Stupid sumbitches to the right of me

Alvin Plantinga on the definition of “fundamentalist”:

But isn’t all this [Plantinga’s epistemological system] just endorsing a wholly outmoded and discredited fundamentalism, that condition than which, according to many academics, none lesser can be conceived? I fully realize that the dreaded f-word will be trotted out to stigmatize any model of this kind.

Before responding, however, we must look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?)

Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can be expanded and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennet, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element; its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’

(Warranted Christian Belief, pg 244)

Late Thanks

William Bradford also celebrated MovemberThe first Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth Harbor nearly 400 years ago, on December 17, 1620. Things started off promisingly. With a little scouting around Plymouth, they found an area with a good harbor, river, and fields already cleared for planting. But it went quickly downhill from there. They arrived in the winter, and were immediately beset by disease and hunger. They began to die. In those first 3 months, 45 of the 102 immigrants died. Inclement weather greatly slowed down construction of their new homes, and most of them were forced to remain on the Mayflower for some time after their arrival.

After four months, half of the Pilgrims had died, and the Mayflower was ready to set sail back to England. Holding firm in their belief that this was their divine mission, not a single Pilgrim returned with it. They joined together, holding all their property and food in common, to be distributed out according to need by their officials. Together, they began to scratch out an existence in the New World.

In March, a Native American named Samoset strode into the Pilgrim camp, welcomed them, and asked for a beer. He explained that the land they were settled on had previously belonged to the Patuxet, but they had all been wiped out by a plague four years earlier, and there was now nobody who would dispute the Pilgrims’ claim of the area. A few days later, he returned to the camp with Squanto, the last surviving Patuxet, who helped teach the Pilgrims how to work the land bequeathed to them by his former tribe.

The first harvest festival occurred that autumn, and although the Pilgrims did not think of it as such, it is now generally regarded as the first Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving that they called by that name came in 1623, when they received news of an incoming ship of new colonists and supplies. It consisted of a church service. There was no feast; in fact there was barely any food to feast on at all. When the new colonists arrived, all they could offer them was some fish and water; they did not even have bread to share.

Without a strong link between effort expended in the fields and food taken home, even these dedicated church-goers had neglected their work, and very little food was grown. The system had limped along like this for two and half years, as the colony continued to face potential starvation. Finally, in the spring of 1623, a parcel of land was distributed to each family. They were allowed to keep whatever they grew on it, with the proviso that they were now solely responsible for feeding themselves. And with that, productivity dramatically improved, and the Pilgrims never again faced severe food shortages. By the 1630’s, feasts began to be associated with the Thanksgiving day church services.

About ten years into the colony’s life, a man named Henry Cobb emigrated from England (perhaps on the second Mayflower) and joined the couple of hundred in Plymouth Colony. He was a devout man, and became a Deacon in a few years. As the colony expanded and developed offshoots, he helped set up the town of Barnstable, where he settled on a plot of 7 acres. Between his two wives, he had 14 children in total.

I mention him because he was an ancestor of mine, and probably the first of them to come to America. It is nice to know that my own blood played a part in the country’s earliest days, and even better to know that he was a man of strong religious conviction. What better time than Thanksgiving to commemorate my own Pilgrim heritage?

I hope your Thanksgiving went well. Whether you knew it or not, you were celebrating great bravery, an enterprising spirit, an uncompromising devotion to God, the superiority of capitalism and private property, and the eating of large quantities of food. I can think of nothing more quintessentially American than that.

It's a trap!

Sheng Mo 勝魔

From the biography of Xi Sheng Mo, the sad tale of a Chinese demoniac in the late 1800s:

There was no mistaking the excitement and confusion that prevailed on their arrival. The girl was in one of her terrible seizures, and had to be held down by half-a-dozen neighbours to prevent injury to herself and those around her. Calling the family together, Hsi briefly explained that he, like themselves, could do nothing, but that the God he worshipped was the living God, who could perfectly heal and deliver. They listened with apparent interest while he told the wonderful story of the Saviour’s love, and were willing to take down their idols then and there, if only he would pray for them that their trouble might be removed and their sins forgiven.

After public prayer for God’s blessing, Hsi was taken to the room from which the cries and confusion proceeded. Immediately he entered there was a lull. The girl saw him, ceased struggling, and in a quiet, respectful way asked him to take a seat.

Astonished, the onlookers cried at once that the spirits had left her.

“No,” answered Hsi, who could tell from her eyes that something was wrong,” she is as yet no better. The devil is merely trying to deceive us.”

The girl was still friendly, and tried to make the polite remarks usually addressed to strangers; but Hsi went over, and laying his hands on her head, simply and earnestly prayed in the name of Jesus, and commanded the evil spirits at once to come out of her.

Suddenly, while he was still praying, she sprang to her feet with a terrible cry, rushed out into the courtyard, and fell to the ground unconscious and to all appearances dying.

“Alas, she is dead! You have killed her now!” cried the startled friends.

But Hsi quietly raised her. “Do not be alarmed,” he said. “The spirits are gone. She will soon be all right.”

Recovering in a little while from what seemed like a heavy swoon, the young woman came to herself, and was soon restored to a perfectly normal condition.

For some time the husband, full of gratitude, attended the services at the mission chapel and made a half-hearted profession of Christianity; but sad to say it was not the real thing with him or any of the family. As long as Hsi remained he went now and again to see him, carrying some little present to express indebtedness and thanks.

At last one morning he returned from such a visit bringing with him a packet of confectionery that was meant for Hsi.

“Why have you brought back the present?” cried his wife as he entered the courtyard.

“The scholar has left the city,” he replied, “and is on his way home to the south of the province.”

Scarcely were the words spoken when the poor girl relapsed into the old condition. In the midst of most terrible convulsions, foul language and blasphemies streamed from her lips. She seemed possessed by a more fearful power of evil than before.

“He is gone; he is gone!” she cried. “Now I fear no one! Let them bring their Jesus. I defy them all. They will never drive us out again, never!”

This continued for a few terrible days, until, exhausted by the strain, she died.