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Is Truth What Works?

Not quite?

 

For a man like Jordan Peterson, interpretation is only “true” if it works, which means it is credible, taking into account material and social constraints. For Christians, an interpretation is true if what is stated is what is – what is actually the case. Christianity offers a knowledge (justified true belief) that is stable and even eternal.* The world, purging the word “secular” of any connection with religion, has only a “knowledge” which is constantly in flux — it is conceivable useful trust — depending on the latest intellectual desires and fashions.

In the classes on beginning Christianity that I teach, one of the questions I ask later in the course is this: “Is Christianity true because it works? Or does it work because its true?”

I get a lot of interesting answers, but invariably, as students have already read much of the Bible by this point, they choose the second option.

Of course, I then go on to qualify that we need to talk about Christianity as an “it” and define “works” in this context (i.e. we are not talking about what the world calls “success”). The cross, after all, might not seem to have worked very well.

In sum, the Christian faith tells a distinct story, or history, of the world which is meant for all persons (see Acts 17). And this narrative offers us not only stable but eternal truths that we can cling to with our whole lives.

I can’t say it better than this:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only‐begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men** and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And I believe in one holy Christian*** and apostolic Church I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Man. Church isn’t church if I don’t hear those good words. Amen indeed!

FIN

 

*”Becoming” in the world is part and parcel of what is.

**Us men means all people.

***Christian: the ancient text reads “catholic,” meaning the whole Church as it confesses the wholeness of Christian doctrine.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Without Tradition as Truth, the West – and the Rest – Cannot Be Saved

It is not so much the incontrovertibly “mixed bag” of the West that saves, but the Gift given to us sinners.

This past week, responding to the President’s well-received speech in Poland, the Atlantic wrote:

“The West is a racial and religious term. To be considered Western, a country must be largely Christian and largely white… He’s not speaking as the president of the entire United States. He’s speaking as the head of a tribe.”

Well, excuse me (Rod Dreher’s response to), but I had always assumed people who talk like our President did in Poland not only tend to think that “democracy and capitalism [are] not uniquely ‘Western,’” but that the same holds true for our Christian heritage. In other words, it is not only a critical part of who we are as a people, but it is needed by the whole world.[i]

If you agree with me about this, you might like what follows.

I posted the Atlantic article on a Facebook group I’m on, and one man made the popular comment that: “The ‘West’ is that part of the world influenced by Greek and Roman thought, with Christianity added to it. We adhere to Western philosophy.” I think that is a pretty good way of looking at it, and when it comes to “Greek and Roman thought,” I note that many of the elites in the West look to the famous philosophers from these cultures – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Seneca, Cicero, Lucretius, etc. – as powerful guiding lights.

At the same time, the most important part of our Western heritage, by far, is the Christian faith. The historical account the Bible provides is in fact What Athens Needs From Jerusalem.

Philosophers: some better, some worse, all wrong?

As the caption in the picture above demonstrates, it is for this reason I don’t have trouble downgrading — no, not eliminating — the importance of the world’s great philosophers for us. Years ago, noting that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy said…

“The concept of history plays a fundamental role in human thought. It invokes notions of human agency, change, the role of material circumstances in human affairs, and the putative meaning of historical events. It raises the possibility of “learning from history.” And it suggests the possibility of better understanding ourselves in the present, by understanding the forces, choices, and circumstances that brought us to our current situation. It is therefore unsurprising that philosophers have sometimes turned their attention to efforts to examine history itself and the nature of historical knowledge…”

I observed that

“What is surprising though is that no serious philosopher seems to have really seen these matters as [highly] significant when it comes to doing philosophy until about the 18th century, or arguably, a bit later (particularly with Hegel) – when the Enlightenment (and Romanticism after it) ran with the Christian idea that man was not subject to the blind forces of fate.”

A wise interlocutor, however, pushed back:

“Just because [someone like Plato] didn’t do philosophy of history, doesn’t mean he didn’t care about history. Socrates chooses to drink the hemlock because philosophical considerations trump historical ones when it comes to doing the right thing. But history is the only way anyone knows that he did in fact do the right thing. Or what he said in any of his dialogues.” (italics mine)

This showed me that I needed to further explain my original What Athens Needs From Jerusalem post. I think it is neither true nor wise to say that “philosophical considerations trump historical ones when it comes to doing the right thing.”

Socrates: How well did he know himself?

What do I mean? I am not saying that the philosophers thought we could learn nothing from individuals in history or that historical facts are unimportant. Indeed, Plato wants to show us how to live by Socrates’ example which he believes personifies the highest wisdom.

We would be wrong, though, to think that Plato – or even Aristotle, who prepared the histories of 200 political regimes in order to assist politicians in his present – is saying that a particular narrative about “what happened” in the past regarding a particular people in a particular nation in a particular time… following up on the heels of a particular account of the creation of the world… should have absolute controlling significance over how every human being understands meaning in life or the “how should we then live?” (2 Peter 3:11) question (the “then” is very significant!). That such an account demands to be examined and taken seriously (note very carefully what the Apostle Paul says in Athens in Acts 17).

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” — Acts 17:30

I think my saying that that is indisputable, and in this sense philosophy as conceived in the world could not be further apart from revealed religion – not to mention any historical tradition human beings might be inclined to value and uphold in the face of seemingly contradictory views put forth as rational and scientific! As Martin Luther put it in his antinomian disputations, “after Christ’s coming, this sin of unbelief and ignorance of Christ has been made known throughout the entire world by the public ministry…(p. 111, Solus Decalogus Est Aeternus)

This is what I am saying (though perhaps quite clumsily indeed) in my What Athens Needs From Jerusalem post above. Christians in general, and Lutheran-Christians in particular – and remember, I also count myself as a “liberal Christian nationalist”! (consider this post part II of why I am that) – are the ultimate “historical conservatives”. In my mind, it is just crazy that so many Americans, for example, think that they can “champion the liberty and rights of the individual stripped of corporate and historical identify” (Gottfried, Search for Historical Meaning, 116) – particularly *Christian identity*!

Many may try to deny it, but this Christian identity — based on the Bible as God’s word and history — has always been part and parcel of “the West,” even with weakening Christian influence in light of things like the Thirty Years War, the Enlightenment, and the French and American revolutions. As such, in America the Englishman John Locke had a strong influence on the course of our nation as he presented a political philosophy which derived not only from Christianity but from materialism (atomism)[ii].

“Locke [and Hobbes] assert that human beings are fundamentally self-interested, equal and rational social atoms…” — Wikipedia

And yet, Locke and others who followed in his train still made some very important observations inconsistent with purer forms of philosophical materialism. He said, for example, that human beings realize that taking from others what they have attained by their honest industry without their consent is an injustice – even if one would call it justice (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1959, p. 234).[iii] The influential 20th century economist Friedrich von Hayek had an even more profound thing to say about the West, which, on the face of it, might appear to contradict Locke: “We do not owe our morals to our intelligence; we owe them to the fact that some groups uncomprehendingly accepted certain rules of conduct – the rules of private property, of honesty and of the family – that enabled the groups practicing to progress [and] multiply…” (italics mine) [iv]

What these men say actually does not contradict. We, contra Socrates, can know what is right and yet get in the habit of not practicing it. In fact, we both suppress the universal truths we know (see Romans 1) and often find ourselves not questioning many of the assumptions and practices – good and bad – of our heritage. Taking several steps back now, I don’t think what Hayek points out is incomprehensible at all. To me it all seems rather obvious: All of this goodness comes to us in a certain way – not as much through “principals” or “propositions” – but through the Person of Christ, His people, and those influenced and encouraged by them. Other influences are there to be sure, but in the best case scenarios they have been curtailed by Christianity and/or culturally appropriated (gasp!) and refined (“redeemed” in a sense).

And when I talk about Christianity, I am talking history and not philosophy. As Thomas Molnar once asked “Why is it that Marxists, unlike conservatives, can inspire students with their vision of history”? It is because they actually talk about a story involving real persons, even if that story is very inaccurate. As human beings we are built for stories but we really are built for The Story that we all need. The Story of the True Hero who rescues us and embodies what we are to be… the True Myth that Became Fact, as Lewis said.

“Myth Becomes Fact.” — C.S. Lewis, from “God in the Dock”

We Christians are neither “historicists” in the mold of Hegel who merely assert “the indispensability of historical consciousness to the Western understanding of man” (Gottfried, Search for Historical Meaning, 116) nor merely those who assert confidently than any person or group, regardless of their historical circumstances (and therefore regardless of their particular historical prejudices), can, just as easily, through their own rational means, “apprehend the Good and the Just,” as Leo Strauss (and perhaps Plato?) may have put it. This is not because they have no knowledge of this – may it never be! – but because, in wickedness, the knowledge they do indeed have of it has been un-nurtured, buried, suppressed (sometimes more, sometimes less), etc.

More on what I mean here: un-nurtured, in the case of those who are given the Gospel but whose seed is snatched, choked, etc ; un-nurtured in the case that a Gospel-deficient natural knowledge of the law of God given in childhood, is not encouraged and nurtured throughout one’s youth ; buried or suppressed, for example, as people may very well convince themselves that they know or should be confident about other things that appeal to them more than the natural knowledge of the law that is in them as human beings.

Luther: “many laws that are useful for this life are also given, written together with the Decalogue, and are written on the hearts of all men, unless they are utterly unnatural…” — Luther

This is what is so very wrong about what the highly influential 20th century conservative political philosopher Leo Strauss did. He exalted classical philosophy vis a vis relativism and postmodernism but downplayed as much as he could the Christian influence here (see Gottfried’s 2012 book on Strauss). He lumped anyone who believed that a real controlling story, Tradition, was ultimately of more importance than classical philosophy’s program as historicists. So the great and pious Christian statesmen Edmund Burke was unjustly tarred by him (and Strauss appears to have deliberately lied about Burke in his famous book Natural Right and History ; see p. 110 in the Search for Historical Meaning, also by Gottfried).

As Paul Gottfried put it in his 1986 book, The Search for Historical Meaning: Hegel and the Postwar American Right (p. 123). “There is a difficulty integrating the past into a regime whose founders declare it to be a “Novus Ordo Seclorum [New Order for the Ages].”

To say the very least! He is right. This is impossible. Hence, again, my Liberal Christian Nationalism.

Basically forbidden history.

If we as a nation would like to retain the gains of classical liberalism, we need to pay attention to what men like Tom Woods, Alvin Schmidt, and Vishal Mangalwadi, are telling us about the massive impact of the truth of Christianty on the West. The alternatives? Well, Michael Gerson writes of Yuval Noah Harari’s new book, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”:

Harari has one great virtue: intellectual honesty. Unlike some of the new atheists, he recognizes that science is incapable of providing values, including the humanistic values of Locke, Rousseau and Jefferson. “Even Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker and the other champions of the new scientific worldview refuse to abandon liberalism,” Harari observes. “After dedicating hundreds of erudite pages to deconstructing the self and the freedom of will, they perform breathtaking intellectual somersaults that miraculously land them back in the 18th century.”

Harari relentlessly follows the logic of reductionism as it sweeps away individualism, equality, justice, democracy and human rights — even human imagination. . . . (see here)

Mr. Dawkins, are you willing to posit any non-material force, being, thing or entity that is really good or strong enough to dissuade a particular human being who has the power to impose his evil will on other human beings?

Stuff like that might just prompt some more materialist types to take a Jordan Peterson-led leap of faith!

So what should be the Christian’s main frame here? I think it is this:

We view historical time providentially, but are rooted in the past so we can move forward. We are those who realize that without trust in Tradition, embodied most fully in the Scriptures, we cannot be saved. That without this Tradition the world – in desperate need of its historical particularities which bring universal salvation – cannot be saved. At the same time, we do not say that we have fully understood what this Tradition means – for, as Paul does with the Bereans, we may find ourselves going back to the Fount to more rightly and deeply remember and, yes, learn, what it is we are to know.

16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz listed eight kinds of good and salutary traditions, including Scripture (more here).

Again, when my friend writes: “Concern for universal truth is more important than concern for individual customs. The Christian Church has always insisted that its doctrines are universally true, even against critics who find them parochial, (italics mine)” I initially agreed with him. That said, as I reflect, I come to the conviction that things are being set against one another that should not be. We should, contra men like Leo Strauss, also insist that preserving certain individual customs might be very important when it comes to people’s willingness to embrace the most important universal truths. This is the primacy of Tradition.

In his own way, a man like Jordan Peterson might appear to be bringing the more secular among us back to this reality. Recently, he tweeted out a link to an Eastern Orthodox Christian who I am guessing he believes builds a good bridge between what he is saying and what devout Christians have always believed:

 

I have some issues with some of the things that this man says, and even more issues with Peterson (as much as I can’t help loving the man for his integrity and the important information he does share). Peterson, for example, might be willing to say the Tradition is True but only because it “works,” as he is, at bottom, a pragmatist (see footnotes here). Nevertheless, he might well agree with me when I assert:

“…the Tradition of Christianity has endured enough criticism and skepticism and doubt. The time of severe questioning and attempts at demolishing it and its significance must end.”

…even as he goes on to tell a story, a new Tradition, of something that is really even more True. In the end, I cannot fathom how the Darwinian story, in his telling, cannot ultimately dissolve the Christian story.

In sum, it seems that classical philosophy and its reductionistic offspring, philosophical/scientific materialism, are still hopelessly at odds with revealed religion – and, I would insist, at odds with the significance of history in general.

That is why Athens Needs Jerusalem. For it has the Particular that gives us the Universal we all Need. And yes, the Scandal (see 1 Corinthians 1:23) is in the Particularity.

“For God so loved the world….” therefore, Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

He is the Logos we need.

“At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” — Hebrews 2:8b

FIN

 

 

Images: Richard Dawkins by David Shankbone (CC BY 3.0) ; incarnation pic from https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/onbehalfofall/gospel-meditations-incarnation-introduction/ ; all other non-book pics from Wikipedia.

Notes:

[i] Or maybe I’m full of it and what I’ve written here, for example, is just so much subtle “white nationalist” propaganda.

[ii] I get the impression that he particularly fell down in emphasizing things like human rights more than human responsibilities (and here I point out, our supreme duty to pass on tradition in filial piety – ultimately our duty to the Supreme Father). Also, as regards Locke’s own ideas, note the claims I share in this post about the likely influence of Roger Williams.

[iii]The “common sense” Scottish philosopher Thomas Reid took this even further, as according to Arthur Holmes he noticed that

“…[m]oral indignation is evident even among those, who, like robbers, have little active regard for the common good. Gratitude for favors only makes sense because a favor goes beyond what is just, and resentment for injury only because it falls short of justice. All these natural sentiments presuppose the idea of justice. Property rights likewise depend on it” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, 1997, p. 117)

These are just some of the things it seems different groups of people do not really “design” or “construct” (unconsciously or consciously), but instead, as if by built-in design, can recognize and receive. In other words, they appear to be ethical principles that are intrinsic to properly-functioning human being. Even as this knowledge of truth can be suppressed and consciences badly seared.

[iv] I say with less excitement that he then goes on to say: “…and gradually displace the others.”

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

“Should Christians Think Twice about Attacking the Alt-Right?” and Related Questions

Pepe the Frog, symbol of the “Alt Right”.

 

Should Christians sing “God bless America,” “God bless the whole world,” or both? Should Christians display national flags in their sanctuaries? Is it responsible for Christians to decry ill-defined movements like the “Alt Right”? (is it white nationalism or something more subtle?)

This post aims to make you think more critically about questions like this – even though these questions are, for the most part, not directly addressed in the content of this post.

My thesis is that the reason why these questions — always good questions — are taking on particularly import for many today is because we are all wrestling with what Paul Gottfried points out in his 1986 book, The Search for Historical Meaning: Hegel and the Postwar American Right (p. 123):

“There is a difficulty integrating the past into a regime whose founders declare it to be a “Novus Ordo Seclorum [New Order for the Ages].”

You think?

And the quote also syncs with other things Gottfried has observed, most recently in his 2012 book on Leo Strauss, arguably the thinker most embraced by political conservatives in America in the 20th century (he is certainly one of the most influential in terms of seeing “success” [as measured by the right, at least] in politics).

Given the events in American (and European) politics over the past couple years, anyone reading his book will no doubt find what he says on page 128 to be extremely interesting:

“Like the neoconservatives, Straussians refer to the United States as a ‘propositional’ or ‘universal’ nation, held together by a natural-rights creed applicable everywhere on the planet. Such a notion, which has become widespread in America, breaks with any notion of democracy’ in the premodern… sense. In the 1980s and 1990s, Straussians and their neoconservative allies fought with an older American Right, which they accused of being tribalist and antiglobalist in their patriotism. It would be hard to argue in light of this recent history that the Straussians are trying to apply organicist ideas to a hypothetical American volkisch community.”

That is, however, part of the concern now – not that the Straussians are doing it, but that the Trumpians of the world are. Going along with the quote above about the “Novus Ordo Seclorum [New Order for the Ages],” they, “tribalist and antiglobalist in their patriotism” vehemently resist things like immigration and free trade. On the other hand, someone like Karl Marx was very much in support of something like “free trade”. Why? Because he believed that it would break down traditional (think tribal and organic) communities.

On one level that might sound like a very good idea. On the other hand, for Marx and those who follow him today – overtly or covertly – this effort includes the attempt to break down the traditional family.

And that is kind of logical, right? Isn’t the tribe basically an extended traditional family? The idea of nationalism has gotten a good deal of attention from Christians in America lately, due to the Southern Baptist Convention’s recent condemnation of white nationalism as well as those identifying as “alt right” (see here and here and here for more). I think, however, that we dismiss the concerns that many of these folks express too quickly and, ultimately, to our own peril.

Really?

Yes, I think so. What follows is another fascinating observation/proposition Gottfried makes in his book – this time about Straus himself. We see in this extended quotation that even in the 1960s Strauss had noticed something about conservatives and liberals that foreshadowed the emerging nationalism today (as the American right starts to “regress,” as many see it) vis a vis the more “globalist” philosophy (now, increasingly coming to be seen even by thinkers like R.R. Reno as communism’s replacement!):

“…unlike his followers, Strauss in the 1960s foresaw the true lines of division between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives.’ In his preface to Liberalism Ancient and Modern, he abandons his customary distinction between ‘liberal democracy’ and its enemies to observe the tension between ‘modern liberals’ and ‘conservatives.’ Strauss tries to narrow this difference by stating that most people are ‘moderate’ in their identification with either of the two ideological poles; therefore, the distinction between them might not amount to much in the end. Strauss then muddies the water by telling us that ‘the conservativism of our age is identical with what was originally liberalism.’ Indeed, ‘much of what goes now by the name of conservatism has in the last analysis a common root with present-day liberalism and even with Communism.’ All of this repeats what are merely truisms. No one but a historical illiterate or a hardened, time-bound ideologue would deny that the current Right looks like some form of the archaic Left, whether it is celebrating a crusade for human rights or preaching some variation on eighteenth-century anarchism, with appropriate attributions to Tom Paine.”

Note again what is happening here: Gottfried shows us that Strauss is distinguishing between what we might call “classical liberals,” (he calls them “modern liberals” above) which might make up the majority of today’s “conservatives” in America, and other “conservatives”. Again, this is a frequent complaint of some on the Alt-Right. Today’s conservativism really isn’t “conservative” as it doesn’t really conserve anything. It, rather, is just a constant capitulation to the left (hence the popularity of the word “cuck”). They have nothing but mockery for those like William Buckley, who gave the impression that conservativism is simply the man standing in the railroad track, bravely facing the incoming locomotive, and shouting “Stop!” (or, perhaps, just “slow down”?)

“A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” — William F. Buckley’s National Review mission statement.

 

“What is more interesting, however, than these references is Strauss’s pinpointing of two diametrically opposed worldviews. Partisans of the Left, according to this interpretation, look toward a ‘universal homogenous state,’ a creation that Strauss’s correspondent Kojeve defended in his writings. Any ‘approximation to the universal homogenous state is for liberals a move in the proper direction, although they may conceal their enthusiasm by pretending to be advocates of ‘hardheaded politics,’ who believe that ‘the state has been rendered necessary by economic and technological progress,’ ‘the necessity of making nuclear war impossible for all the future[‘] and by the ‘increasing wealth of the advanced countries.’

Against this liberal vision Strauss opposes an essentialist conservative one. Its advocates ‘regard the universal and homogenous state as either undesirable, though possible, or as both undesirable and impossible.’ Conservatives may have to accept in the short run a United Free Europe, as an alliance against the Soviet communist threat, but[,as Strauss says]:

“[T]hey are likely to understand such units differently from liberals. An outstanding European conservative has spoken of l’Europe des patries. Conservatives look with greater sympathy than liberals on the particular or particularist and the heterogenous; at least they are more willing than liberals to respect and perpetuate a more fundamental diversity than the one ordinarily respected or taken for granted by liberals and even by Communists, which is the diversity regarding language, folksongs, pottery and the like.”

Yes, that is right. Strauss is saying that it is conservatives, not liberals, that are ultimately more respectful of diversity. Chew on that for a while!

“Furthermore, ‘[i]nasmuch as the universalism in politics is founded on the universalism proceeding from reason, conservativism is frequently characterized by distrust of reason or by trust in a tradition which is necessarily this or that tradition and hence particular.’ Finally, ‘[c]onservativism is therefore exposed to criticism that is guided by the notion of the unity of truth,’ whereas liberals, ‘especially those who know that their aspirations have their roots in the Western tradition are not sufficiently concerned with the fact that tradition is ever more eroded by the changes in the direction of the One World which they demand or applaud.’

Gottfried then goes on to say: “It would be hard to find a more perceptive analysis than this one for addressing the distinction between Left and Right.”

Can “classical liberalism” remain the Right in America? Without a Christian core?

 

More:

“The underlying insight goes back to Carl Schmitt and his criticism of the ‘universal, homogenous state.’ Strauss is repeating here Schmitt’s critical observations for the benefit of Anglo-American readers. He assumes Schmitt’s famous equation of the universal state with universal tyranny, and he incorporates this distinctive perspective into his delineation of the conservative worldview. Strauss also cites Charles de Gaulle, who as French president in the 1960s argued against an overly close union of European states in favor of a continued national consciousness among European peoples. Strauss presents this conservative type as the exact opposite of the liberal, with his unrealistic and utopian expectations. This conservative antithesis is nothing, however, that he finds disagreeable or which he feels threatens ‘liberal democracy.’

Still and all, it would be a mistake to associate Strauss with his conservative pole too closely. The ‘conservative’ side in his analysis bears a certain resemblance to his targets in [his famous 1953 book] Natural Right and History, particularly to [Edmund] Burke and German romantic conservatives, whom Strauss considered to be more revolutionary than even the Jacobins. One must also keep in mind Strauss’s descriptions of ‘conventionalism’ as an obstacle to philosophy and his insistence that the search for virtue and justice necessarily encompasses the universal.”

Strauss’ implied criticism that conservatives believe excessively in the ‘unity of truth’ goes back to his brief against relativism. He long complained against those who paid homage to Tradition as Truth and he was now reviving this animadversion in a less incriminatory fashion. The unwillingness to apply a universal standard of Reason, we are told in Natural Right in History, has led to destructive wars [my comment: read wars caused, in part, by religion that was unwilling to give up its place in more enlightened society] and has precipitated the demoralization of liberal education. Like his students, Strauss saw this failure to apply rational judgement because of an infatuation with particularities as a conservative flaw.

In other words, what this means is that Strauss does not see particularities such as Christianity as giving any support whatsoever to the idea of “universal standard[s] of Reason” (which one might think would help point to, perhaps, consistent laws in the moral realm). Perhaps given the impact of persons like Hegel on 20th century American conservativism, all of these statements from Strauss above should not have surprised me so much. Hegel, to, would have some real issues with the idea that respected Tradition, in any sense, could be equated with Truth (and insofar as Christianity is seen as being an integral part of what we call Western Civilization, I argue it can’t be separated from this notion of Truth).

But at the same time, you might say, “didn’t Strauss speak out against historicism?” He did indeed, but I note that elsewhere in Gottfried’s book he seems to drop hints that he thinks that even Strauss himself could not escape what were in fact his historicist tendencies. This makes some sense in the context of Gottfried’s work, because it seems that in his view, anyone who thinks positively about progress to some degree should and will embrace a conservative form of historicism (again, see this post for more).

Hart discusses Augustine’s influence on American ideas and ideals – no historicism needed to recognize historical context.

 

From my limited reading on this topic, it appears to me that Strauss was perhaps unaware of – or not forthright about – what were in fact his historicist tendencies, but that someone like Edmund Burke for example, a devout and traditional Christian interested in society’s advancing, should not necessarily be lumped in with the historicist philosophy, with its, I think, very acidic tendencies. It seems to me – again, from the limited reading I have done on the topic – that Burke is misread by both Strauss and Gottfried.

Just the kind of thing you might expect a Liberal Christian Nationalist to say…. That said, don’t think that my interest in “identity politics” means that truth has no place. In fact, if you want real, and not just feigned, concern for the truth to stay, I submit that Christians and Christian allies need a continuing voice in our nation’s political conversation.

But the Left also occasionally appealed to particularity, albeit more disingenuously, to win acceptance for its ‘one world’ idea. In the short run, it stressed the diversity that it would ultimately have to remove to fashion a universal homogenous state based on uniform human rights (pp. 63, 64).

When concepts of equality, social justice, and human rights are untethered from a Christian frame, what we in the West have experienced in our lives to be good about those concepts is lost.

There was a time that the idea of “uniform human rights” had some appeal to me. Now, however, I see this as the primary tool of those who would spurn the Christian religion en route to accomplishing their own Global, Utopian promises. As one Alt-Right voice recently put it, Jesus Christ didn’t die for the sins of the world so that you could build your new Tower of Babel.

That, at least, rings true. God won’t be mocked – used – by either nationalists or globalists.

Practical application? If, for example, communists or globalists demand we put their flags in the church’s chancel, we should refrain. But we should also be cautious about people who say things like this:

“A Christian church has absolutely no business displaying a national flag in the sanctuary, at least not as it is commonly done. The church born at Pentecost was a reversal of Babel, not a doubling down on the fragmentation of Babel.” (see here).

Joe Carter: “How can we claim to be sons and daughters of God while separating ourselves from our brothers and sisters?” (see context here). Should Christians, then, strive to end nations?

 

For more of my thoughts on Christians, nations, and nationalism, see here.

FIN

 

William F. Buckley: https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2015/oct/01/william-f-buckleys-fbi-file/ ; Joe Carter – Gospel Coalition website.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Christianity Even Culturally Conservative Darwinian Atheists Worried about Tyranny Can Love

Why is this man, for whom  “the Darwinian world is more real than the physical world,” promoting morality compatible with Christianity?

 

The famous 20th century theologian Karl Barth, perhaps largely because of his preferred political orientation[i], made a very interesting point:

Historically speaking, certainly prior to the 20th century in the West, elites concerned with keeping stability and order were more than happy to use the Bible to help them rule.

As Barth argued more specifically, here the Bible had been brought under human control and reason. He said that it had come to be seen not so much as revelation from God, but rather as a part of the “natural knowledge” of God that every man could discover by his own rational powers. In his view, “the Bible grounded upon itself apart from the mystery of Christ and the Holy Ghost… was no longer a free and spiritual force, but an instrument of human power” (1/2:522-525).

One might, like myself, want to further explore the contours of Barth’s argument – just what, given the challenges of human governing, constitutes the salutary “use” of the Bible by a political leader from one that is not? Might, for example, one unbelieving ruler’s use of it be less culpable than another’s?

In any case, it is unarguable that, in the West, rulers in the past thought that they had to rule their people by using the Bible. And when it comes to this, we might wonder: “Is this so bad? What’s the big deal? Isn’t it good that rulers would engender respect for the Bible and use it to help them rule? And of course, since they were politicians, who wouldn’t expect them to be tempted to misinterpret the text to their own advantage from time to time?”[ii]

“It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

The fact of the matter, contra Barth, is that there is much wisdom in the Bible that even nonbelievers can recognize. For example, one need not be a Christian – or even a conservative politician – to recognize that until being re-oriented by Christian conviction, the world really did reveal a general lack of concern regarding children, women, and the practice of slavery (see my wider article about how Christian values and sentiments have been formed in Western nations in spite of a lack of belief in Christianity).

Therefore, I contend that we simply should not be surprised when even hostile witnesses like atheists or non-Christians recognize that the morality the Bible upholds – and even the “Fear of God” itself — are important for maintaining a civilization that values human freedom (another example).

In other words, this is a very human and existential matter. One can’t continually ignore creation’s “design specifications” and expect that only good things will come. We all, for example, need to eat to live and we all need to uphold certain standards of what amounts to universally preferable behavior (see this argued for more fully here). We all, inevitably, will “should” one another, and we need to do that “shoulding” rightly.

Karl might say: “I’m looking at you Jordan Peterson”….

Here Jordan Peterson, who I introduced in a past post and the topic of a very interesting recent piece in the Huffington Post, is an interesting example. Peterson has got the ear of American conservatives (and he just recently did a big talk for Canadian conservatives called 12 principles for a 21st century conservatism“). And his whole intellectual program is built on the assumption that the evolutionary story is true – a story which has, in the past, been thought to be problematic when it comes to implications for human moral behavior.

Peterson would vigorously contend vs. this idea – and he has all kinds of reasons that he can martial to support his view.[iii] In fact, from within his understanding of the evolutionary framework he upholds the Bible as critical to Western civilization and insists that getting morality right – evidently with real rights and wrongs that apply across the board – is really the most important and consequential thing human beings can be concerned with.

And – very interestingly – an exploration of his views of right and wrong reveals they map rather closely with the traditionally-held views of Christian churches.[iv]

For me though, the interesting, long-term question is this: is there any reason why the moral views that Peterson holds must remain stable? Even though Jordan Peterson might make this or that moral claim now, is there any reason why those who follow him would need to do the same?

One highly significant aspect of Peterson’s program is that the goal of the morality he speaks of is oriented towards earthly survival – not just of individual, or perhaps, even one’s group, but ultimately encompassing humanity more broadly. In sum, everything about our morality – absolutely everything – must come to be seen through this controlling lens.

Some might be thinking: “Isn’t this what Christianity is all about though? Being good to gain God’s favor in this world, surviving vs. ones’ enemies, and to be able to survive His final judgment?” Actually, no. In fact, this is a total perversion of Christianity, which ultimately works in the world for one’s neighbor’s sake from a place of peace with God.[v] In Him, we have survived our sin, our first and second deaths, and the oppression of the demonic, and hence have nothing to fear — even in a fallen world racked by suffering.

Not surviving you say? Well, this act is intentional — and it defeats our enemies, giving us peace with God. The resurrection removes all doubt.

As a 1930s church document written up vs. the Nazis, the Bethel Confession, put it:

“Struggle is not the basic principle of the original creation, and a fighting attitude is therefore not a commandment by God established by the original creation.”

What do Christians who have come to support the evolutionary theory have to say about this? Presumably folks like the popular Evangelical Bishop of the Church of England N.T. Wright – as well as other Christian theistic evolutionists – would agree that the Bethel Confession is right, but how can they? For where is their Eden? Their “original creation”? History has significance because where we are going has something to do with where we started. The “what happened?” is momentous.

Perhaps it can make sense that Peterson, starting from and coming from his evolutionary perspective, thinks that matters of right and wrong are intimated connected with survival.

…but what do theistic evolutionists like Wright have to say about why their view of evolution – featuring a morality not oriented towards earthly survival but rather God and His purposes – should be favored? What are the reasons that they give for why the ethical framework they wish to promote should be more important than any “survival of the fittest” – even seemingly more civilized and palatable versions of survival of the fittest like Peterson’s?

That’s what I want to know. I imagine that they are going to say that this simply comes down to us needing to think about what it means to be human, that we are rational animals that give reasons for our views and can work together, the responsibility to respect the history of religious and philosophical thought, etc., etc.

But Peterson can say all of that as well, and does. So what, other than intellectual inconsistency (“No, we must not say that the goal of our morality is survival, for the individual, group, or otherwise!”), makes them say that we should not see life primarily in terms of survival?

Why is it not about this? Why is not survival, and survival alone, when it comes to determining our morality?

Saint Darwin? Not so fast.

Perhaps some of the more conservative, evolution-supporting churches disagree with the way that Dietrich Bonhoeffer and those who authored the Bethel Confession put it back in the 1930s?

In other words, maybe from the very beginning of humanity the principle of struggle – for survival – was there right from the beginning? There never has been a real Eden?

And of course, when combined not with an Aristotelian frame (where there are some things, i.e. “forms” or “natures” on earth that are good and are eternal, never changing) but with a Hegelian/Darwinian frame, this means that in order to survive, the fit are going to need to change. And if this is the case, what is the good reason that their morality, or behavior, would not need to change – and perhaps quickly?

This means that there is no reason that the moral views Peterson endorses – again, with practical survival being the modus operandi of ethics – should remain stable. What is advantageous and good for humanity as a whole yesterday may not be good tomorrow.[vi]

In other words, the evolutionary framework cannot be re-jiggered to prevent it from being acidic to conservative frames of mind.[vii]

“The philosopher Daniel Dennett, for example, describes Darwinism as a universal acid, dissolving all our traditional concepts, such as religion…” (see here).

Even from the perspective of human reason, Christianity and its Bible can only be used by “wise” elites to help govern our nations or guide our cultures so much and for so long – to perhaps protect our society from the internal and external enemies that threaten it for so long. Insofar as a Darwinian-infused Hegelianism lies at the foundation of our thought – insofar as this is the most real story – Christianity will be of no real help.

For His Kingdom is, ultimately, in this world — though oh so humbly veiled — but not of it.

Man cannot serve two masters and God is not mocked. He is, however, mocking us already through – and ironically, through reason alone.

To say the least, this presents some real issues for Christians – not to mention all of humanity.

We need something strong, don’t we? Something stable. Something we can be confident of.

Indeed. We need the Lex Aeterna (the Eternal Law) – and even more, the One who fulfills the Lex Aeterna on our behalf.

And Dr. Peterson — if you are listening, remember that the Apostle Paul says that “if even an angel of heaven…” (referring to this and this)…

FIN

 

Notes

[i] Socialism, vis a vis what one has recently called a “a totally crude patriarchal dirt-and-toil society.”

[ii] Again, we might think: “Is this really so bad? Aren’t the stability and order that might come out of this good things?” “Well, not if it means living in a state like Nazi Germany or North Korea!,” you might say! On the other hand, perhaps even that is preferable to utter chaos as well (an interesting debate there).

[iii] One does not need to listen to any of his major lectures or interviews (try this one for a lot of depth) for very long in order to recognize that his understanding of what he calls the “dominance hierarchy” is a very nuanced and well-thought-out position.

[iv] Peterson believes in real good and evil (see 2:30:00 here). In his third recent religion lecture (around 2:13:30), he said, followed by rousing applause: “Empirical data says it’s much better for kids to have two parents. Marriage is not for the people getting married. It’s for the children. If you can’t handle that, grow the hell up. Seriously.”

Also, when it comes to a topic like gay marriage, the comment Peterson made on an article in the Atlantic called “The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss,” namely:

“When gay marriage normalizes in the US, as it has in Sweden, then the divorce rate will be higher among gay partners, just as it is in Sweden. But why let facts bother you? Andersson, Gunnar (February 2006). “The Demographics of Same-Sex ‘Marriages’ in Norway and Sweden” (PDF). Demography 43 (1): 79–98.”

….would suggest that he is somewhat willing to question the popular narrative here. Around the time I was writing this post, he also said the following: “Intact heterosexual two-parent families constitute the necessary bedrock for a stable polity.” Also note his comments about people living together without being married (again, with rousing applause, at 1:30 here), his comments having children (see here) and on abortion (see here), as well as his comments on transgender issues in this post.

[v] At the same time, given the way that the issue of survival is makes itself known to us existentially, it’s not hard for a Christian to see some wisdom in this. That said, for Christian believers who have peace with God (Rom. 5:1 and I John 5:12-13), life is not ultimately about our physical – or even spiritual – survival.

[vi] As is clear from his first interview with Sam Harris and here (this one is a shorter clip), Peterson is a full-blown evolutionary pragmatist who has difficulty saying that any one statement a person might make is true, period (this fits with the views of Hegel, who is often appropriated by figures not only on the left, but on the right – see here for information on this phenomena in general and here for thoughts about Peterson’s possible debt to Hegel).

In sum, it seems that for him, in some sense, truth equals what works and fitness (taking into account what he says about what he calls the “dominance hierarchy”).

In his third religion lecture (1:34:30) he says that the postmodernists are right that there are an infinite number of interpretations of most anything, but they are wrong in saying that none of them are preferable….

I say “exactly,” – but why are some preferable? For Peterson, postmodernism and relativism are not reasonable because there are social and material constraints in the universe that can’t be overcome and therefore must be taken into consideration (therefore some interpretations are preferable)….

But what about the “fact” of evolution, whose ways proponents admit they do not fully understand? (see footnote below)

For me, some interpretations are preferable because of what the Author said and the fact that language is stable, which “works” because there are many things in the creation that are not necessarily eternal, but nevertheless stable and consistent until the life to come (vs. Hegel, again, see here).

While I do not deny that there are real Christian believers can fully embrace the evolutionary narrative and remain real Christian believers, I think many persons, even those who are not overly literalistic, will conclude that they must embrace one view or the other. My own view on the viability of the evolutionary narrative – as one who is quite aware of what is put forth as the best evidence – is one of rather severe skepticism and doubt.

Here, I suggest that voices like David Berlinski’s are worthy of our respect and consideration.

[vii] An additional question we need to ask today is why the evolutionary account of reality should necessarily favor truth-telling (read on). Peterson is commendable for his focus on personal honesty in one’s life (he notes that we are the only creatures who “can truly deceive,” and gravely says “Do not say what you believe to be false”), and for his fighting vs. postmodernism/relativism. That said, note that if postmodernism is only constrained by physical and social reality and honesty rules the day, any real stability still cannot be assured. The reason for this is that if evolution is our key “what happened” account, it also has something important to say about where we are going. In Peterson’s account, in this “I suffer therefore I am world,” we basically find things to be meaningful and also create, albeit slowly over time, things, ideas, gods, etc. to survive (he’d be quick to note that this does not mean there is no god). The questions arise: 1) Why should we care deeply beyond our in-group, racial, ethnic, or ideological? ; 2) Why isn’t postmodernism – with its steering us towards more freedom for us in our in-group of other postmodernists – simply a luxury item must of us can’t afford yet? ; 3) If this naturalistic story is the key “what happened” truth, why might not some overcoming of traditional morals – and the accompanying guilt – be the next step in human evolution? ; 4) Finally, even if think 1-3 are true because evolution is true, if evolutionary fitness is also somehow the truth (pragmatically – in this third religion lecture, he says: What’s real from the Darwinian perspective is plenty real enough, because we’re alive and everything….”[1:53:20]), how does it not, empowered by modern physical theories, ultimately throw the truth of everything – including evolution itself – into question, finally just making us the truth?

(He has also said that he doesn’t think you can dispute the proposition that the longer something [here he means an idea, a myth/story] has had a selection effect on life the more real it is. It’s the fundamental axiom of Darwinian biology. The Darwinian world is more real than the physical world. [1:59:00]). Also in his second interview with Sam Harris he says: “The most permanent things are the most real.” See also his comment recorded in my previous post talking about him regarding how “the things we see around us [are] lasting no time.”)

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Public Enemy #1? And if So, Why?

Paul Gottfried, p. 15: “conservative critics…attack Hegelianism as a source of moral mischief, one that has spawned both personal utopias and crazed social prophecy.” Why?

 

He influenced not only philosophy, but theology, and a myriad of other academic disciplines. Oh, and he was most influential when if comes to Western culture and politics.

So was Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel the 19th century German philosopher and one of the most fascinating persons in history, the perhaps unintentional enemy of Christendom and Western Civilization? And if so, why?

Fascinatingly, when it comes to his political views he was, in his time and since, claimed by both revolutionary and conservative political forces. In his 1986 book Search for Historical Meaning: Hegel and the Postwar American Right (President Nixon’s favorite book of 1987), Paul Gottfried writes, regarding the interpretation of Hegel’s dictum: “What is real is rational,” that it is a common understanding that:

Whereas the Marxists and other radical Hegelians identified rationality with revolutionary change, the Hegelian Right defended the inherent rationality of their own society (4).

Peter Singer on Hegel: Up until him humanity had been pawns in the game… they weren’t really controlling the game…. (from here)

And yet, even this picture is woefully incomplete, as Karl Rosenkranz, writing in 1869, made clear:

“He [Hegel] opposed feudalism, which exalts a patriarchal constitution, by insisting on legality; he opposed abstract democracy, which flatters the masses, by promoting monarchy; he opposed artistocracy by calling for popular representation; the state bureaucracy by calling for freedom of the press, for jury trials, and for the independence of corporations. He offended the hierarchy of all confessions by calling for their submission as churches to the sovereignty of the state and for the emancipation of science from church authority. He antagonized the industrial state, which seeks to ensnare the people with the promise of riches and material prosperity, by stressing ethics as the state’s absolute purpose. He opposed enlightened despotism… by demanding a constitution; and he opposed cosmopolitan socialism by subordinating it to the state’s historical and national character.” (quoted in Gottfried, 11).

Hegel: “Political and cultural history contained an immanent design arising from a universal mind” – Gottfried on the views of “nonleftist Hegelians” (5)

So one can talk sensibly, Gottfried argues throughout his book, for a Hegelian left, center-left (in line with classical liberalism), and a Hegelian right – in spite of the “ritualistic anti-Hegelianism” found among some of these (i.e. they don’t realize the extent to which Hegel has influenced them) (104). “According to Karl Lowith, Hegel viewed his schematization of history as a defense of ‘Christian bourgeois society'” (133). Obviously, this man was a fascinating figure, appealing to many in politics like Augustine appeals to a variety of Christian traditions today.

For me Hegel in many ways cuts a sympathetic figure. The world that he knew was losing its traditions as exciting discoveries and societal gains, seemingly accomplished by Enlightenment thinking alone, were unraveling the old certainties. The Romantic counter-movement also caused a good deal of confusion and doubt when it came to the old ways. Hegel came on to the scene as a careful observer of the past and present and as one who could make some real sense of what was happening – and much that he says is no doubt insightful. He was, for the most part, the first philosopher to actually take history seriously (even if he does it the wrong way). Furthermore, I get the impression that for him, rationality when it comes to politics is something more like wisdom than it is “technocratic” solutions.

“The conservatives’ Hegelianism provided a historical perspective that united East and West, antiquity and the modern world, and paganism and Judeo-Christianity within an unfolding divine plan accessible to human understanding.” (p. 104)

What I find most interesting though are his philosophical views, and their impact on religion (and politics). Hands down, the most helpful thing that I have found for beginning to learn more about Hegel, his beliefs, and his influence is this excellent 1987 BBC production available on You Tube (Bryan Magee appears to have been something else!):

 

How does Hegel describe reality? In the video, Bryan Magee, sums up what Peter Singer says about Hegel, by saying that for him, “Reality is a process of historical change.” What does this mean? Well, Hegel is a historicist, and, as the literary scholar Hans Gumbrecht has said, with historicism, “there is no phenomenon in time that can resist change.”[i]

“My studies…against the essentialist metaphysics of the Western tradition. I would not be completely alone…There was Hegel to.”- Gadamer

Mark that. Of course reality, is not, fundamentally, “a process of historical change.” For the Christian, it would be more accurate to say something like this: Fundamentally, reality is an ontology of harmony for eternity. The cosmos we know, because of the Triune God, is at bottom relational and stable. This is not to ignore the change that can and does occur in the world, but to acknowledge the True Creator, Preserver, and Driver of history.

Martin Noland, on historicism: “all classical notions of ‘substance’ and ‘essence’ become obsolete” and “even the notion of ‘truth’ becomes subject to change.”

In light of this viewpoint then, I am going to simultaneously quote and critique the section of Gottfried’s book where he talks about Hegel’s debt to historicism and defends the same (all from p. xi):

“….what we should be seeking is a dispassionate understanding of historicism, and certainly incorporates sources other than Marxist-Hegelians. By historicism is meant an ethical and epistemological perspective that makes the awareness, and ultimately, the validity, of values dependent upon historical experience.”

A couple comments here. First of all, in what sense are “values” then, “dependent upon historical experience”? In the sense that human beings must experience values in history in order to be able to discuss them and their meaning? Who can deny this then and who is not a historicist? Just what is meant here by “depend”? As I noted in this post on the 19th century “conservative Lutheran” Hegelian-influenced theologian Johann Von Hofmann, just because human beings have different perspectives and cannot stop interpreting world events[ii], this does not mean that all things which human beings come to know – and which make their presence known to them – are subject to change in time. For a “dispassionate understanding of historicism,” I recommend Dr. Martin Noland’s PhD thesis, summarized here.

“Selfie theologian” Johann Von Hofmann, leader of a Hegelian-influenced school of theology that sees Scripture as merely a “form of the word of God” (think Plato)

“The historicist, by this definition, does not deny the ontological status of values that are unrelated to historical practice but simply treats them as irrelevant, like the unnoticed leaf I the forest over whose existence, or nonexistence, philosophers once disputed.”

This, along with his comment about “honoring of forms without reference to historical contexts (p. 33),” seems to be a dig at Platonism (and with him, the political conservative giant Leo Strauss, who he is very critical of in the book), which would make sense. I contend that in view of Hegelianism, any form of Platonism which might hope to exercise cultural and political influence is helpless. As I will argue in more detail in an upcoming post on my Reliable Source blog:

“Knowledge certainly does have a very dynamic aspect – for Plato, for example, it is always “solid” in the Heavenly Forms but, significantly, here on earth our ideas can be quite off, as we struggle with the Shadows. This, of course, is taken to new levels with Hegel (where there cannot be a statement made by human beings that is true by itself and that endures throughout time). The core idea here is that Laws, Forms, or the Ideal to which we are grasping might not change, but our interpretations of them — as elites get both more educated and smarter — does. For example, our past representations of some forms (e.g. marriage, father, mother, male, female, etc.), it is reasoned, were evidently off as we, under less reasonable influences, misinterpreted the Appearances.

Is a “good, true, and beautiful” that is always changing still “good, true, and beautiful”? Or if it is stable in heaven, but not on earth?

But now, we are being enlightened, pulled along by Something, helping us get on “the right side of history.” Even postmodernists find themselves talking this way because they to have teleological impulses that sync with stable (for the moment!) notions of right and wrong that should be expected from all. They must, because they are human beings. Even if one is uncertain about their views, traditional notions of law — based on Christian ideas — must be updated and/or replaced. In other words, they might not be certain about Right and Wrong, but they are confident enough about what they don’t respect and appreciate to act. And it seems to me that any conservatives looking to Plato who want to say there is some permanence in the world — and not just in the heavens — are absolutely helpless in light of this. For permanence is the illusion of the Appearances, and Hegel, bolstered of course by Galileo, Darwin, etc. rules the day.”

Gottfried goes on:

A historicist outlook similar to the one presented previously influenced my subjects [in this book]. They arrived at this outlook, at least partly, through their exposure to Hegel, who expressed it emphatically in almost all of his writings. For the historicist, man is knowable and definable through his historical situation and cultural upbringing, but never as the object of purely abstract predicates. The charge raised by [neo-Thomist David] Levy, however, does not go way completely, even if we present historicism in its most favorable light. Historicists, and among them Hegel, have sometimes treated moral and intellectual truths as being relative to particular epochs and cultures and thus fated to vanish in a changing world. Yet, this exaggerated emphasis on historical change does not represent the whole of historicist thinking. Many historicists, including Hegel, have stressed historical continuity more than change. They have also presented history as a vehicle for teaching and testing values without ascribing the origin of morality to a changing historical process.[iii]

Nevertheless, change is stressed. And not just change, but radical change. We are not just wrestling with Kant’s antinomies anymore, perhaps doing something like what E.F. Schumacher does here in this statement:

Justice is a denial of mercy, and mercy is a denial of justice.  Only a higher force can reconcile these opposites: wisdom. The problem cannot be solved, but wisdom can transcend it. Similarly, societies need stability and change, tradition and innovation, public interest and private interest, planning and laissez-faire, order and freedom, growth and decay….

No. It is no longer responsible for us to conclude that a proposition is true, even if we do not necessarily understand the full depth (and therefore full meaning) of what is being said. We now are insisting that no statement can stand on its own. We are now talking the next step, synthesizing and more with wild confidence en route to our goal of some kind of fuzzy, perpetual progress that pulls us along. But as Schumacher goes on to say:

“ Everywhere society’s health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of mutually opposed activities or aims. The adoption of a final solution means a kind of death sentence for man’s humanity and spells either cruelty or dissolution, generally both… Divergent problems offend the logical mind. — Schumacher, E. F. A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Harper & Row, 1977, 127.

Persons of a more “progressive” mindset, influenced by Hegelian philosophy (whether they know it or not), see the matter of seeking justice very differently from, for example, those influenced by more classical notions of Christianity. In his book Orthodoxy, Chesterton wrote, “[progress] should mean that we are slow and sure in bringing justice and mercy among men: it does not mean that we are very swift in doubting the desirability of justice and mercy… [Today,] we are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is much easier” (1909, p. 195).

This is most certainly true.

David Brooks, not acting very conservative: “…creativity can be described as the ability to grasp the essence of one thing, and then the essence of some very different thing, and smash them together to create some entirely new thing.”

As was his custom, the perspicacious 20th century Lutheran theologian Kurt Marquart nailed it. The religion of Hegelianism would attempt to appropriate even the Bible for in its cause….:

“To suggest that the orthodox [Christian] concept of authoritative propositional truth, dogma, is ‘Greek,’ while the pietistically sugar-coated agnosticism of the modern, tentative sore of ‘theology’ is ‘Biblical,’ is to turn the facts topsy-turvy and to betray a total lack of perspective. Exactly the opposite is the case! It is precisely Biblical religion which insists on the absolute and universal significance of historically-anchored particularities.”

Missing delightful, brilliant and holy Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart, very much…. (listen to him here)

Recently, in our local paper, a person responded to a piece by the conservative columnist John Kass, and wrote:

As a lifelong Christian, I join many others in the understanding that Kass’ claim[, that “[t]he basic tenet of Christianity is the belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God and that, without that belief, salvation is impossible],” is false and that the basic tenet of Christianity is, instead, the basic teaching of Jesus: Love God above all, and love your neighbor as yourself. The exclusivist claim cited by Kass, and probably held by most fundamentalist Christians, is based on an interpretation of scripture with which many Christians disagree.

Hegel would have also likely disagreed, and many of his followers certainly do. But the historically-anchored particularity of the God-Man Jesus Christ — with His perfect life and innocent death for us — is indeed said to be, by the historically-anchored witness of His disciples, the only “name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

In sum, reality is an ontology of harmony for eternity revealed in human flesh.

FIN

 

 

Images: Peter Singer from the Star ; Hegel from Wikipedia ; Gadamer from http://www.deepintheburbs.com/paper-a-presentation-on-hans-georg-gadamer/ ; Noland from himself ; Von Hoffman, Plato, and David Brooks from Wikipedia, Marquart from: http://www.angelfire.com/ny4/djw/marquartlectures.html

[i] from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGMKnG2yEc8: The Shulman Lectures, “All that Matters is Invisible: How Latency Dominates our Present”. Regarding a definition of historicism, Martin Noland writes in his PhD thesis: “In summary, historicism was both a worldview and a method. As a worldview, it was identified with anti-naturalist and post-speculative realist perspectives, emphasizing the themes of the malleability of human nature and individuality. As a method, it operated with the principles of criticism, analogy, correlation, development, and the historical idea.” (p. 83) It also “looks at the world from the standpoint of intellectual, spiritual, and psychological entities and processes, even to the extreme point of explaining all natural phenomena as a cultural growth. Unlike the model of Newtonian science, which posited the fixed nature of entities and the mathematical description of processes, historicism recognizes that entities change and develop over the course of time. Such change of an entity, requiring a historical account of its origin and growth, is thus the root issue dividing naturalism and historicism. (p. 47)”

[ii] Since Kant especially, the focus of human knowledge has been the human subject. As Jordan Cooper notes regarding the 19th century theologian Albrect Ritschl: “what Mannermaa rightly points out is that Luther has been misunderstood due to Ritschl’s adoption of Kantian ideas, especially as explained by Herman Lotze. In particular, the problem lies in the nature of what Kant refers to as the noumenal realm which is inaccessible to the human person. Instead, a thing is only known through its impact upon the human subject. When Ritschl applies this distinction to theology (albeit with several modifications), this means that God is explained only through one’s experience of him. This is not a subjective personal experience, as Ritschl is highly critical of individualistic pietism, but the experience of the Christian community” (italics mine).

[iii] Gottfried goes on to write in the next paragraph: “It must, of course, be stated that all historicists have not been Hegelians. Edmund Burke, who had a keen sense of the historical and evolutionary aspects of human society, preceded Hegel by almost two generations….” This seems to be a hotly debated topic (see here and here) and is certainly one I am eager to learn more about. the first paragraph of this article would seem to set the stage well.

 

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

To Hell With Our Fallen Love: Why “Annihilationism” and Universalism Fall Short

A taste of heavenly fellowship, of un-fallen love… (The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Gerard van Honthorst, 1623)

 

One of our Lord’s great promises is the blessed fellowship we will know in the life to come:

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 4:1 and I Thessalonians 2:19 respectively, can hardly contain himself when he thinks about this fellowship:

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!”

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?”

On the other hand, the famous 20th century philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is famous for his quip that “hell is other people”. Many want to say “Amen” to this, but then again, a moment’s reflection will tell us that being alone and isolated is no fun either. Broken people that we are, most of us can nevertheless think of at least some people in our lives who we continue to want to be with.

No Monsieur Sartre, hell is not other people.

Actually, hell is not other people, but the exact opposite. It is the lack of other people – particularly the people who love you and care about you the most – that would be Christians.

Heaven is other Christians.

If you don’t know any Christians who you think fit that description, I am sorry, but overall, this is true. Christians are called to love all persons, including their enemies, and so you are certainly included in the number of those they are to care for. Christians know that life on earth can be very hard, but ultimately, if they are taking the teachings of their Lord seriously, they want nothing else than to see you in heaven on the other side.[i]

Should the Christian hate wicked men? “Religion Overthrow[s] Heresy and Hatred” (pictured). Study Rom 5:10-12, Matthew 7:11, and John 12:24-26.

That is why hell, in part, means not being with them. Eternal separation from them.

“Wait, wait, wait,” you might be saying. The Christians I know told me that hell was eternal separation from God – not Christians.

I understand, but I think they are clearly wrong.[ii] So let’s deal with this point first. As a matter of fact, the Scriptures say the following:

“If anyone worships the beast . . . he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (Revelation 14:9–11).

John Piper says that the angels and the Lamb attend this punishment “not for enjoyment but for vindication”. Given that we are told that God does not desire the death of the wicked, I think it is very safe to say that this has little to do with enjoyment. But even accepting for the moment that this does have to do with “vindication,” as Piper suggests, does the torment seen in this passage mean that God is torturing these persons? And if it does not (I don’t think it does) would it nevertheless not just be more humane to destroy, or annihilate, these persons?

Jerry L. Wells: “The traditional view [of hell] should be presumed correct unless shown to be false beyond reasonable doubt” (p. 96)

No. After all, if a person is convinced that a doctor is trying to kill them (“annihilate” them) rather than heal them, a good and knowledgeable doctor who will not fight against that lie but gives up is not helping that person. The key point here is that it is we, not He, who are the liars (see Rom. 3). It is we who do not love, and do not love the truth.

In the new Four Views on Hell book from Zondervan (2016), you will, at various points in the book, “learn” that:

  • God is not loving if He doesn’t give us second chances.
  • God is not loving if the punishment of hell is eternal.
  • Anyone in hell means God’s plans end in failure.
  • God doesn’t love those who are in hell (stated explicitly).

In each of these cases, fallen man projects his sin-infested understanding onto God, in essence accusing Him of what is actually true about us. Insofar as we are sinners, we are unable to help ourselves, and hence always lie and project. Importantly, it is we — not He — who do not understand love. It is we who would be, and in fact are, the destroyers of relationships. As I wrote in a past post:

“Rather than seeing others as those whom we can welcome and share life with – and who have significance outside our own desires and pursuit of happiness – we, often, would rather they simply not exist (for ours is not so much the age of anger and hatred, but apathy and indifference). Men might enjoy using this or that “God” for their own self-centered pursuits, but the flip side of this is that oftentimes, man, the fool, wishes the jealous and zealous God of Israel out of existence (Psalm 14:1). I suggest that this is one reason why there is eternal punishment with God, and not annihilation (the cessation of all personal existence, popular in Eastern conceptions such as Nirvana).”

If we resist this, we simply need Him to hold firm and not give into our lies. Driving home the point vs. “annihilationism”…:

“Though God certainly expressed regret in the O.T. at creating man, He emphatically cannot be said to “take life”, or “snuff out life” in order to be rid of relationships forever, de-Personalizing reality. Said differently, it is man who desires that God not exist, not God who desires that man not exist. Is man really so foolish that he would tell God what love is – namely treating others as if they do not exist, disregarding their presence, and ultimately destroying life, destroying relationships? Evidently. “Would you condemn me [to non-existence or otherwise] that you may be justified?” (Job 40:8). Indeed this is our problem.”

So, I understand things this way: God stands by these forever even if they would always reject Him. For this is the God who, in Christ, wept over Jerusalem before its destruction.[iii]

Preston Sprinkle, co-author of “Erasing Hell”: “Any honest exegete should agree that annihilationism is a credible – indeed biblical – evangelical option.” (Four Views on Hell, 205) Really?

And with all this said, we can now address the earlier claim: that the punishment of hell is, in part, eternal separation from the children of God.

First of all, going back to Piper, does all of this have to do with vindication? Perhaps to some degree, but not in an “I told you so” kind of way – and not in a way that Jesus hangs around for this reason. Rather, it has to do with justice. And here, our view of justice cannot be so narrow. An important aspect of justice[iv], as N.T. Wright tirelessly points out, is that it has to do with a “setting of the world to rights,” and here, vindication, security, protection, and relief for God’s children would be highlighted.

And “no,” Bishop Wright, “Fear him who can destroy both the body and soul in hell” does not mean fear the devil!

In short, the sheep must be kept apart from the goats, because, in a sense, those who are in hell want to be there. This does not mean that they want to be in the place of Hell, per se, but they also certainly do not want to live among those for whom the highest pleasure is worshiping the Lamb.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, 1432.

Rather, we have every reason to believe that this is something that they, even after the final judgment, would ferociously reject and cannot abide. After all, when all the invisible things are made visible and the shadows become reality, Jesus Christ can never again be denied, never again be “out of sight and out of mind”.[v] Therefore, if all of Adam’s children were still together, these enemies would only seek, at every turn, to rage against the Lamb, undermine Him, and crucify Him – at least in the hearts of His children. Therefore, for the sake of His little ones, justice demands that these enemies of the faithful be kept far from them (see the Psalms!). As the Scriptures say, there is a large gulf, and they are unable to cross it. The faithful will never be harassed and persecuted again.

And, at the same time, this is indeed real punishment for those who did not and do not trust in the Lord. This is indeed prison. Why? The reason is not hard to grasp. For though they found themselves enjoying the presence of Christians while on earth – and indeed still long for the comfort and relief their presence would bring (see Luke 16) – this they will have no longer. Again, we need not insist that it is the torment or duration that is the chief punishment of hell. There is also this element of isolation from the goodness experienced from other persons — particularly those who lived according to Christ’s call for obedience and mercy.

Augustine: “They who desire to be rid of eternal punishment ought to abstain from arguing against God.”

For mercy defines the Christian as it defines their God. They do not need to think of hell as a place where the unbelievers are actively tortured, even if, as with Dante, it is only the most grievous sinners who receive such horrific punishment. As a matter of fact, given our charge to love our enemies and show mercy, we should strive to overcome any desire for our enemy’s pain. Rather, Christians can certainly believe that weeping, fire, sulfur, and worm that does not die are powerful symbols of the confused feelings of regret and hate the damned experience as a result of their isolation from the true love they rejected.

Christians further have no reason to believe that God’s love for the wicked ends, even as the hatred the wicked have for Christ will not end. Whether they would be able to choose differently, or are given once and for all what they wanted come the final judgment – persistent rejection of the Lamb of God – we are given no indication there will be another change in their hearts for the better. Even if ideas of “universalism” sync with God’s desires to save all persons, it is nevertheless a notion thoroughly unsupported by the whole of the Scriptures.

Bell loses. See Four Views on Hell (2016), pages 30-31.

So, instead of giving people unwarranted hope that universalism is true, we must insist that God’s judgment has teeth.

He is not in dock, we are. He is not unloving. We are. He is not a liar. We are.

At the same time, Christians should not be ashamed of having sensitive dispositions that recoil from ideas like “double predestination,” and yes, some ideas of hell. God is, after all, hanging on the cross for us for a good reason. As the Lutheran Confessions of 1580 assert:

But it [the true judgment concerning predestination] must be learned alone from the holy Gospel concerning Christ, in which it is clearly testified that God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all, and that He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and believe in the Lord Christ. Rom. 11:32; Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 2:2.

The blood that covers him is for you to.

FIN 

 

Images:

Jean-Paul Sartre CC BY-SA 3.0 nl ; Religion overthrowing heresy and hatred in public domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Religion_Overthrowing_Heresy_and_Hatred_Legros.jpg ; logo of Universalist Church of America prior to 1961 merger, Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication ; N.T. Wright by Gareth Saunders, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Notes:

[i] Charles Spurgeon said: “Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly destroy themselves. If hell must be failed, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unsprayed for.” Quoted by Denny Burk, Four Views on Hell, (2016) p. 43.

[ii] Regarding 2 Thes. 1:9, see the comments on pages 34 and 35 in Four Views on Hell, ed. Preston Sprinkle.

[iii] To get more theological, and to address the arguments being made against hell today (see Sprinkle’s favorable comments towards annihilationism), we can say the following: When God “destroys” He confirms persons in their spiritual perishing, disintegration, and dying – sealing the “second death”. Those who experience hell are like “charred chaff,” ruined spiritually forever – they are without spiritual life, true trust and love. Universalists are right that God gives eternity as a gift in Christ to all – for life and reconciliation found for all in Him, man’s Head. At the same time, some reject this eternal life, and this gift, this love, becomes eternal death to them.

[iv] Of course, Hebrews 10:30 and Romans 12:19 speak of the Lord’s vengeance as well. Vengeance is also a part of justice – “just retribution” – even as this should not be understood in a crude, “pound-of-flesh” fashion. For an interesting discussion see this post.

[v] In Four Views on Hell, Jerry L. Walls argues that C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce “illustrates many of the central points of [his essay on purgatory],” including that God shows “optimal grace” to the damned in the life to come (presumably giving them another chance) (see pp. 172-173). On the contrary, Lewis may simply be showing the persistence of damnation, including the persistent attitudes of the damned.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

What James Comey — and Liberal Westerners in General — Could Learn From Martin Luther

Comey: He asked for my loyalty. And your point is…?

Ah, just what you love, right? Theologians sounding off about politics. Well, when you’re right…

With this particular series of events, I couldn’t help sounding off. Say what you will about Donald Trump, but I just can’t shake the conviction that the man has a point about the importance of loyalty.

James Comey has a reputation as a straight-shooter, the “most honest man in Washington” some have said. Even so, there is one key thing that he didn’t get.

I wrote this piece about two weeks ago (May 21st) under the title “Why Donald Trump Has the Moral High Ground in the Comey Affair” and submitted it to the Federalist. They didn’t publish it then, so I’m doing it now. I think I have a good opinion to share.

+++

Some say that Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey is a good indication that he has something to hide. On the contrary, it suggests to me that when Trump detects incompetence, unfairness, injustice, and disloyalty, he eventually acts on that impression.

And regarding loyalty, take it from this lay Lutheran theologian: 500 years ago the Pope had every reason to expect that Martin Luther would not start what we call the Protestant Reformation, but rather be loyal to him. And Martin Luther, in a sense, actually agreed! As anyone who has examined the history can tell you, apparent in books like Scott Hendrix’s Luther and the Papacy for example, Luther was determined to be a loyal solider of the Pope – until he was absolutely convinced that he no longer could.

The office of the President of the United States and the office of the papacy in the 16th century Roman Catholic Church certainly have their differences. That said, there is a principle here that can and should be more widely applied, which is that loyalty is a critically important part of life – even if many in “sophisticated’ circles yawn. For example, as New York University sociologist and ethics professor Jonathan Haidt points out, today’s liberals care about things like liberty and fairness but are basically unconcerned regarding matters of sanctity, authority, and loyalty.

When recently responding to the idea that he might have swayed the election James Comey stated that it made him “mildly nauseous.” Given the sentiment surrounding the President, it’s not a big leap to assume that Comey was saying that this nausea had something to do with the idea that he may have played a role in Donald Trump becoming our President. Certainly his statement would give just that impression to many, with some would cheering and others jeering. In any case, according to some accounts in the media, it was precisely this statement from Comey that sent Trump over the edge.

And in truth, if this were the case, I can hardly blame the President.

Yes, add that to the list of all the other issues with Mr. Comey! And consider for a moment that it might indeed be the case that there is ultimately no “there there” when it comes to the matter of the Trump campaign’s purported collusion with Russia. If you are Donald Trump and you are confident that you and your associates, as far as you know, did no wrong, how frustrating must it be for this investigation to perpetually drag on? How maddening would it be to constantly hear from those in the intelligence community that the investigation is ongoing and yet there is no known evidence of wrongdoing? That the President himself, in fact, is not under investigation?

How long must the pressure of this cloud over the administration’s integrity – not the desire to impede any reasonable investigation – remain? How long must the mob that is the mainstream media grow ever more restless, waiting for more and more rumor, innuendo and anonymous leaks? At what point do concerns about incompetence or – given the known history of the F.B.I. director – concerns about speedy, fair, and impartial processes become something that those questioning the administration take seriously? Perhaps some hostile to the President are just banking on the idea that the President, feeling unfairly treated, will just give into his rather primal nature, looking to right the wrongs he senses in a way that will further discredit him?

Well, if that’s the case, I’m glad Donald Trump is fighting them as best he can.

Perhaps you are shocked by my saying this and wonder how I can think this way. Donald Trump a victim and not a victimizer?! Well, now we get into why this is a bit primal for me to. “What if it is indeed true,” you might say, “that Trump asked for Comey’s loyalty?” Well, what if I told you I think he’d be a bad President if he didn’t expect this – even from the F.B.I. director? When it comes to congress, we used to resonate with the idea of the “loyal opposition,” and it seems a no-brainer that any President should expect the members of his administration to be loyal to him. If a President asks you for your loyalty the only proper response is “Yes.” Not, “you have my honesty,” or some other evasive and trust-destroying answer.

“But wait a minute,” you say. “What about the Constitution? We must be loyal to the Constitution first and foremost, right?” The question here is why anyone would think that loyalty to the President and loyalty to the Constitution are necessarily antithetical to one another. If you don’t think you can say “Yes, you have my loyalty,” period, you can always add something like, “And of course, I assume you, like me, want to be loyal first and foremost to the Constitution of the United States”. And it is one’s duty to be loyal to the President until one is absolutely convinced that such trust has been dis-earned, at which point, yes, very difficult decisions need to be made.

“Hold on a second, though! Is it reasonable to think that a person is going to be able to come up with an answer like that on the fly in the face of a question like ‘Will you be loyal to me?’” Of course it is. The reason is because such an answer should be second nature to anyone deeply involved in politics. That it often may not be second nature simply underscores the depth of the problem that we are facing – not on the part of a deeply populist President, but on the part of those duty-bound to show loyalty to him.

Of course, given Jonathan Haidt’s observation above, it makes sense that those who continue to maintain relatively conservative dispositions will more readily pass the kind of loyalty test the President is purported to have put James Comey through. And this would explain why Trump’s first impulse would be to show loyalty toward someone like Michael Flynn, not ordering that the investigation involving him stop, but expressing the hope that it might – assuming that Flynn has only acted in an improper and not criminal fashion.

Finally, perhaps you might want to say “Are you serious about this? How can I possibly believe that you would feel similarly about a President that you were opposed to?” Well, if I absolutely felt that I could not serve a President because of his moral character or some other issue I could not abide, it would be my duty to resign and not stand in the way. To become a loyal opposition that looks to challenge the President in proper ways and through the right channels. In sum, I have always believed that the person who fills the office of President is to be honored and that I owe him my loyalty. I am sure that many an American soldier – Republican or Democrat – could say the same. We may not particularly like the President, but he is nevertheless our President.

Yes he is.

All that said, no doubt the military comes to my mind for a reason. I note that this kind of loyalty and trust are increasingly rare. Almost unknown it seems. As for Comey’s lack of loyalty, it is my sincere hope that we will soon know whether or not that disloyalty, no doubt fueled by distrust, had actually been earned beyond a reasonable doubt.

I really doubt it.

+++

I still do. And I don’t consider myself very loyal.

Not like Luther! Because Luther felt so strong about the importance of being loyal — until he could not be — his resistance is markedly different from that of Comey’s.

FIN

 

Note: added that last line, to tie things back to the title, after original publication.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Uncategorized

 
 
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