begotten of the Father before all worlds),


and that He is:


γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα


(begotten, not made),


that we can confess that He is:


ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί


(of one substance with the Father).


The final dispute that we shall look at concerns the first word in the Greek text, οὕτω.   Again, it makes no difference to the meaning of this word whether it is spelled with the final sigma or not.   This is the word rendered “so” in the Authorized Bible.   It precedes the word for “for” in the Greek, γὰρ, because γὰρ cannot stand in the first position in a Greek clause, although “for” has to stand in the first position in English to convey the same meaning as γὰρ in Greek.   It is frequently maintained that the Authorized Bible misrepresents the meaning of this word in its rendition of the first clause of the verse “For God so loved the world”.   Worded this way, “so” is an expression of extent or degree.  “For God so loved the world” means the same thing as “For God loved the world so much”.   οὕτω, however, means “so” in the sense of “thus” or “in this manner” and so, we have often been told, the Authorized rendition is inaccurate.


That οὕτως does indeed mean “thus”, “in this way” or “in this manner” is not in dispute, nor even that this is the primary meaning of the word.   The problem with those who insist that it must have this meaning in this verse is that they maintain that it cannot have the meaning “so much”.   This is demonstrably false, and furthermore, this verse employs the very construction in which οὕτως is most likely to have the meaning of “so much”.  


The word οὕτως is the adverbial form of οὕτος.   οὕτος is a demonstrative, or if you prefer the term with Greek rather than Latin roots, a deictic.   Usually classified as pronouns, demonstratives or deictics are words that serve as both pronouns and adjectives.   Unlike most adjectives, however, which ascribe qualities such as “hot”, “red”, “wet”, etc. to nouns, demonstratives point to nouns.   We have two of them in English, each with a singular and plural form – this/these and that/those.   This/these points to something near or pertaining to the speaker and so could be said to be first person.   That/those points to something remote from the speaker and could be said to be third person.   When we need a demonstrative that is second person, that is to say, pointing to something near or pertaining in some way to the person addressed we can use either this or that for this purpose.   In Greek there are three distinct demonstratives, one for each person.   οὕτος is the second person deictic, the one that point to something near or pertaining to the person addressed.  It is also the one that is generally used when you want to point back to something that has just been said, as opposed to pointing forward to what is about to said.  For the latter, the first person personal pronoun which is the definite article compounded with the suffix – δέ is normally used.   Adverbs ordinarily differ from their corresponding adjectives in application rather than meaning.   Think of “quick” and “quickly”.  We use the word “quick” in sentences like “Bob is a quick runner” which ascribe the quality of quickness to persons or things.    We use the word “quickly” in sentences like “Bob ran quickly” which ascribe the same quality to the verb rather than the noun.   Adverbs can also modify adjectives, other adverbs, or even entire sentences such as “Quickly, Bob ran to the bank and took out $100 dollars then went to the store and bought himself an apple” (Bob clearly lived in a time of Trudeau-era inflation).    Just as adding “ly” turns any adjective in English into an adverb, lengthening the final omicron in an adjective into an omega turns it into an adverb in Greek.   This is what we see with οὕτος and οὕτως.   οὕτως, therefore, in its most basic sense, is an adverb that points to verbs, adjectives, clauses, sentences, etc. in the same way that οὕτος points to nouns.   It is to οὕτος, what “thus” is to “this”.


While it might seem like that clinches the argument for those who claim that that the οὕτω in John 3:16 means “in this manner” rather than “so much”, note that even in English “thus” is not limited to this meaning.   It is frequently used with the meaning of “therefore” and with reference to extent rather than manner.   “Bob ran thus far” would be an example of thus used with reference to extent.   A familiar example is the saying frequently used in “line-in-the-sand” moments, “thus far, no further”, which is actually a paraphrase of Job 38:11.      Similarly, while the οὕτως was primarily used with reference to manner, this was by no means its only use.  Its second meaning, like that of its English counterpart, was “therefore”, and its third meaning, as given by Liddell and Scott, was “to such an extent, so, so much, so very, so excessively”.   The first example the lexicographers give of this meaning is from the third book of Homer’s Iliad.  This is where Priam, king of Troy, has summoned Helen to the walls and asked her to identify for him a particular warrior among the Achaeans who has caught Priam’s eye.   It turns out that Agamemnon, son of Atreus and commander of the Greek army is the one indicated.  The relevant verse is verse 169 where Priam spells out why the king of Mycenae has so caught his eye:


καλὸν δ᾽ οὕτω ἐγὼν οὔ πω ἴδον ὀφθαλμοῖσιν,


which means “but so handsome [a man], I have not yet seen with my own eyes”.   


Although οὕτω here is modifying an adjective, καλὸν, rather than a verb as in John 3:16, it has precisely the meaning that some have foolishly claimed it cannot have in the Scriptural text.  


That οὕτω had not lost this meaning by the time the New Testament was written can be seen in the third verse in the third chapter of St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.   This verse begins with the question:


οὕτως ἀνόητοί ἐστε; 


which means “are you so foolish?”   I have never heard anybody try to argue that οὕτως means “in this manner” here.   With the exceptions of one or two which paraphrase the question so that it is impossible to tell what meaning they ascribe to οὕτως, (2) the English translations all treat it as an expression of degree or intensity here.   See also Revelation 16:18 which ends with the words: σεισμὸς, οὕτω μέγας – “so great an earthquake”.   Here the οὕτω modifying the adjective μέγας (great) cannot be anything but the intensifier “so” as in “so much”.   Other New Testament examples that I will not go into at length are Galatians 1:6, 1 Thessalonians 2:8, and Hebrews 12:21.


Now, showing that οὕτω can mean “so” in the sense of “so much” is not the same thing as showing that this is what it means in John 3:16.   We have seen that its primary meaning is “in this way” or “in this manner” and, although that meaning would clearly be absurd in Iliad 3.169 this is not the case in the Gospel verse.   Is there any reason for thinking that the meaning of “so much” rather than “in this manner” is what is intended in John 3:16?


The answer is a clear yes.   In Greek, as in Latin and English, there is a category of subordinate clauses that we call result clauses.   These can indicate such things as what would naturally be expected to follow from the action of the main verb, whether or not it actually did, and what the actual result of the action was.   There are words that appear in the main clause of sentences that contain result clauses that indicate that a result clause is coming.  οὕτω/ οὕτως is one such word,   Then there are the words which begin the result clauses themselves.   The main one of these is ὥστε which means “so that”.   ὥστε is a compound of ὡς (as, so, that) which can also be used for this purpose.   There is also a kind of clause called a final clause, not because it occurs last in the sentence which may or may not be the case but because it expresses the end in the sense of purpose of the action of the main verb, or, in other words the result that the doer of the action of the main verb intended.   There are a number of words that can begin this kind of clause, the main one being ἵνα which means “in order that”.   If you look above to the Greek text of John 3:16 you will notice that it contains both a result clause and a final clause.    ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν is the result clause.  The final clause is ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλ' ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.


If the final clause were the only subordinate clause in the verse then those who maintain that οὕτω means “in this manner” here would have a much stronger case.   However, between the final clause and the main clause, falls the result clause beginning with ὥστε.   It is when it is used in conjunction with ὥστε like this that οὕτω most often means “so much” rather than “in this manner”.   The two words work together to create the sense of “so much X that Y”. 


One example of this from ancient Greek literature is found in the first book of Herodotus’ Histories.   In his account of the life of Croesus, king of Lydia, Herodotus relates a lengthy exchange between the king and Solon, the Athenian reformer and lawmaker.  Croesus asked Solon whom he judged to be the happiest man he had ever encountered.   Solon, not unaware that Croesus expected to be named himself, nevertheless answered Tellus the Athenian, and gave his reasons.   To the follow-up question about who the second happiest was, Solon answered that it was Cloebis and Biton, and explained why.   This irritated Croesus who then asked “ὦ ξεῖνε Ἀθηναῖε, ἡ δ᾽ ἡμετέρη εὐδαιμονίη οὕτω τοι ἀπέρριπται ἐς τὸ μηδὲν ὥστε οὐδὲ ἰδιωτέων ἀνδρῶν ἀξίους ἡμέας ἐποίησας;” which means “O Athenian stranger-friend, is this our happiness so cast away into nothingness to you that you made us less worthy than ordinary men?”


Countless other such examples could be given.   This is a very common construction in ancient Greek literature.   Note that in the above example the verb in the result clause, ἐποίησας, is in the indicative mood, which is the basic mood of the verb,  the one used when making ordinary statements about things as they are, as opposed to things which might be, which one wishes would be, etc.   In result clauses a natural but not necessarily actual result is placed in the infinitive, an actual result in the indicative.   When the “οὕτω … ὥστε….” construction employs the indicative in the result clause this raises the likelihood of it being used in the “so much…that” sense to near certainty and this is what we see in John 3:16 where the verb in the result clause is ἔδωκεν, an indicative aorist meaning “he gave”.


I am not going to belabour the point much further.   Unlike the first two interpretive problems, this third one does not have much theological significance.   Saying that God gave us His Son as our Saviour because He loved us so much does not exclude saying that the manner in which He loved us was that He gave us His Son or vice versa.   Indeed, since expressions with double meanings are fairly common in St. John’s Gospel – a much discussed example is ἄνωθεν with the double meaning of “again” and “from above” which is a key element in the same discussion in which John 3:16 occurs – not a few have suggested that both senses of οὕτω are being simultaneously intended in this verse.   The reason that I thought this worthy of as lengthy a treatment as I have given it is the frequency with which I have encountered the idea that in John 3:16 οὕτω means “in this manner” rather than “so much” asserted with a dogmatic authority that the facts simply do not bear out.   It seems evident to me that this dogmatism comes from either a) the plethora of Bible-study tools currently available that allow people to pontificate about what “the Greek” means without actually studying it, b) the curious and utterly wrongheaded contemporary notion that the Greek of the New Testament is best studied by itself without reference to any other ancient Greek literature, or c) the combination of the two.   Somebody who studies New Testament Greek and only New Testament Greek might very well be unfamiliar with the “οὕτω … ὥστε….” construction.   John 3:16 happens to be the only verse in the entire Johannine corpus where ὥστε appears.   Needless to say, this very common ancient Greek construction is rare in the New Testament.   This, however, makes it that much more important that we pay attention to how it was used in other ancient Greek literature because when an author uses it rarely, or, as in the case of St. John here, only once, this is a good indication that it was chosen specifically because the established meaning is one that the author wished to particularly emphasize.




 (1)   This word is the genitive (possessive) form of αὐτός the word for “self”, which means “same” when used as an attributive adjective, and which also stands in for the third person pronoun (except when that pronoun is the subject) which is how it is used in John 3:16.

(2)   The Orthodox Jewish Bible, for example, rephrases it from a question into a statement “you lack seichel”.   The adverb in the question disappears completely when this is done.  Seichel, if it is not already obvious, is the opposite of foolishness.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Danielle Smith Spoke the Truth

When Danielle Smith was chosen by the United Conservative Party of Alberta to replace Jason Kenney as their leader early last month and consequentially became that province’s premier she started off her premiership with a bang by giving an exceptionally great speech.    Even if we had not heard a word of it we would know it to be very good from the outrage it provoked on the part of Alberta’s socialists and the clowns in the legacy media, that is to say, the print and broadcast news outlets that predate cable news, talk radio, and the internet, which in Canada are all hopelessly corrupt having been bought off years ago by the dimwitted creep and lout who currently occupies the Prime Minister’s Office.    The best response to the legacy media, other than to cut oneself off from it altogether, is to look at what they are promoting and root for the opposite and to look at what they are saying and believe the opposite.   So when they began to howl and rage and storm and demand that Smith apologize for saying that the unvaccinated had experienced the most discrimination of any group in her lifetime, their reaction in itself was a powerful indicator of the truth of Smith’s words. 


It has now been a few generations since the old liberalism succeeded in generating a near-universal consensus of public opinion, at least within Western Civilization, against discrimination.   At the time the discrimination the liberals were concerned with was of the de jure type – laws and government policies which singled out specific groups and imposed hardships and disadvantages of various types upon them.    It was not that difficult, therefore, for liberalism to create widespread public opinion against it.   Since ancient times it has been understood that government or the state exists to serve the end of justice.   In Modern times justice has come to be depicted in art as wearing a blindfold.   This imagery is somewhat problematic – blindness to the facts of the case to be ruled on is not an attribute of justice but of its opposite – but is generally accepted as depicting true justice’s blindness to factors which should have no weight in ruling on a dispute between two parties or on the evidence in a case involving criminal charges against someone, factors such as wealth or social status.   If this latter is indeed a quality of justice then for the state to discriminate against people on the basis of such factors is for it to pervert its own end and to commit injustice.    This is what made the old liberalism’s campaign against discrimination so effective.  What they were decrying was already perceivably unjust by existing and long-established standards.


Liberalism, however, was not content with winning over the public into supporting their opposition to laws and government policies that discriminated on such grounds as race and sex.   Liberalism had set equality, which is something quite different from justice as that term was classically and traditionally understood, as its end and ideal and consequently with regards to discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, etc., they adopted a much more ambitious goal than just the elimination of existing unjust laws and policies, but rather set their sights on the elimination of discrimination based on such factors from all social interaction and economic transaction and as much as possible from private thought and speech.   Indeed it was this goal rather than ending de jure discrimination that was clearly the objective of such legislation as the US Civil Rights Act (1964), the UK Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968 and 1976 and the Canadian Human Rights Act (1977).   Ironically, having so expanded their anti-discrimination project to target private thoughts and actions the liberals had to move away from their initial opposition to the injustice of state discrimination.   The project of achieving equality by eliminating private discrimination required the cooperation of the state and laws and measures enacted by the state in pursuit of the ends of this project were themselves discriminatory albeit in a different way from the discriminatory laws to which the liberals had originally objected.


Today, decades later, the anti-discrimination project has become even further removed from the opposition to unjust laws that had won it broad public support.   “Discrimination” has ceased to be defined by specific actions or even general attitudes that underlie actions and has become entirely subjective.   Such-and-such groups are the officially designated victims of discrimination, and such-and-such groups are the officially designated perpetrators of discrimination, and discrimination is whatever the members of the former say they have experienced as discrimination.   Loud and noisy theatrical displays of outrage cover up the fact that a moral campaign against “discrimination” of this sort lacks any solid foundation in ethics, logic, or even basic common sense.


Liberalism, or progressivism as it is now usually called having given up most if not all of what had led to its being dubbed liberalism in the first place and adopted a stringent illiberalism towards those who disagree with it, has clearly gone off the rails with regards to discrimination.  If any discrimination deserves the sort of moral outrage that progressivism bestows upon what it calls discrimination today it is the sort of discrimination that the old liberalism opposed sixty to seventy years ago, discrimination on the part of the state.   If we limit the word discrimination to this sense then Danielle Smith was quite right in saying that the unvaccinated have been the most discriminated against group in her lifetime.  


In early 2020, you will recall, the World Health Organization sparked off a world-wide panic by declaring a pandemic.   A coronavirus that had long afflicted the chiropteran population was now circulating among human beings and spreading rapidly.   Although the bat flu resembled the sort of respiratory illnesses that we have put up with every winter from time immemorial in that most of the infected experienced mild symptoms, most of those who did experience the severe pneumonia it could produce recovered, and it posed a serious threat mostly to those who were very old and already very sick with other complicating conditions, our governments, media, and medical “experts” began talking like we were living out Stephen King’s The Stand.   Our governments enacted draconian measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus that were more unprecedented – and harmful – than the disease itself.   They behaved as if they had no constitutional limits on their powers and we had no constitutionally protected basic rights and freedoms that they were forbidden to impinge upon no matter how good their intentions might be.   They imposed a hellish social isolation upon everybody as they ordered us to stay home and to stay away from other people if we did have to venture out (to buy groceries, for example), ordered most businesses and all social institutions to close, denied us our freedom to worship God in our churches, synagogues, etc., demanded that we wear ugly diapers on our faces as a symbol of submission to Satan, and with a few intermissions here and there, kept this vile totalitarian tyranny up for almost two years.    All of this accomplished tremendous harm rather than good. Towards the end of this period they shifted gears and decided to create a scapegoat upon which to shift the blame for the ongoing misery.   It was not that their contemptible, misguided, and foolish policies were complete and utter failures, they maintained, it was all the fault of the people who objected to their basic rights and freedoms being trampled over.   They were the problem.   By not cooperating they prevented the government measures from working.   Those who for one or another of a myriad of reasons did not want to be injected with an experimental drug that had been rushed to market in under a year, the manufacturers of which had been indemnified against liability for any injuries it might cause, the safety of which had been proclaimed by government fiat backed by efforts to suppress any conflicting information, or who did not want to be injected with a second or third dose after a previous bad experience, were made the chief scapegoats.   These were demonized by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in terms and tone that call to mind those employed by Stalin against the kulaks and Hitler against the Jews.   A system was developed, seemingly by people who regard the beast in the thirteenth chapter of the Apocalypse as an example and role model to be emulated, whereby society was re-opened to everyone else, but the unvaccinated were kept under the same brutal and oppressive restrictions as earlier in this epidemic of ultra-paranoid hypochondria.   Indeed, some jurisdictions imposed new, harsher, restrictions on them.  


So yes, Danielle Smith spoke the truth.   Our governments’ attempt to shut the unvaccinated out of society as it re-opened from a forced closure that should never have occurred in the first place was indeed the worst case of discrimination by government to have occurred in Canada or the Western world for that matter in her lifetime.   Her critics in the legacy media know this full well of course.    Since they hate and are allergic to the truth, which they never report when a lie, a half-truth, a distortion, or some other form of mendacity will suffice, this is why they howled with rage and fury when Smith spoke it.   Hopefully, she will give them plenty more to howl at.  

Thursday, November 10, 2022

When Did Asking Questions Become a Crime?

 Alfred North Whitehead, a philosopher and mathematician who taught at various institutions beginning with his alma mater, Trinity College at the University of Cambridge and ending with Harvard University at the other academic Cambridge, said a lot of things over his long career, most of them being forgettable, lamentable, or pure rot.   He did, however, produce one gem when he characterized the entire Western philosophical tradition as being “a series of footnotes to Plato”.   There would have been no Plato, however, had there not been a Socrates.   It was Socrates, the legendary teacher of Plato and Xenophon as well as a number of individuals who are otherwise most famous for the various ways in which they disgraced themselves in the Peloponnesian War and its aftermath, who laid the foundation for Platonic and all subsequent Western philosophy.  He did so by asking questions.   To this day the didactic trick of getting someone to assert something and then picking away at it with questions is known as the Socratic Method.


The best account of that method remains that which Plato placed in the mouth of Socrates himself in his Apology.   The title of this dialogue is the source of our English word apology although it had nothing to do with apologizing in the sense of saying that you are sorry for something.   Apologetics, which in Christian theology is the art of making arguments for the faith against the objections of unbelievers (and originally against those in the state who thought the faith ought to be illegal), is much closer to the original meaning of the word which was “defence” and more specifically the legal defence of the accused at a trial.    When Athenian democracy was restored after the short-lived rule of the hundred tyrants following the Spartan victory that brought the Peloponnesian War to an end, Socrates was charged with a number of offences such as corrupting the youth of Athens and put on trial before the Athenian assembly.   Plato’s Apology purports to be an account of the speech Socrates gave in his defence on that occasion and indeed, the full title is Ἀπολογία Σωκράτους (“The Defence of Socrates”).  


Early in the dialogue Socrates gives an account of how he came have the reputation that landed him on trial.   He discusses Chaerophon, who had been a friend of his since his youth and who also, not incidentally, was a friend of the Athenian democrats, i.e., Socrates’ accusers,  and one who had shared in their recent misfortunes.   Chaerophon had gone to Delphi and asked the Pythian priestess of Apollo whether there was anyone σοφώτερος (wiser) than Socrates and had received the answer μηδένα σοφώτερον εἶναι (there is no one wiser).   Socrates, when he had heard this, had thought to himself:


‘τί ποτε λέγει ὁ θεός, καὶ τί ποτε αἰνίττεται; ἐγὼ γὰρ δὴ οὔτε μέγα οὔτε σμικρὸν σύνοιδα ἐμαυτῷ σοφὸς ὤν: τί οὖν ποτε λέγει φάσκων ἐμὲ σοφώτατον εἶναι; οὐ γὰρ δήπου ψεύδεταί γε: οὐ γὰρ θέμις αὐτῷ.’


(“Whatever is the god saying and why ever does he speak in riddles?  For truly I know myself to have wisdom neither great nor small and so whatever is he saying in asserting me to be the wisest?  For surely he is not lying, at any rate, since that is not his custom.”)


This launched Socrates on his quest to find someone wiser than himself so as to rebut the oracle.   He began by going to a politician with a reputation for wisdom.   After having a dialogue with him he concluded:  


ἔδοξέ μοι οὗτος  ἀνὴρ δοκεῖν μὲν εἶναι σοφὸς ἄλλοις τε πολλοῖς ἀνθρώποις καὶ μάλιστα ἑαυτῷ, εἶναι δ᾽ οὔ:


(this man seemed to me to seem to be wise to others and to many men and most especially to himself but not to actually be so)


He promptly shared this conclusion with the man in question and so earned his enmity and hatred.   As he left the man he thought to himself:


τούτου μὲν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐγὼ σοφώτερός εἰμι: κινδυνεύει μὲν γὰρ ἡμῶν οὐδέτερος οὐδὲν καλὸν κἀγαθὸν εἰδέναι, ἀλλ᾽ οὗτος μὲν οἴεταί τι εἰδέναι οὐκ εἰδώς, ἐγὼ δέ, ὥσπερ οὖν οὐκ οἶδα, οὐδὲ οἴομαι: ἔοικα γοῦν τούτου γε σμικρῷ τινι αὐτῷ τούτῳ σοφώτερος εἶναι, ὅτι ἃ μὴ οἶδα οὐδὲ οἴομαι εἰδέναι.


(I am wiser than this man, for indeed it is likely that neither of the two of us knows even one good and beautiful thing, but whereas this man thinks that he knows something he does not know, I, on the other hand, as I do not know, neither do I think I know.   I seem, at least then, in this little thing at any rate, to be wiser than him, that what things I do not know, neither do I think that I know.)


He repeated this procedure with others reputed to be wise with the same result every time.   Later in the dialogue – apart from this it would more properly be called a monologue – he provides a demonstration when he cross-examines his accuser Meletus.  


The Apology presents to us the two major failures of Socrates.   The obvious one is his failure to persuade the assembly, which resulted in him losing his case, being convicted, and then largely because of his own flippant attitude when asked to propose an alternative sentence, condemned to death.   The other is his failure in his self-appointed task of rebutting the oracle of Delphi.   In failing to find someone wiser than himself and demonstrating that those reputed to be wise lacked both knowledge and an awareness of their own ignorance Socrates confirmed the oracle’s judgement - Socrates’ awareness of his own ignorance, a self-awareness that his interlocutors lacked, made him indeed, the wisest man of his day.   This awareness of a lack of knowledge, willingness to acknowledge it openly, and to seek out knowledge by asking questions, became the starting point and foundation of the long philosophical tradition of Western Civilization.


Is it not then perverse that in academe, that is, the collective of institutions of higher learning which takes its name from the olive grove outside of the walls of Athens dedicated to that city’s patron goddess where Socrates’ greatest disciple Plato taught his own pupils, this spirit of acknowledging one’s ignorance, asking questions and being willing to learn is no longer welcome?


In the academe of today the idea is almost ubiquitous that the campus ought to be a “safe space” for groups which in progressive ideology deserve special rights and protections now because of past wrongs done to them, real and imagined.   What this means in practice is that such groups are to be protected on campus from acts and, more importantly, words, that, in their opinion at least, are hostile or offensive to themselves.   This translates into all criticism of these groups or even of individual members of these groups being forbidden because any such criticism could be and often is taken by these groups as being hostile or offensive.   This in turn means that members of these groups cannot be questioned when sharing their “lived experience” (the progressive term for a member of a designated victim group talking about having experienced discrimination, marginalization, and whichever of the growing list of forbidden isms or phobias happens to apply) or “their truth” (when the word truth is modified by a possessive pronoun this is an progressive euphemism for claims made about one’s – usually sexual or gender – identity that are backed only by one’s experience and interpretation of such and not by conformity with objective reality), because such questioning is taken as criticism which is taken as hostility.


This is only one of many ways in which asking questions, at least if they are questions pertaining to progressive sacred cows, is discouraged, frowned upon, or outright forbidden on academic campuses.  


Asking questions is fundamental not only to the philosophical tradition that began with Socrates and Plato but to something that if it were properly regarded would be considered but one branch of that tradition.   That something is what we call science today.   It would be better if we still called it natural philosophy.   The term science is the Anglicized spelling of the Latin word for “knowledge” and its limitation, as in most contemporary English usage, to natural philosophy, its methodology, and its discoveries, has materialistic connotations.   Science or natural philosophy, is that branch of knowledge-seeking that has as its subject matter the physical or natural world and how it works.    It has greater utility than many other branches of philosophy which is why Modern man whose thinking is permeated by liberalism which places an exaggerated value on utility tends to think of science as something other than and superior to philosophy rather than one of its branches.   It would have no utility whatsoever, however, were it not for asking questions and/or activities that are the equivalent of question asking.   From Thales, Pythagoras and Aristotle in the Ancient world to Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday, Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Francis Crick, et al. in the Modern, none of these would have discovered anything had they not asked questions and especially questions about what was already being taught as science.


For the past three years we have had to listen to politicians, government bureaucrats, the majority of media commentators and even many clergy speak of “the science” as something to be “believed” and “followed”.   Questioning “the science” was declared to be “misinformation” and “disinformation” and “conspiracy theory” by these same people and treated as such by the censorious tech companies who operate the major social media platforms.   The vile and odious twit whom we have been saddled with as Prime Minister here in Canada since 2015, around the time of last year’s Dominion Election equated people who according to him “don’t believe in science” with “racists” and “misogynists” said that their views were “unacceptable” and that we ought to be asking ourselves whether we should continue to tolerate such people in our midst.   All of this pertained to the “scientific” arguments that were being claimed in support of draconian government measures such as the enforced closing of schools, churches, businesses etc. that came to be known as “lockdowns”, mandatory masking, and ultimately compelled vaccination introduced in the panic over the bat flu.   Anybody who has dared to question the doomsday predictions coming from Green activists masquerading as climatologists over the last three decades or so will have already been familiar with this sort of talk long before the pandemic.   Regardless, however, of whether this talk about how we are under some sort of moral imperative to “believe” and “follow” “the science” and how those who do not are evil “deniers” comes up in the context of pandemic policy or climate policy it betrays the speaker as being thoroughly unscientific in the way he views science.   Real scientists who make real discoveries that benefit mankind in real ways do not place a definite article before science and treat it as an object of unquestioning faith and obedience.   Those who do speak about “the science” this way are speaking about something that is not really science.    It is interesting, is it not, that what those who spoke this way in the pandemic and those who speak this way about “climate change” have in common, is that they all want more powers for the government, more limitations on personal rights and freedoms, and for the ordinary middle class people in Western countries to accept a severe reduction in their standard of living?


Asking questions is fundamental to yet another important discipline, that of history.   Indeed, the very name of the discipline refers to the process of asking questions.  Herodotus, who was about fourteen years older than Socrates, was born in Halicarnassus, a Greek city in Anatolia or Asia Minor, which at the time was part of the Persian Empire.   A man of means, he travelled much throughout the Mediterranean world and about five years before he died, at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and her allies and Sparta and her allies, wrote a ten book account of the peoples, customs, and past events of the region, concentrating on the Greco-Persian Wars fought in the first half of the fifth century BC, i.e., the century in which he lived.   He introduced the first book and the entire work with the words “Ἡροδότου Ἁλικαρνησσέος ἱστορίης ἀπόδεξις ἥδε” which mean simply “This is the publication of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus”.   The word which means “inquiry” or “investigation” here is ἱστορίης which put in Latin characters is histories.  It has ever since served not only as the title of Herodotus’ magnus opus but  as the name of the entire field of looking into the events of the past to determine what happened and why of which Herodotus is quite properly remembered as the father. 


The remainder of the opening sentence provides us with the subject and purpose of Herodotus’ investigation:


ὡς μήτε τὰ γενόμενα ἐξ ἀνθρώπων τῷ χρόνῳ ἐξίτηλα γένηται, μήτε ἔργα μεγάλα τε καὶ θωμαστά, τὰ μὲν Ἕλλησι τὰ δὲ βαρβάροισι ἀποδεχθέντα, ἀκλεᾶ γένηται, τά τε ἄλλα καὶ δι᾽ ἣν αἰτίην ἐπολέμησαν ἀλλήλοισι.


This means: “so that the things done by men do not become forgotten with time, nor the works both great and marvelous, some performed by Greeks others by foreigners, become inglorious, and with these other things also the reason for which they went to war with each other.”


To this day the historical discipline remains summed up well in this introduction. The methodology of historical inquiry is most comparable to that of the courtroom and this, of course, means asking plenty of questions of first hand witnesses to events if available and of others who have relevant knowledge.  For Herodotus this meant asking the λόγιοι (learned men) of the various countries he visited for their accounts of their own customs, past events, and of various local natural, geographical, and architectural phenomenon.     As an example, the very first thing that follows the opening sentence given above is his record of the account given by the Persian λόγιοι of that matter emphasized at the very end of his introduction, i.e., the cause of the Greco-Persian Wars.   According to him the Persians traced the ultimate cause to the Phoenicians, who in the abduction of Io, princess of Argos, started a series of reciprocal abductions of women of rank (Europa, Medea, Helen) that culminated in the Greek onslaught of Troy, which event, judged to be gross overreaction by the Asians, was the immediate cause of the hatred and enmity of the Asians for the Greeks.  


It has been suggested by subsequent historians, including his own contemporary Thucydides that Herodotus was less critical than he ought to have been towards his sources.   Evidence, however, continues to accumulate to this very day that he was far more accurate than he has often been given credit for.   For example, until very recently the prime example pointed to by his critics of his utterly credulity was his account  in Book III of his History of a region in India where furry, fox-sized, ants, dig up gold dust which is then harvested by the locals, long ridiculed as outlandish and absurd.  It was essentially confirmed by a French ethnologist four decades ago when he published his findings about a species of marmot (big squirrels who live in burrows rather than trees) in a particularly difficult to reach part of the Karakoram mountains on the side of the range belonging to Pakistan that does exactly what Herodotus said these “ants” do with the locals, the Minaro or Brokpas, continuing to harvest the gold.   The Persians called these marmots “mountain ants”, presumably because of the similar habit of digging and making mounds, a rather more obvious basis of comparison that that which the person who gave the same species the alternative name “Tibetan snow pig” had in mind, although whatever that happened to have been was apparently also evident to whoever was the first to call the creature’s North American cousin the “groundhog”.   The relevance of this to our point regarding history is simply this – it was by asking questions, first by those who questioned Herodotus’ account where it contained elements that seemed fanciful and for which they could find no other evidence and then by those who dug deeper, questioned the original questioners, and found evidence supporting his claims, that his work has been vindicated as being far more accurate than had been previously thought.


History then, like Socratic philosophy and empirical science – real empirical science, which never takes a definite article, is never settled, is not an object of faith to be believed or a leader to be followed – has truth as its end, and asking and seeking as its means and method.   It is therefore rather disturbing or comical or both that our Parliamentarians seem to have adopted the attitude that historical truth is not something that is out there to be discovered by those who seek it but rather something to be declared and decided by their own authoritative fiat.


Earlier this year, in a shameless attempt to deflect public attention away from their own fascist behavior in declaring the equivalent of martial law in order to brutally crush a peaceful protest against their cruel vaccine mandates and other draconian health measures – this description has been borne out completely by the testimony in the inquiry over the last month or so – the evil Prime Minister Trudeau and his Cabinet of knuckle-dragging, simian, louts and thugs declared their intention to make “Holocaust denial” into a crime in Canada.   Since in the progressive lexicon asking a valid and important question about something progressives have declared to be a sacred cow constitutes “denial” this meant in effect that asking tough, challenging, questions about the Holocaust was to be criminalized.    As a sleight of hand it was rather impressive.  “Yes, I just suspended everyone’s civil rights and freedoms in order to crush people who were embarrassing me” the Prime Minister was essentially saying “but it’s these other people who are Hitler, not me, therefore I am going to make it so that they go to prison for saying things and asking questions that I don’t like, just like in Germany.”


More recently, the member of the official socialist party (the ones propping up the current government) who represents Winnipeg Centre in the House of Commons introduced a motion calling upon the government to recognize the Indian Residential Schools as a “genocide”.   The motion passed unanimously.   Now, a motion of this nature does not by itself actually do anything except send a message about who in the House has signed on to an asserted narrative.   This is bad enough, however, because a) we elect Members to represent us in the House to look out for our interests on matters pertaining to the taxes we pay, the laws we live under, the wars, heaven forbid, that we fight, and the like and not to affirm or deny some narrative or another, b) the truth or falseness of such narratives is something that cannot possibly be affected by government pronouncements one way or another – to assert otherwise is to attribute to government a power closely akin to that which those who believe in magic spells attribute to spell-casting, to alter reality by uttering words - and c) the truth or falseness of these narratives is something that can only be discovered through open and honest inquiry and government proclamations of this nature, while they don’t actually forbid such, tend to discourage it.     It is much worse that this motion passed unanimously, that not a single Member of Parliament could be found with the courage to challenge it.   What makes this even worse is that the narrative in question is a claim which a) even apart from the evidence seems palpably absurd on the face of it, i.e., that the cooperative efforts of Canada’s government and churches to provide the education requested by the Indian bands and agreed to in the treaties, whatever might have gone wrong with them in practice, amounted to something that is categorically identical to or comparable with what the Hutus did to the Tutsis in 1994 Rwanda, b) has had its evidentiary basis crumble into nothing under scrutiny (see the essay “Kamloops Update: Still Not One Body” by Jacques Rouillard, Professor Emeritus in History at the Université de Montréal, in Dorchester Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2022, pp.27-36, and the article “Canada’s ‘Genocide’ – Case Closed?” by Michael Melanson and Nina Green posted on the same journal’s website on October 27, 2022), and c) has been heavy-handedly protected by those asserting it against the very sort of questioning which it would need to withstand to establish its truth-claims from the very beginning.   The firing, last December, of Mount Royal University’s tenured Frances Widdowson for questioning woke ideology in general, and the Residential Schools narrative in particular, is but one example that could be given of the latter point.  


It is unlikely to have escaped your attention if you have remained with us this far that in each of these cases where a cold, hostile, forbidding attitude towards those who ask questions has taken over an intellectual institution or disciple that had been built upon a foundation of seeking and asking the culprit has been the same each time, at least in terms of it being the same way of thinking (or avoiding thought) although often the same individuals have been involved as well.   Progressivism has never been as tolerant towards differing viewpoints as it professed to be under its liberal guise but what we are seeing in this latest incarnation of progressivism is the most illiberal face it has ever shown outside of regimes such as Cromwell’s, the French Reign of Terror, and the People’s Republics of Communism.    The new progressivism is exemplified by our idiot Prime Minister who likes to sanctimoniously lecture people in the first person plural about the need to listen to others who disagree with us even though everyone who hears him knows that he ought to be using the second person because he has no intention of ever listening to anyone who disagrees with him and that what he really means is that everyone who disagrees with him needs to listen to what he has to say and change their views accordingly.   This man frequently makes false affirmations of his belief in “free speech” and the need to defend such but never does so without including a qualifying provision that completely negates the affirmation and he has made it abundantly clear that he thinks the public need to be protected from speech that might “harm” which he calls by such terms as “hate”, “misinformation” and “disinformation” all of which merely mean speech that he disagrees with.    His attitude towards questioning is what is most relevant, however, and it is quite instructive.   Towards the end of the first term of his premiership, as his government was rocked by scandal, he bought off most of the private media companies in Canada with a $600 million bailout.   To further ensure that he never faces questions tougher than what colour of socks he is wearing he has repeatedly sought to ban reporters representing the handful of independent media companies that had refused his money from his press conferences.   Having gone to such lengths to ensure that he is only asked friendly questions, he never actually answers any of them, but instead only replies with pre-written remarks which may or may not have something to do with what he was asked.   If the reporter recognizes that he has not gotten an answer and repeats the question, the Prime Minister merely repeats his initial response, usually almost verbatim as he lacks the intelligence required to reword it on the spot.    The academic progressive thinks that members of designated victim groups should be protected from having “their truth” and their “lived experience” questioned, lockdown enthusiasts and Green activists think that “the science” should not be questioned but blindly believed and followed, and many, including members of our Parliament, think that certain historical assertions ought not to be questioned.  In a Prime Minister who avoids questions that he has not approved in advance like the plague and who sidesteps answering those that are put to him these foes of what is most basic and foundational to any genuine intellectual pursuit have found their champion.    

Friday, October 28, 2022

Toxic Niceness and the Corruption of Contemporary Christianity

 The Modern Age, the zeitgeist of which has long been known as liberalism, has driven the wedge of secularism between much of the society, culture(s) and civilization of what was once Christendom and the Christian faith and religion.    If the influence of liberalism extended only to the temporal this would be bad enough but it has permeated the Christian Churches and sects as well.   Over the last century and a half the word liberal developed a special connotation in the Churches and sects where it denoted people who saw the narratives of the Bible as belonging to the same category as Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales, that is to say, stories valued for their utility in teaching life lessons to children rather than for their truth, people who saw no inconsistency in calling themselves Christians and going to church every Sunday even though they did not believe in the supernatural assertions made about Jesus Christ in the ancient Creeds.   Liberals, in the theological sense, often cloaked their unbelief in ways they thought were clever.   For example, they would say that they believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ “in the sense” that He lived on in the hearts of His followers.   This meant that they did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ as that phrase had been understood by everyone from the Apostles through the middle of the nineteenth century, i.e., that Jesus Christ, after He had been crucified and buried, returned to life in His body, left the Tomb, and walked and talked among His disciples again, before ascending physically to Heaven.   Perhaps the theological liberals thought that those who continued to hold to this traditional belief in this traditional understanding were so much less sophisticated than themselves that they, the traditionalists, would never catch on to how this re-interpretation of the event made their profession of belief into one of unbelief.   If so, theological liberals are well-named for that is the same attitude that more generic liberals take to non-liberals in general. 


In his Christianity and Liberalism (1923), J. Gresham Machen, then Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, contrasted traditional, orthodox, Christianity with theological liberalism and drew the inescapable conclusion that they are two separate religions.   This same assessment was more recently asserted by retired Anglican priest Rev. George Eves in the title of his Two Religions, One Church.   Indeed, it has long been a bit of a puzzle as to why liberals continue to see themselves as belonging to the Christian faith.   A partial answer can be found by considering the matter in terms of the Aristotelian distinction between essence and accidents.    Orthodox or conservative Christians consider the articles of faith in the ancient Creeds to be the essence of Christianity.   This is true even of conservative Protestants who belong to non-liturgical, non-sacramental, sects who might shudder at that wording as being too “Catholic” for their liking.   The doctrines that they regard as essentials or fundamentals of Christianity rather than distinctions of their denominations are ones that either can be found as articles in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds or which express the basic unspoken belief underlying the Creeds that the Christian Scriptures are authoritative special revelation from God.   Fundamentalism, for example, in its original form - an inter-denominational co-operative effort of conservatives fighting the encroaching liberalism - identified “five fundamentals” as being particularly under attack by liberalism at the time and as forming a basis for their contra-liberal ecumenical efforts.   Originally taken from a 1910 Presbyterian declaration, these have been formulated in a myriad of ways, each slightly different from the others, but basically, the first is a strongly worded affirmation of Scriptural authority, usually using words like inspiration or inerrancy, and the other four are affirmations about Jesus Christ all of which can be found in the articles of the Creeds – usually His deity, Virgin Birth, Resurrection, and Second Coming.  This can be criticized from a more conservative or orthodox position as being too reductionist – the Apostles’ Creed, the simplest of the ancient Creeds, famously consists of twelve articles, one for each of the men from whom its title is derived – but my point is that conservatives, whether traditionalist or “fundamentalist”, all recognize the articles that make up what we call “the faith” as essential to Christianity.  Liberals, by contrast, see all such articles of faith more as Aristotelean accidents, external trappings that can be discarded without altering the essence of Christianity.


The conservatives, obviously, are right.   One of the things that has made Christianity distinct among the religions of the world from the very beginning is that Christianity, more than any other religion, is a faith, a community held together by a set of common beliefs and defined by those beliefs.   This is true even if we limit the comparison to the monotheistic religions that look to Abraham as a spiritual patriarch.   What is believed is and always has been far more important to Christianity than to either Judaism or Islam.   It is ludicrous therefore to take that which has historically defined Christianity and make it out to be her disposable outward trappings rather than her very essence.   It becomes even more ludicrous when we turn to the question that necessarily arises out of this observation about liberalism, the question of what they regard as the essence of Christianity, if they see the articles of faith as her accidents.


The answer, of course, is that for liberals it is Christianity’s ethical or moral message that is her essence.   Note that the first obvious immediate effect of making Christianity into an ethical message cloaked in the external trappings of a supernatural belief system is to radically decrease the difference between Christianity and other religions.   This is so for two reasons.   The first is that which we have already observed about Christianity being distinct from other religions, even the other Abrahamic monotheistic religions, in prioritizing belief.   In Christianity what is believed comes first, what is done comes second.  In every other religion what is done takes precedence over what is believed.   A theory of Christianity that makes her ethical message her essence and her article of faith her accidents eliminates this distinction.   The other reason is that Christianity’s ethical message has never been her most distinctive element.   In explanation, let us start by limiting the comparison to the Abrahamic monotheistic religions and more narrowly to Christianity and Judaism.   In His ethical teachings, that is to say, His teachings that pertained to how people were to behave and live their lives, Jesus Christ taught the Mosaic Law as an absolutely authoritative text.    While this is often missed by those who superficially read the “ye have heard it said…but I say unto ye” contrasts in His most famous Sermon and gloss over the warning He gave at the beginning not to take His words as contradicting and setting aside the Mosaic Law, it is nevertheless the case.   The difference between the ethical teachings of Christianity and the ethical teachings of Judaism could be said to be the difference between the Mosaic Law as taught and interpreted by Jesus Christ and the Mosaic law as taught and interpreted by the rabbis (originally the lay teachers of Pharisees, a sect within Second Temple Judaism the clergy of which were the Levitical priests, these took on a more clerical role in post-Temple Judaism).   Without wanting to make this difference less than it actually is, for most of the last two thousand years had you told either Jews or Christians that the most important and essential differences between the teachings of their two religions lay in the realm of ethics they would have thought you belonged in a nut house.   Broadening the comparison, while certainly instances can be pointed to where different religions take opposing positions on particular ethical issues, a good case can be made that of all the different areas that religious teachings address this is the one where they have the most in common.   See the appendix to C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man (1943).


That liberalism’s making  Christianity’s ethical teachings into her essence and her articles of faith into her accidents radically reduces the difference between Christianity and other religions is something that is appalling to Christians who believe in Him Who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” and of Whom St. Peter said by the power of of the Holy Ghost “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” but appealing to religious liberals qua liberals.   Liberalism, not just religious liberalism but liberalism in general, has long been obsessed with the idea that it can create a better world in which all people live in peace and harmony and that differences between people – originally and especially religious, but also differences of race, ethnicity, sex, etc. – are stumbling blocks on the path to this man-made Paradise that they need to clear out of the road.   Even today’s “woke” left, which on the surface seems like a movement deliberately trying to do the opposite of this, to create a world of disharmony and strife by magnifying said differences to the nth degree, is, in fact, another variation on this same liberal theme, one that is distinguished by the tactic it shares with Nazism and Communism of othering and scapegoating, of placing all the blame for disharmony and strife and basically the world being anything other than an earthly Paradise on specific groups, religious (Christians), racial (whites), etc.


Liberalism, as argued three paragraphs ago, is wrong that Christianity’s ethical teachings are her essence rather than her articles of faith.   This error is compounded by the fact that religious liberalism’s ethical teachings are radically different from what Christianity has taught about ethics and morals for the last two thousand years.   Liberalism explains this by claiming that Jesus Christ’s original ethical teachings were corrupted by His disciples and especially by the Apostle Paul into something that conformed more closely to those of Judaism and/or the Greek philosophers.   The only historical evidence we have, however, is of the Jesus Whose teachings as recorded in the Gospels harmonize with those of St. Paul in his epistles, and not of the hypothetical Jesus with radically different teachings postulated by liberalism.


Exactly what liberalism claims the “true” ethical teachings of Jesus were has changed over the course of the century and a half that religious liberalism has been afflicting the denominations of Christianity.   Generally, however, the values of the ethical teachings of religious liberalism’s “historical Jesus" line up closely with those espoused and promoted by political liberalism at any given moment in time.   This has remained constant, even though the values that political and religious liberalism promote together frequently change.   There is one other constant, however, and that is the idea that Jesus’s teachings essentially boil down to “be nice to each other”.  


This particular idea requires special attention because a) it has spread beyond the kind of religious liberalism described above and can be found espoused even by some who would usually be considered conservative or orthodox and b) it correlates with a problematic phenomenon in the broader society.   This is the phenomenon in which such an exaggerated value is placed on such things as being positive and non-confrontational, always smiling and acting cheerful, and the like, that they either a) hinder or outright prevent a host of other things of equal or superior value, such as truth and honesty or b) serve as an outward, superficial, mask of thoughtfulness towards others behind which those who are exceptionally self-centered and who delight in controlling and/or hurting others hide.    Feminist writers – I think that Elizabeth Hilts, the author of a series of books giving exceptionally bad advice to women was probably the first – have been referring to this phenomenon as it pertains to the first of the two identified drawbacks at least insofar as it affects women as “toxic niceness” for decades.   Such writers, in my opinion, speak from the perspective of a repugnant solipsism that tends to blind them from seeing anything outside the perceived victimhood of their own sex and which renders their idea of which truths are suppressed by excessive niceness highly inaccurate.   Nevertheless, since the phenomenon is real and affects both sexes rather than merely the one, we shall borrow their term for it as a better one could hardly be coined.   We shall concentrate, however, on the second drawback.


That toxic niceness, this cult of excessive and unbalanced positivity, can serve as a cloak of hypocrisy over a particularly vicious form of nastiness is quite evident.    Indeed, it is almost axiomatic to say that the sort of people who are always acting upbeat, who always wear a big smile plastered on their faces, who try never to say anything that isn’t positive turn out, if you get to know them at all, to be the biggest jerks and jackasses.   Who is not familiar with the kind of person who smiles and acts like your best friend to your face but who stabs you the moment your back is turned?   Or the sort of person who never confronts anybody, who never goes to someone and says “Hey, I have a problem with what you just said/did”, and who may sometimes go around bragging about what a non-confrontational person he is, but who is constantly running with complaints about everyone to those in positions of power and authority as fast as his tale can tattle.   


Here in the Dominion of Canada we have in recent decades allowed toxic niceness to permeate the culture to the point that we are all suffocating from it.   My province calls itself “friendly Manitoba”, an expression that can be found on the license plates of our automobiles.   Yet Winnipeg, the city in which I live is a city in which it is notoriously difficult to change lanes when you need to do so because other drivers will speed up or slow down – whichever it takes – to prevent you from doing so.   Just last week I heard a radio station, I forget which one, in which an advertisement referred to our city as the place where turn signals are optional.  In Winnipeg, if you signal that you need to change lanes and there are vehicles behind you, they will immediately pull into the lane you wish to move into and speed up – all without signaling themselves – so that you either have to aggressively beat them into the lane or wait for them all to pass you, even if this means missing your turn or illegally brining your car to a stop in the middle of the street.    This is one of the most inconsiderate, jerkish, ways of driving that can be conceived short of something criminal and cartoonish like driving down the sidewalk and stamping out a tally of the number of pedestrians you knock down on the side of your car.   Yet it is typical of the drivers in the capital of “friendly Manitoba”.   This example is topped, however, by that of the current Prime Minister of Canada who could be said to be the poster boy for toxic niceness.   He won his first election on a platform of empty positivity which he contrasted with the supposed negativity of the previous government.   He borrowed the phrase “sunny ways” from Sir Wilfred Laurier as his motto.   He carefully crafted this image of a smiling, upbeat, positive person who is all about caring and listening and being inclusive.   Beneath it all, however, he quickly proved to be a truly nasty jerk and bully, a real υἱός τῆς κῠνός with an abnormally low level of toleration for those who disagree with him, who saw the caring and compassion of other Canadians as a means for him to exploit to rob Canadians of their basic civil rights and liberties and seize more power for himself.


These examples from the broader culture and society show how beneath an excessive emphasis on being nice the worst sorts of nastiness can be hiding.   What is true of toxic niceness in the broader culture is also true, perhaps even more so, of the reduction of Christianity or at least her ethical message to the idea that we ought to “be nice”.  


How anyone ever got the idea that Christianity was all about being nice is beyond me.   Those who use the word “Christlike” as if it were a synonym for “nice” are especially befuddling.   Have they never read the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew in which the dear Lord gives a harangue, almost the length of the chapter, directed against the scribes and Pharisees in which He repeatedly calls them “hypocrites” “fools” “brood of vipers” and the like, likens them to “whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” and threatens them with hellfire and damnation?   Ironically, if any of the sort of people I have in mind were to hear anyone today talk like this the first thing they would say would be that he is not being very “Christlike”.   It does not seem from this chapter that being nice was top priority with the Lord Jesus.   Nor would the incident recorded two chapters previously in which, having arrived at the Temple after His Triumphal Entry, He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and dove merchants and drove them all out (St. John in his Gospel records a similar incident that took place prior to the start of Jesus’ preaching ministry in which He drove the merchants out of the temple with a scourge) suggest that following Jesus’ example means being nice all the time.


Jesus did not tell His disciples to be nice, a word that does not appear in the Authorized Bible and which in other versions appears only in the Old Testament in reference to things, words, and situations rather than people.   Indeed, the very appeal of niceness to so many today, whether they be professing Christians or just members of the broader society, is that unlike those things which Jesus did enjoin upon His disciples, such as a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20) and to love one another (Jn. 13:34), niceness is neither difficult nor does it cost its practitioner anything.   It is the ideal virtue for the virtue signaler, the sort of person who likes to go around showing off how good of a person he is with cheap, shallow, and empty forms of goodness that either come with no cost or have a cost that he can easily export to others, in order to gain the praise, credit, and applause of other people.   The sort of person, in other words, who does the same thing Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for doing in Matthew 23:4-5.


When He comes again in His glory to judge both the quick and the dead, what will He say to those who are promoting toxic niceness in His name?