“The Scandalous Grace of God”: A Christian explains why he’s no better than Dylan Roof

When I read the title of this piece in PuffHo’s “Religion” section,  “I am no better than Dylann Roof“, I took it as a determinist: all of us are capable of doing what Roof did if we had a certain combination of genes and environments. (As you may recall, Roof murdered 9 African-Americans at a Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and has been convicted and sentenced to death.)  Of course even a determinist would still use use the word “better,” in that the author of the piece, believer Jonathan Walton, surely was not as bad for society as was Roof.

Author Walton is identified as “InterVarsity’s NYCUP Director, founder of the LoGOFF Movement and co-founder of Good Journey Stores. Jonathan works to call students and community leaders to put their faith into concrete, sustainable, Christ-like action.” This gives us a clue that he’s going to talk not about determinism, but God. But Walton does mention circumstances in Roof’s background that could have prompted his murderous acts, though it’s seen more as a historical background than as an environment that could affect Roof’s brain and his actions:

“Additionally, to call Roof uniquely evil, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has also pointed out, is to ignore the history that made him possible. Roof is not a historical anomaly as much as a representation of a past that America prefers to sweep under its rug rather than commit to cleaning up. When Roof told Tywanza Sanders, one of the victims in the church, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go,” he was echoing a vast history that has used such rationale to decimate black lives. Killing Roof does nothing other than soothe the moral conscience of a country that would rather not reckon with the forces that created and cultivated his ideology.”

One can interpret this simply as Roof’s act resulting in part from endemic racism that he internalized. And I agree with Walton that killing Roof does nothing positive: it is a retributive punishment levied for having made the “wrong choice”—when the right choice wasn’t possible.

But the real reason the author is no better than Dylann Roof is religious, and to me makes no sense:

Every person is made in the image of God ― including me, my wife, my daughter and Dylann Roof. There is nothing that I can do for God to love me any more or any less. There is nothing that I could say to compromise God’s desire to be close to me, to know me and for me to be close and know Him. And that is the same for Dylann Roof.

Think about that. I presume that author Walton believes that God gave us true libertarian free will, so that Roof did indeed choose to murder others when he might not have. Nevertheless, despite the misuse of this free will, God still loves him! What that means is that no matter how badly you act, no matter how many humans you murder or mistreat, God loves you just as much. What unites Roof and Walton is the fact that they are both sinners. No matter that some sins are worse than others (is murder as bad as masturbation?); all sins can be expunged if you simply accept Jesus as your savior.

That is the old doctrine of sola fide, salvation (or “justification”) through faith rather than works:  no matter how bad a life you’ve lived, if you accept Jesus into your heart in your last moments, all will be forgiven and you’ll find a place in Heaven. That would hold, to use an extreme example, even for Hitler. Now, not all faiths adhere to this doctrine: it’s historically Protestant, and Catholics aren’t on board with it—as you know from having to confess your sins.

Sola fide is one of the things that theologians argue about but can never resolve because there’s no way to settle the issue, even in the Bible. For Scripture itself can be interpreted to favor justification through faith or justification through acts, depending on which verses you choose. It’s simply made-up stuff, but stuff that has conditioned the lives and behaviors of millions of people.

I have to say that if you’re a Christian who really believes that people can choose how to behave, the only kind of God that makes sense is one who rewards people for their acts and not their belief in Jesus. After all, think of the millions of people who reject Jesus simply because they weren’t exposed to Christianity: both before Christianity was founded and those who live in countries dominated by other faiths. Are they doomed for a circumstance that they didn’t choose, or because of when they were born?

Sola fide makes no sense to me, but it’s the basis of Walton’s article, an article in which he spreads a dubious theology all over HuffPo (and where’s the opposite view?). He ends with the explicit doctrine, expressed in rather infelicitious prose:

Dylann Roof might be sick, demented, or mentally ill ― but for sure he is sinful. His heart is deceitfully wicked above all things. And the only medication that cures this ailment is the love of Jesus. And those beautiful men and women that he murdered were studying the Jesus who died that we all might have life and have it abundantly ― including Dylann Roof.  Not just the folks who do everything right or excluding those who do evil. That is the scandalous grace of God. That is precisely why we study scripture as followers of Jesus. Because when we don’t, we mistake the laws of America for the Law of God and they are clearly not the same.

We are saved by grace through faith so that no man can boast. It is not my actions that set me apart but only God’s grace. I have put my trust in the Living God and it is His work on the Cross and my faith in Him that saved me. Thus it is not my actions that save or condemn me, but the condition of my heart. And what the Bible says about Dylan Roof is also what it says about me. So instead of picking up a stone to kill him and gnashing my teeth in anger and disgust, I will pick up the Gospel of John and do like Cynthia, Susan, Ethel, Depayne, Clemente, Tywanza, Daniel, Sharonda and Myra and ponder instead what kind of Jesus cries out for His murderers to be forgiven; not for them to be killed.

Aren’t you glad that you don’t believe in this kind of nonsense?

The Trump administration’s “alternative facts”

Because I’ve been under the weather, I haven’t yet posted on the “alternative facts” issue, and I see from the discussion thread that several readers are aware of it.  In brief, Tr*mp and his minions have spent their first three days in office not only dismantling the accomplishments of the last administration, but in waging war against the press (a familiar tactic of totalitarian regimes), and, of course, lying.

The clips and articles below show two things: a). the Tr*mp administration’s willingness to lie when convenient, and then to dissimulate and waffle when caught on those lies; and b). the clashes between the press and the administration that are going to be common within the next four (or, God help us, eight) years.

And it introduces the a new mantra that, I suspect, will be with us for as long as Tr*mp: “alternative facts.” “Alternative facts” are, in fact, lies—the lies that Tr*mp et al. introduce in place of truths reported by the press. As a superannuated scientist, I’m especially offended by this notion: something is (unless it’s ambiguous) either a fact or not a fact, and cannot simultaneously be both—unless you’re Schödinger’s cat.

So, first we have Tr*mp’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, using his initial press conference to attack press reports about the relatively sparse attendance at Tr*mp’s inauguration (compared to Obama’s inaugurations), the BustGate issue, and to tout Tr*mp’s “triumphant” reception at the CIA. Spicer took no questions: not a good start for relations between the media and the government.

In a great piece by Chris Cillizilla, the Washington Post has annotated some of Spicer’s remarks. You’ll see that some of the statements are highlighted in yellow, and if you click on those you’ll see the reporter’s take on Spicer’s remarks. There are many lies, a few truths, and a lot of equivocation. This use of the “Genius” feature to highlight statements is a very nice thing.

Here’s the video: start at 1:18. Then read the piece highlighted above.

And here’s a remarkable exchange (also written up in The Post) between Chuck Todd, reporter and moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and Kellyanne Conway, officially named as “Counselor” to President Tr*mp.

Todd presses Conway to explain why Spicer was trotted out to lie to the press in his first public appearance (Todd is talking about the attendance at the inauguration). Conway’s non-response is simply a threat to the press: “If we’re going to keep referring to our Press Secretary in those types of terms, we’re going have to rethink our relationship here.” She then brings up the Martin Luther King, Jr. bust, a press error that was immediately corrected. (Spicer, of course, did not correct his lies.)

At 1:32 Todd, exercised at Conway’s refusal to answer his question, presses her to explain why Spicer lied in his first appearance. She responds that “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and. . . Sean Spicer gave ‘alternative facts.'” Todd gets even more worked up and says, “Alternative facts are not facts. . . they’re falsehoods.” (See Cillizilla’s piece to see how factual the “alternative facts” are.)

Todd’s right. Conway went on equivocating and bringing up other issues: she’s a master at midirection and dissimulating, but she’s not going to win over the press.

This exchange, which took place two days after Trump was inaugurated, is a harbinger of what we’re in for. Thank Ceiling Cat that America has a free press and won’t passively put up with lies. For its part, the Trump administration will do everything it can to mock the press, but it can do little to muzzle it given we have the First Amendment. Let us hope that people like Todd will keep pressing the Administration when they lie and equivocate. It can’t help but come across to at least some of the American people.

Fasten your seat belts; we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Alternative facts, indeed!


And, for more grins (we must not lose our sense of humor):


h/t: Hempenstein

Monday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

Welcome to a new week. Alas, Jerry and the co-authors of the original Hili Dialogues, Andrzej and Malgorzata are all ill. I hope you will join me in sending all three good wishes and a speedy recovery.

Today is the day that Nixon announced a peace accord had been reached in Vietnam (1973), and in 2003 NASA detected the last signal from Pioneer 10 as it sailed out of the Solar System. That was one of the probes that holds the gold plaques that were recommended by Carl Sagan containing a “Message from Earth”, cramming as much information as possible about our species and its achievements without using words. Can you identify what all this stuff means?


It is also the anniversary of the death (1976) of Paul Robeson, bass singer and activist. Instead of playing one of his more well-known performances from operas, I’ll show this video of Robeson singing a song that shows both sides of the main interests in his life: music and activism. This is “Warszawianka“, sung in both Polish and English. If you are interested in the Polish and English lyrics and a little of their history, you can read them here.

And finally we have the words of the day from Dobrzyń.

A: What are you looking there for?
Hili: Digital truth.


In Polish:

Ja: Czego tam szukasz?
Hili: Cyfrowej prawdy.

Note from JAC: I am slowly clawing my way back to the land of the living, and will rest a bit this morning before essaying a walk to work. There I’ll see if I can do anything substantive, as I have a piece of writing on deadline as well as some posts planned for here. Meanwhile, Grania (peace be upon her) called my attention to some get-well kitteh cards, which include this gem:


And I’ll add that today is the birthday of Ed Roberts (1939-1965), a disability-rights activist and the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of California. (He was paralyzed from the neck down by polio.) Google has honored him today with a Doodle:



Winner: Squirrel appreciation contest

Sadly, there was only one entry in my contest on Squirrel Appreciation Day, involving readers sending a good picture of themselves helping squirrels. (Don’t you people like squirrels?) The good news is that the single entry was a great picture, and so reader Christopher Moss wins a free copy of Faith Versus Fact with a fact-based squirrel drawn in. (Of course, all animals are fact based since none of them are crazy enough to believe in gods.)

His notes are indented:

I read your post and ran out to grab a photo of one of the three red squirrels that come to be fed on my deck.This one happens to be #2 with respect to dominance as far as I can tell, basing this on who chases off whom. He is nowhere near as fat as #1! It’s interesting to see how they have become much more tolerant of each other as the weather has become colder—my understanding is that this is expected as they have to huddle up together to keep warm whilst they take their long sleeps through the winter. Perhaps we humans might concede that those we sleep with are to be treated differently when we are out at the restaurant!


Trump’s unhinged remarks to the CIA

Yesterday, one day after their inauguration, Vice-Pr*s*d*nt Pence and Pr*s*d*nt Trump addressed the CIA at their headquarters in Langley, perhaps to assure them that the new administration was on board with them. (Trump had been critical of our intelligence agencies during the campaign.)

Politico has posted the full text of both men’s remarks to the CIA, and you should read it if a.) you need confirmation of how clueless Trump is (Pence’s words were pretty tame) or b.) you want a good laugh. I’d use the word “insane,” but that’s considered ableist.

For what we see here is nothing more than a “Trump mind dump.” It’s as if he hadn’t prepared anything, was slightly stoned, and just decided to talk as if he were on a reality show. Not only that, but once again he decided to go after the press. His target was Time Magazine, which had apparently criticized him for removing a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office. Trump says that was untrue, but why the hell did he even bring it up (as well as his general dislike of the media) at a CIA briefing?

I’ll give just two excerpts from The Donald’s remarks. The first refers to Representative Mike Pompeo (a Republican from Kansas), whom Trump has nominated to be head of the CIA. Pompeo, by the way, has told Congress that, if confirmed, he would consider bringing back “enhanced interrogation methods (aka torture), including waterboarding.

Note that the speech is punctuated with laughter, which, given the fact that it wasn’t funny, means that the CIA is full of either Trumpies or toadies.

Here are Trump’s words to the CIA:

But Mike [Pompeo] was literally — I had a group of — what, we had nine different people? Now, I must say, I didn’t mind cancelling eight appointments. That wasn’t the worst thing in the world. But I met him and I said, he is so good. Number one in his class at West Point.

Now, I know a lot about West Point. I’m a person that very strongly believes in academics. In fact, every time I say I had an uncle who was a great professor at MIT for 35 years who did a fantastic job in so many different ways, academically — was an academic genius — and then they say, is Donald Trump an intellectual? Trust me, I’m like a smart persona. (Laughter.) And I recognized immediately. So he was number one at West Point, and he was also essentially number one at Harvard Law School. And then he decided to go into the military. And he ran for Congress. And everything he’s done has been a homerun. People like him, but much more importantly to me, everybody respects him. And when I told Paul Ryan that I wanted to do this, I would say he may be the only person that was not totally thrilled — right, Mike? Because he said, I don’t want to lose this guy.

But you will be getting a total star. You’re going to be getting a total gem. He’s a gem. (Applause.) You’ll see. You’ll see. And many of you know him anyway. But you’re going to see. And again, we have some great people going in. But this one is something — is going to be very special, because this is one, if I had to name the most important, this would certainly be perhaps — you know, in certain ways, you could say my most important. You do the job like everybody in this room is capable of doing. And the generals are wonderful, and the fighting is wonderful. But if you give them the right direction, boy, does the fighting become easier. And, boy, do we lose so fewer lives, and win so quickly. And that’s what we have to do. We have to start winning again.

If I bolded everything that was unseemly in that statement (“the fighting is wonderful,” etc.), it would all be bolded. But wait–there’s more! This followed the remarks above:

You know, when I was young and when I was — of course, I feel young. I feel like I’m 30, 35, 39. (Laughter.) Somebody said, are you young? I said, I think I’m young. You know, I was stopping — when we were in the final month of that campaign, four stops, five stops, seven stops. Speeches, speeches, in front of 25,000, 30,000 people, 15,000, 19,000 from stop to stop. I feel young.

After that one expects to hear something like, “I’ll be here all week, folks. Be sure to try the roast beef!”

Then he takes on the media. Why on earth did he add stuff like this? Read it carefully, as it’s larded with narcissism.

And the reason you’re my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth. (Laughter and applause.) And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want to let you know, the reason you’re the number-one stop is exactly the opposite — exactly. And they understand that, too.

. . . We had another one [a supposed lie by the media] yesterday, which was interesting. In the Oval Office there’s a beautiful statue of Dr. Martin Luther King. And I also happen to like Churchill, Winston Churchill. I think most of us like Churchill. He doesn’t come from our country, but had a lot to do with it. Helped us; real ally. And, as you know, the Churchill statue was taken out — the bust. And as you also probably have read, the Prime Minister is coming over to our country very shortly. And they wanted to know whether or not I’d like it back. I say, absolutely, but in the meantime we have a bust of Churchill.

So a reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on there cover, like, 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time Magazine. Like, if Tom Brady is on the cover, it’s one time, because he won the Super Bowl or something, right? (Laughter.) I’ve been on it for 15 times this year. I don’t think that’s a record, Mike, that can ever be broken. Do you agree with that? What do you think?

But I will say that they said — it was very interesting — that Donald Trump took down the bust, the statue, of Dr. Martin Luther King. And it was right there. But there was a cameraman that was in front of it. (Laughter.) So Zeke — Zeke from Time Magazine writes a story about I took down. I would never do that because I have great respect for Dr. Martin Luther King. But this is how dishonest the media is.

Now, the big story — the retraction was, like, where? Was it a line? Or do they even bother putting it in? So I only like to say that because I love honesty. I like honest reporting.

Certainly he does, so long as the “honesty” is favorable to himself.


h/t: Matthew Cobb

Slight hiatus due to illness: discussion thread

What I thought was a mild cold has developed into a bad cold, and though it didn’t reach the flu stage, I suspect I’ve got one of those viruses that’s on the spectrum. (I did get my flu shot last fall, as all of you should have.)

At any rate, after a day in bed I’m on the mend, and if the laws of physics are salubrious, I’ll be posting again tomorrow. In the meantime, Greg has promised to put up one post today, and if you’ve come over here and don’t find anything, my apologies.

I suggest—and this is an experiment—that readers may want to have a discussion thread: bring up those things that are on your mind (politics, science, whatever); and we’ll see if this works.

As for me, unshaven and unwashed, I’m throwing on my clothes, driving to the store, and loading up on juice and soup.

Onwards and upwards.


Sunday: Hili dialogue

by Grania


Good morning everyone. Jerry is poorly so I am putting up the Hili Dialogue for him. I’m hoping he will rally later on. Andrzej and Małgorzata are also ill so it is a credit to their perseverance that we have a dialogue this morning.

Today is the anniversary of the decision in Roe v Wade. Who would have dreamed that four decades later the debate would still rage over this issue?

It’s also the birthday of Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS (pronounced In Excess for those of you who have never heard of it before) who died at the very young age of 37.

It’s also the anniversary of the death (1964) of Marc Blitzstein, American composer most famous for his 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock which was shut down when it was first performed for being “too radical” as it was pro-union and anti corporate greed.

Anyway, with that onto the doings in Poland.

A: Did you eat Malgorzata’s ham?
Hili: Give her some cheese.


In Polish:

Ja: Ty zjadłaś Małgorzaty szynkę?
Hili: Postaw jej ser.

As a lagniappe:

A cartoon by Gustavo Viselner, sent in by reader Josh Lincoln.

It’s National Squirrel Appreciation Day!

How could I forget? Well, I am still feeding my gang 3 times per day: sunflower seeds, pecans, and peanuts.

Be good to your squirrels, even though there are some nasty people on the Internet who want to hurt them.  And you can get bonus points here if you do something nice for a squirrel. Send a photo of your sciurophile activities
and, if there’s a really good one (has to be taken today or tomorrow), I’ll send out a copy of Faith Versus Fact with a squirrel drawn in it.

squirrel-2Here’s a new photo freom reader Diana MacPherson:

Black Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), Sheltered from Winter Weather, Eats a Nut


h/t: Nicole

Welcome to the Regressive Left in the Trump era: no “safe spaces” for those you oppose

I was saddened to hear about the violence in D.C. this weekend, with over 100 people arrested and substantial damage to property.  If a march is to succeed, it should be nonviolent, as was the case with the civil rights and Vietnam marches in the Sixties (yes, I know there was some violence).  If the Left is to keep the moral high ground, we simply can’t go around physically attacking those whose views we don’t like. In fact it’s ironic, because when progressives do this, they’re implicitly denying someone a REAL safe space: a space to be free to express your opinions and remain physically safe. “Safety” refers to freedom from physical attack or illegal harassment, not to freedom from hearing views you don’t like.

As a conscientious objector, I’ve always adhered to the nonviolent philosophies of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, for if you start violence, you lose credibility.

Here’s a white supremacist, Richard Spencer, getting punched in D.C. during the anti-Trump rallies:

Spencer is odious, but he doesn’t deserve to be punched. And yet here’s atheist Dan Arel, whose behavior has become increasingly bizarre, defending that punch on Twitter: 

Stephen Knight (“Godless Spellchecker”) weighs in:

And a few other unhinged tweets by Arel:

I guess Arel thinks that gives us license to punch anyone we don’t like. I no longer have any use for Arel, even though at one time he wrote a good book on godless parenting.

But wait, there’s more!

More excuses for violence; this one is particularly pernicious:


Dave Rubin chimes in with a tw**t by CNN correspondent Jake Tapper, probably referring to Rosie O’Donnell’s claim that Barron Trump was autistic (no evidence for that, I think):

One more from Rubin:

Peter Boghossian decries the violence:


More people defending the violence against Spencer:


And Sarah Silverman strikes back:


We were all worried about Trump supporters creating violence if Hillary Clinton won, but here we have exactly the opposite outcome.  Let’s knock off the violence, the punching, and the destruction, folks. It’s neither productive nor progressive. Even a white supremacist deserves to have his say without being physically attacked.

Yet another accommodationist book

Yes, it’s called Let there be SCIENCE: Why God loves Science and Science Needs God. The first part of the title presumes, without evidence, that there is a God, and the second part is just bogus: science operates best by ignoring God, operating as if gods did not exist. It’s appropriate that the book is coming out on April Fools’ Day of this year.

The authors? Amazon says this:

Tom McLeish is a physics professor, chair of the Royal Society’s education committee, and an Anglican lay reader. He is the author of Faith and Wisdom in Science. David Hutchings is a physics teacher.

Chair of the Royal Society’s education committee? What the bloody hell is a theist doing in that position?

Why, do you suppose, that people are always trying to comport religion with science instead of, say, religion with business or with sports? It’s obvious! Science and religion are both areas that make truth statements about the universe, and are in that sense competitors. But only science has a valid way of adjudicating its findings, and thus is infinitely superior to religion, which has no way to justify its “truths.” (Evidence: all religions have different truth statements about the universe, and they can’t be reconciled.)

At any rate, here’s part of the Amazon blurb, which is pretty truthful about science but tells two big lies about Christianity. (Any why are they comporting science with Christianity instead of some other religions?)

Too often, it would seem, science has been presented to the outside world as a robotic, detached, unemotional enterprise. Too often, Christianity is dismissed as being an ancient superstition. In reality, neither is the case. Science is a deeply human activity, and Christianity is deeply reasonable.

I suspect someone’s been reading Plantinga. Christianity is no more reasonable than Hindu mythology or the pantheon of Greek Gods.


From the book’s website, we learn about the “fatal glass of beer“. Beware of the dregs!


. . . and we get this palaver:

Like its background text, Faith and Wisdom in Science (good for further reading by the way), it’s main task is to blow away the myth that science and orthodox Christian faith are in any necessary conflict now, or at any time in history.

On the contrary, we find that throughout the ages, the faith required to do science, that our minds might just be up to the job of perceiving the inner structures of the universe, as well as its cosmic glories, is motivated by the same ‘Faith’ that dares to suppose that those very minds reflect in some way that of their Creator.

Furthermore, we find that the reason to do science is also theologically grounded.  Historically, the great scientists at the start of the early modern period when experimental science got off the ground, had a worked out theological reason for acquiring knowledge of the natural world.

There is of course no “religious-like faith” required to do science; there is confidence that the scientific toolkit—what I call “science broadly conceived”—will help us find truths about the cosmos and solve problems like curing diseases and landing rockets on comets. And unlike faith, which is belief without evidence, the confidence in science is there because, as they say, “Science works, bitches!” In other words, there’s evidence that science approaches the apprehension of truth. (See my article on this issue here.) In contrast, the faith that supposes that God created our minds is garden-variety religious faith: confident belief without sufficient evidence to command assent from all reasonable people (that’s philosopher Walter Kauffman’s definition).

Finally, while it may be true that some scientists like Newton had theological reasons for studying the natural world, that was by no means always true, even in the past: think of the ancient Greeks. And even if it were true, scientists no longer have religious reasons for doing science; in fact, most of us are atheists. We do science because we’re curious, because some of us want to help society or the afflicted, and so on; and the best way to do that, we’ve found, is to take no notice of gods.

h/t: Matthew Cobb