RSS

Monthly Archives: June 2017

Christianity Even Culturally Conservative Darwinian Atheists Worried about Tyranny Can Love

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Darwin? Not so fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIN

 

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Advertisements
 
3 Comments

Posted by on June 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Tags:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gottfried goes on:

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is most certainly true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIN

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Monsieur Sartre, hell is not other people.

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

Heaven is other Christians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, 1432.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blood that covers him is for you to.

FIN 

 

Images:

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

Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes he is.

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

I really doubt it.

+++

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

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

FIN

 

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

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Science Fiction Writer John C. Wright’s “More Rational Model,” and a Deeper Evaluation of the Difference Christian Faith Makes

Publisher’s Weekly, in 2002 said he “may be this fledgling century’s most important new SF talent.”

 

The science fiction writer John C. Wright recently responded to a question on his publisher’s website which asked:

“Do you have any suggestions for finding faith? I see the necessity of religion, and Christianity in particular, but aside from history and cultural affinity I don’t have actual belief.”

While I am glad that Wright converted to Christianity [i] and wants others to do the same, almost every one of the arguments he makes in response to this question are ones I would not give.

Let’s look at some of the meat in Wright’s article:

…consider that the Christian worldview is more coherent, robust, and rational than any secular worldview.

Our model explains things such as why stars look fair and beautiful to our eyes when it serves no credible Darwinian purpose to do so.

Our model explains the naturalistic fallacy, that is, the gap between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ which secular philosophy cannot explain, and some cannot even address.

Our model explains how free will can exist inside a deterministic universe. A materialist cannot even formulate the question in a rational way.

Our model explains why humans seek beauty. Social-evolutionary explanations for this are less convincing than astrology.

Our model explains how creatures with free will capable of grasping intellectual abstractions can arise in a universe which contains no such thing as intellectual abstractions.

Our model allows investigation of final causes in nature, without which nature cannot properly be understood….

Our model explains the various miracles and supernatural wonders that are in the older history books, and which, for no scientific reason, were excised from being reported.

Our model explains both why there is a plurality of religions and why there are striking similarities between them.

Our model explains the origin of the universe. By definition, if the universe were all that existed, exists and ever will exist, than a material cause for it is impossible.

…Our model explains why you should not let your daughter whore around. She is immortal, and will outlast any nation, and language, any institution and human work on Earth.

Our model explains why you should not, once you have truly and deeply contemplated the vastness of the universe and the oppressive span of time to follow the death of everything you know, fall into despair, and end your meaningless life.

Our model gives something to live for nobler than one’s own pleasure seeking.

Our model avoids the logical paradox of asserting man can create meaning in life out of a vacuum. That would require an ability to create meaning out of meaninglessness, which is absurd.

Our model explains why men and women are different, and how we must arrange the dangerous mystery of the mating dance between the sexes to improve our chances to achieve joy rather than misery.

Our model gives rational hope of seeking the departed dead again.

Our model explains human psychology better than perverted old Freud dressing up old Greek myths in make believe, and far better than cranky old Thomas Hobbes and his cynicism.

Our model makes sense. Others are either incorrect, incomplete, or paradoxical, or lead ultimately to wrath or despair. Our model is the sole one which sees life as not futile and death as not bitter.

And, on an intellectual level, our model is the one to which to turn once your mind has become wearied with the reductionist, absurdist and postmodern models, which are in fact no models at all, but rather, are excuses why one should not make a model of the universe, nor seek any answers to deep questions.

It is the model to which to turn once you are heartily sick of hearing “It Just Happened” as the explanation for the origin of man, the universe, and all things.

Now I really don’t want to get too down on what Wright is doing here. These are some excellent things for anyone to think about. He is on target when he asserts, quite beautifully, that these points are meant to: “whet the appetite of intellects starved and desiccated after vain attempt[s] to feast on the shadows, dust and ashes of modern thought, and show the contrast.” Likewise when he says “All human reason can do is clear away false objections to faith. Faith itself is a supernatural gift bestowed by God to protect his own from the sudden, irrational loss of confidence in the self evident to which our foolish race is prone.”

Amen to that!

My main gripe is this: even though Wright wisely notes that each point in the list above “would require a separate and in depth conversation,” he also says that this is a partial list “of the intellectually satisfying fullness of Christian thought. It is the scent and savor of the feast of Christian philosophy, not the meat and potatoes.”

I disagree that the list has much to do with the fullness of Christian thought at all. After all, all the things above are points that can be credibly be made by Jews and Muslims seeking to reach secular persons as well. Not only this, but many of these points could also be made by informed proponents of other non-theistic religions! This should not surprise us, because in the book of Romans it says:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse…. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice [evil things] deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

In sum, even if people do not acknowledge the Christian God, everyone knows at some level that there is a powerful divine mind that lies behind the cosmos. Furthermore, while our conscience can be badly seared, we will continually understand at some level, existentially, that there is a real right and wrong and that humans are designed for some things and not others. Regardless of what anyone says they believe, all reveal in their actions that they believe in right and wrong — even if what they believe about right and wrong is exceedingly messed up. This is why atheists like the late Christopher Hitchens would get so offended when people asked him how atheists could be good without God: because he is (was) a human being who stood in moral solidarity with other human beings about a great many things which were clearly perceived, by many wise persons, as being either good or evil (this is also why there are, ultimately, no true antinomians in the world – the world hates God’s law but we will always, even subconsciously, seek to replace God’s law with other laws thought to be good, even as there will always remain some overlap with God’s law). Undoubtedly, these matters are highly complex, but human beings must think about them.

Wright goes on:

Our model explains the prevalence of so many theists throughout history. The theory that over nine tenths of mankind, including some of the most brilliant thinkers in their age, were raving lunatics who hallucinate about imaginary sky beings is not credible and not supported by evidence. (italics mine)

It should go without saying that many of those 90% are not theists. Of course, even cultures that practice polytheism also acknowledge the core importance of hierarchy and so do tend to have supreme gods, such as Zeus or Brahman. Of course, many of the sophisticated elites of cultures like these tend to get abstract when it comes to these notions, depersonalizing their countrymen’s deities. And, of course, as Jordan Peterson puts it, empirically speaking, human beings are the most complicated beings we are familiar with, and a spirit without any form isn’t intelligible.[ii] I’d go on to assert that when we are talking about some kind of a “divine mind,” it only makes sense that that we are dealing with a personal being here (what else has a mind? ; and how can the personal arise from the impersonal?), and ultimately, a supreme personal being. 

Again, Wright:

Our model explains the current hegemony of the West and makes clear the meaning and purpose of what otherwise seems like insane and suicidal attempts by the apparently sober and sane men on Left to undermine and destroy it.

Again, enter the non-Christian Jordan Peterson, becoming more and more popular every day – who believes that the Bible is the thing needed to save Western civilization – though it seems he doesn’t necessarily have our eternal souls in mind…(more) Here, as useful conversation partners for Wright’s and Peterson’s audience, I recommend Vishal Mangalwadi’s and Alvin Schmidt’s work to chew on.

(here’s a bit of Mangalwadi):

 

This brings me to Wright’s first suggestion, which I have saved for last: “Pray.”

Again, I disagree.

Why? Because the Scriptures are quite clear that God does not invite unbelievers to pray, but rather to repent and trust in Him. God certainly could choose to use the prayer of an unbeliever in some way, but we are told time and again in the Scriptures that He does not listen to them.

I am sure that many Mormans and Jehovah’s Witnesses pray all the time. Furthermore, that they also not only find Christianity as they perceive it appealing and certainly see its “necessity.” Nevertheless, because of their faulty view of Christ and man, they end up being more pagan than Christian.

Sure, they might realize that they need to give attention to the figure of Jesus Christ reported in the Bible, risen from the dead and coming to judge the world[iii], but given that any individual’s assent here is sincere, it is one entirely based on fear and abject misunderstanding, not one driven by true grace, peace, joy, and trust. We grant that they, using the Bible, should be closer to the truth than many, but the fact that they can be so close and yet believe so wrongly – in spite of their prayers – does not assure.

That’s God up there man (the God-man, to be precise), the only One good and strong enough to save.

Therefore, given the above, my first suggestion—given that you insist repentance and faith aren’t a possibility—is to think.

Ask yourself if it makes sense that in the midst of this cacophony of world religions and even this cacophony among those whose central book is the Bible whether God might still speak clearly today for those with ears to hear. Dive deeply into the Bible, preferably with some guidance (see Acts 10) – particularly when it comes to the passages dealing with just who Jesus Christ is. Further note that the Apostle Paul acknowledges the importance of divisions between those claiming allegiance to Christ: “No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”

By the way, of course God wants all His children (yes, I’ll call you that – see Acts 17, for example) to be those who pray (rightly). As the 16th century church reformer Martin Luther said:

“For those who preach, hear, and know God’s Word but do not pray, indicate thereby that they are still proud and secure, as if they did not need God’s grace everywhere, do not see their need and danger, think that they are now seated firmly and already have what they might request. The devil is right behind them, assaults them, and overthrows them before they even know what happened to them.”  This is why Christ, by his own example, teaches us not to forget prayer in addition to the sermon lest the Word remain without fruit when it is used. (see here for more)

Prayer is certainly a critical part of a believer’s life. I am just urging you to first hear the Word of God and it’s most knowledgeable and devoted proponents, for we are told that “faith comes by hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). That is why I am urging this – which means I am urging you to look to Jesus Christ, so wonderfully described in the Scriptures and well-summarized in things like the Nicene Creed.

Now…

“Taste and see tha the Lord is good!”  “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free!”  And, I pray that even you might come to say: “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).

Blessed is everyone who takes refuge in Him! — Psalm 2:12 (the picture depicts the All Saint’s Eve in Sweden)

FIN

 

 

[i] From Wikipedia: At age 42, Wright converted from atheism to Christianity, citing a profound religious experience with visions of the “Virgin Mary, her son, and His Father, not to mention various other spirits and ghosts over a period of several days”, and stating that prayers he made were answered.[8] In 2008, he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, of which he approvingly said: “If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.”[9]

[ii] https://jordanbpeterson.com/2017/05/episode-19/

[iii] As I have written in the past: “I do not think that we can start being “neutral” towards Christian claims upon hearing them. They demand to be taken seriously and demand our full attention and engagement.  Why these claims over the claims of any other world religion?  Why should Christianity and the truths it purports to preach get our attention?  Well, does any other religion claim to vindicate its founder – who incidently, claimed to be God, via a resurrection from the dead? (not to mention all the miracles leading up to that final, crowning miracle – ponder, for example, Mark 2:9-11 here).  Does any other world religion claim to offer proof, assurance, “faith” – that we can know who it is who will in the future judge the world? (see Acts 17). None. Therefore, anyone who does not take these things seriously – is, by definition, not being rational.  Would most philosophers agree with me?  I don’t think so.  And even if some found it to be an intriguing argument, perhaps they may say, after looking at things, that there is “insufficient evidence” for what Christianity claims. Then what? Well, do they get to decide what sufficient evidence is?  Might they be under any obligation to reconsider and look again?  Who charges them to do so?  How deeply did they look into it?  Did they do so prayerfully?”  These words should hit all like a hammer, and to the one who has not been made a friend of God, they should offer no peace.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

 
 
Sense & Reference

libraries and philosophy

Reliable Source (This is a)

Overcoming "Fake News" and Beyond

The Jagged Word

"What the Hell is going on!"

ROUGH TYPE

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Meditationes Sacrae (et Profanae)

A blog concerning theology, faith, the humanities, and Interesting Things

Pyromaniacs

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Proslogion

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blog – AlbertMohler.com

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Worldview Everlasting

Christian Television for an Age in Decay

De Profundis Clamavi ad Te, Domine

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Abide in My Word

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Blogia

The Blog of LOGIA: A Journal of Lutheran Theology

Gottesdienst Online

Just another WordPress.com weblog

GetReligion

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Todd's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

theologia crucis

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The Boar's Head Tavern

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Glory to God for All Things

Orthodox Christianity, Culture and Religion, Making the Journey of Faith

Eclectic Orthodoxy

"I'm a blogger, dammit, not a theologian!"

Jonathan Last Online

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Steadfast Lutherans

An international fraternity of confessional Lutheran laymen and pastors, supporting proclamation of Christian doctrine in the new media.

www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/

Just another WordPress.com site

Surburg's blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Beggars All: Reformation And Apologetics

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Weedon's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

First Thoughts

A First Things Blog

Pastoral Meanderings

Just another WordPress.com weblog