Review: Boa, Cults and World Religions

This is a handy reference for anyone who needs a quick response to the myriad of cultic and occultic movements today. It is persuasively argued, well-written, and very concise.

Eastern Religions

Boa gives a basic summary of the major Eastern religions, including historical overviews and their internal contradictions. It’s rather short but that’s probably the purpose. The reader will be aware of the basic tenets but should supplement his reading with more substantial works. Of interest, however, and Boa only hints this in passing, is that Eastern religion really can’t make sense of the dialectic between monism and dualism.

Pseudo-Christian Groups

The meat of the book, seen in substantially longer chapters, deals with pseudo-Christian groups (Mormons, JWs, Seventh Dayers, etc). The reason is obvious: you are more likely to run across a Mormon than a Shinto or Jainist. And these chapters are outstanding. One problem in Boa’s approach, though: he claims that one cannot divide the moral law from the ceremonial law (121), but says Christians are under the law of Christ (which includes 9 out of 10 commandments). I understand why he is saying this in response to SDA, but it is a dangerous, if not faulty approach.

It is interesting to note that many of these bizarre groups got off the ground in the mid 19th century to early 20th century. Uniting them seems to be a bastardized, primitive version of Hegelianism mixed with revival fervor. Think of Absolute Idealism as imagined by a high school sophomore.


The most brilliant part of the book was its dealing with the occult. It was far more substantial in terms of argumentation than the other sections. My problem is that Boa did not connect the dots between the various occultic systems. They are not accidentally related. The larger connection or network is hermeticism. Boa alludes to hermeticism quite frequently, but he seems to see it as a generic synonym for any one teaching.

Hermeticism, by contrast, is very consistent and specific where it matters (granted, much New Agey occultism practiced by Hollywood is generic nonsense, but that’s another story). Hermeticism has roots in ancient Egypt and Babylon. It is built on specific numerologies, which often manifest themselves in the aforementioned systems.

In fact, we can take the argument a step further. The godly emperor St Justinian the Great smashed hermeticism in the mouth when he shut down several neo-platonic and Pythagorean Academies. It is no great supposition to believe that these hermetic movements went underground.  After they were eradicated we can see (or suppose) hermeticism to have gone underground again only to arise with either the Freemasons or the Illuminati (I speak of the Bavarian Illuminati established by Adam Weisshaupt and not the Sex Cult of Hollywood Rappers Today).

I am not ready to say who was the primary influence–Freemasons or Illuminati. I suppose it really doesn’t matter for practical purposes. What we can say of these two movements (and I leave aside guys like the MI-6 agent Alastair Crowley for the moment) is that they gave Hermeticism a quasi-institutional vehicle in which to move forward.

Of course, I really didn’t expect Boa to go into all of that when each chapter is only a few pages long.

Other criticisms

The section on Madame Blavatsky probably should have been placed in the Occult section instead of the Pseudo-Christian cults. Blavatsky claimed to have received messages from “Serapis,” (no doubt she did, though Serapis is likely a demon). Further, Boa just gave surface-level responses when Blavatsky’s Gnosticism is easy prey to a full-orbed Patristic attack.

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A Primer on Hoffman’s *Usury in Christendom*

In addition to my longer review of Hoffman’s Usury in Christendom, I have this primer as well.

The Argument Against Usury

(1) God is the supreme owner of land and leases it to men (Hoffman 30).

(2) The idea of just price is often ridiculed, but misunderstood. It does not exist within a vacuum. A just price cannot work in a society that uses interest (43).

(3) The Old Testament intended usury to be used as a weapon against the nokri, the Canaanite in the land. It was not to be used against the ger, the sojourner.

(4) Money is fungible, so it cannot reproduce artificially.

(5) God’s provision for man in nature is a presupposition against usury. “To make a claim to wealth that outstrips that provision…is to produce injustice” (105).

(6) When money becomes abstracted (from use), its usefulness becomes obscure.

(7) Profit can only come from nature’s goods, which requires discipline and patience.

(8) The Logic of Mutuum: in a mutuum loan, ownership actually passes from creditor to debtor, so to “receive a fee for this, I profit from what is yours, not mine. Therefore, the creditor sells nothing that is his, but only time, which is God’s” (99, emphasis added).

(9) In a modern day usurious system, “the worker is separated from the material means of production to be brought again into contact only by means of the credit system in which everything is capitalized” (333).

What do we make of the above points? Some hold, but others do not.
(1′) This is true. And for what it’s worth, Wyclif made the same argument.
(2′) This is harder to square. Much of “just price doctrine” assumes that an entity has a monetary price within it, yet this is all but abandoned in modern economic theory. is worth x because someone subjectively values it at that price.
(3′) This seems fairly true.
(4′) On one level this is a good rebuttal to the (literal) sorcery that is fractional-reserve banking. But there is something about this claim that I just can’t put my finger on.
(5′) Aquinas’s argument seems to be that the usurer is claiming a stake in future (and not yet-existing) wealth without having the disciple and patience that keeping it requires.
(6′) I’m not sure.
(7′) seems to turn on (5′).
(8′) If (1′) obtains then it appears that (8′) obtains
(9′) This sounds awfully close to Marxism. In any case, I reserve judgment.

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al-Kindi’s argument against eternal universe

Strictly speaking, this isn’t the cosmological argument, because as it stands there is no inference to a creating Agent.  But it does establish the groundwork for it.  This is from William Lane Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument, pp. 23-27.

  1. There are six self-evident principles
    1. Two bodies of which one is not greater than the other are equal.
    2. Equal bodies are those where the dimensions between their limits are equal in actuality and potentiality.
    3. That which is finite is not infinite.
    4. When a body is added to one of two bodies, the one receiving the addition becomes greater.
    5. When two bodies of finite magnitude are joined, the resultant body will also be of finite magnitude.
    6. The smaller of two generically related things is inferior to the larger.
  2. No actual infinite can exist because:
    1. If one removes a body of finite magnitude from a body of infinite magnitude, the remainder will be a body of either finite or infinite magnitude.
    2. It cannot be finite.
      1. Because when the finite body that was removed is added back, the resultant would be finite (see 1.5).
      2. The body would then be both infinite and finite
      3. But this is self-contradictory (see 1.3).
    3. It cannot be infinite
      1. Because when the finite body that was removed is added back to the remainder, the resultant body would be either greater than or equal to what it was before the addition.
        1. It cannot be greater than it was before the addition.
          1. Because then we would have two infinite bodies, one of which is greater than the other.
          2. The smaller would be inferior to the greater (because of 1.1).
          3. And the smaller would be equal to a portion of the greater.
          4. Thus, the smaller body and the portion would be finite because they must have limits (1.2).
          5. The smaller body would then be both infinite and finite.
          6. But this is self contradictory (see 1.3).
        2. It cannot be equal to what it was before the addition.
          1. Because the whole body composed of the greater portion and the smaller portion would be equal to the greater portion alone.
          2. Thus a part would be equal to the whole.
          3. But this is self-contradictory.
  3. Therefore, the universe is spatially and temporally finite because:
    1. The universe is spatially finite
      1. Because an actual infinite cannot exist.
    2. The universe is temporally finite
      1. Because time is finite.
        1. Time is finite
          1. Because time is quantitative
          2. And an actually infinite quantity cannot exist.
        2. Time is the duration of the body of the universe.
        3. Therefore, the being of the body of the universe is finite.
      2. Because motion is finite.
        1. Because motion is the change of some thing.
      3. Body cannot exist prior to motion.
        1. Because the universe is either generated from nothing or eternal.
          1. If it is generated from nothing, body would not precede motion.
            1. Because its very generation is a motion.
          2. If it is eternal, body would not precede motion.
            1. Because motion is change.
            2. And the eternal cannot change.
              1. Because it simply is in a fully actual state.
        2. Thus, body and motion can only exist in conjunction with each other.
        3. Motion implies time.
          1. Because time is a duration counted by motion.
        4. Time is finite.
        5. Therefore, motion is finite.
        6. Therefore, the being of the body of the universe is finite.
      4. Because the universe is composed.
        1. Composition involves change.
          1. Because it is a joining of things together.
        2. Bodies are composed
          1. Because they are made up of substance and three dimensions.
          2. Because they are made up of matter and form.
        3. Motion involves time.
          1. Because time is a duration counted by motion.
        4. Time is finite
        5. Therefore, motion is finite.
        6. Therefore, composition is finite.
        7. Therefore, the being of a body is finite.
      5. Because time must have a beginning
        1. Otherwise, any given moment in time would never arrive.
          1. Because infinite time is self-contradictory.
            1. The duration from past infinity to any given moment is equal to the duration from the given moment regressing back into infinity.
            2. Knowledge of the former duration implies a knowledge of the latter duration.
            3. But this makes the infinite to be finite.
            4. But this is self-contradictory.
          2. Because infinite time cannot be traversed.
            1. Before any given moment to have been reached, an infinity of prior moments would have to have been reached.
            2. But one cannot traverse the infinite.
            3. So any given moment could never be reached.
            4. But moments are, in fact, reached.
        2. Moreover, future time cannot actually be infinite.
          1. The future consists of consecutive additions of finite times.
            1. Past time is finite
            2. Therefore, future time is finite.
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Review: Russell, Problems of Philosophy

Not an easy read, but fun at times. How do we know what is real? There is a disjunct between appearance and reality. In other words, the “real” is not always the obvious. Russell’s main sparring partner is Bishop Berkeley, and so Russell treats us to a fine display of Idealism (with following refutations). Berkeley says that if things exist independently of us, they cannot be the immediate objects of sensation. Idealists, therefore, place the existence of objects within the mind (or rather, say such existence is mental). What is known in the senses is not the immediate object of the senses.

For Berkeley an idea is what is immediately known (sense-data). This means x is “in” the mind. This raises a problem. What does it mean to be “in” the mind? It’s better to say an object is “before” the mind. Berkeley equivocates on “in.” All he has a right to say is the thought of x is within the mind. Berkeley did not distinguish between the thought of something and the act of thinking that thought. The latter is certainly mental, but we are not justified in saying the former is.

Different Types of Knowledge

Knowledge by acquaintance is “foundational” knowledge. It is immediate and direct (Russell 48).


Russell correctly calls “universals” “ideas.” This way there is no confusion on what Plato meant by ideas and what Berkeley and Locke mean by ideas. We are aware of universals by “conceiving.” As conceived, the universals are now “concepts.”

A universal is the opposite of that which causes sensation. A universal is that which is shared by many particulars. Proper names stand for particulars, while other substantives stand for universals.

Other examples of universals are “qualities” and “relations.” Many relations do not exist in space or time, yet they are real and can be known to be real. Take the phrase, “North of London.” “North of” is not physical, yet it is a real something. The implications of this for Christianity, which presumably Russell didn’t explore, are staggering.

The Problem of Induction

When two things have been found to be associated together, and no instance is known of one occurring without the other, does the occurrence of one give me any ground for expecting the other?


Experience only tells us about past futures. It cannot tell us what to expect of future futures.


I think Russell does a successful job in showing that we can have legitimate knowledge that isn’t derived from sensations. Further, this work has a number of semi-legendary chapters along with a fine bibliography.

Appearance and Reality

What is the “real” object? If I am looking at the table, is the table’s appearing to me the real table? If I look at it under a microscope, I will see something different. Which, then, is the real table? Russell suggests the “real” is not what we see. It is inferred from what we see (Russell 11).

Russell suggests, rightly I think, that if we keep “reducing” matter all the way down we will end up with electrical forces (16). This is correct. But why stop there? Why not reduce the electrical forces even further? He gives no answer, but it’s not hard to fathom: any further reduction, to quote Matthew Raphael Johnson, will show that energy will have a non physical cause: Logos. In other words, Logos is the substrate of the energy. Objects within space and time can be reduced to forces, and these forces must be outside space and time. Russell later admits that real “somethings” can exist outside space and time (98).

The Existence of Matter

If an object is merely sense-data, then it will cease to exist once it is no longer perceived. But this is silly. If I throw a blanket over a table, does the table cease to exist? If so, then is the blanket floating in mid-air (!?).

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Intro to Wheel of Time

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is probably my favorite fantasy series.  Since some of my friends on facebook are asking me for the audio, I am doing this post as kind of a gateway to his thought.

While in many ways it is your typical “Hero fights dark lord from taking over universe,” it is far beyond that.  It raises questions dealing with Possible Worlds theory (shades of Plantinga!).

Is it hard to get into? Not really.  The prologue is kind of misleading but it makes sense 8 books later (kidding!).  The prologue takes place 3000 years before the present moment.  It is at the end of a cataclysmic war and the Dark Lord’s lieutenant is goading the then-hero (known as “the Dragon”) into doing something rash.

And then the book goes back to the present day and the hero Rand al’Thor.

Why should you read the book?  Because o the character Mat Cauthon.  Mat is one of Rand’s childhood friends and he is about as perfectly written as one can be.

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Review: The Logic of God Incarnate

by Thomas Morris.

This is an incredible primer in analytic theology. Not the first intro text to be sure (that would be McCall), but indispensable nonetheless.

Does the claim “Jesus is God the Son” introduce incoherence into the Incarnation? Morris says no, provided that we properly understand what is meant by key philosophical terms. His argument trades on a number of similar philosophical tools: what is a concept? What is a natural-kind? Does fully-human = merely-human? Modern theologians who reject the Incarnation rarely examine these issues.

According to Morris (Morris 21ff), we hold to the proposition

(C) Jesus is God the Son


(C’) Jesus is God

Modern critics of the Incarnation say that humanity and divinity are contraries, so one subject cannot exemplify both. The heart of Morris’s book is that these are not contraries and Jesus does, in fact, exemplify both the properties of humanity and the properties of divinity.

Some of the difficulty comes with the undefined usage of the term ‘nature.’ Critics of the Incarnation think that the properties in human nature and in divinity are logical complements, thus precluding any bearer to exemplify both. Morris argues this isn’t necessarily the case. We aren’t saying that Jesus held to two undefined natures, but rather two natural kinds, or kind-nature. Natural kind: a shareable set of properties (39ff). Jesus had all the kind-essential properties of both humanity and divinity (40). It’s not clear where the contradiction, if any, is.

So far Morris has cleared orthodoxy of the charge of incoherence. But are divinity and humanity compossible?

Divine and Human Existence

Is Death annihilation? If it is, then Jesus, as one bearing divine properties, cannot die.
But why should the theist accept this? Doesn’t the soul outlive the body? Morris doesn’t take this argument, though. He rather points out that Jesus bore essential, if not common, human properties. Either one works.

Jesus and the Attributes of Deity

Problem: how can Jesus bear the property, say, of omnipresence during the Incarnation?

Anselm: God is a maximally perfect being who exemplifies a maximally perfect set of compossible great-making properties.

Great-making property: a property it is intrinsically better to have than to lack.
Degreed: something you can have more of
Logical maxima: highest possible degrees
Non-logical maxima: capable of infinite increase

The Properties of the God-man

Alvin Plantinga: the divine persons can differ in the modal status of their properties (94-95). The Son can exemplify some of those properties contingently.

Morris explores a number of options to avoid the kenotic conclusion.

Range of consciousness = collection of belief-states (102).
Two minds = two ranges of consciousness. Morris writes, “The divine mind of the Son of God contained, but was not contained by, his earthly mind” (103). There is an asymmetric relationship.

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Steve Hays on Cessationism

I haven’t always agreed with Steve Hays on various topics, but I was impressed by this.  Honestly, I don’t know if he is continuationist or cessationist.  But this is a great example of how to think clearly through an issue.

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