Christians stole Christmas from pagans

crafts knitting

Knitting Podcast??

So, I’ve been on a monster binge of watching knitting podcasts mainly on YouTube. And I’ve been thinking about starting my own and soo… I did. Watch it below, it’s kind of long so if you’re not into this sort of thing, feel free to skip.

I’m probably going to see if I can switch my funding interval to monthly rather than per post/thing because I have a goal of podcasting once a week, and if I add that in addition to blog posts, that puts me over my original 2-5 posts a month estimate for you guys on Patreon so this should make it easier.

In where Ellen introduces herself and idlecatknits, the craft room, and gets super excited about new socks.

(My show notes will improve with time. I totally winged this episode so I’ll go over some details I missed on my next video.)

You can find me on the following websites:
Ravelry: http://www.ravelry.com/people/idlecat…
Instagram: https://instagram.com/idlecatknits/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/idlecatknits


Unpacking the Islam/imperialism binary that’s become so popular with theorists

First of all, this issue is so frustrating because you have to isolate what people mean when they talk about these two terms.

To start with, imperialism & colonialism: the French and British had colonial endeavours in the Middle East, and particularly North Africa, during the imperial era. Algeria was a French colony. Libya was colonized by the Italians. Aden was a protectorate of the British. Napoleon invaded Egypt, but his military endeavour failed.  The British occupied Egypt from 1882 and oversaw the Suez Canal, until they were ousted in 1956. Of course there was also the British Raj (but then, that’s not the Middle East), and most of what the British did around the Arab Gulf had to do with protecting the interests of the Raj — the Gulf was more incidental to British imperial interests, comparatively.

But here’s what gets left out of a lot of these discussions: Britain and France were actually two separate powers, often playing off an empire which was not European at all, that is, the Ottoman Empire!

The Ottoman Empire existed for centuries (since 1299), and for much of its existence, it was ascendant in most of what we now call the Middle East. At times, the European powers allied with the Ottomans. At times, they allied with Arabs against the Ottomans. Arabs were under Ottoman suzerainty, including the sharif of Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. The decline of Ottoman power and thus rising poverty and lapses of social cohesion is one factor my book on Saudi Arabia (author, James Wynbrandt) lists as contributing to the rise of a religious revival “back to fundamentals” movement in Arabia, led by the ultra-conservative cleric, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

These movements have occurred throughout the history of Islam — for instance, at the end of the Arab-Persian-Turkish Islamicate Golden Age following early Arab imperialism, the conservative cleric al-Ghazali so successfully attacked neoplatonic Hellenistic philosophy that it was never again as popular among Arab scholars. Now, of course, you can look at these religious revival movements, and their analogues in Judaism and Christianity, and ask whether these religions will just forever have be plagued by conservative tendencies, or whether they can transcend them and be totally universally reformed and progressive everywhere somehow — myself, I’m rather dubious, but that’s beside my main point, at least here.

There was actually quite a bit of fornicating and boozing going on in Arabia, some of which was just a matter of “polite society” looking away (Samaritans ignoring the Philistines, as it were) and some of it was a matter of Muslims of the more cosmopolitan Hijaz feeling somewhat special (and thus above the laws) due to their proximity to Islam’s birthplace. There were red light districts. Alcohol was sold near the Kaaba.

Abd al-Wahhab, horrified by all the fun these people were having, aggressively went after the culprits, as well as all the people who combined elements of ancestral worship, animism, and other forms of “idolatry” in their practice of Islam (which was pretty common — I mean, a lot of the more nomadic Arabs weren’t literate and hadn’t read the Qur’an and were basically just doing whatever they pleased).

Al-Wahhab made a pact with the al-Saud family. Saud would conquer tribes militarily, and al-Wahhab would indoctrinate them into his very conservative form of Sunni Islam. As has been discussed before, monotheism, and particularly aggressive and conservative forms of monotheism, is a powerful tool of social control. It united much of Arabia before in Muhammad’s era. Through the military conquests of the al-Saud family, it united much of it again, but not without quite a bit of significant opposition.

One major source of opposition was the Ottoman Empire itself. Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Egyptian viceroy to the Ottomans, underwent a campaign into the Arabian interior, and later sent his son, Ibrahim. Some were happy that the Ottomans repelled the Wahhabis, who had been attacking sites like Karbala (a Shi’a stronghold) in present day Iraq, but the Ottomans ended up being so brutal in their suppression of the Wahhabis (Muhammad Ali’s son, Isma’il, actually sent the ears of those he killed back to Cairo because there were too many heads to send them all) that many in Arabia preferred Wahhabis to the Egyptians & Ottoman power.

So where did the Europeans come into these affairs? Well, the European colonial powers were pretty much opportunists and would shift alliances wherever it seemed like it’d be beneficial for them to do so. At first, the British tried to ally with Muhammad Ali against the Wahhabis, but he wasn’t actually having it. During WWI, some Arabs fought against the Ottomans and allied with the British — hence, T.E. Lawrence’s campaign with the Arabs against the Turks. And when the USA entered the picture, those in Arabia actually generally preferred to work with the US because it didn’t have a history of imperialistic endeavors in the region, relative to the British.

But I think the biggest imperial effect of the Western powers came after WW I, when the Sykes-Picot agreement, created in secret between the French and British, carved up the Arab world and betrayed promises made by the Europeans to the Arabs, as well as the Balfour Declaration, and the Zionist movement for the state of Israel. You also have quite a bit of Western interference and manipulation in terms of secret coups (like the 1953 coup in Iran, in which the CIA played a role) and market forces (ARAMCO, Anglo-Persian Oil, US-Saud alliance based around oil), followed by an era of Cold War conflicts.

More than anything, it’s this last era which people mean when they talk about imperialism and Islam in the Middle East, even though these conflicts aren’t so much imperialism/colonialism proper (the US has no empire/colonies in the Middle East; the violent clusterfuck of Israeli policy is endorsed by the US, however) as militarism with an imperialistic bent (the whole “spreading democracy” bullshit). You may say I’m splitting hairs, but in order to deal with these forces, I think it’s important to be as specific as possible and eschew sensationalism.

Anyhow, my detour about Wahhabism earlier was to illustrate that particularly conservative forms of Islam were alive and well in the Middle East prior to Sykes-Picot and prior to the Cold War and the resulting militarism. But just as people usually refer to several different forces when they talk about imperialism in the Middle East, there have been different movements associated with Islam, and when people talk about imperialism creating radical Islam, the movements to which they refer — as near as I can tell — are the political organizations focused on asymmetrical warfare, or what people in the states would call terrorist cells. The Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and now ISIS. The term Islamism has been proposed for these movements, and it’s useful shorthand, but it gets pretty messy when you consider that they’re not really some kind of umbrella movement, but rather several different movements, with some at times being enemies to one another.

So, what caused these radical movements? Islam? Imperialism?

Well, imperialism definitely did fuel plenty of reactionary backlash in the Middle East. And the noble warfare ideology of jihad in Islam does lend a divine sort of framework to forms of aggression and resistance or perceived resistance (perceived insofar as — does anyone think ISIL is really liberating people?). Though there are other factors you can bring up. Modernity itself, and the speed with which it’s overtaken the region, has played a role. And a lot of these movements have reacted against Arab nationalism of a more secular variety (look at Sayyid Qutb & the Muslim Brotherhood). And of course, to my mind, one of the biggest driving forces has been the radicalizing power of wars. Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization (formed 1988-1989) was created by Arab volunteers who had battled the Soviets in the Afghan civil war. Palestinians suffering Israeli occupation have radicalized and resisted via asymmetrical warfare. Hezbollah was created in Lebanon in reaction to the Israeli invasion. ISIS itself didn’t really come onto the scene until the wars in Iraq and Syria destabilized the region and gave room to pivot and take power. These aren’t state actors (much as ISIS is trying to be… and who knows, at this rate), and these aren’t empires. These are reactions — against imperialism, market forces, yes, but also against modernity and its perceived secular decadence, AND against states themselves (& state borders), and they are filtered through a pre-existing conservative climate (salafi/Wahhabi).

So, I guess if you want to be simplistic, it’s “both/and,” with a judicious helping of other shit.

Now, if you want to get even more complicated, you can ask about the line between Wahhabism and these newer movements. Conservative, after all, isn’t the same as violent. Your racist uncle at Thanksgiving isn’t necessarily an abortion clinic bomber, but is he (ideologically speaking) a slippery slope to an abortion clinic bomber (or, at least, providing the atmosphere in which such a person is excused, a la Bill O’Reilly)? And that’s why Saudi Arabia has fallen under a lot of criticism. Since its basis as a state is linked to Wahhabism, and since it has spend large sums on setting up madrassas to school kids in Wahhabi doctrine, there are many Muslims who feel the royal family has helped unleash groups like al-Qaeda, and has to eat some blame for this.

This gets really messy. Saudi Arabia is and Wahhabi here is, I think, somewhat analogous to preachers who went to Uganda and said how evil queers are, only to try to wash their hands of the resulting legislation, or Bill O’Reilly talking about what a “baby killer” George Tiller was before he was murdered by a fanatic, or conservatives in the Southern US trying to pull some love the sinner, hate the sin anti-queer bullshit — these examples are merely approximate, but I think you see what I’m driving at. The state is an ally of the US and firmly repudiates the kinds of Islamist groups I’m talking about, but many Muslims take this repudiation as being similar to the examples I gave of conservatives who stirred up an ideologically brutal climate, only to disclaim the bloody results. Plus, Saudi Arabia as a state is pretty terrible for all kinds of human rights violations (in its basic laws, Shi’a genocides, rights of women, labour laws, public beheadings) — just that it operates as a recognized polity/state.

NOW, I certainly left a lot out of this analysis. I didn’t go that much into South Asia (Pakistan, mainly), North Africa, or the parallel Islamist cells in other parts of Africa like Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. I didn’t talk too much about other schools of Islam or other reform movements, the Iranian revolution, Indonesia, or the eternal clusterfuck that is the Balkans and what Russia called the “Central East” states, i.e. Chechnya. For that matter, I didn’t even really discuss all the different Arab nationalist movements, like Hussein’s Ba’ath party or Gamal Abdel Nasser or the brutal (but secular) Syrian regime. The fact is, the topic is just too fucking big. But that’s the point I’m trying to make. You can’t boil something this complex down into cheap soundbites, and when you try, you end up with ridiculous generalizations.

So, here is the last thought I want to leave you with. And bear with me, because this is difficult to articulate. But, if you find yourself pulling out this binary, what exactly are you trying to achieve with it?

For those of you (hawkish, right-wing minded sorts) who think Muslims are, as a category, suspicious elements, are you brazenly advocating profiling or segregation or — what, exactly? And for those of you who believe that Muslims who do radicalize & join ISIS (or al-Qaeda, etc.) are true and honest freedom fighters motivated sheerly by injustice towards Palestinians & reacting against imperialism — are you, I don’t know, advocating this? Saying “well, I’m not advocating it, but it’s just a thing” and shrugging your shoulders?

You see, this is why I’m reacting impatiently to this sort of discussion: it doesn’t go anywhere. You reach intolerable conclusions like Muslims are inherently radicals or radicals are inherently freedom fighters, and then you’re either a simpleminded bigot or a bizarre apologist, depending. And yes, I’m aware that Leftists who take the latter stance will sometimes distance themselves from the implications of their rhetoric, but they still give plenty of credence to the rhetoric of reactionaries themselves.

I have a few ideas for a possible alternative framework, but that may require a few more posts.

crafts knitting

DIY Sock Blockers

So as I’ve written, I’ve been knitting a LOT of socks lately. And one thing I haven’t done is blocked my socks. (For non-knitters, blocking is when you wet a project and stretch it into it’s intended finished shape and let it dry that way. This eases out any kinks and unevenness in your knitting tension and gives the project a finished, professional look and can help hide any goofy little mistakes.)

Pretty much the only tool you can use to assist in blocking socks, besides your feet, are called sock blockers. But in my research to purchase sock blockers, I found that they’re all pretty much ridiculously over priced for something I could easily make myself out of some wire coat hangars. So, I thought I’d share my process.


Luckily, materials are easy. Just grab some wire hangars from your closet or get some nicer ones from the store – mine I stole from my partner’s closet (with permission) but we think they’re from Target. They’re a nice silver and a thicker gauge metal than what I was thinking of so they kind of wrecked my hands, but they look really nice. You’ll also need a ruler (not pictured), pen or pencil and 1-2 sheets of paper that your foot will fit on. Printer paper will be fine for most unless you have ridiculous clown feet (no judging). You may also choose to use some heavy pliers but I found it was much more effective to just use my hands.

Step 1: Trace your foot! It doesn’t need to be beautiful, just be sure to put some standing pressure on your foot to get your full-size foot print. Then measure the longest and widest parts of your feet. Now take your nearest modern device that can do some calculations and take your two measurements and multiply them by 0.9. This shrinks your foot measurements giving the sock some negative ease so it will still have some “hug” left in it to stay on your foot. So for example, my measurements were or 9.875 inches long by 3.875 inches wide. Multiplied by 0.9 gives me 8.9″ by 3.5″ (rounded to the nearest tenth). (Calculations from this blog post of a similar tutorial for cardboard sock blockers.)


Step 2: Draw these two new smaller measurements onto your second piece of paper to start drawing the shape of your sock blocker. I aligned mine to the corner of the paper  to give some room for the angle of the leg. Draw out the shape you want. I like a nice big rounded toe, and be sure to increase the width of the ankle/leg as it goes up to account for any calf shaping that went into your socks. Don’t stress over getting this perfect, you won’t get the hangar to bend perfectly to this shape, but this will just give you a guide template to compare to as you begin bending.


Step 3: Start bending metal!

Metal Bending from Legend of Korra
Metal Bending from Legend of Korra #geek

I tried using pliers, but they weren’t big enough for the hangars I had but they may work for you – although if they have the grooved teeth, they may leave marks in your wire which may snag your yarn – so use at your own discretion. I just used my hands, but found the hard plastic arm of my office chair to be a great tool to press against to create gentle curves with pressure from the palm of my hands rather than just killing my thumbs. The edge of a table would work just as well, but the chair arm I could fit inside the space of the hangar as well for interior curves. But work with whatever you’ve got!

Bending tips:
Reverse-bend the sharper corners that the hanger starts with to try and straighten them out as much as possible before beginning the sock shape. This will minimize any of kinky-weirdness you may get from those being bent already (unless you’re into that sort of thing).

If you want the hook to be in the top-center of the leg, then start with the top two corner bends (1, 2) in the mid-calf area, then do the top-foot corner bend (3), followed by the toe (4), then the heel bend (5) last. This means that the toe bend will not be the exact opposite center of the hangar from the hook. The “middle” of the hangar will actually be somewhere on the ball of your sock blocker’s foot, so resist the temptation to just pull down the middle like a kite shape to start the toe.



Refer to your drawing often as you’re bending your sock blocker to make sure all the bends are landing in the right place. Don’t worry too much about perfect angles and curves, you’ll have time to perfect the shape at the very end.

When you think you’ve got it about right, stick a pair of socks on and see if they fit!


When I first put this sock on, it was loose in the inner-foot bend, and wasn’t filling out the heel enough so I adjusted my bends to make the heel a bit sharper and the inner-foot a bit flatter and further away from the heel to get rid of the looseness. Above is the final result! Below you can compare my drawing with my final sock shape to see what adjustments I made.


My final sock blocker measurements are 8.75″ from toe to heel, about 3.4″ wide in the foot, 3.5″ at the ankle and about 4.25″ at the top of the leg. Just about perfect I think!

I hope this tutorial helps you! If it did, send me pictures on Twitter or Instagram or consider contributing to my Patreon! Thanks!!



Shiny & New

This last weekend I got my new gaming computer parts in the mail and I spent Sunday and Monday with a good friend building it and getting everything set up and ready to play. This is mainly a picture post with captions to tell the story. (Sorry for some potatoes.) Here’s the PC Picker Parts List for those who want more specific details. Enjoy!

Computer Parts! They all arrived on Saturday. The case (not pictured) had arrive a couple days earlier.
Computer Parts! They all arrived on Saturday. The case (not pictured) had arrive a couple days earlier.
Sunday night, putting in the motherboard first…
It has cool dragons on it... I was amused because you're never going to see this again.
It has cool dragons on it… I was amused because you’re never going to see this again.
Ran into a small snafu where the optical drive doesn't fit in with the size of the motherboard we got.
Ran into a small snafu where the optical drive doesn’t fit in with the size of the motherboard we got. No big deal, we managed to install all the drivers needed with some creative applications of USB drives.
All the guts are in!
All the guts are in! Minus the CD/DVD drive.
Glamour shot of the case. Nice and minimal.
Glamour shot of the case. Nice and minimal.
The mesmerizing blue light from the power unit.
IT LIVES!! The mesmerizing blue light from the power unit. The power status LED on the front of the case shoots a bright blue circle onto the ceiling too.
Here's my first set up! I've got a 42" TV as a 2nd monitor, a 24" Dell monitor for my main computer, and my old 2011 iMac off to the side, currently off because I ran out of outlets.
Here’s my first set up! I’ve got a 42″ TV as a 2nd monitor, a 24″ Dell monitor for my main monitor, PC on the floor, and my old 2011 iMac off to the right, currently off because I ran out of outlets.

The total was just over $700 with all parts from Newegg. The monitor was purchased separately on Amazon.



“If humans are just atoms, then they are not morally relevant”


One common — and pernicious — argument against naturalistic explanations of persons is that if people are just conglomerations of atoms, then they are not morally relevant (or that they lack moral significance; herein, I will assume that ‘moral significance’ and ‘moral relevance’ are interchangeable). The point, I take it, is supposed to be that, in virtue of their composition, anything composed of atoms would fail to have the right sort of properties to be morally relevant (whatever those sorts of properties are). For example, Christian apologist Brian Colon writes, “If all that exists is matter, then that would mean that we are nothing but matter as well.  If that’s true then why do we believe that humans are worthy of respect? […] Humans really are worthy of respect.  This is inexplicable on the Atheistic Worldview.” [1] Call this the atomic objection. In this post, I will show that the atomic objection fails spectacularly and argue that theists should not advance the atomic objection against their atheistic interlocutors.

1. What’s so wrong with being composed of atoms?

At minimum, the theist needs to do more work to spell out exactly what the atomic objection is supposed to be, or why it’s so objectionable to think that humans are composed of atoms. Notice that one way to make humans sound morally insignificant is with locutions of the following sort: ‘humans are just x’, where x can be filled in with whatever humans are taken to be composed of. For example, the materialist might say, “humans are just atoms in motion”, and this sounds rather deflationary and depressing. But the same could be said of their supernaturalist rivals — “humans are just immaterial souls” or “humans are just immaterial minds created in the image of God” or whatever — and it would sound just as deflationary and depressing. Therefore, one cannot simply list the component parts of humans and, from that list, surmise whether humans have some sort of moral significance. Instead, one needs to show that given their component parts, humans either can or cannot have attributes which endow them with moral significance.

Moreover, any property theists claim we possess in virtue of having a soul — the ability to form rational thoughts, or the ability to appreciate love or goodness, or whatever else — are likewise properties the atheist will attribute to our having minds, ultimately reducible to a particular kind of brain. If the theist claims physical matter cannot have thoughts, the ability to appreciate love, and so on, on the basis that they cannot see how physical matter could possibly perform those sorts of processes, the atheist is free to point out that they cannot see how the possession of a soul allows us those properties either. The theist can maintain that the soul performs those processes in ways mysterious to humans, but the atheist can just as easily maintain that the brain performs those processes in ways equally mysterious.

This impasse between the theist and atheist can made rigorous through a famous argument schema called the Moorean shift.

1a. The Moorean Shift

Since Rowe’s 1979 article “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism” [2], theists and atheists alike have noted that the problem of evil can addressed, by the theist, through a Moorean shift. In what follows, I will explain what Moorean shifts are, how they apply to the problem of evil, and finally show that the theistic objection I’ve been discussing in this post can be subjected to an atheistic Moorean shift. Arguments of the form [3]:

1. p

2. q

3. Therefore, r.

Can be responded to with parallel arguments of the form:

4. Not r.

5. q

6. Therefore, not p.

Shifting from 1-3 to 4-6 is termed a Moorean shift. The idea is that arguments like 1-3 are sometimes just as rational to maintain as arguments of the form 4-6. William Rowe maintained that theism and atheism can both be rational positions, depending on how one formulates the problem of evil. In a 2007 article, William Lane Craig follows Rowe and offers the following rendition of the problem of evil (where I’ve re-numbered the premises) [4]:

7. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.

8. Gratuitous evil exists.

9. Therefore, God does not exist.

Still following Rowe, Craig suggests the Christian can provide the following Moorean shift (again, with re-numbered premises):

7. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.

8*. God exists.

9*. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Craig notes that premise 7 is uncontroversial between atheists and himself and explains that premise 11* can be maintained, by the theist, by appealing to independent arguments made on behalf of theism (such as the Kalam cosmological argument, the argument from contingency, and the moral argument). I’ll put aside whether Craig is right to maintain premise 8*. Supposing Moorean shifts are legitimate responses to apparent defeaters, objections the atomic objection can be similarly Moorean shifted by the atheist. For example, one way to state the atomic objection is as follows:

10. Nothing that is composed solely of atoms can have moral significance.

11. Atheists maintain that humans are composed solely of atoms.

12. Therefore, atheists should maintain that humans have no moral significance.

However, atheists are unlikely to accept premise 10. In fact, atheists are free to perform the following Moorean shift:

10*. Atheists maintain that humans have moral significance.

11. Atheists maintain that humans are composed solely of atoms.

12*. Therefore, atheists should maintain that some things composed solely of atoms have moral significance.

Here, atheists can maintain 1o* on the basis of independent arguments for secular moral realism or secular moral significance, just as Craig maintains 8* on the basis of independent arguments for theism. The theist cannot object that 1o* is question begging, unless they concede that 8* is likewise question begging.

2. Does our being created by God grant more moral significance to us than our not having been created by God?

The theist might try another approach. On Christian theism, humans were created for specific purposes and perhaps this explains why humans are more morally significant than they would be on atheism. On this account, humans have the proper sorts of lives when they maximally fulfill the purpose for which they were created and, when they fail to fulfill the purpose for which God created them (that is, when they fail to fulfill their telos), they fail to realize their greatest happiness. Moreover, humans have moral significance because they were created in the image of God — and so they resemble God in the appropriate ways, which includes their being non-physical, rational, free minds. In contrast, if there is no God and if humans are mere conglomerations of atoms, then they were not created for a purpose, have no telos to fulfill, and are not non-physical, rational, free minds. On this view, humans are morally significant because they have the requisite attributes to lead lives that are meaningful or purposeful in some important sense.

First, as already discussed, this version of the atomic argument can be responded to with a Moorean shift. The atheist maintains that humans are rational, free minds while simultaneously maintaining that they are composed of atoms not created by God and can appeal to secular arguments for moral realism and moral significance.

Second, the mere existence of someone who created oneself for some purpose does not suffice to provide one’s life with purpose in the relevant sense. All of us have parents who, presumably, brought us to life for whatever purposes they possessed. But it would be strange to say that we should always embrace our parents purposes as our purposes. Perhaps one’s parents wished that one become a doctor, but one is happiest if one is a philosophy professor. For the theist to claim that God having created us endows our lives with purpose in the relevant sense, the theist must maintain that God differs from parents in some relevant way.

One proposal might be that God recognizes some Good we might fulfill and has designed us in such a way that we would be maximally happy if we were to fulfill that Good. There are three metaphysical possibilities for the existence of such goods: a. such goods exist independently of God; b. such goods exist as a consequence of God’s will; or c. such goods can be identified (somehow) with God’s nature. I turn to each of these in turn to show that none of them succeed.

a. The first possibility: there are goods independent of God, but which God recognizes and has designed us so that we might fulfill them. Here, the problem is two-fold. First, by construction, none of these goods can exist as a result of God’s will or nature and therefore must not have been created by God. But, due both to God’s aseity and to central Jewish, Christian, and Islamic doctrines, nothing exists independently of God. Second, if there are goods, in virtue of which we might be maximally happy, independent of God, then such goods — because they are God-independent — can exist with or without God. Therefore, human lives could be meaningful — and thus morally relevant — on any atheist view which allowed for the existence of the Good.

b. The second possibility: the Good towards which our lives are to be properly directed is the result of God’s will. However, one might ask what sort of reasons God possesses for so directing us. Such reasons cannot involve a prior recognition of the Good, for such goods, and that we should be directed towards them, is the result — and not the cause — of God’s will. And, by construction, such goods cannot be somehow identified with God’s nature (though I will later consider the possibility that the Good is to be identified with God’s nature). Thus, it seems that such willings would be totally arbitrary and without reason if they only existed as the result of God’s will. Again, this is troubling for the theist, because willings without reason are random; God might as well have directed our lives towards evil or axiologically neutral states of affairs.

c. Finally, the theist might maintain that God directs our lives towards Good, where the Good is (somehow) identified with God’s nature. States of affairs which are maximally good, in the axiological sense, are those which maximally resemble God’s nature. However, it is fairly difficult to make sense of this view. What could it possibly mean to say that some creaturely state of affairs — which, like all other creaturely states of affairs, is infinitely distinct in every respect from God — somehow maximally resembles God? Christian philosopher Mark Murphy remarks:

[Craig] offer[s] no account […] of exactly how God’s nature provides the relevant standard [of goodness], a fact which is treated as an important consideration against nontheistic accounts of the nature of moral value. In reply to Craig, a number of writers suggested that a standard nontheistic account treats moral value as grounded in prudential value — what is good for persons — but as valued from an impartial perspective, one that takes into account all of the persons who can be made well or badly off. Craig rejects this view, claiming that it is not straightfowardly entailed by the existence of prudential value and the capacity of humans to take this impartial point of view that there is anything like moral value. But of course neither is it straightforwardly entailed by the proposition that God exists that there is anything like moral value. What we have here is a classic example of uneven standards being applied to the debate at hand, treating an appeal to God as able to fill an explanatory gap when it is far from clear that this appeal succeeds any farther than a nontheistic account does. [5]

Thus, for Murphy, grounding the Good towards which our lives might be directed in God’s nature is left mysterious by the theist. Moreover, if the theist can appeal to divine mystery to explain philosophical difficulties, the atheist can just as well appeal to naturalistic mystery. The God of the Gaps is just as good an explanation as Nature of the Gaps.

But I think the situation is actually worse for the theist than Murphy indicates. As traditionally conceived, God’s nature is radically unlike anything in the created realm. To say that God transcends the created realm is at least to say that God is infinitely different from the created realm. So what could it possibly mean to say that a state of affairs is good if the state of affairs appropriately resembles God? Any given state of affairs, at least in the creaturely realm, will always differ infinitely from God; so are no states of affairs good? But then what would it mean to say that one’s life might be appropriately oriented towards the Good?


We’ve seen that the atomic objection does not succeed in showing that atheists are inconsistent if they posit humans to possess moral significance. At best, in positing the atomic objection, theists show that atheists are left appealing to mystery, but theists equally appeal to mystery in their claim that souls are morally significant. Either way, one maintains that substances — whether spiritual or physical — are somehow endowed with moral significance. Moreover, claims that only a spiritual substance created by God could be endowed with moral significance are left either allowing for atheistic moral significance, positing that persons are somehow only randomly morally significant, or with only more mystery.

[1] Colon, B. (2010) “Atheism a Failed Hypothesis”. On the Evidence for Christianity website. http://evidenceforchristianity.org/atheism-a-falsified-hypothesis/

[2] Rowe, W. (1979) “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism”. American Philosophical Quarterly, 16(4): 335-341. 

[3] Ibid, pp 338-9.

[4] Craig, W. (2007) “Theistic Critiques of Atheism”. In Cambridge Companion to Atheism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press): 69-85. Also see the online expanded version.

[5] Murphy, M. (2004) “Suarez’s ‘Best Argument’ and the Dependence of Morality On God”. Quaestiones Disputatae, 5(1): 30-42. Block quote is from pp 32-33.

crafts drawing

Sometimes I draw

Sometimes I just like to draw. Here are a few quick-ish drawings I did last week.

Red Lip Kitty

They aren’t my most polished work, but as I said, they were quick.Couple by Lake

You can see the full album including the reference photographs here.Wedding KissI also accept commissioned portrait work on my Etsy.



Responding to McHugh’s Modal Ontological Argument from Divine Justice (MOADJ)

New Apologetics is a Roman Catholic apologetics, theology, and philosophy organization devoted, among other things, to ministering to atheists. For a couple years now, I have been friends with the organization’s head — Christopher McHugh — whose arguments interest me due to their originality. Chris defends a novel version of the ontological argument he calls the Modal Ontological Argument from Divine Justice (herein: MOADJ), of which I’ve long been suspicious. However, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to articulate where, exactly, the argument goes wrong. In this post, I will offer several critical responses. I encourage Chris — and his followers — to offer a reply.

Chris’s theological positions are summed up in a deeply technical document entitled The Tractatus, written in the style of medieval disputatio, and is located here. To read the MOADJ, scroll down to the section entitled “The Modal Ontological Argument from Divine Justice”. If that gave you a headache to read, you’re not alone. I find it incredibly dense and difficult to slog my way through. Nonetheless, I’ve read it multiple times (I hope you’re happy,  Chris!). The argument concludes that, contrary to appearances, injustice does not ultimately exist because there is a necessarily existent justice-making power that rectifies all injustices:

  1. Since “not being an unjust situation” is situationally necessary, either there is no sense to the concept of “injustice”, or there is an infallible justice-making power which is also situationally necessary. The action of this power “redeems” and transforms unjust situations reconciling them to perfect justice. Such a reconciliation would have to be metaphysically coextensive with the commission of the injustice itself such that every situation is transubstantiated to be exactly the right thing at the right time, otherwise “not being an unjust situation” could not be situationally necessary.
  2. It is not the case that there is no sense to the concept of injustice.
  3. There is a situationally necessary justice-making power. [from 6 and 7 modus tollendo ponens]

However, a parallel argument can be constructed for the non-existence of cats. First, we need to modify the second axiom to read:

Axiom 2: The property of “being situationally necessary” is not compatible with the property “being a cat.” [For any instance of a cat, there is a logically possible situation in which some other animal replaces the cat. For example, if there is a cat on my bed, there is a logically possible situation in which there is a dog on my bed.]

Next, we replace sentences about injustice with sentences about cats in the argument: 

  1. If the property of “being situationally necessary” is not compatible with another given property, then it is compatible with the complement of that property. [from Axiom 1]
  2. The property of “being situationally necessary” is not compatible with the property “being a cat.” [Axiom 2]
  3. The property of “being situationally necessary” is compatible with “not being a cat” [from Axiom 1 and premise 2, modus ponens]
  4. If the property of “being situationally necessary” is compatible with “not being a cat”, then the property of “not being a cat” is situationally necessary. [from Axiom 3 and premise 3]
  5. The property of “not being a cat” is situationally necessary. [from 3 and 4 modus ponens]
  6. Since “not being a cat” is situationally necessary, either there is no sense to the concept of “being a cat”, or there is an infallible not-cat-making power which is also situationally necessary. The action of this power “redeems” and transforms cats reconciling them to perfect non-cathood. Such a reconciliation would have to be metaphysically coextensive with the commission of the cat itself such that every possible cat is transubstantiated to be exactly the perfect non-cat at the right time, otherwise “not being a cat” could not be situationally necessary.
  7. It is not the case that there is no sense to the concept of cats.
  8. There is a situationally necessary non-cat-making power. [from 6 and 7 modus tollendo ponens]

This parody argument provides an important clue as to what went wrong in the original argument. The first axiom of the MOADJ states:

For any property “a”, necessarily one of the following is true:

1) Property “a” is compatible with either property “b” or its complement, “non-b.”

2) Property “a” is compatible with both property “b” and its complement, “non-b.”

The problem is that (1) and (2) are not exhaustive. Some properties are compatible with neither b or non-b. The first premise of Chris’s argument depends on the assumption that if the property of “situational necessity” is not compatible with some property p, then situational necessity is compatible with the complement of p, thereby entailing that p’s complement is situationally necessary. The parody argument suggests we consider the property of being a cat. Situational necessity is not compatible with there being a cat, because cats are contingent, but the situation of there not being a cat is not necessary either, because the situation of there not being a cat is also contingent. Thus, we should add a third condition to the first axiom:

3) Property “a” is compatible with neither property “b” or its complement, “non-b”.

However, granting a condition like (3) halts the original MOADJ. The conclusion no longer follows, because, among other things, one can no longer make inference from premise 2 to premise 3. I am reasonably sure that no fix could be made to the MOADJ either. To see why, notice that the inference from premise 2 to premise 3 has implications that would be illegitimate for modal logic S5. Premise 2 states that the property of unjust is not compatible with the property of being situationally necessary. In other words:

Screenshot 2015-08-10 at 12.01.10 AM

When commuting modal operators with a negation, you simply switch box to diamond and diamond to box, so commuting the negation with the two modal operators yields:

Screenshot 2015-08-10 at 12.02.32 AM

But necessarily x entails x. Thus, we can conclude:

Screenshot 2015-08-10 at 12.05.45 AM

In other words, Chris should conclude that, for any situation, that situation is possibly not unjust. But not being unjust is equivalent to either being just or morally neutral. Therefore, while Chris’s MOADJ concludes that all situations are necessarily just, at best, we can conclude that all situations are possibly either just or morally neutral: Screenshot 2015-08-10 at 12.06.38 AM

Chris’s conclusion is mistaken. Note that no characteristic of injustice is drawn upon other than that injustice is contingent and not necessary. Had Chris’s argument succeeded, we would have to conclude that for any contingent property, there is some necessary opposite property. Obviously, that’s not true; the property of there being a cat is contingent, but so is the property of there not being a cat.


A Return of the Satanic Panic?

For individuals interested in American culture or religion, the late 1970s, 80s, and early 90s are a period of time remembered as the “Satanic Panic”. The Satanic Panic was a period of time in which Americans became convinced that dangerous devil worshiping cults were abusing children and murdering people in dark rituals. Police officers and courts contributed to the panic, as they bought into rumors propounded by conservative Christian groups concerning the dangers of “Satanic Cults” [1], and daytime television programs warned parents of a massive, widespread Satanic conspiracy endangering the well-being of their children [2]. Stemming from the “cult scare” of the 1960s and 70s [3], blossoming to a widespread paranoia about devil worship in the 1980s [4], and finally debunked by numerous investigations in the early 1990s (especially by FBI agent Kenneth Lanning’s 1992 report on Satanic Ritual Abuse, or SRA), the Satanic Panic left in its wake numerous people falsely accused of crimes, lives ruined, and murders unresolved. The unfortunate episode in American religious history inspired The X-Files (and other horror movies and television programs).

The Satanic Panic also led to the persecution of a number of minority religions, including Wicca, Santeria, Vodoun, and others, by a literal 20th century witchhunt. A recent triple homicide in Pensacola, Florida, and its subsequent description as a “Wiccan ritual” by police officers, has led members of the neopagan community to worry about the return of the Satanic panic. A neighbor of the murdered family expressed to local reporters that, “It’s frightening to think about. Especially when you have small children […] to find out that it was this weird, satanic cult, witchcraft whatever, is just really unsettling.” The reporters repeated the neighbor’s message without criticism, signaling to a wider populace that “Satanic” “witchcraft” poses a legitimate threat to their children. The national media repeated the same message, again without criticism.

The persistence of the Satanic Panic past the early 90s has been a recent research interest of mine. I became interested in the issue in graduate school when I learned of a 2013 murder that the media had labelled “Satanic”. Miranda Barbour, who had recently married Ellyette Barbour, had met Troy Laferrara through a personal ad posted to Craig’s List. Miranda and Ellyette murdered Leferrara, left his body in an alley, and left to party at a strip club. When a reporter visited Miranda in prison, she described himself as a member of a Satanic cult, operating in numerous states, who had killed more than 20, but less than 100, people. In all likelihood, the story was a complete fabrication. Nonetheless, in the ensuing months, the media constructed a folklore surrounding Miranda and her supposed occult beliefs, constructing a theology, rituals, and other elements of a legendary religion. The case, and the media’s construction of a “Satanic” crime, became the focus of a working paper that I will be presenting on a panel at a conference in October.

In the past few years, there have been a variety of other cases resembling events from the Satanic panic. Ostension is the carrying out of a ritual originally appearing in legendary or folkloric categories [5]. One example of ostension is the popular “Bloody Mary” ritual in which teens chant in front of a mirror in the attempt to summon a spirit. Most instances of ostension are harmless, and the construction of makeshift rituals or the visitation of supposedly haunted locations, remains a common childhood past time in many communities. However, when preexisting legends or folktales involve violent rituals, teens may be encouraged to carry out acts of violence. During the Satanic Panic, teens who heard stories of devil worship from their Christian churches or daytime television were sometimes inspired to construct makeshift rituals. Paradoxically, the development of the Satanic Panic itself — and a widespread paranoia about violent occult ritualism — led to makeshift violent rituals.

Recently, two teens in Waukesha, Wisconsin, attempted to murder a classmate in order to summon the fictional character Slender Man, a supernatural entity they believed to inhabit the local woods. In several other recent cases, a numbers of homicide suspects who apparently cannibalized their victims, and who possess deeply frightening and anti-social appearances, have been characterized by the tabloid press as “Satanic” [6]. I don’t know whether these cases were instances of legitimate ostension, or if, as I strongly suspect and as was common during the 1980s, the cases were labelled “Satanic” because the suspects adorned themselves and their belongings with occult symbolism. In one case, the suspect’s Facebook profile is publicly visible, and is adorned with artwork from the band Slayer. Slayer uses Satanic symbolism on their album covers, but that someone who listens to Slayer happened to murder another person is not evidence that the murder was, somehow, Satanic ritualism.

In light of these recent cases, I asked a colleague whether or not we are seeing a return of the Satanic Panic. His response was that the panic had never actually ended. I share his assessment, but note that the panic has changed in significant ways over time. How, exactly, popular, social, and digital media, as well as the evolving American religious landscape, has affected — and will affect — the panic remains a fascinating area of research. As the recent event in Pensacola reminds us, the engagement of academics with the popular media is vital for preventing the demonization of minority religions.


[1] Police officers often received information on supposed “Satanic cults” from conservative Christian organizations. Training videos, released to law enforcement agencies during the 1980s and 1990s, are available on YouTube. Note that the video contains numerous references to minority religions, including Caribbean syncretisms, labeling them “Satanic”. Also notice the awkward, exploitive use of a bikini model to “demonstrate” the details of a “Satanic” crime.

[2] Geraldo Rivera provided the most famous.

[3] See, for example, Victor, J. (1993) Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend (Chicago: Open Court Publishing), pp 8-13.

[4] For various academic works on the Satanic Panic, see (1991) The Satanism Scare, Richardson, J., Best, J., & Bromley, D. (Ed), (New York: Walter De Gruyter); Victor, J. (1993) Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend (Chicago: Open Court Publishing); Frankfurter, D. (2006) Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

[5] See Bill Ellis’s (1989) “Death by Folklore”, in Western Folklore, Vol 48, No 3.

[6] See, for examples, see various articles by the Daily Mail and the Mirror.


You should start an Etsy!

As someone who is underemployed and always looking for opportunities to make a living doing what I love, I’m always trying to find ways to sell my abilities or products of my creativity. But I think it’s harder than most realize.

People see the things I create all the time and go, “You should start an Etsy!”

I have, and I do have one actually.

It’s a full time job just to keep it afloat and get the views you need to be seen to get found and make sales. And when you also have a part-time day job and a life to live, it’s just not feasible to spend 12 hours a day trying to plug your Etsy store to make a single $35 sale.

Not to mention that Etsy has grown to be huge. It has hundreds of thousands of users. Many of which are taking advantage of the new rules that allow manufacturing to be a part of the handmade process meaning you can order bulk trinkets from China, slap a chain on it to call it a necklace and sell it for 3000% profit and it’s preventing real Etsy sellers from getting business.

8pairsofsocksBut by far the hardest line of competition are hobbyists. These are people who are making their handmade items for fun and not profit. Take hand knit socks for example – something I’ve really been into making a lot of lately. I’ve been cranking out about 1 pair of socks every month since January of this year. I occasionally make another project in there, but most of the time I’m just working on socks. If you take a look on Esty and search for “handknit socks” you’ll find socks for $40, $25, and even as low as $16 for an adult-size sock. The yarn alone for some of my socks is well over $20, and the time I put into them and the skill I’ve honed in making perfect socks? I wouldn’t likely charge less than $100 for a pair of socks. And I’d still only be make a few dollars an hour, only a fraction of minimum wage. If I wanted to pay myself a living wage on socks, they’d be unaffordable to all but the pickiest sock fanatics.

I found one seller who had lovely lace socks for $60-80 but had to have a line on her shop description explaining that she spends 10-16 hours per set of socks and to “please keep that in mind” when considering the price of her socks. But how many people will read that and consider it but still see all the other $20-30 socks for sale and go with those instead?

Maybe ten years ago before Etsy went public, before it had so many scammers, before it was totally overrun by hobbyists just trying to make a buck I could have been successful. But these days it seems all but impossible unless I had a supportive spouse to bankroll me. Seriously, nearly every “success story” I’ve seen come out of Etsy has a spouse that supported them in the early years before they made a profit. I don’t have that. I have me and a part-time job on the weekends to get me started.

Keep that in mind the next time you tell the artist/crafter in your life, “You should start an Etsy!”

P.S. You can still help me make a living any time I post here by donating to my Patreon page! It’ll help keep me afloat and keep you updated on my crafts, life, and general thoughts and struggles.