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Why Every Christian Should be Tempted by “Radical Lutheranism”

The point is that only the Gospel is the ground of our motivation for fulfilling the 10 commandments, which are eternal.

Radical Lutheran brothers not getting it: The point is that only the Gospel is the ground of our motivation for fulfilling the 10 commandments, which are eternal.

(Or at least some aspects of “Radical Lutheranism”)

There is evidence that even Martin Luther was concerned about appearing too strict. No believer in Christ ever wants to be – or to be labeled – a legalist or Pharisee. They do not want to be seen as persons who live by and from law. They want to be – and be known as – people of grace.

This is especially true of Radical Lutherans.

“Radical Lutheranism” was a term coined by the conservative ELCA Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde in part to exacerbate – over and against American evangelicalism – the Lutheran emphasis on the doctrine of justification, which insists that we are saved by grace alone, by faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone.

The doctrine of justification, as understood by Luther, is an exceptionally good thing. It means that all may not only have peace with God on their deathbed but in life. It is something that the Christian lives by and from. After all, those who know themselves to be great sinners – even if everyone else thinks they are basically flawless saints – are those who are eager to show mercy….

This is why we should be tempted – because the desire to proclaim the forgiveness of God in Christ to all persons without exception – and to do so more and more – is to be at the heart of the Christian life. This is the valuable truth that Radical Lutheranism strives to bring to our attention. You don’t have to be a “Bad Boy” Christian to see that.[i]

But with that said, the difficulties with Radical Lutheran teaching can not be ignored. And not just because Forde failed mightily when it came to getting the atonement right, but because of other issues as well (which I think one certainly can connect with the atonement issues – see here and here).

Recently, I read a short article in the magazine put out by Valparaiso University (which is a Lutheran university heavily under the influence of men like Forde), the Cresset, called “Lutherans and the Law” by Nicholas Hopman.  The article was shared with me by a friend after Pastor Hopman was willing to engage with me on some substantive debate in another post I had written regarding Radical Lutheran issues: “A Plea to Reformation Christians: Don’t Let Your “Simul” Become the One Ring to Rule Them All”

Based on my online interactions with Pastor Hopman, I was not surprised to find his article very insightful, well-written and rhetorically persuasive (and there is certainly much in it that I appreciate and agree with).

(also brief, which is more than I can say about this one)

In a nutshell, he argues that since Lutherans are eager to emphasize grace, they will inevitably be associated with antinomianism (meaning “against the law”).  Therefore, in order to avoid the implications of antinomianism, they often find themselves retreating back into legalism.

Lutherans, he argues, should view themselves as free from the 10 commandments. What?  Well, as is clear from the command regarding the Sabbath, these were given to the Jews and not the Gentiles – and yet Christians continue to keep them because nature teaches us that they are something that human beings continue to need in their lives (even for something like the Sabbath, “nature tells us that people need rest from work and that they need to hear from their creator”, as even the Lutheran Book of Concord indicates, p. 376).[ii]

In other words, we who have been incorporated into God’s people should now live in accordance with these commandments because they were created to comport with human nature, not because God has commanded us to do them.

And I can't compel re-tweets of stuff I think is pretty good.

Getting kids to go to corporate worship as they were created to do… And I can’t compel re-tweets of stuff I think is pretty good!

The distinction is subtle but important. On the one hand, this does seem to make a lot of sense. It provides a ready answer for the “why?” question parents never stop hearing from their children: “…because God created us to be this way… these are like the “operating instructions” for human life”. Hence, this “eternal will” of God, as the Lutheran Formula of Concord (part of the Book of Concord) calls it, makes perfect sense.

But is that all that Pastor Hopman is saying? It would seem not. Even if he notes that we must in some sense remain “Law people” because if we do not, we will do damage to our bodies!  In saying this he invokes the importance of good order and the Golden Rule, which he then equates with the human convention of traffic lights and laws (something for which, I note, there may well be an alternative, or divergent, solution).

Do you see what happens here? The emphasis is no longer on how God freely made His creation to function a certain way, but there now seems to be more freedom regarding how to think about God’s law – creation becomes “nature”, and more opportunity for autonomy is introduced. In short, the impression is given – at least by phrases and illustrations like these – that that the law is perhaps not so eternal after all. Even if this is not what neither Hopman nor Forde intend to say. [iii] Further, it does not help when he goes on to say: “[our] freedom includes freedom from the law”, and, citing Vitor Westhelle[iv], adds, “This freedom allows us to engage in a dialogue with the law.”

Again, as he implied earlier, Pastor Hopman is keen to emphasize that none of the 10 commandments were directly given to Gentiles (even if their articulation is ultimately for their benefit in some way – I note that Luther himself argued that God had to “re-publish” the natural law through the Jews because Adam and Eve’s descendents had basically lost it through suppression of the truth). Putting the best construction on his article, it seems he would likely say that when Paul calls the commandments the fulfillment of the law of love in Romans 13 – and urges Christian adherence to these commandments throughout his N.T. Epistles, particularly that same book of Romans – the Apostle nevertheless does not believe that these commands are something that God gives the Christians and expects them to do, but perhaps is only inviting them, in love, to do (recognizing that they are given for their good, with a blessed life in mind).

Definitely loving the dialogue thing.

Definitely loving the dialogue thing.

Again, it does seem like a conversation, or “dialogue”, with God’s law is just the way that many self-professed Christians in our day and age would like to look at it.[v] Better to have a dialogue partner than a Divine Patriarch. But does this mean that the conscientious Christian should insist that God does not, in any sense, “invite” us to run the way of His commandments? I think the Radical Lutheran would be right here to say that asserting He does not, in fact, invite us, would be wrong. Here is where they are likely hearing many saying “shall we sin then that grace may abound” and eagerly responding with Paul’s “God forbid! May it never be!”

That said, with the Radical Lutheran the impression is often given that any exhortation, guidance, or direction delivered to the Christian after they have believed Christ’s word of forgiving grace (for all their sins) means that we are “being put back under the law”. What this means, they seem to be saying, is that Christ is no longer the Romans 10:4 fulfillment (better, they say, “end”!) of the law, but the Christian is now living by the law, captive to legalism! (something that our old Adam is no doubt eager to do – along with living as he pleases, of course)

This is incorrect (more on why below).  That said, I indeed sympathize and identify with them!  Who does not, after all, get inspired when reading Martin Luther’s introductory comments to the book of Romans?[vi] These Radical Lutherans point us to something good here: they are eager for the Christian life to be a life of spontaneous love!  A life of love where one – because of the love of God in Christ they have experienced – because of the peace with God that they know – more or less naturally does real good for their neighbor’s sake!

So I also have profound sympathies with persons who want to de-emphasize the 10 commandments and things that sound like them. After all, did not Jesus say that the Golden Rule summed up the Law and the prophets, and that the 10 could be reduced to the greatest two? Did He not highlight love of God and neighbor?

He most certainly did! At the same time though, the 10 commandments are able to be summed up by the two greatest commandments precisely because they describe, in part, what real love looks like. This is why we not only say that the Christian is the one who lives in love, but lives in the law (as the Lutheran Formula of Concord states) – because the law shows us love (and yes, Jesus is the One who most perfectly embodied the 10 commandments).

This - and so much more - fulfilled in Christ, to Whom it pointed. (William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854).

This – and so much more – fulfilled in Christ, to Whom it pointed. (William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854).

Further, in Hopman’s article he not only wrongly bases his entire system on Luther’s understanding of the third commandment and its provisional nature, but also a faulty understanding of the relationship of the ceremonial law to the moral law. In spite of what God directly revealed in Acts 10 (namely, that He had ceremonial practices that He was rescinding) and which was dealt with by the church in Acts 15[vii], Hopman simply asserts that “Paul knew well that circumcision was a matter of the law” and makes no distinctions regarding it’s provisional nature vis a vis the moral law. [viii] That said, it is Paul himself who, throughout the New Testament, makes a distinction between what has been called the “ceremonial law” (Eph. 2:14-15, Acts 10:9-16, Col. 2:16-17) and the “moral law” (Rom. 13:8-10, James 2:8, Rom. 2:15, Matt. 5:17-19). While the whole of the law has been fulfilled on our behalf in Christ (Rom. 10:4) – that it may now be fulfilled in the Christian’s own body (Rom. 8:4) – it is only the “shadows” that Paul talks about that have been abolished (see Eph. 2:14-15).

In other words, God rescinds some of the ceremonial practices – things like feasts, sacrifices, offerings, laws of cleanliness and purification – that he himself had instituted in order to set His people apart from the other nations. In the times of the Old Testament, Gentiles were certainly invited to find hope in Israel’s God (think of the books of Ruth and Jonah) and yet these ceremonies also tended to divide Jew and Gentile (even as they, arguably, also made it possible for the prophesied Christ to come from a distinct and identifiable people not rich in earthly power). Bringing all of these ceremonies to fulfillment in Himself, these are the “dividing wall” Christ came to abolish.

Hopman closes his article in the following way:

“The gospel is not only the end of laws that do not apply to Christians. Faith is also the end of all natural and moral law or whatever terms one would use to describe laws that apply to us. Those who live by faith have been born again of water and the Spirit and live a new life beyond the Law and its condemnation. The Law no longer applies in any way in faith itself. Faith is Jesus Christ himself living in us. As he is now risen from the dead, the Law no longer has any rights over him. And so it shall be for us one day. We do not have a dialogue with the gospel (Westhelle), but instead it flows over us in a life-giving flood. Until the day of the resurrection, we live by faith, but we also live in the body and need the Law to discipline us.

I do not doubt that a Lutheran could believe this and be completely orthodox. It sounds good to me!  The problem, however, is what is not said – and the door is left open for doubt regarding the eternal nature of God’s law – not to mention confident activism to abolish God’s Law as revealed in the Scriptures.

Surely, everyone who calls themselves a Radical Lutheran should be able to see these problems. And surely, there may be some who would be eager to distance themselves from Hopman’s arguments. That said, I hope you at least agree with me that all of this should invite much reflection on our parts (and there is a lot more food for thought in the footnotes).

C.F.W. Walther - succumbing to legalism?

C.F.W. Walther – succumbing to legalism?

Many Radical Lutherans will especially be eager to distance themselves from the teachings of Nadia Bolz-Weber when it comes to how she treats God’s Law (which means of course, that they will be considered legalists by her as well as many less theologically liberal than her). Nevertheless, they also want to distance themselves from their more conservative brethren (perhaps people who think the Synodical Conference was, for the most part, a really good thing). They do not see these brothers as working to voluntarily lay aside, in love, their freedom for the sake of external and internal unity in God’s church. They only can see coercion and legalism here.

Well, if it is legalism to not only encourage but urge brothers and sisters to limit their Christian freedom for the sake of other brothers who are highly conscientious of showing proper respect, and doing things in an orderly fashion, and have an unmistakable gravitas about their piety – all because we can’t really effectively reach persons and show mercy unless such concerns are left behind – then, “yes”, I suppose I am a legalist and Pharisee.

So, at this point do I think I should then insist to my Radical Lutheran brothers: “Then have the courage to say so!” (as St. Louis LC-MS professor Ed Schroeder did back in 1972)

Not really.  I can think of three reasons off the top of my head, seeking the “best construction” (I pray it is not extreme naivete on my part!):

  • Because you also believe that Christ can save legalists – and, by the grace of God – you do not despise me but pray for my salvation as well
  • Because I also am not eager – nor do I want to be hasty – to tell you that I think you severely endanger your soul when you take little or no time to listen to and adjust to the real, genuine, and pious concerns of brother Christians
  • Because you will admit you don’t like it when those more liberal than you say the same thing about the respect and order issues that you think are worth everyone’s concern

Always eager to create more chasms in Christ’s church, I think that these are all things that Satan does not want us to think and meditate about. At the same time, when we are determined to not lose sight of these things, I think he is eager to get us to think that they are the only things that matter – and that it is not important to really try and listen to one another, love one another, and pray for one another – so that we might be as united in our own eyes – and a watching world’s – as we already are in His, through the blood of His Son (Eph. 5:26 – justification)

Even as He still looks to refine us (Eph. 5:27 – sanctification) for His Name’s sake. That Christ and His reconciliation might be known without hindrance to all (II Cor. 5).

FIN

 

Notes

[i] The linked post dealt with “Bad Boy Lutheran pastors” in particular. Connection to Radical Lutheranism? Not all Radical Lutherans are Bad Boy Lutherans, but all Bad Boy Lutherans are Radical Lutherans. Read the post for more.

[ii] “We ask questions like, “does this law apply to me/us?” If it does not apply to us, we are free to ignore it, just as Christians do not ascribe any special holiness to Friday night and Saturday. However, we are careful to look for natural and moral laws that apply at all times and places until kingdom come.”

[iii] “Often life is best served by applying the Law leniently. Often Law needs to be applied in different ways at different times and places. This does not mean that the Law ever ceases to function or that its essential content ever changes (Forde 1995).”

[iv] Westhelle, Vitor. Luther on the Authority of Scripture. Lutheran Quarterly 19(2005): 373–391.

[v] The idea is that as our understanding of God’s world grows, we also mature in our moral outlook, leaving less constricting ways behind. Again, I don’t believe that Pastor Hopman has anything like this in mind, but certainly there are many who do. When he says “we are careful to look for natural and moral laws that apply at all times and places until kingdom come” and

“To say that Lutherans should obey the natural law is not to say that they should follow the natural law tradition coming out of Aristotle and today publicized by journals like First Things. The best way for Lutherans to think of natural law is in its simplest sense, as devoid of philosophical baggage as possible. Here the Lutheran theologian becomes an observer of the world. For example, Luther, who hated Aristotle, simply noticed that human beings need rest and said so commenting on the Third Commandment.”

…there are certainly persons eager and ready to drive the truck through the crack in the door. The Reformers approach to Aristotle overall was certainly more nuanced than this.

[vi]

“Faith is not that human notion and dream that some hold for faith. Because they see that no betterment of life and no good works follow it, and yet they can hear and say much about faith, they fall into error and say, “Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.” This is one reason that when they hear the gospel they fall-to and make for themselves, by their own powers, an idea in their hearts which says, “I believe.” This they hold for true faith. But it is a human imagination and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, and so nothing comes of it and no betterment follows it.

Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1); it kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and brings with it the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are any good works to do, but before the question rises; it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them. He who does not these works is a faithless man. He gropes and looks about after faith and good works, and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence on God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures; and this is the work of the Holy Ghost in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace; and thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God to work faith in you; else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.” (found here)

As regards our sanctification, desiring and pursuing to be more spontaneously obedient is what we get to do (even if we know it does not feel like it’s a get to).

But that doesn’t sound spontaneous!  Well, spontaneous good works are certainly the ideal – where we believe the Gospel and “naturally” do good more or less unconsciously  Talking more about this with pastor friends, I think that there are a few aspects to this question. First of all, there is, as my pastor told me, the “spontaneous action of the New Man which nonetheless is hampered/limited/restricted imperceptibly  by the Old Adam.” Here, as an analogy, one might think of the “ballet dancer or musician who is always pursuing perfection but is limited by his or her own physical abilities. Yes they truly want to play/move flawlessly and must do so spontaneously to come close to any type of success–and years of proper practice certainly help!–, and yet they will always be limited by their body/mind, etc. ***often without their own awareness of that limitation*** (stars mine).” Again, what this means is that “the New Man can actually do good works, and does good works which nonetheless are always hampered both perceptibly (Rom. 7!) and imperceptibly by the Old Adam.”

So there is that way of looking at it. And then there is also the matter of what is going on inside of the Christian, also dealt with by Scripture.  And here the partim is how we must look at the Christian man (using language like Luther does, for example, about being 1/2 sinful and 1/2 holy….).  This can help us understand why we are so often not spontaneously obedient – joyfully running in the paths of the Lord’s commandments – like we, according to our inner man, long to be. Ideally, we don’t even need the law to describe for us what our new life in Christ looks like, or to jog our memory, or even to inspire us! While Luther talks about spontaneity in the passages from the 4th Antinomian Disputation theses, it is in the other Disputations where Luther responds to student’s challenges where he talks about the “Thomas Christian” (see Pastor Sonntag’s paper on third of the law in those same Disputations – of which he is the translator) where there is a fight going – which will result in the purging of sin and the doing of good – which is certainly not spontaneous in the way that we might be thinking. Rather, what is often spontaneous is simply the desire and will to fight – in the power afforded by the Gospel that gives us peace in justification – so that good, and not evil, can be done: so Christians obey willingly without coercion, *due to their putting their old man in its place – by their new man* (not Christ, but the new nature that wills – “not my will…” – to cooperate with Christ’s Spirit) who is eager to do so, and *spontaneously does so more or less consciously*.

In my conversation with Pastor Hopman, he argued on the basis of these same Antinomian Disputations (Thesis 35-38 of the 4th set of theses) above:

“Luther confesses that faith actually does them “without the law.” After Luther says this he concludes “In sum: The law is neither useful (utilis) nor necessary (necessaria) for justification or for any good works…” “Any” (ulla) is an exclusive word. It can’t simply be dealt with by referring to other disputations, which allegedly somehow contradict it.”

Here is how I responded:

I am not disagreeing that faith does them without the law as the motivation.  What Luther means is that the law is not necessary for *justification*, primarily, and that it is not necessary or useful for sanctification, insofar as it is considered apart from the Gospel which is ultimately the only thing, ground, that can motivate us.  That is absolutely right.  Pastorally, it is only a confusion of Law or Gospel if a) the person being addressed believes they are justified by their works (here, first use of the law and teaching needs to be done) ; or b) exhortations to do the law are not grounded in “the mercies of God” (Rom. 12 ff.) ; or c) you are insensitive to the fact that you are putting burdens on people: for example, overestimating what certain persons are able to do when it comes to those things they really should do (here I am thinking about being patient when working with someone who is trying to overcome bad habits, not excusing their sins, but trying to overcome them, albeit not with the more immediate success all would like to see) or unbendingly expecting them to do things that they may do, but are not required by the law to do.

[vii] Lutherans are not Roman Catholics. When the well-known Reformed Pastor Jason Stellman converted to Roman Catholicism years ago, he said that the decision in the Acts 15 council showed an “authoritative and binding pronouncement that was bound in heaven even as it was on earth”. In Stellman’s argument the impression is given that if one would not submit to this they would certainly have been in danger of excluding one’s self (or perhaps automatically excluded one’s self?) from the Church and Christ. I wrote at the time: “In sum, I think it is tragic when concessions which were made to preserve unity in the body of Christ (like what happened in Acts 15) become reduced to arguments for the sovereignty of just one part of the body – to whom all other parts must submit or face uncertainty as regards their salvation in Christ.” (see here: https://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/rc-convert-jason-stellmans-perception-of-lutheranism/)

[viii] More context:

“Finally, disagreements about matters involving the Law are not necessarily merely legal controversies. They can reveal differences in the Gospel and faith. Here the great biblical example is the controversy surrounding circumcision in Galatia. Paul knew well that circumcision was a matter of the law (Galatians 2:16, 21, 3:2, 10–13, etc.), but when the super apostles told the Galatians they must be circumcised Paul did not merely engage in a dispute about the extent to which Christians must obey the law. Instead he discerned that something greater was at stake and accused the super apostles of preaching a false gospel (Galatians 1:6–9). Furthermore, he made circumcision the occasion for eternal judgment, telling the Galatians that if they allowed themselves to be circumcised Christ would no longer be of any benefit to them (Galatians 5:2).”

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Why Young Earth Creationism is Too Liberal

faith, reason, and earth history[Science can become], as someone has put it, ‘an organized way of going wrong with confidence.” – Leonard Brand (p. 32)

First of all, no apologies for the “click-bait” title. I will admit that part of me wanted to make that title a question – as I have big ideas to share and want to get everyone (me included) thinking and talking and questioning (again, questioning me as well! – I don’t doubt I have a lot to learn) – but I do, at least currently, think I’m right!

So, I’m glad you are here. And yes… I realize that not even the first self-proclaimed fundamentalists believed in young earth creationism. Let me now try to gradually unpack what I am really getting at in this post.

I have been taking a look at the updated textbook (2009) of young earth creationist scientist, Leonard Brand: Faith, Reason, & Earth History: A Paradigm of Earth and Biological Origins by Intelligent Design.

Asking the question, “Can creationists be effective scientists?” Brand answers in the affirmative and makes his case in some 450 pages or so of distilled wisdom. I have an undergraduate degree in the sciences (biology and chemistry) and try to keep up a bit with secular scientific literature – at least the popularized accounts. It seems to me that there is a real depth to Brand’s writing that one usually does not see in science textbooks. I suspect a lot of that has to do with how careful Brand must be – seeing as how opponents and possibly even fellow Christians would be quite eager to label him and those like him as “not real scientists”.[i]

The issue I have as I read this book is that I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the definition of what counts as science in the modern world is far too narrow.

And I am not talking about, for example, Brand’s case that the creation is far younger than we typically think. I am talking about how our understanding of the scientific method in particular is too narrow (crazy talk? I think I am, however, very open to persuasion here – please help me to see where I may be wrong).

Brand, summing up Gould (1984): “the catastrophists of Lyell’s day were the more unbiased scientists…”

Brand, summing up Gould (1984): “the catastrophists of Lyell’s day were the more unbiased scientists…”

On the one hand, when Brand simply says “science is at its best when studying the characteristics of objects and processes that can be observed and quantified” (p. 37)

and

“Science cannot do experiments to test the supernatural. This concept is clear enough and also accepted by interventionists [this is his definition of scientists who believe in a global flood and that God reveals Himself to human beings – see viii], but science has [mistakenly] gone a step further and has decided to accept only theories which do not imply or require ay supernatural activity at any time in history (Johnson 1991).” (p. 73 – all bold are mine in this and following quotes)

and

“We cannot directly test whether God involved Himself in earth history. But if He did involve Himself in ways described in the Bible (creation and worldwide geological catastrophe), these events should have left some evidence in the natural world (for example, limited evidence for evolutionary intermediates and pervasive evidence for very rapid geological action). The possible existence of such evidence can be investigated scientifically.” (p. 76)

…this all sounds pretty good and sensible to me. On the other hand, he also says things like the following:

“If we hold a book in the air and drop it, the law of gravity dictates that it will fall to the floor. We can try it a million times and the same thing always happens. However, since we are mobile, reasoning beings, we can choose to stick out a hand and catch the book before it falls to the floor. We have interjected an outside force into the system and changed the course of events, but we have not broken any laws. An intelligent God could choose to interject an outside force into earth’s balanced geological systems and change the course of events to bring on a catastrophe without breaking any laws of the universe.” (p. 78)

On the one hand, this sounds fine to me, but then there is something that gives me pause (what I bolded there). Note that Brand seems keen to emphasize that God will *never* break (or suspend?) any of the universe’s laws. In short, he strongly implies that God always functions through the laws of nature that He has established, as is evident when he says, for example, that it is not defensible to think that “if God is involved in some process, that process does not function through nature’s laws.” Shortly thereafter, he also says “There is much about the universe that we do not know. So we are unreasonable to assert that God cannot work outside of the natural laws we know, because they are only a small part of the laws of the universe.” (p. 79).

Does it seem likely that Brand is separating God’s creation (“nature”) from His activity in creation too much? After all, in Brand’s telling, it seems that these are impersonal laws of nature that God created – which He of course personally uses to accomplish His will.

Is that really a good way of thinking about these things?

He also says things like this:

“The portion of the universal laws that we understand are called natural law. The things that God does which we do not understand are called supernatural… [We will someday see that things like miracles] are part of the law-bound whole that God understands and uses to accomplish His purposes. God may use some of those laws only during the process of creation. He can make use of all those laws, but we never will have the power to utilize some of them even if we do eventually understand them. That is the primary difference between natural law and what we call supernatural.” (p. 78)

Another view - an aberration in modern science?

Another view – an aberration in modern science?

Again, we see that Brand is keen to never deny “the reality of the laws of nature”, which I get the impression all of creation can be reduced to. He further explains that, historically, the idea of the “God-of-the-gaps” is that believers in God who did science had “a tendency to explain things that did not seem possible through operation of natural laws (the “gaps” in our explanations) as requiring the direct result of God’s power”. He says that the faulty logic in the old “god-of-the-gaps” concept implies that if we can understand how something works, God does not have any part in it.” (p. 79) This is all well and good.

Or is it? Even though this seems to make some sense to me, I wonder about the implications here. First, note that for Brand, if a human being can muster the power to utilize a natural law – and hence, work more effectively with God’s “inventions” (p. 79) – we are no longer, by definition, dealing with the “supernatural” (at least insofar as we are talking about this matter as scientists?). Second, while Brand wisely writes that “naturalism is a powerful biasing influence in science in steering scientific thinking, and in many cases deciding what conclusions are to be reached” (p. 80), he also assumes [without any qualifications] that both “scientists with a naturalistic orientation and interventionists who are research-oriented” are searching for the truth (what is the scientific method really for?: finding truth? success? both? depends? should considerations like this play a part?) Finally, he says that “living things and physical phenomena are like machines in the sense that they are mechanisms that can be studied and understood” (p. 83, italics mine), for example, is “an assumption that is crucial for science” (p. 84).

Let’s focus on that last point a bit. Brand says it follows from this mechanistic assumption that “on a day-to-day basis, natural processes are not dependent on the capricious whims of the spirits or the operation of magic” (p. 84), and here we can all surely agree. That said, Christians, for example, know that God is actually nothing like this (of course Brand agrees, even if non-believers might see little difference between all the “gods” and this God). Rather, we know that the Apostle Paul argued, quoting a pagan poet, that “in Him we live and move and have our being”, and also asserted that everything was “held together by His powerful word”. My question: Dare we insist that this does not mean He is intimately involved in the movements of all things at all moments? Brand does say he believes that “God constantly uphold the laws of nature” (p. 86), but I wonder if even that is saying too little here, and is, in fact, beside the point.

"If he is to create or preserve it, however, he must be present and must make and preserve his creation both in its innermost and outermost aspects."

“If he is to create or preserve it, however, he must be present and must make and preserve his creation both in its innermost and outermost aspects…nothing can be more truly present and within all creatures than God himself with his power” (from AE 37:57-58)

Why do I say this? Let me begin answering that question with a little bit from Michael Hanby, who recently wrote a thoughtful essay for First Things called “The Civic Project of American Christianity”. In this essay, he talked about how Christians need to think more critically about the origins and implications of political liberalism (for the connection between political liberalism and theological liberalism – almost never realized – see this post highlighting Gary Dorrien’s work). In his essay, he said, for example:

“…insofar as a mechanistic understanding of nature and a pragmatic conception of truth are the correlates of the abstract individual and the liberal notion of freedom as power, even a ­Newtonian understanding of nature, reason, and freedom will eventually destroy the foundations for the rationality of natural law, as reason is reduced to the calculation of forces and law becomes an ­extrinsic imposition

To speak of freedom as something more than immunity from coercion, to speak of nature as something other than so many accidental aggregations of malleable matter at our disposal, to speak of truth as something other than pragmatic function, is to place oneself outside the rule of public reason and to risk becoming a stranger to the public square….

Robert Boyle in whose mechanical philosophy of science, “legitimate scientific explanation” of any quality requires “a describable mechanism that demonstrates just how the quality is produced” (Eaton 2005: 19).  The proto-Lewontin – and Christian – Boyle: …………….

Robert Boyle, the proto-Lewontin?  in his mechanical philosophy of science, “legitimate scientific explanation” of any quality requires “a describable mechanism that demonstrates just how the quality is produced” (Eaton 2005: 19).

Again, as I complained above, with Brand’s view it seems to me we are abstracting God’s creation from His activity too much – leaving us with what I think, biblically, should never be an option: serious contemplation of “impersonal laws of nature”.[ii]

Now I understand that again I am sounding audacious, as I am apt to do. After all, Christians and other theists might insist that a mechanistic universe implies a Mechanic (Newton: “the world is a machine and a perfect one, with God its creator being ‘the most perfect mechanic of all.’”) – so this kind of thinking is not necessarily bad!

My counterargument is that in conceding the assumption / knowledge of a mechanistic universe, it becomes more difficult to unambiguously assert, with the Christian apologist Nancy Pearcey, that “because a human is a someone, not a something[iii], the source of life must be also a Someone, not the forces of nature.” After all, if everything is a mechanism and hence should be considered a machine when it comes to scientific study, why would we not seriously consider – if we are open to hearing other views – that it may well be true that the human being is not exempt from this calculation? At least when it is not our ox being gored?

Still think it is no big deal? Well, I simply ask this: do we treat machines differently than we do human beings… persons? (even if, it seems to me, some would find this question specious)

I want to be careful in how I say the following now. Could it be that saying, as Brand does, that the universe is a mechanism – and that therefore, it follows mechanistic laws – is actually spiritually dangerous? That it likely means eventually asserting it is a machine, and that this likely will have significant implications for how we come to think about God and neighbor?[iv]

And the two shall become one…

And the two shall become one…

And here is where the complaints of many of the “Romantics” vs. the men of the Enlightenment start to really resonate with me. About 250 years ago, George Hamann echoed Vico in saying that “…human beings experience a regularity in the world around them, which they then improperly abstract into a concept of ‘natural law’ that excludes from serious discourse, the mystical, and the religious”. Johann Goethe went even further, essentially arguing that “the Renaissance ideal of classical languages, classical literature, and classical arts would be replaced by classical mechanics, which have no place for meaning, ethics, or Bildung [that is, the “tradition of self-cultivation, wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation”– Wikipedia]. In science and technology, every tool would be used to maximize the power of human being.” (view as summarized by Martin Noland).[v] And recently, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Romantic author Curtis White’s take-down of scientific materialism (The Science Delusion, 2014) – where he endeavors to show time and again where pure naturalism and its machine are both illogical and socially harmful.[vi] These men contended – I suspect rightly – that modern science was becoming the one ring to rule them all largely because of the questions and concerns I have been raising.

Picture of Ockham: “For Ockham, all talk of nature acting unconsciously for an end is pure metaphor… causal explanations of a mechanist sort alone are possible…. [he] opens the way to the purely empirical approach of Baconian science” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, p. 74)

For Ockham, all talk of nature acting unconsciously for an end is pure metaphor… causal explanations of a mechanist sort alone are possible…. [he] opens the way to the purely empirical approach of Baconian science” (Holmes, Fact, Value, and God, p. 74)

So all of this relates, I think, to what C.S. Lewis called The Abolition of Man. I also suspect I summed up my deepest concerns about Enlightenment thinking (and I have many concerns with Idealist/Historicist/”Romantic” counter-programs as well) in a past post, saying:

“In short, in the dominant Enlightenment mode of thought, the importance of character and trust in the “knowledge equation” are severely minimized, or, some cases, removed altogether.  In this case, what we get is an anemic conception of knowledge where things like natural laws, physical evidence, accurate observation, mathematics, logic, and human reason become all that remain.  Insofar as these things go hand in hand with the presence of humanity, in this mode of thinking they are basically extracted from human being, from character, from trust.”

So, again: does God rule the world through unbendable and mechanical laws of nature He has established? Perhaps laws He and we could actually articulate, enumerate – even capturing their essence mathematically, etc?

I must question here!

If it has not been clear enough why I think this way from what I have written above, consider also the following:

First, is there not an alternative way of approaching these matters that both retains the value of science and makes the particularly theistic/Christian assumptions regarding order in the universe more explicit? Why should we not assert the idea that the “laws of nature” are really just soft and hard regularities that God is constantly upholding and that we can depend on because God is love – and hence orders things for us to discover, use, and have confidence in?[vii]

Second, take into account this information from a WSJ review of Rebecca Goldstein’s book, Plato at the Googleplex (which I reviewed here):

“It is no accident that Socrates propounds what has come to be called the “Euthyphro argument” on the way to his trial. The pompous Euthyphro confidently tells Socrates that the holy is to be defined as “what the gods love.” Socrates points out that this gets things backward: The gods love the holy because it is already holy, not because they regard it so. In other words, things are not good because a supposed God approves of them; rather, God approves of what is good in itself, quite independently of his will. This Socratic argument undermines the entire idea that theology can provide a basis for morality and opens up a quite secular way of thinking about the nature of virtue. As Ms. Goldstein remarks, this was a seminal moment in the history of moral philosophy and indeed in the development of human civilization; it showed the power of pure rational thought.”

Note that Plato’s Socrates makes God subject to the [moral] laws of nature, opening “up a quite secular way of thinking about the nature of virtue” (however logically inconsistent this may ultimately be- see here and here). Brand does not make God subject to the [physical] laws of nature – He only says that God always works through the laws He has established. That said, one should be able to discern without too much trouble how the insight and value that Christianity has brought to these matters epistemologically is now readily “hi-jackable”.

In being sympathetic with arguments like those of Socrates, did Christians go badly wrong[viii], philosophizing in such a way (“voluntarism” and the like) that the church was removed further and further from what should have been a simple message? Namely that: while we cannot say that God’s creation and its laws necessarily had to be the exact way that they are, we can – and need to say – that these things are all in line with its Creator? For example, in order to defend God in a scientific age, it seems to me that one simply need not – and in fact should not – insist that God created (or especially needed to create) “the best of all possible worlds”. Could one not posit, for example, an immature and yet pure “very good” – which, had man responded well, could have become a mature and pure “very good” (ultimately becoming better… even more desirable)?

And Mr. Kant, "knowledge" of his "laws" was anything but.

And Mr. Kant, “knowledge” of his “laws” was anything but.

So, in order to be a good scientist is it really necessary to hold all of these ideas that Brand talks about above?

Or could my concerns – which would require shift the way that we think and speak about such matters (for one, dropping the “nature is a mechanism” talk)[ix] – be incorporated into a science which remains robust and successful? I am hard-pressed to think of a reason that it could not. After all, the “soft” and “hard” regularities that we observe in the world that God holds together in a very ordered way have the potential to be unambiguously labeled and quantified by all persons, trans-culturally and even trans-historically. For example, when we count specifically identifiable things this is not to say that there might be other ways of “capturing” or “harnessing” these particular realities (philosophically speaking, I think we can say that in each case, “number” is an actual thing that can potentially be counted by human beings and may or may not be depending on their purposes). Further, the fact that the “laws of nature” have often been shown to be only incomplete representations of reality – think of Newton vis a vis Einstein – shows us that there might always be more to these “laws” that may be identified at this or that moment and that we think should be said.

In short, I am saying this: I do not think we should be so hasty in our metaphysics here, being tempted to think that we can accurately label God as a scientist, mathematician or engineer. I will admit that I tend to think that He is more the Artist who does not need to quantify and measure – and that only some of us are the scientists, mathematicians, or engineers who decide to do this to some of his own work for our own purposes. I do not mean to denigrate scientists by saying this but rather to elevate God.

Contra Bacon, we do not make creation our slave and "put it on the rack". Its also not our machine. We love it and pray its groaning may end.

Contra Bacon, we do not make creation our slave and “put it on the rack”. Its also not our machine. We love it and pray its groaning may end.

As alluded to by Hanby above, in our world today, “knowledge” – however one chooses to define it – is strictly related to what it does for us – or, more accurately, what we do with it in our “knowledge practices”. As Mr. Francis (not Roger!) Bacon insisted “knowledge is power” – and now, it appears, it is only power (in short, all “knowledge” essentially deals with bodies in motion, and is purely heuristic).[x]

And so, what should be our response to this? To insist, for example, that modern science could have only arisen in a Christian context, given that Christians believe that our orderly God has given us epistemological equipment that accurately comports with the cosmos and its laws of nature? As should be clear from my argument, I think that cedes far too much to the Enlightenment program and those of it’s forerunners.

Instead of this, I propose something more like the following summation:

When it comes to man’s modern scientific program (yes, certainly empowered by Christian beliefs!) no one can deny the importance – and appropriateness – of examining particular scientific matters and theories in terms of “utility” – these things really do, thanks be to God, “work”! That said, why should one ever insist that what we call the “laws of nature” – much less all of the theories built on them – are “true”? Why – as if we knew the inner workings of the mind of God and His creation (Vico) – should they ever be associated with what we call knowledge in any sense?

Why not rather assume that these “laws” are the truly conventional and contingent things – transitory maps and “useful fictions” – and that things like belief in God, human relationships, and moral truth are true and certain knowledge (not the other way around)?

“…you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.   On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

“…you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

And where do I go from here theologically? Here: what we are to know and in fact already know in part should start with essential Christian doctrine.  My argument builds on truths like those exemplified in Psalm 22:

“…you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
  On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

And this: “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (II Tim. 1:12, see John 17:3 as well).

…but ignore that last bit for now, and focus with me on my argument vs. our understanding of the scientific method. Am I off my rocker? If you think so, try to help me out and show me where I am wrong – but if you do, please try to address my actual arguments.

FIN

 

 

Notes: 

[i] Of the first edition, fellow young earth creationist Kurt Wise wrote: “Faith, Reason, and Earth History makes a substantial contribution to creationist literature. It is the most philosophically sophisticated book on the subject and a must read for anyone interested in creationism and the origins controversy.”

[ii] Of course, one does not need to insist, with Jonathan Edwards, that God re-creates the entire universe during every moment, in order to challenge Brand’s notion that we can have real knowledge about something called “nature’s laws” in part because of this assumption about the mechanistic nature of nature.

[iii] Actually, I think we do need to say that a human being is a something as well – just not a mechanism. Here we find that the emphasis of some philosophers – mostly classical – on things like essence and substance are of use to us. See also Gumbrecht’s Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey.

[iv] As I argued in the past:

considering the creation – and especially ourselves – as machines is spiritually dangerous because it opens us up to the temptation to think the same about all persons, including the Creator Himself!   Then, we treat Him accordingly – that is, attempting to manipulate Him as we would any other machine.  In sum, such thinking only gives fuel to our desire to justify ourselves over and against Him.

it is not only incorrect to say that the cosmos is a machine, but it is even dangerous to say that it is like a machine – and it is best to avoid such talk… Please note that I am not saying that all persons who currently see the cosmos as a machine think as I have outlined above, for some still identify the cosmos with the creation and see God as very much involved in it.  Further, I am not saying that the errors of those who really do see nature as wholly organic, free and divine are less theologically serious.

I am simply asserting that it is normal for the practice of methodological naturalism to lead persons in this mechanical direction and for it to affect our deepest beliefs.  And I think to say this is not much different from saying lex orendi lex credenda (the Law of prayer is the law of belief).  As one finds some success in the world using naturalistic techniques one may begin to think, somewhat logically, that they ought to have a very good reason for not letting their methodological naturalism become pure philosophical naturalism. Just what is that good reason?  After all, they think, there is no doubt that I am understanding much about nature and learning ever better how to manipulate it. It works because it is true and its true because it works!”

[v] Noland, Martin R. 1996. Harnack’s Historicism: the Genesis, Development, and Institutionalization of Historicism and its Expression in the Thought of Adolf Von Harnack. Thesis (Ph. D.)–Union Theological Seminary, 1996. Consider also this quotation from Michael Polanyi: “The argument of doubt put forward by Locke in favor of tolerance says that we should admit all religions since it is impossible to demonstrate which one is true. This implies that we must not impose beliefs that are not demonstrable. Let us apply this doctrine to ethical principles. It follows that, unless ethical principles can be demonstrated with certainty, we should refrain from imposing them and should tolerate their total denial. But, of course, ethical principles cannot, in a strict sense, be demonstrated: you cannot prove the obligation to tell the truth, to uphold justice and mercy. It would follow therefore that a system of mendacity, lawlessness, and cruelty is to be accepted as the alternative to ethical principles and on equal terms. But a society in which unscrupulous propaganda, violence, and terror prevail offers no scope for tolerance. Here the inconsistency of liberalism based on philosophical doubt becomes apparent: freedom of thought is destroyed by the extension of doubt to the field of traditional ideals, which includes the basis for freedom of thought.” (From: —Michael Polanyi, “The Eclipse of Thought,” in Meaning, by Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975], pp. 9-10).

[vi] Of course, there is much wrong with White’s alternative! I plan on doing a full review of the book in the future, but here is a preview of the kinds of things I will say: “The problem… is that White is a hopeless Romantic. Literally. Like the Idealists and Romantics before him, all eager to overcome the fallen world (their own definition of the fall: in the chains of society), White embraces notions of moral evolution (pre-Darwin) and takes pride in being aware of life’s irony: that man lives by fictions and that the artists and poets realize this. They thereby seek to be true not in the stories (not histories!) they tell, but in their varied efforts to gently enlighten us to and allign us with the [playful] activity that is of the World Spirit: such is the good and True and Good and Beautiful. Forget antiquated notions about the Faith once delivered to the saints – life, they assert as if they know it, is not about this or any other “Certain Knowledge” of humanity. This is the Faith and Conviction for which they will so courageously – and meritoriously – fight.”

[vii] Previously, I had written: “[Regarding how to understand science]….I think all of this can be better understood with a simple analogy: Parents arrange things in a consistent fashion so that a child can be captivated, play, create and experiment on the one hand, and they arrange things and *act* in a consistent fashion so that the child feels security, stability, and confidence, on the other hand.  Arranging things in a consistent fashion – more or less so – depending on what we are talking about, and acting in a consistent steadfast fashion is a part of love.  Creating beauty and order for another is a fruit of love. In other words, order is born of love, not love of order – or from a love of order!  As the linguist Roy Harris perceptively notes, communicative behavior cannot arise from non-communicative behavior.  There must be an infrastructure in place from the beginning. This matter does not center around the fact that truth is a social construct instead of some cold and impersonal factual correspondence, or something like that – but that how we conceive of and describe reality can’t not be done personally, or socially.  And such should not surprise, because Reality is personal, is social (rooted as it is in the Reality of the Triune God).  And this in turn brings us back to Romans 1.  It is not that there is nothing to the idea that order=God, but rather that order can’t not be recognized as a fruit of love.  Perhaps one’s proof of God does not begin by saying “Someone must have made this”, but rather by the love that one does know.

Now none of this means that we can’t observe [and harness, as are able] the hard and soft regularities that God has put in place for us.  It just means being humble about working with these things, understanding that He has His own purposes for arranging the world as He sees fit, and we have our own purposes…” (from here)

[viii] Abelard contended that while intentions could be either good or bad, particular actions could not. Then, Duns Scotus was the first to argue that “As Old Testament moral practice was preparatory, our present moral understanding may also be provisional, and for this reason God’s actual commands to us may differ from the Decalogue” (Holmes, 71). Ockham argued that if the world was not contingent, this would necessarily make God subject to the universal forms (see here, particularly under “universals”) that were posited (the Roman Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor says that nominalism was adopted to safeguard God’s power: so that He would not be limited by overly strict conceptions of nature, particularly human nature. This new focus on “voluntarism” and “nominalism” seems to re-capitulate the Stoic’s reasons for shunning theories of forms while upholding some kind of creator God [though one with the cosmos] and His divine power). Again, of course, one who is more “Neoplatonic” (or, perhaps, simply Christian?) in their view of God and the world, for example, need not insist that a) there is only one possible way of structuring the world, b) that God could not freely choose to create universal forms (and some and not other potential others) that were in accordance with his nature.

[ix] As long as we do not think that nature (the creation!) is a mechanism. I am not saying that this is necessarily wrong or one is wrong to strongly believe that the creation is in fact a mechanism. I am simply saying that we really can’t have certain knowledge that the universe is a mechanism – but that it should not matter for the scientist.

[x] “..to establish and extend the power and dominion of the human race itself over the universe…depends wholly on the arts and sciences… For we cannot command nature except by obeying her… Truth, therefore, and utility are here perfectly identical.” – Francis Bacon (might that not help explain the confusion this N.Y. Times editorial pinpoints?)

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Diagnosing Christian Bad Boy Syndrome

...but more passionate for the lost than thou.

…but more passionate for the “real sinners” than thou.

Actually, I am dealing with Lutheran bad boys in particular here, but perhaps some of what I talk about may be more broadly applicable.

(and for those inclined to diagnose me, I have never been nor ever will be a “charismatic figure” and/or “bad boy”, though, I confess that according to my flesh I have, pathetically and sinfully, imagined myself capable of being one – and imagined the “benefits” I might accrue thereby. “Ah, sounds like ‘sour grapes”‘ some may think.. : ) )

In the past, I have argued that we all think some persons are better than others and that we all try to guide the conscience of others – regardless of whether or not we are aware of this. This post, in part, expands on those statements more.

Another general truth claim now: It’s good to be concerned about being right (as in arguing for this vs. that), doing right, and even making the world right.

In short, all relatively healthy folks are concerned to be right, do right, and influence people to do the same. It is good to have a finely developed sense of what righteousness and wisdom entails, and to broadly work for this in our earthly lives.

This, contrary to the beliefs of some, is not being “self-righteous” or “holier than thou” – this is part of what it means to be a human being. Further, if it is true, as Paul Tripp says, that “self-righteousness is being more aware and irritated by the sins of others than you are conscious of and grieved by your own” (I’d say this is a symptom of self-righteousness) this is a statement that, in general, we should probably only use to diagnose ourselves.

So what are some ways to actually be self-righteous? (here is Luther with some help*)  Well, for example:

  1. thinking that you are justified by God – that you may stand before Him and be accounted as righteous – for trying to be right, do right, and influencing people to do the same…
  2. not being willing to admit before God and man that you do and should try to be right, do right, and influence people to do the same (you, unlike those other people, do not seek to “guide the consciences of others”)
  3. lying to yourself that you should not try to be right, do right, and influence people to do the same (in which case you are, because you feel righteous, not willing to confess your lie to God)

Certainly, for all of us our sin – the depths of our abject selfishness, wickedness, rebellion, and self-deception! – goes deep. Very deep. And it makes sense that some of us, in part because of what has occurred in our life and how we have responded, have a much deeper grasp of just how sinful we are. This is a good thing. It produces humility in us, and makes us eager for correction.

But, is it possible that there is actually a Satanic mimic of this “sin awareness”?  It seems to me – and God correct me if I am wrong (for we are always to put the best construction on all things) – that some Lutherans in particular are saying “…because I’m a bigger sinner than you – a real sinner – I ‘get’ grace while you – so obviously focused on ‘legal minutiae’ – clearly do not!”

And here, as Pastor Mark Suburg has pointed out, it is a short step to take that “the idea that [one’s] profligate sins of the past are part of a narrative that magnifies the grace and forgiveness of Christ”** – and to basically build one’s theology around this. He calls this the “Lutheran bad boy syndrome” – rather sophisticated bad boys though they may be…

This recently prompted me to personally write one of these pastors, and I said at one point:

“[…] recently tweeted: “The teacher should not try to astound the young with the gravity of his past sins; it will often have the opposite effect than was intended.” …many wise pastors I know over the years have made the same point – for example, some persons might get the idea that they have not really experienced true Christianity unless they have really lived life with this kind of passionate pursuit – sinful or otherwise…. “

Here is more Surburg, taking this back to the theology… to the Apostle Paul’s “therefore”:

“The danger is that when repeated again and again, the perspective on sin itself begins to shift. Sin becomes something that shows how great the forgiveness of Christ is, rather than something against which Christians are called to struggle.  When paired with an understanding of the Christian life that is centered on Roman 7:14-25a it easily leads to an assumption that Christians will fail.  Yet this in itself ceases to be a real problem because our failure in sin simply magnifies the grace and forgiveness of Christ, and this is what really matters.

However, Paul does not assume that Christians will fail.  Instead while acknowledging the reality of failure in the Christian life, his discussion moves beyond Romans chapter 7 to say:  “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:12-15 ESV).  Paul does not assume perfectionism.  But he does believe that Christians are called to struggle against sin, and he believes that because of the work of the Spirit this struggle can and does succeed.  The apostle extols the forgiveness found in Christ, even as he urges Christians to live as what Christ’ s Spirit has made them to be.

I don’t think that the “Bad Boy Lutherans” Pastor Surburg is talking about think that the Christian will not struggle. But I do think they are at least tempted to believe that neither they – nor anyone else – will succeed in any meaningful way.

Even as they also, seemingly unawares, often give the impression they think they are the ones who are mature.

They are not like, for example, legalistic, cowardly and insipid pastors stuck in the rut of seeking security!  At the very least, these deserve to be ignored, not engaged with seriously, not sympathized with, etc.  No, the more radical Lutherans are the true holy ones who will boldly embrace the mission of the church!  It is they who are the brave and righteous heroes – not only willing to embrace but seek out the multitude of sinners… addicts, ex-cons, prostitutes, the LGBT community, etc…  They are unlike the legalistic Pharisee-type concerned only with their own security and the minutiae of the law… simply unwilling to really “get dirty with” and speak the radical gospel to “real” sinners.

In other words, one gets the distinct impression that with them, there is no longer any “we” in the church’s community of sinners. Bearing with one another in love has evaporated… The legalistic ones (the petite bourgeois?) – overly concerned about non-essential things like liturgical matters and Paul’s biblical “therefore” (“third use” matters– “Paul couldn’t control how the Spirit used the law. That didn’t stop him from exhorting/admonishing Christians to live in a godly way” [Surburg]) for example – can readily be left behind as true Lutheranism progresses.***

(And if I have been too harsh here or am just creating straw-men, I hope someone will love me enough to try and set me straight. Please help me to see where I am wrong)

Assuming I have put my finger on something real here, how can this happen – this kind of disdain for followers of Christ who, though very imperfect, truly do desire to share Him and His grace with others?  What kind of teachings in particular could, at the very least, give aid and comfort to this kind of attitude?

I have a theory: a false understanding of the doctrine of predestination. In their view, anything which deviates from their predestinarian view focuses too much on the believer, who is no longer being seen as totally passive – as he should be. That explains why it is so easy for some to insist on saying things like “As St. Paul teaches, by grace the Spirit produces fruits. God’s Spirit produces God-pleasing works in and through us. The Holy Spirit alone.”

In sum, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him” merely becomes “I believe I cannot believe”. And when one cannot believe, one can hardly be expected to succeed in much of anything else. Whatever happens in life and however we are carried along – this is God’s will (this, it seems to me, is an issue that John Updike may have had)****

It is right to talk about the “radical Gospel” – where Christ alone, grace alone and faith alone are the battle cry!  We are to be people completely focused on grace…always!  Christ does save us completely!  That said, the believer recognizes that Christ made him believe, and that from that point they have a continual choice to believe what God’s word says.

Finally, just because these Bad Boy Lutherans seem to deny:

  • that God’s law can guide the Christian (they might say it guides the old Adam to his death)
  • progressive sanctification
  • synergism in sanctification
  • that the Christian is partly sinner and partly righteous*****
  • that marriage is a pre-fall institution (while not denying God meant for us to be some kind of monogamous one flesh unions from the beginning)
  • that all Lutheranism post-Luther has actually understood Martin Luther

…none of that means that they cannot be Christians (I’ve even re-tweeted some of those Bad Boys – because I appreciate the sweetness of the Gospel they have conveyed).

That said….


jackson

Strictly speaking, we are saved by Christ… with every “spirit and life” word that proceeds from His mouth. It is this theology that saves us, not our own faulty understandings of his words. That said, when the lies of the devil get a foothold, that true theology is always in danger of being completely shunned – and perhaps replaced not with atheism per se, but a “different Jesus” (2 Cor. 11).

This is ultimately why these matters are so important. Radical grace without the true Jesus is just another of Satan’s subtle lies.

FIN

Note: I had originally included a picture in this post which has now been removed. A conscientious pastor suggested to me that I remove it and so I have. UPDATE: Picture back in. Explained to pastor it was from a Bad Boy’s tweet, and he says:  “Well… I guess if they want to own it, what can I say? :)” UPDATE 2: “Engage ideas and arguments, not individuals…”  Sigh. I don’t think its inappropriate, nor do others I respect, but maybe he is a better man… It’s gone. Done with this.

Also, I have now edited the post above for typos and clarity in some parts. Content is the same.

Notes:

*Discussing 1 Corinthians 1:31, “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord”, Luther says:

Our heart must have this attitude and think: Oh Lord, if we were to reason together concerning my life and actions, I would not be able to stand, even if I were John the Baptist. For everything is not yet your gift, present, and mercy, but my life. But I boast in my goodness, and in being your servant, because you constantly give me gifts and because, as you promised to Abraham, you would be merciful to me through your Christ. If I am not good for myself, he is good for me. If I am not holy, he is holy. If I am not God’s servant, he is. If I am not without worry and fear, he is free of all worries and without fear, so that I thus soar out of myself into him and boast that I am good in and through Christ. Accordingly, he wishes us to boast that we are good and holy, but not by ourselves. For by ourselves, we must boast like desperate rogues.” (Vol. VI, Wittenberg edition, on the canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79))

Discussing 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers also a multitude of sin”, Luther wrote words that made me pause before publishing this post:

“According to conceitedness, we always want to be the only ones who are beautiful; we do not see what is good in the neighbor, but put it out of our eyes. Wherever we see a little speck of dirt, we magnify it and make it so large that we cannot see anything that is good, even if it had the eyes of a falcon and the face of an angel. This is just as if I saw someone dressed in a golden robe that had somewhere a seam of white thread and then opened my eyes wide, as if the robe had become worthless thereby, while I saw myself as exquisitely dressed in my coarse jacket with a golden patch. Accordingly, we do not see the vices we are full of, while we cannot see anything that is good in other people. Now, where this natural vice rears its head among the true Christians, judging begins, so that I soon despise and condemn the other the moment he stumbles a little or is weak, and he treats me accordingly in return, measuring me with the same measure, and also seeks and reproves only the worst he can find in me. In this case, love is utterly suppressed. All that remains is that they bite and devour each other, until they have fully consumed one another and cease to be Christians.” (Vol. IV, Wittenberg ed., on Matthew 7)

I want to explicitly say that I see much that is good in the words of many Lutherans who might be glad to wear the label “Bad Boy Lutheran”. But that does not justify me, and there is much in my attitudes towards fellow Christians that is wrong.

**Luther did say: “We need the examples concerning the weakness of the saints, and they yield great comfort, more than the examples of the great excellent strength and other virtues the saints had. Accordingly, I cannot be improved much by the fact that David killed Goliath, bears, and lions. For in such chivalrous deeds of his I cannot follow him because they surpass all my powers and thoughts. For by such great deeds the saints are praised on account of their power and strength which they had as brave heroes. However, when we are presented with examples of the weakness, sins, terrors, and temptations the saints had; when I, for instance, read the lamenting and sighing, the terrors and cries of David, then I am lifted up exceedingly and am given great comfort. For when I see how they did not perish and die in their cries and terrors, but how they comforted and lifted themselves up by means of the promises, then I conclude that I too should not despair. (Luther, vol. XI, Wittenberg ed., on Genesis 28).”

If the Christian life was only about applying comfort to sinners terrified by God’s law (justification), this is all that we would need. But we need the saints holy examples as well to teach and encourage us in our lives of sanctification.

***In like fashion, as a friend of mine notes “during the Reformation, Andreas Carlstadt also complained about the bourgeois existence of the professor with the cushy academic job in Wittenberg – protected by his prince from all the “real” struggles of the day faced by the true, radical followers of Jesus…”

****As Pastor Holger Sonntag said to me: “…we’re not saved by our repenting (as such), but by our turning to Christ. Still, we need to repent — and by God’s grace, we will do so. Also, we’re not saved by our faith (as such), but by our faith in Christ. Still, we need to believe — and by God’s grace, we will do so.”

*****Sonntag again, in a discussion regarding the simul in Luther’s writings: ” it seems to me the “simul” can refer to totus — totus when we look at a person as a whole under God’s judgment of either law (totus peccator) or gospel (totus iustus by imputation of Christ’s righteousness etc.) — or it can mean partim — partim (or here: “two parts”) when we look at the Christian as both old Adam and new man locked in mortal combat (Rom. 7; Gal. 5: flesh vs. spirit). In other words the totus – totus takes the “outside” perspective; the partim-partim takes us inside the Christian.”

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

“Ad Fontes” Benedict Option!: From the World to the Word

Rod Dreher is one of my favorite columnists. I consider his blog at the American Conservative to be essential reading. Over the past couple of years he has been talking about something he calls the Benedict Option. He contends that Christians in America who take their faith seriously are basically going to have to take this option in one form or another.  In this recently released talk, he sums up in some detail what he is advocating in under 20 minutes (answering questions and objections he has heard as well). I recommend watching it: when I send out an introductory message to my students taking the basic Christianity class I teach a few times a year, I will now be including a link to this video and encouraging them to watch it.

Here is a link to one of the earliest posts I remember where Dreher really started articulating his idea.  A clip from that article:

“If I were a social or religious conservative who had money to donate, I would not give it to political causes. I would use it for strengthening our institutions as places of effective cultural resistance to the times we’re in, and the times that we’re entering. Make them function like the Benedictine monasteries of Western Europe did during the Dark Ages: as institutions and communities that bear and pass on our moral and spiritual vision in a time and place that does not share it, so that one day, far into the future, it will be there for rediscovery, and the rebuilding of society out of the ruins.”

At the time, all of this put me in mind of a longer piece I wrote about eight years ago called “A child at peace in the presence of his father: a Lutheran monasticism?”  I will admit that to talk about Lutheran monasticism sounds like an oxymoron, but as I re-read it now, it is clear that the “light monasticism” that I was talking about here is basically analogous to what Dreher calls the Benedict Option.

Here are some clips from that piece, starting with the origins of monasticism:

“…if monasticism was not necessarily an un-Christian attempt to earn God’s favor, than what was it?  Was it simply an all-out retreat from the world, as it is often characterized?  This seems unlikely, seeing as how the writings and practices of the monks both indicate that they were still concerned to be “in the world” while not being “of” it.  Gregory of Nanzianzus in his works endeavored to show that “the monastic profession is characterized by steadfastness in a way of life rather than by physical withdrawal”[1]  The idea seems to have been that by embracing the monastic life, persons could be most fully equipped to fulfill a priestly, prophetic and royal ministry for the “life of the world.”  (Some persons have even argued that it was not the “mainstream” institutional church but rather the monastics that created the Church’s impetus for missions and evangelism).  “If you want to exercise the priesthood of your soul, do not let the fire depart from your soul”, Origin had said, and for some, this meant something akin to the monastic life was needed. (see here)”

"come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don't touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you." -- 2. Cor 6:17

“…come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.” — 2. Cor 6:17

My cultural analysis leading me to think such a thing may be necessary:

Bouncing between what seems to be the extreme of attaining material wealth and comfort (often smuggled in to definitions of “quality of life”) for all, and the other extreme of a spiritual liberty (spiritual power and comfort) that degrades the physical (particularly, the human body) men these days religiously strive for a “progress”, often operating in intellectual isolation from any possible consideration of any true progress that may be due to the Christian message (popularized in books like Alvin Schmidt’s “How Christianity Changed the World” or Vishal Mangalwadi’s “Truth and Transformation”).  They do not seek to be found in a renewed creation in Christ, where they may more fully grow into a realization of what it means to be creatures made in God’s image.  Instead, bolstered in part by the liberation the world has experienced because of the Christian Gospel, they fight against the ancient pagan notions of an unchanging natural order and fate in their own way.  The worldly wiser among them do not reject notions of realism, for there is indeed “the world as it is”, even as there is also “the world as it should be”.  Still, whether they atheistically embrace the material, seeing it as the only reality, or whether they seek liberation from the material in a more spiritual sense, they both see the need or imperative, now driven more so by new medicines and technologies, to liberate humanity from what it previously meant to be human. They will not “destroy the old man” in God’s way, through the Law and Gospel found in Christ, but rather via their own means, and to their own ends…

Further: all of this takes place as relationships are becoming increasingly atomized, self-focused.  The Darwinian life that seems to be required of our persons in the ever-more demanding meritocracy which is our world lends itself to all manner of difficulties, leading to temptations to sin….

But the “private sector” (free market) is not the only one which has become increasingly oppressive.  The same can be said for the public realm, the realm of those who govern.  After all, families and churches, working hard where God has placed them, making a difference in “Good Samaritan” moments – especially remembering in Christ’s name the poor among them – being supported in their good deeds by a government set up to encourage such work, are not enough….

"You can't stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair."

“You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

The attitude of these new “monastics”:

“We are too weak, feeble, and corrupt to resist the many temptations of this present age.  The secular realm as it is currently imagined and hence constructed is becoming less and less Christian in its affections, and hence, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian faith to be communicated in words and deeds.  The tempting enticements, multiplied a thousand times, and available from the privacy of our own homes at the click of a mouse, are too great.  The churches themselves are focusing on Jesus Christ and the Scriptures which speak of Him less and less, and their worldliness increases daily.  Temptation abounds as sin for a season has become sin for all seasons.  Even if I flee the sins which so clearly destroy life, in my escape it seems in the popular consciousness I only find pagan solutions that while attempting to control the gross outbreaks of wickedness (family problems and otherwise), are wicked themselves in their idolatry.  The world constantly teaches things which are at odds with what is true about God, about us, about the creation.  I know there are those who tell me that there are good answers to these false assertions, but the lies sometimes sound persuasive, I feel my faith being choked out, and just trying to provide food and housing, I can’t afford an internet connection where I can get to Issues ETC.*  : ) …

The world may call me lazy, unpatriotic, a poor world citizen, or even an atheist(!), but this is the truth – I am in need of more food.  The Church may even call me selfish, but may I be “selfish” like a baby receiving nourishment at its mother’s breast.  May I be like the trusting child who simply feels the need for more love. I need more growth in grace.  I am in desperate need of these things, which I find so little mention of in the world!  And why should I be surprised at such need?  I need more, for I have missed not only the world’s mark (Paul: “as I try to please them in every way…”) but God’s – and I alone am the Chief of sinners.  Like Isaiah, my own lips are unclean and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

Such would be the humility of the new monastics:  “We are not strong, but we are weak.  In Christ alone and in the shelter He provides are we strong.  Only by being humbled to the point where we once again are set upon dwelling with, and remaining with the little babe could we even hope of fight the battle whose victory He has secured for His people”:

His camp is pitche`d in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, hay-stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight.
Within his crib is surest ward;
This little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

(Robert Southwell, This Little Boy So Few Days Old)

Now, some might argue that all of this is a bit ingenuous.  After all, is this not actually implicitly saying that *we*, the ones who are choosing to separate ourselves, are the ones who are spiritually strong in the Lord?…

Gerard_van_Honthorst_001Here is how I end:

….The new monastics, especially, would be permitted to, in a very real sense, rest in their redemption in Christ.  They would retreat from both storms external and internal into the shelter of His house.  Like a baby as in a mother’s arms.  Like the child playing at peace in the presence of his father.  All striving for perfection, doing excellent work with the explicit goal of to promote Christ, sharing His Name upon “re-entrance” into the world, the “secular realm”, would necessarily spring from this truth.  And since people, generally, do not know what their real needs are, perhaps this will shake them up enough to start catching a glimpse of just what it is they are lacking – forgiveness, life and salvation in Jesus Christ, the exact representation of God the Father.

FIN

*Thanks mom and dad (who are paying for our internet while they are overseas so they can chat with us on Skype)

Images: LGBTQ White House (White House Twitter feed), Gerard Van Honthorst painting (Wikipedia), Dreher (Rod Dreher’s Twitter account)

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Is “You May Not Use Your Conscience to Guide My Behavior” a Christian Way of Speaking?

A popularized summation of Martin Luther's Antinomian Theses, also from Lutheran Press

A popularized summation of Martin Luther’s Antinomian Theses, from Lutheran Press

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” — I Timothy 1:5

Recently, I read the following quotation from a conservative Lutheran pastor: “You may use your conscience to guide your behavior. You may not use your conscience to guide my behavior.”

Needless to say, I found the quote rather jarring. It reminded me of a statement from another like-minded Lutheran pastor (though this one a [relatively] conservative one in the ELCA). This man had explained to me that he had taught his young children to cover their ears and scream whenever they heard a pastor try to tell them what they should be doing after hearing the message that Jesus had put away their sins.

In other words he had, using this memorable language, taught his children to reject what Christians in the Reformation tradition call “the third use of the law” (note that, for example, there are certainly differences as to how Calvinists, vis a vis Lutherans, would view this use of the law).

(to quickly review: the first use of the law acts as curb on the sin of general society, the second use reveals our sin like a mirror [we use mirrors to help us see our flaws], and the third use of the law helps guide the Christian in his behavior)

All of this reminded me of the book cover pictured above, which certainly caught my interest when I saw it. This excellent book, put out by Lutheran Press (full disclosure: my pastor is its co-founder) is a popularized version of Martin Luther’s “antinomian theses” (antinomian means “against the law [of God]”)

Needless to say, I find these kinds of statements to puzzling and intellectually incoherent in all kinds of ways, for example:

-in the first statement I quoted above, does this not all depend on whether the conscience is aligned with God’s word? For example, if it is not, one should not even use it to guide one’s own behavior.

-the first statement appeared right around the time of the recent “gay marriage” decision by SCOTUS. In this case, perhaps it is simply saying “keep the government out of our, that is Christian’s, consciences!” Still, insofar as the government is upholding the law of God, should we not want them in our consciences? (I wrote more on this topic in a post titled, “Please Mr. CTCR – [do your part to] get the Word of God into our consciences”)

-if the statement is only saying that non-government officials should not try to force another human being (who is not our child, for example) to behave in a certain way – unlikely as this may be – the point is taken. And for the church, it is good and right to practice “forbearance” and to eschew all physical force.

-in the case of the pastor’s guidance (irony noted!) for his children, would not one also need to cover one’s ears during readings of Romans 12 ff., for example, where Paul attempts to urge Christians how to live as Christians “by the mercies of God”?

those who reject the third use of the law nevertheless often claim that the law does indirectly guide Christians and all persons through the first and second uses.

if Christians have children – particularly young children – they certainly try to guide them in their behavior, and at times may seek to do so (as they get older) by reminding them that they are Christians and called to reflect Christ.

Antinomianism made appealing for our age.

Antinomianism made appealing for our age.

So where did this kind of thinking come from?  In truth, this is what was taught by “Lutheranism’s brightest lights” in the 1970’s and 80’s as the Lutheran ethic. It is also the argument used by someone like ELCA professor Timothy Wengert to justify homosexual activity among Christians. His position, in sum, is the following: if a Christian’s conscience does not condemn him or her for what he or she is doing, we also cannot do so, for that would then be violating their conscience (for my critical review of Wengert’s recent book, Reading the Bible with Martin Luther, see here)

These days, such thinking is often said to be critical to the church’s mission as well. For example, I her book, Pastrix: the Cranky and Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, Nadia Bolz-Weber writes:

“…I continually need the stranger, the foreigner, the “other” to show me water in the desert. I need to hear, “here is water in the desert, so what is to keep me, the eunuch, from being baptized?” Or me the queer or me the intersex or me the illiterate or me the neurotic or me the overeducated or me the founder of Focus on the Family.

Until I face the difficulty of that question and come up, as Philip did, with no good answer…. Until then, I can only look at the seemingly limited space under the tent and think either that it’s my job to change people so they fit or it’s my job to extend the roof so that they fit. Either way, it’s misguided because it’s not my tent. It’s God’s tent.” … (p. 94)

It is very clear to me that one may appreciate Bolz-Weber’s desire to be hospitable without embracing what amounts to her purported refusal to judge others by guiding their consciences (again, see my review of Wengert’s book)

So is the first statement about conscience (leading off this article) always totally wrong?  Well, no.  First of all, when there is a definite conflict, we must always obey God rather than men. Second, as I noted in a footnote in my own post about the deeper meaning of the SCOTUS decision, a principle like this might have some relevance when we talk about “adiaphora”, that is “disputable” and “indifferent” matters. Such things are found and described, for example, in Romans 14 and 15. That said, we should note that even hard feelings emerging over indifferent matters – often because love does not bridle freedom for the sake of the neighbor – can lead persons further apart! (think of what happens in divorce, or in the church, “schism”)

The deeper meaning, however, is that the law of God is the law of God whether or not our conscience functions according to it. In like fashion, the gospel of God is the gospel of God whether or not one’s conscience is soothed (correctly) by it. Preaching itself involves setting the conscience of the Christian “straight” concerning both law and gospel, and this is presumably the work of the Holy Spirit! (see John 16, for example)

Martin Luther: "This, then, is the thunderbolt of God by which He strikes in a heap [hurls to the ground] both manifest sinners and false saints [hypocrites], and suffers no one to be in the right [declares no one righteous], but drives them all together to terror and despair. This is the hammer..."

Martin Luther: “This, then, is the thunderbolt of God by which He strikes in a heap [hurls to the ground] both manifest sinners and false saints [hypocrites], and suffers no one to be in the right [declares no one righteous], but drives them all together to terror and despair. This is the hammer…”

As my pastor put it to me:

“Thus when the Christian, his conscience properly functioning according to the law and gospel, that is “with the mind of Christ,” judges a fellow Christian, or consoles a fellow Christian, it is not merely a function of his conscience as some sort of individualistic expression of what is perceived to be Christian piety. It is in fact the Holy Spirit using the “rock smashing” Word of God to crumble into pieces, then refine, then forge, then shape the conscience of the fellow Christian so it once again functions as it should.

It is, in other words, not the case of a (perhaps erring) Christian conscience trying to control the behavior of another Christian. It is the case of the Word of God being proclaimed to a fellow Christian and the Holy Spirit taking it from there…

None of this is to say that doing this kind of work – “in step with God’s Spirit” – is easy. As Luther noted, it’s the most difficult and important work there is!  When I think about the consequences of mis-diagnosing someone and wrongly applying law and gospel I am reminded of the Eastern Orthodox prayer: “God… do not let them perish through me, a sinner….” (note that this was/is the critical matter of the Reformation).

But we must – and will – act. After all, truth be told, there is no such thing as an independent Christian or independent Christian church.

And, as I noted in my SCOTUS post,

“…the problem… is that all of us will inevitably use our conscience to not only determine how we should act, but how we should help others to act as well. Every human being has a certain range of acceptable behavior that they will accept and those who say otherwise are deluding themselves. We all have something to say, in one form or another, about how we think others should live.”

In other words, Christians – simply by virtue of being human beings! – cannot avoid this. Therefore, it is only sensible that they urge one another to live in accordance with the word of God. How can we who have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ – giving us peace with God – do otherwise?

This involves using the law of God in all three of its traditional Reformation uses. As Pastor Mark Surburg recently tweeted: “Paul couldn’t control how the Spirit used the law. That didn’t stop him from exhorting/admonishing Christians to live in a godly way.”

FIN

(For more on the third use of the law and its relation to “the simul”, see my post: “A Plea to Reformation Christians: Don’t Let Your “Simul” Become the One Ring to Rule Them All”)

 

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Summary and Select Quotes from Yesterday’s Article: “America, Behold Your God…”

gaywhitehouse

Just posted the following on the Just & Sinner blog:

A few days ago, Pastor Cooper posted a link to an excellent podcast discussing the idea of gay marriage from a biblical perspective. In the podcast, he also talked about a recent article on the topic by the popular Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart. Pastor Cooper’s analysis is very helpful and I highly recommend checking it out.

And yesterday, on my blog, I posted a lengthier piece addressing the issue of gay marriage – arguing more from the basis of universally accessible human reason.

Here’s a summary I put together about the article:

While “attending to one’s own house” is always the “best strategy for evangelization and prophetic witness” (Leithart), Christians should also not be indifferent to the shifting moral currents of the wider world. The Scriptures inform us that while the “sky fell” in Eden, things can nevertheless get worse for human beings morally speaking. With the rise of things like gay marriage, a pseudo-social justice – imitating the real thing derived from Christian piety – has fooled many into embracing this aspect of the sexual revolution. I argue that, in fact, something like state-sanctioned gay marriage could have only arisen in a context largely influenced by Christianity. In short, the “Enlightenment” has played a definite part here, but it quickly gained steam because it was a sophisticated Christian heresy – and it has now helped shape the “God of American Civil Religion” into the “holy trinity” of Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism. In this context, morality from an increasingly secular perspective – in spite of its appeals to “human solidarity” – boils down to seeing what one finds to be pleasurable as “good” and what one finds to be displeasing or painful as “bad”. Elites in our culture have consciously or unconsciously cast aside the knowledge of purpose found in the created world and are now “creating meaning” as best they can, working towards these purely Epicurean ends. Some of them might insist that they find aspects of Immanuel Kant – particularly with his emphasis on human dignity (and not using people as means to ends) – to be appealing and worthy of keeping, but the difficulty is that Kant’s view inevitably gets dissolved in Darwinian-infused Epicurean acid: one can never claim that humanity – and hence “innate” human morality – is in any sense permanent or stable. Therefore, as Chesterton said, progress does not mean that we are always changing the world to suit our vision (whether in line with God’s vision or not) but rather that we are always changing our vision. Future consequences of this that are already materializing are explored and the nonsense of “my truth, your truth” is put to rest: we all, with greater or lesser zeal, push for a certain “teleology” (however rational or irrational). Finally, this is explained in light of the Scripture’s insistence that all men seek to save themselves in this or that fashion through their actions – whether in line with His law or not. Only the One who loves His enemies can ultimately save humanity from humanity.

Here’s a few quotes:

On the Enlightenment as a Christian heresy:

…in my view the “Enlightenment” is simply the most sophisticated and deadly of Christian heresies yet developed.

undertheinfluenceMorally, it hijacks Christianity’s emphasis on the dignity of the individual person and it praise of sacrificial service, particularly to the oppressed. Taking cues from Christian notions of love and freedom, it elevates the importance of the notion of “consent” (if you love something you, like the “prodigal father” in Luke 15, “let it be free” – this is the reason why free consent is considered to be at the heart of marriage in the West[ii]). And, at least until the “Enlightened” gain enough power, the Enlightenment mimics the Christian God’s impartiality and forebearance with its notions of “equality” and “tolerance”. In addition, taking its cue from the incarnation of God’s Son in history, it accentuates our sense of, and respect for, the empirical. It also assumes that the world is ordered and that our sensory equipment is likewise ordered, and reliable. In like fashion, the new life and transformation the love of Christ brings becomes progress and evolution.

In sum, there is a reason that notions of social justice find a home among those who identify with the person of Jesus Christ. Social justice came from Christianity…

On how even “social justice mimicry” has historically been good, creating true progress:

From my viewpoint, even the most “Christian” nations in world history have never been that convincingly Christian. As Chesterton said,Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has not been tried.” Still, in nations where it has held some sway, I would argue that such heart-felt sentiments found in the general populace – mirroring the ones of those actually devoted to Christian teachings – have served us well. For example, we might be surprised to hear that world history, until re-oriented by Christian conviction, actually revealed a general lack of concern regarding children, women, and the practice of slavery.

On what it means to see God’s design in the world:

…when I speak of this design in the universe, I think of it not primarily in terms of science, math and engineering but rather of art and choreography[viii], with all the things therein having roles to play in a dance that brings gladness to men’s hearts (see Acts 14, where Paul talks about the joy God gives to all people). Therefore, while we certainly do not ignore, for example, the significance of the “mechanical engineering” of the “parts” of male and female that “produce” children (see this article), the understanding of reality that I am speaking of here encompasses this organic family into a complete picture that is more mature, and characterized primarily by the beauty and joy that emerge from the natural roles at play.

G.K. Chesterton on real progress:

Chesterton:

As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realized, or even partly realized. The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.” (Othodoxy, 105-108, Image books, 1959)

Chesterton would have us think more critically about what is real and imaginary progress. It seems to me that with the popular notion of progress, the hope of holding on to Kant’s assertion of persons not being reduced to means to ends is a pipe dream…

You can read the whole article-length piece at my blog, theology like a child.

FIN

Non-book Images: All from Wikipedia except gay white house (White House Twitter feed) and Rod Dreher (Twitter account pic)

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

America, Behold Your God [of “Civil Religion”]: the Underlying Meaning of Gay Marriage and Other Incoming Issues

gaywhitehouse[note: I believe this is the longest post I have ever done on this blog. Its a magazine-length article featuring stuff I have been thinking about for a long time]

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” — Psalm 2:1

Introduction

Before diving into this post, let me say this: I largely agree with Peter Leithart when he says “attending to our own house is now our best strategy for evangelization and prophetic witness.”

Actually, I’d say that’s always been the case.

That said, that does not mean that I am unwilling to encourage the wider [and increasingly] secular world to think very hard about what our current cultural moment means – and to try to persuade using their primary tool: reason (while also bringing attention to the biblical witness and its meaning).

Not all traditional Lutherans think this is the best use of our time. For example, one pastor responding to Friday’s ruling noted that we should just go on doing what we do and not act like the sky is falling. I certainly understand that impulse and it resonates with me (going along with the Leithart quote) – the sky has been falling since the Fall in the Garden of Eden! On the other hand, I think it’s also good to make clear how reason might be able to help explain what the Bible asserts, namely that fallen humanity can become even worse that it already is: flattering ourselves too much to detect or hate our sin, calling good “evil” and evil “good”, and even having the nerve to assert that there is no God.[i]

Part I – Gay Marriage: And God “Gave Them Over”… to a Pseudo-Social Justice?

A few days ago in America, gay marriage became the law of the land, following much of Europe (but not all – if it does get voted down it doesn’t really get reported). You may find it surprising to hear that as a Christian it is my personal conviction that the wide acceptance of gay marriage could have only happened in a Christian context – that is, in a society where a very strong measure of true love and tolerance is practiced.

I know people will laugh at that, and say, “No, it is the Enlightenment that is doing that work”. Well sure, to some degree… you see, in my view the “Enlightenment” is simply the most sophisticated and deadly of Christian heresies yet developed.

undertheinfluenceMorally, it hijacks Christianity’s emphasis on the dignity of the individual person and it praise of sacrificial service, particularly to the oppressed. Taking cues from Christian notions of love and freedom, it elevates the importance of the notion of “consent” (if you love something you, like the “prodigal father” in Luke 15, “let it be free” – this is the reason why free consent is considered to be at the heart of marriage in the West[ii]). And, at least until the “Enlightened” gain enough power, the Enlightenment mimics the Christian God’s impartiality and forebearance with its notions of “equality” and “tolerance”. In addition, taking its cue from the incarnation of God’s Son in history, it accentuates our sense of, and respect for, the empirical. It also assumes that the world is ordered and that our sensory equipment is likewise ordered, and reliable. In like fashion, the new life and transformation the love of Christ brings becomes progress and evolution.

In sum, there is a reason that notions of social justice find a home among those who identify with the person of Jesus Christ. Social justice came from Christianity. There is also, of course, a “Christless social justice” which largely conforms to God’s law and can do some real good in the world. That said, there is also a ”social justice” that certainly does more harm.

So how does this apply to last Friday’s decision? In short, when many in the West hear about the rather small minority of a small minority who want to get married (well mostly, because of the irresponsibility of the mainstream media, most falsely think there are a) lots of gay persons, and b) lots of gay persons who want to be involved in a committed, monogamous union – read Jonathan Last’s excellent piece here) they do, because they are moved by feelings of compassion, really want them to have that opportunity to know love (of course, how long this idea of gay marriage will last is anyone’s guess).

As Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court wrote yesterday’s decision:

“Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right…. Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there.”

As a Christian, I am a bit moved by that – even as all of us should know that love is about a whole lot more than the feeling of being [sexually] desired that overrides the feeling of loneliness. After all, most Americans claim the name of Christ, and who among us doesn’t want other human beings – those made in the image of God and bought with the blood of the Son of God Himself – to know some real measure of genuine love and affection in the world (and if you don’t feel that way, the “social justice” machine reasons, maybe you will feel the need to be “liked” by the world – see here from David French)?

But please don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that Christian teaching ever really supported gay marriage in particular or homosexual activity in general. I am saying that this current “justice” is a social justice mimic – this kind of sentimentality is a genuinely internal but nevertheless anemic, faulty, and imperfect imitation of what is in fact true love, compassion, and affection.[iii]

“What is more harmful than any vice? — Active sympathy for the ill–constituted and weak — Christianity … .” — Nietzsche, The Antichrist

From my viewpoint, even the most “Christian” nations in world history have never been that convincingly Christian. As Chesterton said,Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has not been tried.” Still, in nations where it has held some sway, I would argue that such heart-felt sentiments found in the general populace – mirroring the ones of those actually devoted to Christian teachings – have served us well. For example, we might be surprised to hear that world history, until re-oriented by Christian conviction, actually revealed a general lack of concern regarding children, women, and the practice of slavery.

So, for the first time in world history, things actually changed in the West (and no Ms. Goldstein, it was not primarily because of philosophy) – and this was indeed true progress!  But now, the train is coming off the rails… To borrow an illustration from Douglas Wilson, secularists have gotten into the car that is Christian morality and sentiment and – many not knowing what they do – are doing their best to crash it. Often unaware of the Christian cultural capital with which they progress…. they naively operate with the assumption that “man is the measure of all things” – even when they are increasingly losing the basis for any coherent idea of what constitutes “man” in the first place.

So, a short review of this first section’s argument: even though Christianity is opposed to gay marriage, Christians still have a genuine compassion for all persons – even enemies – and want them to know true love and care. But this true empathy, affection, etc. gets perverted by those under the influence of Christianity into a false social justice – and true Christianity is loathe to fight back with the weapons of the world. There is a very good reason why, when it comes to Christianity’s moral sense, philosophers like Nietzsche and co-religionists like Muslims have considered Christianity to be weak because of its compassionate tendencies.[iv]

As things stand now, it seems to me that there is no longer any real basis for thinking that America will continue to be a vehicle for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of [true] happiness”. Rather, because of our false God, we are increasingly embracing “death, slavery, and the pursuit of misery” – even if many have little or no awareness of this fact, due to an exceptionally wicked case of suppressing the truth.

But who is this God whom our nation serves?

Part II – America’s Self-Made Trinity Clearly Identified

So now, my question: Who is the true God in whom America – and perhaps most quarters of the Western world – trusts?

I submit that they are the Self-made Holy Trinity of Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism – and somehow, we are gods with them. Such is the shape of our contemporary hubris. Or perhaps – as these gods Christianity made thinkable and possible give way as its influence dissipates – the gods of the West will really end up being like the gods those like Homer and Sapphos, or Epicurus and the Stoics, may have thought about. Ultimately perhaps, those are the gods we are veering towards… That said, there is, I think, good reason to doubt that this will happen (more later).

Let’s take a closer look at our current Trinity.

“[Liberalism] it preaches an individualism in which many bonds and rules and constraints are thinned to filaments, and waiting for the knife.” (quoted here)

In a recent article discussing a piece about Bruce Jenner that brought up Alan Bloom’s 1992 book The American religion: the emergence of the post-Christian nation, Ross Douthat insightfully commented:

Bloom’s language definitely delivers something, and that something helps to illumine the strong religious element (however unstated or subconscious) in what we generally describe as social liberalism today. Since the 1960s that element has been addressed repeatedly by minds more brilliant than mine (from Philip Rieff to Robert Bellah), but it tends to slip out of view in public debates because the liberal vanguard, from its legal enablers to its journalistic cheering section, is so avowedly secular. And that slippage, in turn, limits our understanding of what’s really happening in our society…

But as Wilkinson and Bloom and Jenner him/herself would all remind us, in America a rights-based morality wins converts in part because the rights it champions are still ordered in some sense toward a (very American) sort of end. Freedom is good in and of itself, to a point, but it’s ultimately good because it enables us to pursue God/the divine spark/the True Self/the Original Adam, and in finding it, fulfill our true destiny and reach our perfect end. Natural law or biblical morality aren’t being rejected in favor of a purposeless freedom, in other words, but rather in favor of a higher law that fulfills a higher purpose, bringing salvation neither through faith nor works but through a gnostic revelation about Who We Really Are.

Here is the god Freedom. Redemption is not found in Christ who forgives our sin and in the perfect law of God that brings freedom (Gal. 5:1, 2 Cor. 3:17, James 1:25), but rather in the authenticity of our choices that make us who we are. Thank you Mr Douthat, for that insightful piece of cultural and religious commentary.

“The black-robed priesthood has spoken. Will the church bow before their new masters?” — David French

And before the Roman Catholic columnist Douthat, there was of course the Roman Catholic columnist G.K. Chesterton, already mentioned above. He was a masterful writer who had his finger on the pulse of the modern world – the words he wrote about a century ago seem ever more relevant today. Gene Veith, on his Cranach blog here at Patheos, recently shared the following quote about the god Progress:

“A generation is now growing old, which never had anything to say for itself except that it was young. It was the first progressive generation – the first generation that believed in progress and nothing else…. [They believed] simply that the new thing is always better than the old thing; that the young man is always right and the old wrong. And now that they are old men themselves, they have naturally nothing whatever to say or do. Their only business in life was to be the rising generation knocking at the door. Now that they have got into the house, and have been accorded the seat of honour by the hearth, they have completely forgotten why they wanted to come in. The aged younger generation never knew why it knocked at the door; and the truth is that it only knocked at the door because it was shut. It had nothing to say; it had no message; it had no convictions to impart to anybody…. The old generation of rebels was purely negative in its rebellion, and cannot give the new generation of rebels anything positive against which it should not rebel. It is not that the old man cannot convince young people that he is right; it is that he cannot even convince them that he is convinced. And he is not convinced; for he never had any conviction except that he was young, and that is not a conviction that strengthens with years.” (G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News of July 9, 1921)

But here is where I must say “Mr. Chesterton – of course they had convictions!” For example, these Victorian Britons you wrote of were convicted, along the lines of American pragmatism, that “it works”. This is the god Pragmatism. Peirce, James, Dewey (and then Rorty) did not come out of nowhere after all – but the Western world was quite ready for their ideas! And not only that, but as outlined by this liberal college professor, many today are evidently convinced – frighteningly! – that purely identity politics will “work” (so much for the careful and nuanced “social imaginary” Charles Taylor talks about?). Whether avowedly secular, socially liberal or religious, or even claiming the Christian faith, many are confident that – they feel “it works” or at least “it is going to work”. As regards what truth is, that’s all one needs to know.

Part III – The Impact of Secular Humanist Currents

I’ll come back to some more of G.K.’s pithy wisdom later on in this rambling essay. But first, let’s lay some groundwork for that wisdom, so that we can all start “connecting the dots”, as they say. Recently, on the blog of a prominent Darwinist philosopher, a commenter said in part:

“…it is in fact easier to be moral in a secular context than in a religious context because you can recognize clearly the returns from being rationally altruistic, how it affects society and benefits your self interest.”

“Part of a philosophy of taking control of one’s own existence and improving the objective conditions for happiness. There is an arrow of evolution that goes toward ever more reducing of suffering and  maximizing of enjoyment.” – Belgian humanist and euthanasia doctor Jan Berheim (see here)

“Part of a philosophy of taking control of one’s own existence and improving the objective conditions for happiness. There is an arrow of evolution that goes toward ever more reducing of suffering and maximizing of enjoyment.” – Belgian humanist and euthanasia doctor Jan Berheim (see here)

The late Christopher Hitchens said much the same thing in his debate with Al Sharpton (more on Hitchen’s views below). And here, in the midst of our gods Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism, we have a common explanation of what it means to be moral from within a purely secular worldview. Many of our secular elites would no doubt resonate with this quote above to one degree or another – even as they, like Hitchens*, would want to clarify (understandably) that they nevertheless do not really view morality as functionalist, pragmatic or calculating (see his comments in a debate here), but as a matter that, because of “human solidarity”, really does bind their healthy consciences (because we know we can’t “get along” without the innate morality healthy human beings possess in themselves, and we can’t live with ourselves if we violate this morality – even if we can’t explain why our morality is as it is). They also might want to assert, like he did, that they get a reward simply in doing good actions themselves – perhaps feeling good about the future results of a blood donation, for example.

All of this said, this kind of “practical reason” (yes, for you philosophers – I did use those words intentionally) nevertheless tells us that, if one does “good” things (again, often thought to be synonymous with “pleasurable”) in the world, one will receive “good” things in turn. And even after the idea of a personal God has been banished or downplayed, perhaps it is hard to totally escape the sense that something like the Eastern idea of Karma does indeed exist (as our conscience, whatever its state, still manages to tell us that something is wrong with us and the world – see here). Even secular Karma-rejecters might still posit that rationally doing “good” to the right people (Hitchens: “compulsory love is another sickly element of Christianity”) will generally result in one eventually receiving “good” back – albeit with some “luck” (chance) certainly involved in the process.

So I think that the quote that I stated above about “returns for rational altruism” – the hope and confidence that, taken as a whole, one’s “good” will be reciprocated in more than merely getting good feelings about being good – can be refined and nuanced a bit, but basically comes out unscathed. And with that said, here is the real key thing I’d like to share: upon reflection, the quote reminded me of Hitchen’s critique of Mother Theresa: namely that she did the things she did only because she knew that she would somehow and someway be rewarded by God – in this life and the next.

Hitchen's take-down of Mother Theresa's moral view.

Hitchen’s take-down of Mother Theresa’s moral view.

Regarding Hitchen’s view of Theresa vis a vis his own view, it seems to me that while he believes that doing “good” (understood as that which brings pleasure to one’s self or others – which in turn is pleasurable – as this clip of him talking about the purpose of life makes clear) is generally rewarded in the world, Mother Theresa believes that doing good will be rewarded in this life or the life to come by God. This does not mean that either would deny that doing good merely out of fear of punishment and hope of reward is highly unsatisfactory – in fact, as both have said, we should simply feel the need to and want to do what is right apart from such carrots and sticks.[v]

Another big difference, of course – made very obvious by the emergence of same-sex marriage and its full acceptance – is that for all of Hitchen’s talk about “innate morality”, his “good” can evolve and Mother Theresa’s cannot.

So, in short, when it comes to Hitchen’s view of Mother Theresa’s morality my hypothesis is that he: a) said out loud what many secular elites think is true, and b) did not see the similarities between his own viewpoint and hers, and c) as regards the differences, he did not discern that he was actually projecting his own exceptionally common but anemic moral viewpoint – namely, that if one gives the “pleasure” to others that they want, one will tend to be rewarded with “pleasure” in return (however much he might try to nuance and make more sophisticated and “human” the essential features of this position). On the contrary though, what is good is more than what is pleasurable and what is evil is about more than what is painful (and we’ll assume that most folks are not as willing as Richard Dawkins is, for example, about saying that he does not believe that good and evil really exist).

So what am I getting at? I would suggest that among our elites the moral philosophy of choice – if only by their practice and not in their theory – basically reduces to shear Epicureanism (Stoicism, with its empirical emphases, would be similar in many ways but would not be as eager to expel or downplay the idea of some kind of mind responsible for the cosmos, and hence is not amenable to acting as a counter to Christianity). I realize that many would want to claim Enlightenment folks like Kant or Hegel for their side but I say “no” – you’re actually a flat-out Epicurean”, and as we progress in this essay I will try to unpack why this is necessarily the case.

Part IV – All Philosophers – Even Epicureus – Have Teleology

The philosopher Epicurus explicitly said that his philosophy was designed to eliminate

The philosopher Epicurus explicitly said that his philosophy was designed to eliminate “physical pain and mental disturbance” (particularly the fear of the gods and death), resulting in personal happiness.

And all persons are philosophers as well, to this or that extent. Now, one must not think that I am being overly insulting here by calling people Epicureans in the last section (well… I will admit that “bad body” Hitchen’s own rather pathetic – and deplorable – take on the matter of purpose in one’s life does seem to earn more negative connotations of this word – see here). As any good philosopher will tell you, “Epicurean”, contrary to its popular notions, does not signal unbridled hedonism – it simply means the responsible pursuit of good things in life – the pleasures of this world. I mean really – who today is arguing with that? (the Christian can say that these are God’s gifts and we may even seek them here or there, but they are to be accorded a second place when it comes to our devotion[vi]).

Of course there are a variety of philosophies in the world, and all have something to say about how one should live. In fact, I recently claimed that “all philosophy is morality and teleology”, and I will now develop that point a bit here. This, I admit, is something I think many if not most professional philosophers might take umbrage with – in spite of someone like Socrates’ emphases… Stated a bit more carefully, perhaps we could say that all significant questions and problems philosophers attempt to seriously address and make conclusions about emerge in part because of specifically moral – and teleological (with happiness or contentment being the end) – considerations.[vii]

Of course, the teleological assumptions of Christians and other theists run contrary to those of the Epicurean. In a recent post I said the following:

“…Christians are those who make assertions not only about what is true about God and man, but the rest of His creation and the personal intentions discerned within. This means, among other things, that ancient metaphysical ideas of “substance”, for example, align more closely with the teachings of the Bible than does the Kantian alternative, still in vogue today in a myriad of different forms (underlying a whole spectrum of “mediating theologies”). To say this does not mean that man can, with or without the Scriptures, accurately discern and assert the intrinsic purposes of all the things in the cosmos.  It does mean however, that even without taking the Scriptures to be God’s word, man is able to accurately discern and assert some of the intrinsic purposes of some of the things within it.”

As I look at what I wrote above I don’t really disagree – but I am seeing it as a bit anemic itself – in that the statement seems to focus on the parts at the expense of the whole. In any case, I will explore the idea of discernible purposes more in a moment – looking more closely at “conservative Enlightenment” folks like Kant. But only after a few caveats expounding on my statement above.

First, as I have argued before, in part because the above is true I do not think that a highly secular worldview – particularly an atheistic one – is “intellectually viable” – and I think the most observant of the “nones” realize this (and have begun to gradually acknowledge this, as I argued here). In short, the idea that one need not posit a personal Mind/God or gods at all is not going to cut it and I would be surprised if – in search for “ordering principles” to counter out-of-control individualism and identity politics – we do not see secular persons embracing explicitly religious and philosophical ideas more and more.

Hearts fit, parts fit: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/03/14510/  No, because our bodies have intrinsic moral meaning…

No, because our bodies have intrinsic moral meaning… (see here)

Second, when I speak of this design in the universe, I think of it not primarily in terms of science, math and engineering but rather of art and choreography[viii], with all the things therein having roles to play in a dance that brings gladness to men’s hearts (see Acts 14, where Paul talks about the joy God gives to all people). Therefore, while we certainly do not ignore, for example, the significance of the “mechanical engineering” of the “parts” of male and female that “produce” children (see this article), the understanding of reality that I am speaking of here encompasses this organic family into a complete picture that is more mature, and characterized primarily by the beauty and joy that emerge from the natural roles at play.

Third, as I noted in a previous post, Christians assert that believing in some kind of design in the world (often called “natural law” or the “law of nature”) does not mean that even everything that appears natural in humans is “good”. For example, as I noted above, racism, slavery, and the oppression of women, children, and the poor have at times throughout history – even to the greatest and most noble of thinkers – seemed to be “natural” to man (and these can only be countered with deliberate human intention, for whatever motivations), but in truth are corruptions of purpose and “not the way it is supposed to be”.[ix]

At what point do we have a

At what point do we have a “pile”? A “human being”?

In any case, I argue because of these things above, we human beings we cannot but address the role-playing entities in our world merely with what philosophers call a “relational ontology”. We must take time and care to directly and lovingly address the “things” of this world – in spite of concerns about reducing them to their qualities, “objectifying”, “fetishization”, etc, etc. This means that we must address “human beings” as things as well then (or seemingly even more radical: human being as a thing) – for any argument about the purpose of human beings – even if this reduces to radical individuality – must necessarily rest on an account of who “man” is.

And how to discern this? The modern day philosopher Wendell Berry has asked the question – even in the title of one of his books – “what are people for?” The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant – bolstered, in truth, by a uniquely biblical vision of man in which God is “no respecter of persons” – had provided the answer in part that barely continues to hold on – barely – today: because of their inherent dignity, human beings were never to be treated as means to an end. Christopher Hitchens liked to claim that the idea that we are persons created in the image of God “gets you nowhere”.[x] But what he completely misses is that, when we might not feel like loving our neighbor, this is just the reason why we want to overcome those feelings and treat persons the way that we do – even to feel real affection for them. Because they are objectively valuable and possess dignity in the eyes of God. Humanity is good – period.

Part V – Observing Kant Being Dissolved in Epicurean Acid

Kant: intelligible at all without a biblical frame?

Kant: intelligible at all without a biblical frame?

So Immanuel Kant, unlike Christopher Hitchens, believed that human morality was rooted not just in “human solidarity” but in each individual person being created with unique dignity and worth. That said, Kant’s moral philosophy also highly elevated the notion of the “categorical imperative”, which also is, according to Kant, justified as an end in itself. In short, it says “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” This, of course, is a variation of the positive formulation of the Golden Rule, stated positively by Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Jesus’ “Golden Rule”, while resembling those that came before it (they said: “don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you…”) was unique in that Christ also assumed the “brotherhood” of man. In other words, all persons were neighbors, being the offspring of God. As an online acquaintance of mine recently put it, “the Golden Rule… is not hospitably grounded in all [worldview] alternatives…”.

So what is the problem with Kant’s view of this? Didn’t he basically believe the same thing? No. For Kant, things like morality, the reality of personhood, and belief in God all reside in the realm of what he calls “practical reason” (as opposed to “pure reason”). While the biblical teaching would treat all of these things as knowledge all men have or should have (the truth can be greatly suppressed in conjunction with the searing of one’s conscience), for Kant it is only things like geometry, mathematics, and nature’s laws that can count as such. Things like personhood, God, and ethics are real, says Kant, but we certainly can’t say that we have anything like knowledge about such things – only strong convictions. This further means that in Kant’s view the dignity of personhood and morality are intrinsic, but this has no connection with how things appear in the sensible world. The given empirical properties of all the things in the world simply cannot be associated with any corresponding purposes that we can know. Again, in truth, when it comes to the world we can literally know no such things because only the transcendent and intelligible world – similar to Plato’s forms – matters.

This being said, it is still certainly true that for Kant, the thing of “humanity” and “personhood” can be said to be a transcendent inner kernel within us – i.e. something that cannot be increased or diminished or destroyed and that we have an absolute duty to respect (see here). But all this said, here is the key: with Kant, there is no reason to think that what it means to be a human person cannot evolve and be changed – which of course means morality can change with it.

““the Renaissance ideal of classical languages, classical literature, and classical arts would be replaced by classical mechanics, which have no place for meaning, ethics, or Bildung [that is, the “tradition of self-cultivation, wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation”– Wikipedia] In science and technology, every tool would be used to maximize the power of human being.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (summed up by Martin Noland)

Part of this change – started by others, but set into more furious motion by Kant – is that we become Enlightenment men who never depend on external authorities and tradition. This, literally, changes everything. Here, the autonomous individual comes to reign over all, and the effect on morality is subtle, but powerful. For example, in Jesus’ day, it would make sense to think of the Golden Rule from a more communal perspective: “I will not commit adultery with another man’s daughter because I would not want him to do so with mine – even if she might want to do that”.

Nowadays however – and this would have horrified Kant as well – the rule can be, and often is, turned on its head by the increasingly autonomous pleasure-seeking individual, cut off from really trusting others to give them truth or live in truth: “If I would like others to offer consequences-free sex to me, it is only right that I would offer it to them”. Really, freed from the natural “consequences” of sexual activity – and with new technologies assisting us every day – who is really going to insist that this could not become a universal law? That Kant’s “categorical imperative” can’t evolve as well? You and what army, er, knowledge? It seems to me that Epicurus and Lucretius, newly empowered by Darwin, were right: what is ultimately good is what brings me pleasure. Literally, “all things in moderation”, or in proportions that I judge to be proper (soon to be “proportional” and “proper” once again?)

And now of course, the kinds of morality put forth by Enlightenment figures have now metasticized further due to more existentialistist currents, where the authenticity of our moral choices – driven by instinctual desire – has become the primary consideration.  We note the 1992 Planned Parenhood vs. Casey decision of the Supreme Court: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

And here our new modern, now breathing in this existentialist atmosphere, quickly chymes in:

“Of course it’s not just about me! Just because I want to be authentic, and believe “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”, doesn’t mean I don’t want to love everybody – or love everyone that loves me that is! What that Kant fellow says about that “not treating persons as means to ends” stuff sounds like a good idea. We should definitely do that as much as possible and seek that great “common good” idea… Why can’t some “hedonism” (as you call it) go hand in hand with “human flourishing” or even “world flourishing?”

Freud, summing up many an intellectual: “Will man ever be willing to let science alone explain the universe and reconcile him to its ruthlessness?”

Freud, summing up many an intellectual: “Will man ever be willing to let science alone explain the universe and reconcile him to its ruthlessness?”

Of course notions of the “common good” have now been subtlely re-defined – perhaps formulated as something like “the aggregate sum and fulfillment of as many individual’s desires as possible”.

And here, at this point, G.K. Chesteron’s critique of “progress” comes to mind, essentially pointing out how when man is the measure of all things, the goalposts are always changing.

Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit our vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision. It should mean that we are slow and sure in bringing justice and mercy among men: it does mean that we are very swift in doubting the desirability of justice and mercy…. We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is much easier.”

If progress without a fixed ideal is absurd than the modern notion of progress cannot help but be absurd – only “known” (trust me!) to the ones who have the power to enact their vision of progress with the ones they desire to be associated with (and this, after the fact [ad hoc], can then be “justified independently” – in other words, said to be based in something very real and permanent yet distinct from evolving empirical realities – by some appeal to Platonic notions of proportionality, mathematics, etc). More from Chesterton:

As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realized, or even partly realized. The modern young man will never change his environment; for he will always change his mind.” (Othodoxy, 105-108, Image books, 1959)

Chesterton would have us think more critically about what is real and imaginary progress. It seems to me that with the popular notion of progress, the hope of holding on to Kant’s assertion of persons not being reduced to means to ends is a pipe dream. And really, that train left the station even years before Kant tried to salvage it – hundreds of years ago. Though perhaps Francis Bacon did not really want it to come to this, what happened was that power became knowledge and knowledge became power, i.e. knowledge became basically reducible to technical knowledge or technique. That kind of thing is all a “person” needs to “know” (person in quotes since technique and method ultimately has in mind what “works”, i.e. “how to”/”know how”, not what is, or “know that”).

We are all “useful fictions” now.

Part VI – Will There Be a De-Secularization of the Self-Made American Trinity?

Nov. 10, 1793: a statue of the goddess reason is installed on the high altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris

Nov. 10, 1793: a statue of the goddess reason is installed on the high altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris

I have no idea. Will the West continue to become more secular, with nary a mention of a divine mind of one sort or another behind it all (I really doubt this)? Will the goddess reason maker her return – and perhaps find common cause with the Gaia hypothesis? (allowing for a “personal” if not so compassionate god that is at least – thank god – not “Abrahamic”) Will it adopt more Eastern forms of faith? Will Islam gain more influence and adherents longing for more moral stability? Will Christianity arise again?

I don’t know if any of us can know the answers to these questions.

For now, our “reasonable” (idolatrous) trinity of Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism seems to be going quite strong. As R.R. Reno recently put it in his new thought-piece “Empire of Desire”:

The richest and most powerful countries in the world are dominated by an intellectual class that, however individually self-disciplined and well intentioned and personally influenced by inherited moral traditions, give metaphysical priority to desire. They train us to live as docile, dutiful citizens in the Empire of Desire, asking never what is right and true but instead what is “healthy” and “empowering…. Thus runs a world that has lost its capacity to dream of something higher than desire—something to desire.

In R.R. Reno’s Empire of Desire our desires – I would say for Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism – overcome the kingdom of God and the joy, peace and harmony it brings (with the focus on the good of one’s neighbor for Christ’s sake).

Ideas have consequences.

Ideas have consequences.

So, let’s assume that our secularism will continue to go strong, as it certainly is in places like Western Europe for example (see here for a vivid example)

In which case, hear atheist John Gray:

In 1929, the Thinker’s Library, a series established by the Rationalist Press Association to advance secular thinking and counter the influence of religion in Britain, published an English translation of the German biologist Ernst Haeckel’s 1899 book The Riddle of the Universe. Celebrated as “the German Darwin”, Haeckel was one of the most influential public intellectuals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century; The Riddle of the Universe sold half a million copies in Germany alone, and was translated into dozens of other languages. Hostile to Jewish and Christian traditions, Haeckel devised his own “religion of science” called Monism, which incorporated an anthropology that divided the human species into a hierarchy of racial groups. Though he died in 1919, before the Nazi Party had been founded, his ideas, and widespread influence in Germany, unquestionably helped to create an intellectual climate in which policies of racial slavery and genocide were able to claim a basis in science.”

Not only this, but one should check out the recent piece about the ideas of sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari in Edge.org: “Death is Optional”.[xi]  Summing up the Edge.org article, Ross Douthat said:

Soon, if not tomorrow, the rich may be able to re-engineer bodies and minds, making human equality seem like a quaint conceit. Meanwhile, the masses will lose their jobs to machines and find themselves choosing between bread and circuses (or drugs and video games) and the pull of revolutionary violence — with the Islamic State’s appeal to bored youths possibly a foretaste of the future.”

Douthat’s summary is quite low-key and mild given the Edge.com article, which is an excessively jarring introduction to the incoming world of transhumanism.[xii] But then there is a recent article from Anthony Sacramone, discussing the movie Kingsman: the Secret Service. In it, he talks about what Maggie Gallagher – famous for her stand against gay marriage – said about the movie, which features an execution of a[n ugly] Christian congregation:

Hitchens, vs. loving one’s enemies (like Mother Theresa, in his case): “…it’s a shame there is no hell for your bitch to go to.” http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/father-raymond-j-de-souza-christopher-hitchens-lived-in-service-of-plain-hatred

Hitchens, vs. loving one’s enemies (like Mother Theresa, in his case): “…it’s a shame there is no hell for your bitch to go to.” (see here)

Gallagher goes on to describe how a work of sociology she had just finished reading, So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States? by George Yancey and David A. Williamson, recorded in chilling detail how some well-educated progressives indulge a sick preoccupation with inflicting pain on Christians, a blood lust resembling that of the Jihadis:

I want them all to die in a fire,” said one man with a doctorate. “I would be in favor of establishing a state for them. . . . If not then sterilize them so they can’t breed more,” said a middle aged man with a master’s degree. “The only good Christian is a dead Christian,” said another under-45-year-old man with a doctorate. “I abhor them and I wish we could do away with them,” said a middle-aged woman with a master’s degree. “A tortuous death would be too good for them,” said a college-educated man between the ages of 36 and 45. “They should be eradicated without hesitation or remorse,” said an elderly woman with a master’s degree.

Who was Hollywood entertaining with Kingsman’s groundbreaking displays of orgiastic pleasure in witnessing a Christian massacre? All the good people above, who would never, I am sure, commit violence against Christians, but for whom the idea of doing so gives a guilty pleasure.[xiii]

As regards how long Christianity moral capital will – including the idea of love for enemies – will continue to be of use to discourage and fight such things, take into consideration the words of Curtis White, who writing against the “New Atheists” scientistic tendencies also says the following:

“Like Hitchens, I am an atheist, if to be an atheist means not believing in a CEO God who sits outside his creation, proclaiming edicts, punishing hapless sinners, seeking vengeance on his enemies, and picking sides in times of war. This God and his hypocrite followers have been easy targets for enlightened wit since Rabelais, Moliere, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and our own Mark Twain.” (p. 28, The Science Delusion)

conceptions of nature determine in advance what sort of God is allowed to appear to thought and consequently, the range of meanings that can intelligibly attached to 'creation'…

“conceptions of nature determine in advance what sort of God is allowed to appear to thought and consequently, the range of meanings that can intelligibly attached to ‘creation’…”

At this point, let’s now go back to the claim I made at one point above … namely, that the problem is that all of our thinking about reality today operates under the spectre of Epicurus and Lucretius, empowered by Darwin.  This is particularly true of our elites, many of whom have, to some degree, thought about how all of this works out intellectually. I now further assert: this is the framework that our elites work within, and one need not delve into the reasons this view of the world would be popular (it is the perfect frame to accomodate the desires which flow from original sin – see here for more).

Again, if they do not want to embrace the more extreme hedonistic implications some have seen in Epircurus’ thinking, they nevertheless must work within this frame to effect the change they desire and think should happen. Epicurus is “harnessed” and his “swerve” (the idea that nature works by set laws, but there is occasionally the “swerve” of the atom that introduces opportunities for chance, contingency, ideas of freedom, etc.) is utilized then as we attempt to “control” our evolution, pushing things in the direction they think best, and using either soft or hard power to marginalize the viewpoints that conflict most seriously with their vision.

In sum, when it comes the Christian God, our elites, whether they be philosophical naturalists or Romantics like White, know which side they are on. It doesn’t matter if you are a driven materialist, praising science and how practical truth is, or one more given to the literary world, exalting poetry and the unity of man. Or if you are a Christopher Hitchens, trying to straddle the middle. What the elites of the Western World have in common is that the ends they choose are fused with the secular gods of Freedom, Progress, and Pragmatism…. Yes, as I said in my review of Dreyfus’s and Kelley’s All Things Shining, even grace-drive pagan elites are ridden by the devil.

Law of Merited Impossibility to characterize the doublespeak many LGBT activists and their allies have used to advance the cause. Here’s the Law: It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.

“[the] Law of Merited Impossibility… characterize[s] the doublespeak many LGBT activists and their allies have used to advance the cause. Here’s the Law: It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.”

All of this does not surprise the Christian.  As fallen creatures, humans are constantly trying to justify ourselves before others – this is an aspect of how we try to gain “salvation”. This is true of all of us regardless of what one thinks about whether or not there are absolute moral truths that do not change. The Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer offers this helpful perspective:

As it is in my own life history, so it is in world history, is a part. We should speak more cautiously and soberly in the plural, of world histories: namely, the histories of great social groups or movements; the histories of alliances, nations, and blocs; histories which stand apart and never merge into a world history in the singular. These world histories are nothing but the histories of the seeking, enforcing, denying, or lacking of mutual recognition. They are the histories of vindications and the assigning of guilt. They are one long story of the battle for mutual recognition, a life and death battle. In this regard, then, we can indeed speak of a world history in the singular (Bayer, Justification and Sanctification, p. 4)[xiv]

God made us moral creatures, and so it should not surprise us that we keep or discard our views of the world first and foremost on these considerations.  Even if statistics showed that black children raised in white homes tend to be more successful in society than those raised in black homes, we rightly wouldn’t care. It simply would not matter because our convictions about what is right and wrong will always trump even good and responsible efforts at social science. All of us, whatever our background and worldview, cannot help but be most concerned about the truth we feel about how we should act – how we relate to and think we should relate to others takes center stage.  Again, this – and not something like rationality or empirical evidences pointing to this or that trend, for example – will be our primary consideration when it comes to whether or not we continue in or discard the views of the world we receive and form earlier on in life.

The Christian will be concerned about this because he knows himself to be justified and will obey revelation which conforms to the intentions also clearly seen in nature – these are things we can know.  The Epicurean will seek to justify and save himself and those he chooses to associate with through his deeds, as he intelligently works with the ordered but ultimately mindless and purposeless objects and laws of nature, seeking to attain whatever pleasures he realistically and sensibly can along the way (the more extreme ones, basically in line with Epicurus’ epistemology though not his morality, consciously seek, through science, complete knowledge of the laws of nature, and unending presence and power [to be god][xv]).

I'm with Mr. Warren here:  “I fear the disapproval of God more than I fear your disapproval or the disapproval of society.”

I’m with Mr. Warren here: “I fear the disapproval of God more than I fear your disapproval or the disapproval of society.”

This view basically being the default view of the modern intellectual mileue, it seems obvious to some of us why many ideas are popular among them: increasingly unbounded sexual identity and autonomy, survival-oriented evolution, seeing the cosmos as being machine-like, the abandonment of the natural or “organic” family, etc (here one thinks of the Pope’s new encyclical, where he is constantly pointing out how “everything is connected”)  Since Kant ended up saying that we can only have knowledge about mathematical and scientific truths and not morality (which yes, he again did think was true and real, just not able to be known like math and the phenomena), for example, he ends up supporting Epicurus, even if he did not intend to.

For all the modern cold and calculating “scientific objectivity” that we tend to think is out there, each one of us is really reaching for our own version of the “good life”, and apart from Christ, this can only mean comparing ourselves with other human beings and justifying our own behavior while condemning that of others.  “My truth, your truth” is nonsense.  We are all aiming for something as concerns right behavior, even if that something is not clear to us.  And we all would like to have others join us, and will use all our power of persuasion – or perhaps more than this – when we think the time is right.

Why? Because as human beings we are all teleologically-oriented, even if we refuse to see the same in all of the things that God has created in His world.

Conclusion

Check your Jesus:

Check your Jesus: “…I am afraid… your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ… if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed…you put up with it readily enough.” — 2 Cor. 11

In the midst of this, I am reminded of the movie Collision, featuring the debates of Christopher Hitchens and Douglass Wilson. Someone like Hitchens, for his part, says “Love your own enemies. My enemies are the theocratic fascists. I don’t love them – I want to destroy them.” (see here). On the other hand, Wilson points out that for the Christian: “Loving your enemies is not inconsistent with fighting them.”

But here we hasten to add that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12) and “the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2: 24-26).

The God of the Old and New Testaments is indeed coming to judge. But His ultimate goal is to save and not condemn. I note how Martin Luther, the 16th c. Church reformer described the attitude of a good hangman/executioner in talking about the death penalty: “When dealing with a wicked person, his thoughts are to be: “Oh, my God, how gladly I would die for this man, if it could be done!” (see more here)

For that is just what the Lord, who desires all persons to be saved, has done. And the Christian, above all, imitates this mercy (see Rom. 9:1-5).

FIN

Non-book Images: All from Wikipedia except gay white house (White House Twitter feed) and Rod Dreher (Twitter account pic)

Notes:

[i] In another example, one pastor has said our principle should be “You may use your conscience to guide your behavior. You may not use your conscience to guide my behavior.” This kind of saying might have some relevance when we talk about “disputable matters” or “adiaphora”, found for example in Romans 14 and 15. Further, the point is taken if the pastor means that we should not force another human being (who is not our child, for example) to behave in a certain way. All of this said, the problem with the statement is that all of us will inevitably use our conscience to not only determine how we should act, but how we should help others to act as well. Every human being has a certain range of acceptable behavior that they will accept and those who say otherwise are deluding themselves. We all have something to say, in one form or another, about how we think others should live.

Another example is that I resonate with this quote from a Lutheran pastor:

And yet, I also suspect that there is much truth to this as well:

I am glad that my pastor did not mention it in the sermon but did talk about it for a while in Bible class.

[ii] Regarding the nature of love, C.S. Lewis said:

“In order for love to be genuine, the agent has to have the ability to choose not to love. Unless there is freedom of one’s will to either love someone or hate them, it isn’t really love.”

It seems strange to say about one as great as Lewis, but Pastor John Fraiser points out some very real problems with this argument.  That is why I propose the following instead:

“Only freely given love is genuine love. Love that is forced is not free, and therefore not genuine love. In that case, we might as well be robots.”

Luke 15 (“the prodigal son”) shows us how God is with us.  This not only has theological but political implications.

[iii] Christianity is utterly unnatural – producing unique moral affections like nothing else (who else says “love your enemy” and really tries to mean it?). Again, because the West has been under its influence, it has formed the sentiments of even non-Christians such that a real kind of empathy – resonating with the strong affections and genuine feelings of devotion and commitment even some same-sex persons have for one another – can actually make some sense to us. So much sense in fact that we would be willing to think about – and then even legally recognize “gay marriages”!

After all, until recently in world history, gay marriage – the idea of two persons of the same sex being committed was never enshrined in any government’s law as a thing to be upheld, encouraged, or especially celebrated.

[iv] Who else care about oppressed, slaves, women? Who would care to identity with and find solidarity with each human person – even enemies? Who else would care to forego one’s right to unlimited sexual expression by unreasonably limiting one’s self within marriage? Those weak Christians. And yet….

In the past, I wrote this: “the level of personal freedom persons in the West have experienced is immense, and unarguably, unprecedented in human history. And I note that you will not find the nuanced and expansive view of rights that allows for this, which in Western societies (especially America) is part and parcel with respect for the freedom of the individual conscience – in any other society, where non-biblical religious ideas (polytheistic [hoi polloi], pantheistic [elites], etc.) are much more closely intertwined with the political. Hence, you will, for example, find that the politically active classes in no other society – not even pagan Greece and Rome – ever officially sanctioned and actively promoted things like gay marriage – hoping to elevate same-sex relationships to the same status as heterosexual ones – although throughout history there have been “variations on a common theme” (namely man-woman themes) when it comes to marriage. Quite frankly, only in a society buffered by so much biblical tolerance and patience (where the “habits of the heart” formed by the non-Christian’s imitation of the Christian [Christians could never “tolerate” *sanctioned* gay marriage] is what I am speaking of) could a thing like “gay marriage” occur (go read Luke 15 to see the attitude of the waiting, prodigal Father Jesus speaks of).”

[v] In a debate with Mr. Hitchens, when Dinesh D’Souza suggested that Mother Theresa did what she did for others out of love for God, Hitchens was disgusted by this. As one commenter online put it: “My favorite part was Hitchens standing the[re] with his drink in his hand snorting dismissive[ely] into the microphone while D’Souza was talking about Mother Theresa’s “love of Christ” for the suffering.” (comment here).

[vi] An interesting note on pursuing happiness: while behavior leading to children – and children who are nurtured well – is essential to humanity continuing and flourishing, social historian Peter N. Stearns, in his insightful book on happiness, “Satisfaction not Guaranteed”, points out that in late 20th century polls and surveys couples who decide to remain childless report having the highest levels of personal happiness. Also note that even if the “pursuit of happiness” is seen to be problematic from a Christian perspective (necessarily or potentially), simply desiring satisfaction and contentment for one’s self, one’s family, and one’s neighbor is unobjectionable. 

[vii] As I said before here, “At the very least we can say this: in short, we should all be asking to what extent the sense of morality that we feel convictions about (often based on our personal experiences with others and our evaluations of the shorter or longer term consequences of our actions) drives or at least influences our consideration and evaluation of various kinds of evidence and their significance (correspondence theory of truth considerations) as well as various kinds of worldviews and their significance (coherence theory of truth considerations).”

[viii] As I begin this article: The creation we know is not God’s machine or technology, but His living art, the distinct, unequal and beautiful but diseased partner with whom He dances.”

[ix] Note that this explains in part the enthusiasm that many practicing Christians had for the program of Francis Bacon – who as part of his critique of Aristotle criticized his “knowledge” about the discernible purposes of this or that thing – as well as for the program of the Enlightenment (are not even liberty, equality, and fraternity in fact biblical concepts? And where in the history of philosophy, has philosophical faith in “the force of the best reason”, for example, shown that “all humans are created equal and are entitled to equal rights”? Really, which non-Christians philosopher ever said this and what were his/her reasons? Yes, the silence is deafening….)

[x] Asserted, for example, in this debate.

[xi] Also see this short essay, where I discuss the implication of Harari’s ideas (which I think sum up most forcefully the thoughts of many elites), jumping off of a Washington post piece by Michael Gerson.

[xii] And hear Wesley Smith talk about transhumanism in his piece “Even Materialists Crave Religion”:

Transhumanist eschatology contains the Christian element of hope, but its believers expect that man—assisted by artificial intelligent machines, no God needed—will invent the means of attaining an immortal new age. In the transhuman New Jerusalem, we would live for thousands of years, perhaps by sharing uploaded consciousnesses in computer software programs or, if we remain physical, by self-designing our capabilities to resemble the characters in the X-Men comic books. Eventually, according to Princeton biologist Lee Silver in his transhumanist manifesto Remaking Eden (get the title?), humans will become immortal “mental beings”:

It is difficult to find words to describe the enhanced attributes of these special people. “Intelligence” does not do justice to their cognitive abilities. “Knowledge” does not explain the depth of their understanding of both the universe and their own consciousnesses. “Power” is not strong enough to describe the control they have over technologies that can be used to shape the universe in which they live.

Smith knows of what he writes. As Max Anderson, from Forbes magazine recently reports:

“Google has committed an investment up to $600 million into Calico (short for the California Life Company) to do anti-aging research and, as Time magazine puts it, to “solve death.” Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Ma and Sergey Brin (among others) have funded “Breakthrough Prizes for scientists who make discoveries that extend human life. Its $3 million payouts — given to six scientists each year — dwarf similar awards, including the Nobel Prizes, currently about $925,000.” [Peter] Thiel…. has invested in 25 biotech companies and has funded gerontologist Aubrey de Grey with $6 million, partly for the work of the Methuselah Foundation, whose near-term goal is to make “90-year-olds as healthy as 50-year-olds — by 2030.”

Who could argue with conquering death? Do not Christians say that death is evil? Yes, God forbid the tree of life and there is that Babel thing… and who is to say that the boats of the weak, poor and oppressed would not be lifted in this rising tide of death-defying mastery? Well, no… it is Jesus Himself who truly conquers death…. And not through us by means of our intelligence and technological mastery….

An interesting note: it seems someone like Hitchens would probably have found the transhumanist dream to be absurd…. (see here).

[xiii] More from Sacramone:

“If these living guardrails of History’s direction cannot realize their dream of seeing Christians die in large quantities, at the very least:

“Restrict their ability to become judges, senators, representatives, member of Cabinet, military chief of staff and other powerful members of government,” said a man over 75 with a bachelor’s degree. “Should not be able to make decisions regarding the law, they should somehow have to be supervised if they are working with other people (drastic, I know),” said a woman under 45 with a master’s degree. “We should put in place mandatory extreme prison sentences for anyone or any group that attempts to take away civil liberties guaranteed by our constitution,” said a middle-aged man with a master’s degree. “Churches should not be allowed to provide orphanages and adoption programs,” said one elderly man with a doctorate. “I think we should restrict the indoctrination of children in religious dogma and ritual” said a middle-aged man with a master’s degree. Conservative Christians should “not be allowed to hold political office, be police etc., serve in the armed forces,” said another middle aged man with a doctorate.

Can anyone dismiss such scenarios as far-fetched anymore?”

[xiv] On page 40 Bayer says: “The faith that works and shows its energy by love does not separate itself from the context of the dispute of “justifications” but moves in a certain way within it. The forensic structure of reality – being as judgment, being in mutual recognition – is not abolished but, as we have described it, fulfilled. In this sense the tradition of Old Testament and Near Eastern wisdom – the world order as communal faithfulness and justice – is caught up under the concept of love and thus brought to fulfillment. This many-sided and even, in itself, dissonant process of tradition has to be seen in its entire context. Luther does not restrict himself to an insular exposition of Paul. That is a common misunderstanding of his theology and of Article IV of the Augsburg Confession. The fact that the law finds fulfillment in love, and righteousness in mercy, leads into the broadest of social and cosmic relationships.”

On page 80: “Those who live in the dispute of “justifications,” asking about the ground of their own lives within this world, are told that everything is groundless and gratuitous, and they need not ground or justify themselves; it is grounded and justified only by God’s free and ungrounded Word of love. Under no obligation and without any condition, God promises communion, communion through and beyond death. The justification of the ungodly, the resurrection of the dead, and creation out of nothing all happen through this promise and pledge alone. The promise of God lets us live by faith.)”

[xv] In this day, such power is sought with the help of science and technology, and goes hand in hand with the way of thinking I describe as the modern scientific and technological mindset (or MSTM). I would characterize the MSTM as being set on overcoming everything seen to be a limit, and being reductionistic and pragmatic in practice. I do not mean to imply that the MSTM was the dominant or most important mode of thinking for most of the early modern scientists (most early scientists were more tempered by competing systems of understanding – particularly religious ones – that would compete against drives such as these) or that it was fully developed in those for whom it was the dominant or most important mode of thinking. More specifically, we can look at the MSTM in this way. It begin with an approach to the world called “methodological (not necessarily philosophical) naturalism” in the 17th century, was upgraded to include “pragmatic utilitarianism” in the 19th century, and has in recent years been upgraded to “systematic iconoclastic world-repurposing” towards man’s desires (late 20th and early 21st century). In some cases of course there were those who were “early adopters” of the upgrades. Again, what this all comes down to (endgame) is that we have behavior that can be described as being reductionistic and iconoclastic (limit and barrier breaking). This may leave us with some “laws of nature”, but also leaves us with moral lawlessness, where the ethical façade of the 19th c. “pragmatic utilitarianism” upgrade collapses altogether. At this point, we can say that there is nothing intrinsic about beauty, justice, and meaning, for example – i.e. beauty, justice, and meaning are only something that I/we (and those we choose to associate with) create / make / determine.

 
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