Tag Archives: Christianity_and_culture

Sex and America’s Political Conscience: Seared, Hardened, and “Woke” All at the Same Time (part I of II)

Martin Luther, free to be?: the conscience must be free from the Law, but the body must obey the Law (AE 9:136, Cf. AE 31:124)

You want to get to the sex stuff and political stuff?

Let’s start with something far more important: Christ’s Church, the Chosen Bride of the King (see what I did there?).

“You can’t take sex out of things.” – Jordan Peterson, here.

For me, as a traditional Christian, “politics is downstream from culture,” and culture, derived from the Latin cultus, means “care, cultivation, worship,” which relates to religious faith. This, in turn, brings me to the Church and its responsibility for educating and disciplining the people of God — keeping its own house in order. In other words, Christian truth — backed up with real consequences when ignored (not only what some call “natural consequences”) — must continually prevail over and against even more “liberal” notions.

This includes even liberal political notions like freedom, equality, fraternity, etc. – things admittedly made somewhat realizable for many only with the help of Christianity.

Steven, again failing to properly credit the real Father.

And this certainly is no small task for today’s church. Why? It is because everywhere, including within the Church, consciences have been and are being increasingly seared and hardened (more on these concepts below) daily….

And, looking out more broadly, in many cases, the world and the Church like how it conscience has been seared and hardened. As Woody Allen so memorably put it, “the heart wants what it wants”. Freedom! (vs. that terrible Christian repression, you know!).

“The Mike Pence Rule” — are this man’s issues setting women everywhere back?

At the same time, there is an annoying side-effect of all this. When these folks think about Christianity, it can ruin their day. Thinking about the faith’s views about sex and gender in particular, they get upset and then proceed to ask the faithful why we fixate on these issues.

Currently, Theresa Latini, newly elected President of United Lutheran Seminary in Pennsylvania, is finding out that a position she took in the past — that Christians should resist same-sex attraction — is enough to have her run out of an ELCA seminary today.

Have you now or ever been a member of OneByOne? (some “bound consciences” are more equal than others, you know).

Way back in 2009, when the Lutheran theologian Timothy Wengert provided the justification for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) acceptance of homosexual behavior by their clergy, many who both reject Christ and who claim Christ were doubtless gratified. On the other hand, the short paper Wengert wrote which did this, “Reflections on the Bound Conscience in Lutheran Theology,”[1] prompted my own pastor – a Lutheran who loves and adheres to the 1580 Book of Concord – to study the topic of conscience in the work of Martin Luther.

…or with Luther’s existentialist, pragmatic interpreters…

I highly recommend reading Pastor Paul Strawn’s paper, as you will learn about…:

  • Wengert’s “simply tragic” (I’d use a different word) failure to acknowledge existing scholarship that had been done on Martin Luther and the conscience by highly noted scholars (I add, this is a good way to kill your conscience about conscience).
  • How for Luther, “the burdening of the conscience with man-made laws or traditions, and the burdening of the conscience by the Law of God in view of sin, are two vastly different things.”
  • How this conscience burdened by God’s Law is an “evil conscience,” “plagued by guilt and despair in the face of the knowledge of God’s judgment upon a specific sin.”
  • How an evil conscience can become hardened: “man can and does fight against his conscience and eventually, may even be able to subdue it so that it goes into a type of dormancy.”
  • How Luther found these things not only in the Bible, but in the character of Orestes in Virgil’s Aeneid: the Erinyes, or Furies, of Alecto (“unceasing”), Megaera (“grudging”), and Tisiphone (“avenging murder,” hounding the guilty for their sin). If hell is not feared, future pain and suffering certainly is.

Luther: “I am speaking about true knowledge, in which the wrath of God against sin is perceived and a true taste of death is sensed….” (AE 26:148)

  • How Luther broke with the scholastic concept of the human conscience which said that it, in part, was a “native capacity to choose to do good,” and instead spoke about the matter in accordance with the Apostle Paul.
  • Luther: “[the conscience’s] purpose is not to do, but to pass judgment on what has been done and what should be done, and this judgment makes us stand accused or saved in God’s sight.”
  • How a natural conscience, which has a knowledge of God and His Law, can become a seared conscience, i.e. one that functions improperly, where it cannot “accurately judge the actions of the individual.”
  • In other words, it becomes “artificial, false, unreasonable, not natural, not true, causing a fear of God, that is worship, where God is not to be feared or worshiped.”
  • For a good conscience, “an unfortunate event (which would terrify the evil conscience, bringing to mind former sins, and bringing to light future judgment) is considered not to have happened by chance, ‘but in accord with the good will of God.’”
  • In sum “[h]ow Timothy Wengert applied the concept of ‘bound conscience’ to those who claim to be Christian but who would live in homosexual relationships is not to be found in the writings of Martin Luther” (to say the least!).

“And if my conscience tried to reproach me, saying, ‘You take a good deal of liberty with your interpretation, Sir Martin, but—but—’ etc., I would press until I became red in the face, and say, ‘Keep quiet, you traitor with your “but,” I don’t want the people to notice that I have such a bad conscience!’” More (see this also).

Now, perhaps, in referring to this nine year old event and showing how utterly bankrupt Wenger’s argument (and scholarship) is, I’ve already really upset some of my Christian brothers and sisters here. Even if it is true that men like Timothy Wengert did not do due diligence as a scholar here – so what? Why do you need to focus here, on this? Why put so much focus here on what people do in the privacy of their own bedrooms and not on people who are poor, who are weak, who are oppressed?

Oh — I didn’t mean that.

Fortunately, I am feeling particularly inclined to engage concerns like this today. In that spirit, let me really try my best to reconnect with you, even as I seek to adjust your frame…:

  • I agree we should be talking about this more and acting here more. In general, we should “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
  • It is true that to the idea that “I/you am/are not a victim” we need to respond: “We are all both victims and victimizers.” Some of us more so and some of us less so.
  • Liberal: “We should be more concerned about issues concerning women and race.” Conservative: “What about Saudi Arabia and China? Why don’t you care about them?” Well, shouldn’t we take the log out of our own eye first? Point to the Liberal.

No offense, but its true.

  • That said, if you don’t really don’t feel any real strong affection for your own countrymen who contribute to the problems, shouldn’t you just shut up? Point to the Conservative.
  • The left, with good points about greed and living wages. The right, with good points about the power and danger of sex and the rule of law. And never the two shall meet?
  • We should not fail to speak the truth about any issue, no matter where our culture or political party of choice stands on it.
  • Both the increasingly pagan right and the increasingly fake-Christian left (Fully secular? Please….) are loathe to recognize and deal with the fact that notions of progress come from the Bible, problematizing what is “natural” or “ideal” as the case may be.
  • Finally, even if you don’t like talking about sexual issues, people really are harmed by the misuse of God’s good gift of sex.

Yeah, you see how I used that final bullet point to get us back to sex, right? Still, it’s certainly justified: aren’t we all, after all, waking up to this now like never before? If the past few months, have taught us anything, it is that sex appears to be a big deal for most everybody involved…

Sex education literature, per Shalit, says that those who can separate sex from love are sophisticated… “those who still dream of love are immature…” – Per Pearcey, 123

And of course it is. For Christ is the husband and the Church is His bride – that’s meant to include you to. And marriage, as we know, is largely for sex even as sex is entirely for marriage. Sex shouldn’t be our religion – though given its significance it is understandable how this can occur – but is a critical component of marriage, which is one of the primary icons of the True Religion.

Is the practice of monogamous marriage simply communism applied to a “sexual marketplace”? Or is it an icon of our intended destiny?: Christ with His Bride, the Church

I’d go further and argue that the reason sex is such a big deal is because the dynamics often found there – strength, beauty, attraction, desire, seduction – are a microcosm of the dynamics that occur in the world on a larger scale.

I call it Christian heresy: “Through sex, mankind may attain the great spiritual illumination which will transform the world, which will light up the only path to an earthly paradise” – Margaret Sanger (quoted in Pearcey, 132)

This will be explored much more in part II of this series, but for now we can simply say this: part of this is because even as more secularized persons in particular complain about the disenchantment of the world, sex continues to enchant – giving us a sense of the kinds of things that capture our adulation and praise. The philosopher Matthew Crawford smacks us in our politically correct faces:

“Stepping outside the intellectually serious circle of my teachers and friends at Chicago into the broader academic world, it struck me as an industry hostile to thinking. I once attended a conference entitled “After the Beautiful.” The premise was a variation on “the death of God,” the supposed disenchantment of the world, and so forth. Speaking up for my own sense of enchantment, I pointed out, from the audience, the existence of beautiful human bodies. Youthful ones, in particular. This must have touched a nerve, as it was greeted with incredulous howls of outrage from some of the more senior harpies.” (Shop Class as Soulcraft: an Inquiry into the Value of Work, pp. 104-105).

And Christianity’s connection with all of this?[i] Nancy Pearcy, in her fantastic new book Love Thy Body, has many important tidbits to share: (note the impressive review/interview here from, of all places, Religion News Service)

  • “We should never defend Christianity by saying it is traditional. From the beginning, it has stood against the traditions of its day” (70).
  • “Beginning in the fifth century, Christian leaders finally began to wield enough political influence to pass laws against sexual slavery…The most reliable index of how deeply Christianity had permeated a society was whether it outlawed sexual slavery” (72).
  • “[In ancient Greece and Rome] brothels specializing in sex slaves, including children, were a legal and thriving businesses… Jesus shocked his contemporaries by treating children not as contemptible but as valuable…” (104-105).

  • “Scripture offers a stunningly high view of physical union as a union of whole persons across all dimensions” (138).
  • “The communion of male and female is meant to mirror the communion of divine persons within the Trinity” (139).
  • “Some of the early martyrs were slaves who proclaimed their freedom in Christ by refusing to [sexually] service their masters – and were executed for it” (143).
  • “Christianity, we might say, invented consensual sex when it developed a sex ethic that assumed that God empowers individuals with freedom” (143).
  • “When we make sexual decisions, we are not just deciding whether to follow a few rules. We are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” (156).

Marriage contra mundum: If sex becomes, for both men *and women*, simply akin to the rationalized exploitation we often see in unbridled capitalism, will marriage as a covenant – and not just another contract – begin to make sense to the West again?

“We are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” not only as regards sexual decisions but about politics as well. After all, most political action — that is the governance of human beings in the world — happens organically with marriage, i.e. at the level of the family the one flesh union creates. It should therefore be no mystery why marriage is the ultimate icon of Christ and His Bride, who is the Church — the mother of the children of God who guides them to their Shepherd-King.

“…To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections….” — Edmund Burke

This is why, as Pearcey provocatively puts it, “The early church may have been ‘on the wrong side of history.’ But that’s why it changed history”(188).

The previous title of Professor Alvin Schmidt’s book “How Christianity Changed the World” says it all: “Under the Influence” – namely, of Christ and the Christian conscience!…

Wrong worship!: The internet exists for the proclamation of the word of God. The world thinks its there for pornography! — Pastor Will Weedon (listen)

I hope I’ll see you for part II on Monday. I promise the title of the post will reach its consummation then…




[1] [Footnote from Strawn’s paper:] Originally: Here as well:

[i] From an old post: “In the bible, both adoption and marriage – which always includes a physically intimate, or sexual, component – are the two great metaphors of the Bible: this is how God deals with His people. Further, marriage is arguably the stronger of the two metaphors – so perhaps in this sense at least, Christianity is mainly about “sexual issues” (see this interesting post by Rod Dreher that I initially wanted to rebel against**). Though we might find the imagery put forth in passages like Ezekiel 16 disturbing in many ways – the sexualized symbolism here is jarring to say the least – this uncomfortable parable has much to teach us about the nature of God’s relationship with those who trust in Him (I pondered this more here, offering a counterpoint to assertions made in Justification is for Preaching, ed. Virgil Thompson).”

Images: Jordan Peterson, Joseph McCarthy, Mike Pence, Milo Y, Margaret Sanger, and Edmund Burke all from Wikipedia (CC BY 2.0 or Public Domain)



Posted by on March 16, 2018 in Uncategorized


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No Theistic God, No Notion of Equality


Thus saieth Liberal Christian Nationalism.

A couple days ago, I said that there are some kinds of inequality among human beings that we should embrace.

There is also a kind of equality that we should embrace, but without the God revealed in the Bible, this is impossible.

No God, No equality. Sorry atheists and Jordan Peterson-esque “Christian atheists”.* You can’t even have equality with every notion of God, or gods, as the case may be. Again, I give you Vishal Mangalwadi, administering some painful truth for our secularist friends:

“A postmodernist would be absolutely right in insisting that the Declaration of Independence was wrong. These ‘truths’ are not ‘self-evident’. Human equality is not self-evident anywhere in the world – not even in America. Equality was never self-evident to the Hindu sages. For them, inequality was self-evident. Their question was, why are human beings born unequal? Hinduism taught that the Creator made people different. The higher castes were made from his head, shoulders, and belly, and the lower castes were made from his feet. The law of karma accentuated these basic differences. The Buddha did not believe in the Creator, but he accepted the doctrine of karma as the metaphysical cause for the inequality of human beings….

Equality and human rights are not self-evident truths. In his original draft, Thomas Jefferson penned, ‘We hold these truths to be sacred and unalienable.” That was the truth. That is why the Declaration grounded the ‘unalienable’ rights in the Creator rather than in the state. The most honest declaration would have been, ‘We hold these truths to be divinely revealed.’ Revelation is the reason why America believed what some Deists ascribed to ‘common sense.’ To be precise, these truths appeared common sense to the American founders because their sense was shaped by the common impact of the Bible – even if a few of them doubted that the Bible was divinely revealed.” (391, 392)”

This is why, in this debate featuring Howard Dean and Melissa Harris-Perry against David Brooks and Robert George – which took place just a few days ago and is well worth experiencing — Robert George, pointing to that Declaration of Independence, is on the side of the angels:


Even if we don’t need to insist that God feels and acts the same towards each and every person (again, see yesterday’s post), we can indeed insist that we are all his offspring.

In one sense, it cannot be denied that we are equally His children (please note though: this does not mean that we His children cannot spurn Him).

And that of course, means something. It has implications for you and me. For us.

It gets even more extreme. As I noted in an old post from years ago:

I was listening to lectures from a Roman Catholic apologist and he talked about how we can’t say that human beings are children or sons of God by nature because that is pantheism. I think I have also heard Lutherans say that we can’t call human beings children of God, but from our tradition, it would be because this is reserved for believers, not fallen man in general.*

Interestingly, the Scriptures go so far as to say we are all not just sons of God, but gods ourselves. But it does not shy away from calling all men sons of God either, as Paul points out to the Athenians:

“…he is not far from any one of us.  ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’  As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill…”

(Acts 17:27-29)

That is why God sheds His blood for all persons – especially, the Bible says, those who believe. This is why, the Bible insists, that He desires all persons to repent – to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth. This is why it says He has bound all of us over to disobedience – that He might have mercy on each and every one of us.

And all of the above is why I choose to be a Liberal Christian Nationalist as well.

You’ve joked about it, but now deeply ponder it…

Come to Jesus.



* 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….). Here, arguments like atheist Michael Shermer’s are shown to be lacking in an immense way (Incidently, Shermer also admits that most of his fellow atheists, like Dawkins, think it is impossible to ground morality in anything objective, or outside of human beings).

** Can we all be offspring of God but not children of God? In Luke 3, Adam is called “the son of God” and in Psalm 82:6 Jesus says “You are gods, all of you, sons of the Most High.” Man’s “relation” to God was that he was specifically created to be something different than the rest of creation (also note that Luther said people were created in God’s image before the beginning of time [see Luther’s works 1:75]).


Posted by on December 14, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Yes David French, We Should Seek Certainty in an Uncertain World

National Review writer David French


In an article published in National Review, “The Enduring Appeal of Creepy Christianity,” David French uses the news surrounding Judge Roy Moore to make some critical points about American Christianity.

The sub-title of his article — which definitely caught my attention — provocatively reads “the desire for certainty in an uncertain world yields terrible results.”

French states that Christians have two temptations rooted in the fear of men. One is the path that liberal Christians take: to “forsake Christian doctrine to seek the approval of a hostile culture.” The other path — which French distinguishes from the first by calling it “pernicious” — appeals to the “theologically orthodox: “the temptation to run toward a form of hyper-legalism as a firewall to protect your family from the sins of the world.”

He writes:

“Mothers and fathers are desperate for a way to guarantee that their children will grow up to love the Lord. They want to build high walls against sin, so they seek to create distinct communities that are free of the world’s filth and moral compromise.”


“Theologically, [this temptation] fundamentally denies a very uncomfortable scriptural truth: that this side of heaven we can’t eliminate uncertainty or temptation. We “see through a glass darkly.” We simply don’t have all the answers — for raising children, for sustaining a successful marriage, for thriving in our careers, or for responding to sickness and adversity.

The scriptural response to this fundamental uncertainty is unsatisfying to some. Faith, hope, and love are vague concepts. The Bible doesn’t have a clear, specific prescription for every life challenge. But rather than seeking God prayerfully and with deep humility and reverence, we want answers, now. And thus we gravitate to those people who purport to offer more than the Bible.”

The thrust of French’s article is that there is much that is wrong with American evangelical Christianity, and that unless it “end[s] the cult of the Christian celebrity and the quest for certainty,” this world is “destined for ruin, and before it goes down, it will consume and damage the most vulnerable among us.”


I see much that is true in French’s article. His warnings about Christian celebrity are apt. As friend of mine says: “I am so done with celebrity pastors, so called “Christian” leaders, and pop-Evangelical Christian politicians.”

My friend goes on:

“I’ve made a couple of rules for myself.  1) Don’t trust any “Christian” leader who has a New York Times best seller.  2) Don’t attend conferences that attract more than 500 people in attendance or follow speakers that appear at that conference. And maybe 3) any “Christian” leader that appears regularly in the news.”

Perhaps a bit extreme, but he makes a great point.

In like fashion, even though I have not experienced them myself, I understand that there are communities of Christians who have a poor understanding of the law of God and who demand more from Christianity than it gives.

A more sophisticated “seeker-sensitive” attempt.


Another friend who read the article had some very challenging thoughts expanding on this:

“I think that the article is largely on target when it comes to the misguided quest of many Christians for certainty on worldly matters. God’s promises are absolutely sure, but they do not include children who will grow up to love the Lord, communities that are free of the world’s filth and moral compromise, successful marriages, thriving careers, proper responses to sickness and adversity, etc. For me, this is one of many manifestations of Western society’s embrace of technical rationality (techne) at the expense of practical judgment (phronesis); we want formulas and procedures with guaranteed outcomes for all aspects of life, but things just do not work that way within our fallen existence.

French quotes Ecclesiastes, which I consider to be the greatest philosophical treatise ever written, since it is the only divinely inspired one. My summary of its overall message is, “Your time is short, your understanding is shallow, and your control is shaky (at best). So fear God, because He rules all; keep His commandments, because He knows best; and enjoy His gifts, while you still can.”

There is much to take in here! Is it really true that the Lord does not promise us, e.g. successful marriages and children who will grow up to love the Lord? I hesitate to go so far in saying this, for it seems to me that passages like Proverbs 22:6 can definitely be taken as promises from the Lord. I know what my friend says above is meant to comfort, but such words make me very sad to. If God desires all persons to be saved, and I can’t be a conduit for His grace to efficaciously reach the flesh and blood who are under my own roof — especially when I beg Him for such mercy! — well, it is something I don’t even want to think about (….and I think, going to I Cor. 10:13 and John 16:12, that God knows what I as a father can bear!)

My kids with Jesus. More.


In any case, I think my friend’s words are wise words…(even as I supplement them!).

So David French is touching on some really good stuff.

At the same time, there is also something about the article that really made me uneasy. Maybe it’s this: when French says “[t]heologically, [this concern to protect one’s family] fundamentally denies a very uncomfortable scriptural truth,” I can’t not stop thinking about the following passage from 2 Corinthians (the end of chapter 6 and beginning of 7):

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”


“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”


“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

It seems to me that a lot of persons outside the church might read something like that, and think, “Yep, the enduring appeal of creepy Christianity.”

That, however, would be terrible way to read the Apostle Paul. After all, who among us has not identified with what the church has said about the world — namely, that it is a “vale of tears”? And what if there is indeed — as the Apostle insists — true “higher ground” to be found? (see Colossians 3:1-4)

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


The overall message? Christ is the light of the world, and therefore the church, His bride, is the light of the world.

Even if the light doesn’t look so much like a City on the Hill these days as a candle – maybe even a flickering candle — in the darkness.

I take great comfort in the way Paul begins his letter:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Yes! And note — this is the kind of certainty we are meant to have. He has loved us with an everlasting love in His Son Jesus Christ.

Exulting in this certainty, I certainly will come out and be separate!



Image: David French pic: CC BY-SA 3.0 ; by Gage Skidmore. 


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Posted by on November 22, 2017 in Uncategorized


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philosophers: some better, some worse, all wrong?

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

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

I observed that

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

A wise interlocutor, however, pushed back:

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

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

Socrates: How well did he know himself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basically forbidden history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

He is the Logos we need.

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




Images: Richard Dawkins by David Shankbone (CC BY 3.0) ; incarnation pic from ; all other non-book pics from Wikipedia.


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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted by on July 11, 2017 in Uncategorized


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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.



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

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Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Why I Can’t Not Love the Noble Pagan Jordan Peterson – and Be Concerned

“I’m trying to resurrect the dormant Logos” (2:04:30 in Rogan show)


When it comes to political matters, a person who identifies as a “social conservative” could not ask for a better ally than the Canadian psychology professor Jordan Peterson.

He arguably has all of the clarity and courage of someone like Milo Yiannopolous, but without the self-proclaimed “dangerous faggot’s” liabilities. If those who are opposed to you are absolutely determined to call you, for example, a racist, bigoted, homophobic, transphobic misogynist, you want them applying the label to Jordan Peterson.

Why? Because they will discredit themselves almost immediately. Anyone who listens to Peterson will discover that he is not only a fighter and a brilliant communicator, but a passionate lover of humanity and life itself. A person like Yiannopolous certainly claims to be the same, but his behavior and tactics, as he himself admits, are going to turn many people off.

But as is evident, Jordan Peterson has the ear of many. Just a few days ago, he was interviewed on the Joe Rogan Experience, and this 3-hour interview already has more than 800,000 views. I’ll bet that his star is only going to rise.

Now, why do I call Peterson a “Noble Pagan”? This is a phrase that Christians have used for centuries to identify those who, while not believing in Christ, are clearly more honest and sincere than their fellow men, and who tend in their words and actions to uphold the moral law of God. Peterson is certainly sympathetic to this, as we will see below.

Resisting the gender unicorn

So where did he come from? He rose to prominence this past fall when he defied the University of Toronto’s demand to use the panoply of preferred gender neutral pronouns that students might feel apply to them (he also made known his objection to Canada’s Bill C-16 which deals with this issue). Writing in November in the conservative Canadian publication the National Post, he said the following:

I will never use words I hate, like the trendy and artificially constructed words “zhe” and “zher.” These words are at the vanguard of a post-modern, radical leftist ideology that I detest, and which is, in my professional opinion, frighteningly similar to the Marxist doctrines that killed at least 100 million people in the 20th century.

I have been studying authoritarianism on the right and the left for 35 years. I wrote a book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, on the topic, which explores how ideologies hijack language and belief. As a result of my studies, I have come to believe that Marxism is a murderous ideology. I believe its practitioners in modern universities should be ashamed of themselves for continuing to promote such vicious, untenable and anti-human ideas, and for indoctrinating their students with these beliefs. I am therefore not going to mouth Marxist words. That would make me a puppet of the radical left, and that is not going to happen. Period.[13]

Wikipedia shares this helpful appraisal of Peterson’s 1999 book “Maps of Meaning”:

“Harvey Shepard, writing in the Religion column in the Montreal Gazette in 2003, states “To me, the book reflects its author’s profound moral sense and vast erudition in areas ranging from clinical psychology to scripture and a good deal of personal soul searching…” He goes on to note that “Peterson’s vision is both fully informed by current scientific and pragmatic methods, and in important ways deeply conservative and traditional.”

I take it many of you will agree with me when I say that Peterson is definitely the kind of person that social conservatives – and, importantly, today’s political conservatives of all stripes — are going to appreciate and want in their corner.

Peterson’s 1999 magnum opus.

That said…

At the same time, there is a lot more about Jordan Peterson that we orthodox Christians need to think very hard about and be aware of. For I suspect that perhaps what many have called the “religious right” – with Peterson’s helping hand – could be in for a revival of sorts. But not the kind of revival that you might be thinking about.

Peterson is currently gearing up to teach some classes on the Bible, particularly the first few books. As anyone who has listened to him speak knows, Peterson thinks very highly of the Bible and firmly believes that “Western civilization” is based on it and must continue to be so. As he stated on a recent appearance with Dave Rubin, we need the Bible not only because it reveals truths about humanity, but, crucially, to hold us together, because “weak people do not survive in this world”.


And, also interestingly, Peterson does not think that the Bible is really about real history. It’s true like Shakespeare is true. So, in his class, Peterson is not going to be teaching the Bible even if he will be teaching about it. Actually though, that is not even really correct — he is going to be teaching Platonic philosophy by using the Bible.

Why do I say this? Because Peterson is basically a disciple of Carl Jung, which means that Platonism is at the heart of his philosophy. As Wikipedia notes: “Jung’s idea of archetypes was based on Immanuel Kant‘s categories, Plato‘s Ideas, and Arthur Schopenhauer‘s prototypes.”*

Note this extended comment from Joe Rogan’s show (starting at 2:12:15):

What do you have to contend with in life?… You have to contend with yourself and the adversary that’s inside you, that seems to oppose your every movement. The fact that… you can’t just move smoothly through life without being in conflict with yourself. So there is the hero and the adversary on the individual level. And then on the social level there is the wise king and the tyrant. You’re always going to run into that – I don’t care if you’re a Bantu tribesman or a New York lawyer. All those things you are going to run into. And then in the natural world you are going to run into the destructive element of nature – that’s the Gorgan – if you let that thing get a glance at you you’re one… frozen puppy. [And also] there’s the benevolent element of nature that’s feminine – that’s mother nature – [there’s] both those extremes. So, and that’s the world. That’s the archetypal world. And it’s because it’s eternal – as far as human beings are concerned those things are always there. That’s our true environment. It’s not these things we see around us. They’re lasting no time. These other things last forever. And that’s what were adapted to. We’re adapted to the things that last forever (italics mine).

Peterson – no doubt due to his evolutionary philosophy (“…we were chimps for Christ’s sake” – about 1:12:00 on Rogan), not only denies the ongoing permanence of the things that we experience in the world, but he also has other ideas that get close to the truth while ultimately missing the mark. Concerned about the overweening powers of the totalitarian state (he has devoted much of his life’s study to both Nazism and Communism), Peterson is eager to say that “[t]he state isn’t salvation. The individual is salvation…. The truthful individual.” (see around the 2:01:00 mark in the Rogan show). Peterson says that in the West Jesus Christ is the ultimate expression of this, and we need this. Which, of course, sounds really good on one level.

Plato: How large is his influence in Christianity? See, e.g. here.

At the same time, is Jesus Christ who the church says he is in the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed? I have not heard him talk about this (if you have, let me know in the comments), but my educated guess is that he would simply say “Maybe yes or maybe no.”

You see, that is not what really matters. What actually matters is that, in some sense at least, evolutionary fitness is truth. Some, like Peterson, are simply more honest — as regards themselves, about the facts they know, and about what they think is ultimately true about the world — and what the implications of these things are.

They are also likely those who are more willing than others to think about the intellectual possibility and even practical necessity of transcendent** realities and values (God may or may not be just a — the most important! — useful fiction).

But — and this is key — all from within this very secure evolutionary framework, in which I suggest folks like Plato (and hence Kant, Kierkegaard, Barth, et. all) eventually get dissolved in Epicurean acid (more on this here).

Obviously, I think and argue with all my might that this is a big problem. Prominent and influential theologians like N.T. Wright however, do not think so in the least. They essentially want to take Peterson’s expression “we were chimps for Christ’s sake” and change its meaning — putting the emphasis on “for Christ’s sake” like a Reformation “sola” — to help save Christianity from its intellectual irrelevance. Wright is now actually arguing that if creation is through Christ, evolution is, in fact, what one would expect:


It’s all coming together, and not in a way that is good for the church. “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth?” indeed. Get ready for the antiLogos.



Images: Plato from Wikipedia ; Peterson from

*Some might be under the impression that Jung was nevertheless a materialist (philosophical naturalist). This does not appear to be the case at all. See here and here and here, for example.

**Why not say metaphysical? This word does not always necessarily imply “religion” or the theistic notion of “transcendence”. For example, the literary scholar Hans Gumbrecht talks about how he uses the word “metaphysics”. It “refers to an attitude, both an everyday attitude and an academic perspective, that gives a higher value to the meaning of phenomena than to their material presence; the word thus points to a worldview that always wants to go “beyond” (or “below”) that which is ‘physical’” (p. xiv, Production of Presence)



Posted by on May 12, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Thesis: Only Theists Can Rationally Believe in American Values

Am_I_not_a_manI know that title is audacious. I’m like a moth who can’t stay away from flames.

I am ready to be challenged on this, and quite honestly, I don’t feel terribly strongly about the statement. But I suspect that it is true.

Let’s see how I do in defending this. First of all, I take the following to be an American value:

“We should work hard to make sure that each person, without exception, is treated with the inherent human dignity and honor that they deserve.”

Maybe I lost some folks there, but probably not too many.  Speaking for myself, I, as a Christian, really do believe this is true. I would even say that this is what I know is true and required of me. Now, I know that many non-believers in the Enlightenment tradition might also say that they believe this is true – even if, technically speaking, it is not something they have knowledge about, but simply strong convictions (that’s because of Kant’s distinctions about these things, which many elites still look to today).

Why not knowledge? That is more for the realm of things like pure mathematics and perhaps some of the basic laws of nature.

And even here, we see the cracks in the convictions surrounding American values like “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”, which the Declaration of Independence says are, or perhaps should be (?), self-evident.

Enter Michael Gerson’s new editorial on Yuval Noah Harari’s book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” Gerson’s own column is titled “Myths, Meaning, and Homo Sapiens”, and Albert Mohler discussed it on his program this morning.

Gerson starts his column with his own account of the emergence of human beings, saying of Homo sapiens:

“About 10,000 years ago, they invaded the Western Hemisphere, killing most of the large animals there as well (including woolly mammoths). Sapiens arrived, with blood on their hands, at the top of the food chain.

Then, to cut a long story short, came coinage, empires, monotheism, cathedrals, global capitalism, Newton’s “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica,” the moon landing and Taylor Swift.”

He discusses and praises – “one of the best accounts by a Homo sapiens of the unlikely story of our violent, accomplished species” – Harai’s book, sharing such “insights” as the following:

“Ten thousand chimpanzees in St. Peter’s Square would be utter chaos. Ten thousand sapiens is an outdoor Mass. The ability to create unifying myths (used here as powerful, defining stories, not fictions) is our most powerful, distinguishing characteristic as a species.

Harari consigns all those myths to the realm of fiction — not only religions but the whole enterprise of humanistic, rights-based liberalism: “There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money, no human rights, no laws, and no justice outside the common imagination of human beings…”

Gerson then ends his column by saying, in part:

“…With a kind of courageous consistency, he argues that the life sciences reveal sapiens as nothing more than a bundle of neurons, blood and bile. And that, he concedes, destroys the whole basis for ethics, law and democracy.

Harari shrugs where he should shudder. It is not a minor thing to assert that the main evolutionary advantage of sapiens — their capacity to produce meaning — is a cruel and pointless joke. There is at least one other alternative: that the best of our stories are not frauds but hints, and that the whole unlikely story has led sapiens to a justified belief in their own dignity and purpose.

In this case, the myths produced by Homo sapiens would be not the lies we tell ourselves but the truths we dimly perceive.”

Not so "self-evident" stuff these days...

Not so “self-evident” stuff these days…

Dimly perceived indeed. As in approaching, it seems, not being perceived at all.  As I recently heard from another who seems to think like Gerson, “I want to believe there is an innate, universal morality. But if there is such a thing, we’ll never be able to know it perfectly.” The question though, is whether or not we can even begin to know it perfectly.  Mohler points out, I believe rightly, that Gerson undermines his entire argument because of the story that he begins his column with. Many believe that one must be a Bible-believing fundamentalist to make this argument, but I want to argue below that this does not necessarily need to be the case.

There is no doubt that humanists can have ethical systems outside of a religious framework, but the issue is that such systems will always be evolving – and not just at the surface but at the core. Those who call themselves theistic evolutionists are confident that they can embrace “methodological naturalism” without embracing “philosophical naturalism”. The problem is that when it comes to evolution, the whole system is based on the fact that “human beings” are because they are “designed” to pass on their genes.  As it has often been said, here “God” is in danger of being subsumed by the system as a belief that at one time was useful for us, evolutionarily speaking. That said, what is often missed here is the question of what becomes of human beings – and hence morality – in this system.

Theistic evolutionists will downplay the idea that evolution is all about passing on one’s genes. To be sure, that is what is happening in the natural world, they say, but this is not necessarily something “moral” that we should let control our morality and values. Besides, look at all the devout evangelicals who believe in evolution and the Bible: their morality does not seem to be tied to evolutionary ideas in the slightest. This may be true enough, but it is hardly the main issue. 

Here is the issue:

At what point do we have a "pile"?

At what point do we have a “pile”?

When it comes to evolution, scientists practicing methodological naturalism cannot help but focus on how key – and controlling – this factor of passing on one’s genes is. If we “observe” that the laws of nature demand the successful passing on of genetic material, this has implications for how we view – or can now conceivably be tempted to view – all living things, particularly human beings.

Certain temptations that might otherwise have been unimaginable now are imaginable.

And here is the crown of the examples: the idea of human being can now rationally be reduced to a “useful fiction”.  It is now “human being”.  Just like the Stoics puzzled over when a bunch of sand grains became a pile, doubt can now introduced about when we are dealing with another “human being”, which undermines any talk about morality being rooted in human solidarity. It gives persons an out for treating the other as less than human – or fully human – or not a sufficiently evolving human (i.e. less able or willing to adapt to changing circumstances such that they will remain socially viable so that their genes will be passed on) – when times get rough. After all, who decides what genome is human and what one isn’t?  Based on what criteria?

Do you see what has happened?  We are necessarily making value judgments here. And we are doing so according to a modern scientific and technological mindset (i.e. essences as classically understood must bow to useful fictions).

Am I correct?  If we are, for example, primarily deciding who is a human being on the basis of the genome – and not by ordinary sensory experience available to all human beings – is this not really making a complex value judgment on the basis of what really does come down to numerical considerations (whether things like brain size, IQ or the % of genes that overlap with what we take to be the ideal standard)? And can’t this lack of belief in a stable human essence that all of us can immediately recognize through regular concrete means necessarily undermine a strong sense of the value of human beings – opening up the door for us to judge others as being less fit than us?  I mean, it does not seem like much of a stretch for me to understand why so many elites 100-150 years ago drew racist conclusions from the theory.

July 4th inconceivable today....

July 4th inconceivable today….

So when someone says to me that “the problem of nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw is a moral consideration for all of us whether we choose to accept evolutionary theory or not”, I need to say: “Well, it is your problem – it isn’t mine.”  

Humanists are increasingly talking about the “irrationality” of religion, and how religious persons even make “uncivil conflict resolution strategies” necessary (see here). But where, one wonders, has “the force of the best reason” ever shown that “all humans are created equal and are entitled to equal rights”? Which non-theist philosopher – or philosophers not influenced by theists – has ever been noted to say something remotely like this?  The Indian Chrsitian philosopher Vishal Mangalwadi raises key issues here. And Thomas Kidd’s post this morning about “Benjamin Franklin, Skepticism, and The Enlightenment” at his blog the Anxious Bench also drives this home in a nice package.

But there are even more questions that need to be asked here: just how can Harari be absolutely convinced that his account is nothing other than a story? As Thomas Nagel has pointed out, “Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself….” Here, one might say while it is only theists that can consistently believe in human rights, it is also only theists – or perhaps convinced Platonists, Aristotelians, or Stoics – that can believe in evolution (read my posts here and here for a more detailed unwrapping of why this needs to be the case).

In other words, evolution needs philosophy. That said, the remaining problem, then as now, is that when it comes to securing consistent human dignity and consistent human values, none of those classical philosophies – now infused with an Epicurean / evolutionary foundation – can even begin to argue that we can have any stable knowledge about these things.

I suggest that it is time for Christians to realize again the treasure that they have in the Word of God and the history of the world that it tells. There are our reasons for knowing meaning in life – and how we should live. As Gene Veith noted this morning in one of his posts at his Cranach blog, “the Early Church affirmed the Bible as its sole authority; later, it developed the concept of “tradition,” while insisting that the tradition is consistent with and normed by the Bible.”

It is in Jesus Christ’s love for sinners created in the image of God that we – and all persons – can find true hope. America is/was just a bonus.




My last two posts dealt with related issues: one on science, morals, and philosophy and one on why I do not believe in evolutionary science.

All images from Wikipedia commons.

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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Uncategorized


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“Render Unto Caesar”….Our Knowledge?: What “New Knowledge” Requires that Religion Must Be Changed?

“Render unto Caesar…” our knowledge?!

“They love the truth when it enlightens them, they hate it when it accuses them.”

— St. Augustine

“There is in everyone a quest for truth and also a rebellion against its demands, and a doubting of the truth when it is discovered….there are many partial truths.  Jesus is the truth, the whole truth.”

— Richard Wurmbrand, founder of the Voice of the Martyrs


Just last week, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made news by talking about how religious views, when it comes to the matter of abortion, need to be changed. Further, laws opposed to people’s religious beliefs would “have to be backed up with resources and political will.” (for more, here is a matter of fact take and here is a more feisty and entertaining take). And as it takes a village to raise the children that actually are “wanted”, I’m guessing she’d be on board with this kind of advocacy as well.

In one of the online classes that I teach, I think a student of mine hinted at the reasons for Mrs. Clinton’s confidence:

“One of the biggest areas of struggle [between faith and politics is that] I see is that many governments are moving forward and developing and growing, examining their rules and regulations and adjusting them to reflect what they know today instead of relying on rules based on information from over 2,000 years ago. Religions and churches have not been as quick to develop and reexamine their stance on social issues that affect everyone. So this “living in two different times” means discord.” (italics mine, quoted with permission)

I’d say Mrs. Clinton and my student are simply reflecting the Zeitgeist (spirit of the age or spirit of the time) that prevails today among the vast majority of our elites. I work as a university librarian, and one of the more interesting things I have come across recently in my profession is the new Information Literacy Framework”, constructed with college and university libraries in mind.  It features six key points, one of which dovetails with our discussion here: “Authority is Constructed and Contextual”.

Is this a helpful way of introducing and discussing authority?

Explained more fully in terms of sources and resources of information, the Framework goes on to say:

“Information resources reflect their creators’ expertise and credibility, and are evaluated based on the information need and the context in which the information will be used. Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority. It is contextual in that the information need may help to determine the level of authority required.” (bold italics mine)

There is more explanation provided, and I bold and italicize the parts that are most important for the focus of our inquiry:

“Experts understand that authority is a type of influence recognized or exerted within a community. Experts view authority with an attitude of informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought. Experts understand the need to determine the validity of the information created by different authorities and to acknowledge biases that privilege some sources of authority over others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation, and cultural orientations. An understanding of this concept enables novice learners to critically examine all evidence—be it a short blog post or a peer-reviewed conference proceeding—and to ask relevant questions about origins, context, and suitability for the current information need. Thus, novice learners come to respect the expertise that authority represents while remaining skeptical of the systems that have elevated that authority and the information created by it. Experts know how to seek authoritative voices but also recognize that unlikely voices can be authoritative, depending on need. Novice learners may need to rely on basic indicators of authority, such as type of publication or author credentials, where experts recognize schools of thought or discipline-specific paradigms.”

Of course, looking at this more full explanation, there are some things here that Christians can agree with along with these “experts” the Framework speaks of (even as much of this explanation is vague and creates more questions than it answers). For example, of course there are always contextual elements to questions of authority (but more discussion is needed here).  I also really appreciate the point that “unlikely voices can be authoritative, depending on the need”. In addition, I think that the “Framers” of this Framework and all of us could agree that authority is, at least in part, “power to influence or persuade resulting from knowledge or experience”, as one definition states.

That said, what is missing here in the Framework, is just that: the important idea that the concept of knowledge – and along with this truth – are basic components to any understanding of authority. As John Somerville has noted, “Even Nietzsche and Foucalt, who sought to reduce the human to power and desire, couldn’t help pressing the truth of their views.” (The Decline of the Secular University [Oxford U. Press, 2006], 37)

And of course, when it comes to these matters of knowledge and truth, Christians have always insisted, on the basis of the Scriptures, not only that “[the] divine nature… [has] been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom. 1), but that “all authority is established by God” (see Romans 13:1-7 and I Peter 2:13-17). Further, this means that we should, as far as we are able to do so, obey and respect human authorities.  Whatever “constructed” might mean, it would clearly seem to undermine this important truth.

That one might continue to believe such a thing in this day and age might seem remarkable to many – I didn’t even qualify, saying “for the Christian, this is true…”! – but it does us well to exercise critical thinking about the advice of this new Information Literacy Framework as well (that even non-believers can track with).

Here are just a few questions to get started:

  • Just what might be involved in the process of “determin[ing] the validity of the information created by different authorities”?
  • And, more importantly, how can we even start to do that if – rightly acknowledging that we all have biases – our “worldviews” and “privilege” inevitably blind all of us (or is it only some of us?)?
  • After all, if this is the case, how, exactly, could the “novice learner[‘s]” seeking out evidence be helpful?
  • Primarily so they can ask “relevant questions” that might undermine unjust power structures? (that is all the Framework seems to allow for)

Again, what is the problem here? As I said above, I submit that it comes down to the question of what knowledge is – and what truth is. The Framework mentions neither of these in this section (“true” and “truth” are not in the whole Framework*), much less gives definitions. Of course, these are questions that have given heady philosophers headaches for thousands of years. That said, can we at least still agree that it does not all come down to power – i.e. that our words are not primarily “power tools” we use to manipulate our environment or others, but are something far more deeply significant?  Further can we agree that not all facts and concepts are hopelessly in dispute – due to their being “impregnated by culturally constricting conceptual schemata” born of rivalry and power?** And can we agree that it is not necessarily true that religious persons necessarily make “uncivil conflict resolution strategies” necessary? even if the idea seems to be growing in popularity?

Or is this now unreasonable?  I steadfastly maintain that there are ways for intelligent persons of good will to discover “common ground” in these areas, even if many valuable resources that might assist here are no longer known to many of us. Unfortunately, the Framework itself does not provide any sort of framework (that is intellectual argument for) for recognizing common ground that might potentially be realized due to assumptions that most all human beings might share. Rightly or wrongly, the careful reader is left with the impression that everything really must come down to using information to exercise power, and importantly – everything comes down to who holds the power.  In sum, “knowledge”, whatever it is, is strictly related to what it does for us – or, more accurately, what we do with it in our “knowledge practices”. As Mr. Francis 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).***

Ergo (therefore), “what works” is true and what is true is what “works”, and the rightful fury many of those who support the Framework undoubtedly felt – and rightly felt – over Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s desire to remove the following words from the UW-Madison mission statement:

  • “extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campus….
  • serve and stimulate society…
  • Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.” (see here)
Yeats: “The center cannot hold.”  But in Christ…

Yeats: “The center cannot hold.” But in Christ…

…ring hollow. Very hollow. Do you see what I am talking about?

I would submit that persons like Mrs. Clinton, my student, and those who composed the new Information Literacy Framework go back to the drawing board – and try to exercise more critical thinking in the matter.  I am not just trying to be condescending (I know it sounds like this) by saying this but think that there is serious philosophical reflection that needs to occur here.  With all of us being children of the modern scientific and technological mindset – with method and technique being everything – this is the water in which we swim… even as we might subconsciously and/or consciously be looking for ways to “re-enchantment”… trying to escape what the philosopher Charles Taylor calls “the immanent frame”!  For instance, I think that very few of us ultimately want to adopt the view of philosophical naturalism (at least insofar as this intellectual foundation convinces us, as I believe it inevitably does, of the need of some kind of “social Darwinism”, right-wing [might – physical, social, financial, or “rational” – makes right] or left-wing [fighting all forms of social privilege and hierarchy makes right]), which can, in truth, be reduced to “believing that we have believed things only so that the beliefs are spread” (as the point of beliefs is only to be useful to survival, the passing on of genes, etc. – for this is the core Truth).  For if we do this, “we have”, as Stephen R.L. Clark says, “already stopped believing” (see here). And with this traditional notions of truth leave the building. In any case, all of these folks have my assurance that I will, thankful for my undeserved educational blessings (“privilege”, indeed), continue to exercise “informed skepticism and an openness to new perspectives, additional voices, and changes in schools of thought” (particularly toward their viewpoints!).

…just like I once did with my Christian faith – which I am thankful to God that I ended up keeping (especially in these days, where Yeat’s “Center [that does not] hold” seems to be accelerating with each passing day), having found nothing to earn my distrust… As I like to say, thank God it is Jesus who is God!

…and before you write me off as unreasonable for saying this, note that, for example, David Hume essentially argued that practically every belief we have about the universe comes from the eyewitness testimony of others and yet excluded, a priori, taking seriously what the Creator purportedly considers proof, through His servants Luke and Paul (see Acts 17, particularly v. 30 and 31). How is that reasonable? How is that not a faith of its own?

In sum, I give thanks to God for this historical knowledge – and am not aware of any “new knowledge” that requires me to change my belief that I am, really and truly, Jesus’ little lamb – and that my Shepherd is Lord of Heaven and Earth. As Robert McHenry, a former editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica has put it “What I know is what I have yet to be shown is false”.   


[Note: when I initially posted this article, I had misinterpreted part of the Framework and had implied something about it that was not true. I have fixed that mistake, which does not affect my core argument. I also adjusted a sentence, added a sentence above, and added the 1st footnote below]

*I note that in the “Knowledge Practices” part of the “Frame” about authority, it does says persons “developing their own authoritative voices” should “recognize the responsibilities this entails, including seeking accuracy and reliability.” The question however, is “why”? Is it simply about consequences, i.e. one should do this not to discredit one’s self and those one associates with? Or is it because it is important to be true and to seek truth and the truth? Given the whole context of the Framework, I do not get the impression that the latter option is what is meant. It’s difficult to imagine that “knowledge is constructed” could have a meaning that is compatible with traditional notions of truth when gender, the identity of the unborn, marriage, and parenthood for example are now all commonly seen as “constructions” – that is, “social constructions” historically imposed by an intolerant Western majority.

** Even if it is true that “power operates through knowledge production”, “knowledge production is…historically situated and embedded in power relations” and it’s production “never occurs outside power relations” (Seale) – whatever might be meant here by knowledge – is there not more to what knowledge is… to what it entails?

*** “ 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?) the way, here is my own attempt to introduce persons into this difficult question about the nature of authority. It is a video I produced at Concordia St. Paul for the library here called “How do I decide which sources are good to cite?”



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Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The “upside” of being a gadget, or, we are all [acting like] atheists now

Lanier's wager, merely a "privatized humanism": “we are better off believing we are special and not just machines”

Lanier’s wager, merely a “privatized humanism”: “we are better off believing we are special and not just machines”

A theological analysis of the debates provides evidence that contemporary culture’s romance with scientific naturalism leads to a serious overestimation of the power of science and springs from deadly moral and spiritual roots. A sinful humanity is itching to hear that the ultimate foundation of all life has no meaning...the popular mind seems unable to resist idolizing naturalistic explanation because it provides an all too human, all too comfortable worldview within which I can function as my own god….We must… assume the burden of challenging the popular romance that lets distorted science substitute for personal encounters with each other and with God. — James V. Bachman


Building off of a previous post, I have been thinking more about the problems with the analogy of the cosmos – which man is unavoidably a part of – as a machine (incidently, I was gratified to find thinking that mapped almost entirely with mine expressed here in the article by James Bachman, “Self-righteousness through popular science: our culture’s romance with naturalism” [see here if that link does not work] quoted above*)

As technology and culture writer Jaron Lanier shows us in his book, despite the fall into sin men certainly can see that there are downsides to considering human beings to be mere cogs – or perhaps nowadays, mini-computers – in a more expansive cosmic machine.

That said, fallen man may also think he detects – more or less consciously (perhaps feel is a better word) – some benefits as well (yes, these “perceptions” are illusionary):

For example….

Practically atheism

Practically atheism


If we are a part of the cosmic machine, then all that we “decide” to do is in some sense, basically determined. Even if we talk about chance in contrast to more deterministic forces, the laws of nature that give us diversity only allow for a range of probable outcomes that are, finally, subject to considerations that can be said to be impersonal (note previous post, This is personal) and, in short, mechanical.  Of course, the idea of natural selection further reinforces this idea that we are “made” a certain way and destined, in this or that way, to do what we desire to do – or, more specifically, what our genes “want” us to do.  Therefore, guilt for any “wrongdoing” becomes more of a pragmatic problem, psychologically and socially, than anything else – for we and those we desire to be found with determine “right” and “wrong” insofar as we are able.**  In short, real personal responsibility and accountability becomes questionable and it is easy to see why this results in the banishment of the troublesome “Cosmic Mechanic”:  We are saved from this ridiculous god who supposedly wants to run our lives one way when he made us another way.


In order to avoid thinking about death and what it really means, we gadgets can either, as Neil Postman put it, “amuse ourselves to death” [with the gadgets we gadgets make, evidently in our own image], or, if we are really ambitious, we can try and beat it.  Here, as the cosmos is increasingly thought of in terms that, at bottom, can be reduced to the mechanical (no matter how much “organic” language is used as clothing!), the technological may be readily perceived not only as the “strong horse” (as they like to say in the Middle East), but the only horse on earth and in heaven.  All things – even death itself – can be reduced to mechanical problems with mechanical solutions, as someone like Ray Kurzweil basically assure us. And naturally gifted persons like himself find themselves rising to the top as if by destiny, attaining large followings and much worldly success….. They are confident – even religiously so – that they are not only on the right side of history, but that their ideas will change history and everything else (except perhaps for the only “essences” or “substances” that are now thought to exist, the fundamental particles and the laws of nature that accompany them).  Note that in today’s academic world this kind of thinking is far more mainstream than many would suspect.

And why not say: "On a mission from god?"

And why not say: “On a mission from god?”


Of course seeing the cosmos as mechanical banishes the fascinating but oppressive “demon-haunted” world that Carl Sagan spoke ofFurther, we can more readily find relief from those who oppose us – who insist on ways or forms of life that we find incompatible with our own preferred lifestyles.  When we see the world as a machine it becomes easier to reduce other human beings – particularly the ones that we are convinced are unreasonably opposed to us – to be something less than persons.  They become to us mere “wetware”, “meat puppets” who only have value when we and our friends determine they deserve it.  Piling fantasy on fantasy, we imagine we can be saved from those who oppose us (or maybe just annoy us) in a more passive fashion, by retreating into our “little online worlds” that we have some control over (increasingly giving into the temptation – enhanced and made more readily available via technology – to become more self-centered and to “commodify” the world). But of course this does not work.  For some look for salvation from others more aggressively, increasingly utilizing automatized technology in order to subdue those will not cooperate, either by soma-like methods (Brave New World) or perhaps a heavier hand (1984, Neuromancer). Or maybe, this is done more or less unknowingly, utilizing the impersonal “laws of economics” (Lanier is a helpful resource here as well – see the end of this post).


“Enemy” that is. Of course fallen man does not really know who his Enemy is, even if he thinks he does. He does not truly realize who are true and false enemies – after all, he “knows”, deep down, that God Himself – particularly as He is described in the Old and New Testaments – is his Enemy!  And here, if we simply see ourselves as a machine in the larger cosmic machine it is easier to both retreat from the knowledge of Him and nevertheless attempt justify one’s self before Him**.

Let me explain.  After my last post where I backed away somewhat from my pastor’s succinct appraisal of my view  – “Modern man has been led away from God by the idea that the universe is simply a machine” –  I realized that I had written and posted the following in the recent past:

Fallen man: "Should we assimilate the Creator as well?"

Fallen man: “Should we assimilate the Creator as well?”

“…with an increase in functional knowledge and earthly power, man’s free powers tend to combine with devotion towards certain unbending  principles and “cause-and-effect” laws (like a vending machine: ultimately manipulative “if-then” moralism), and the temptation is for this to take over completely, squelching out the last vestiges of an actual person who is God.  In other words, this “highest of men”, rich in the knowledge and wisdom of the world, seeks to harness not only what have come to be known as the “laws of nature”*** and “natural law”, but any “laws of the [increasingly depersonalized] supernatural” as well (whether more or less “systematically”).  This is accomplished with the help of its magicians/scientists and priests as “salvation” comes through the mighty accomplishments of the appropriate “technologies”, dealing with both the material and the “spiritual”.  Here, we find that the distinction between the natural and the supernatural, for whatever its beneficial uses, has actually been of some assistance in banishing the biblical God.  Therefore, writ large, as unchecked Old Adam more successfully harnesses the order inhering in the creation, in practice he makes the Creator his impersonal creation and himself salvation.****”

(end old quote from this post, part 3 in a 3 part series that is summed up here)

In other words, 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.

That we may be Creator, Lord, and Judge.

“Would you condemn me [to non-existence or to a machine-like existence] that you may be justified?” (Job 40:8). 

We would (read more on this here)

As Calvin said, the mind is an idol factory.*****  An illusion factory.

Back to Jaron Lanier. I saw someone highlight a recent quote from him the other day: “We don’t yet understand how brains work, so we can’t build one.”

According to David Bade: “…in our time, following Turing and Chomsky, the machine has been understood not as a product of human activity but as an embodiment of exactly the same design principles which the human being embodies.” But wherein does our epistemological confidence lie?

According to David Bade: “…in our time, following Turing and Chomsky, the machine has been understood not as a product of human activity but as an embodiment of exactly the same design principles which the human being embodies.” But wherein does our epistemological confidence lie?

Of course Lanier does not think that the brain can be reduced to purely material and mechanical causes, even if some persons in the field of artificial intelligence might take that quotation as a call to redouble their efforts.

And why do they do that?  Again, because for them the brain – and the human being in fact – is, in the end a machine of one sort or another.  They just need to figure everything out. Wherein does their confidence lie? Well, again, the ideas of a certain 19th c. Englishman – that the unbelieving world just seemed to be waiting for – helps bolster their confidence that they are on the right track.

As the A.I. scientist Eliezer Yudkowsky puts it:

“Natural selection is stupid. If natural selection can solve the AGI [Artificial General Intelligence] problem, it cannot be that hard in an absolute sense. Evolution coughed up AGI easily by randomly changing things around and keeping what worked. It followed an incremental path with no foresight.” (p. 199, Barrat, Our Final Invention)

But again, I submit that this confidence does not come from Darwin’s theory per se, but the modern scientific and technological mindset (MSTM – again, see previous post on this topic) that Darwin and many other scientifically-oriented persons have allowed to drive them.

It hit me this past weekend as I talked with a fellow Cub Scout dad – a very bright man and gifted mathematician – that everything I am saying here actually dovetails rather nicely with “moralistic therapeutic deism”.  As he explained the video game Spore, I noted how it sounded like a spectacular catechization into a purely Darwinian worldview – where man who emerges from the the laws of nature – the impersonal – basically creates God.  A very moral man and faithful church attending Roman Catholic, this man thought the game was largely right in its view of man. I gave him much to think about, among other things that his view sounded very much like moralistic therapeutic deism to me.

 Do you mean only a mathematician? Even if we think “yes”, how does God want to be known? Is something like this helpful (Wilken)? More later.

Do you mean only a mathematician? Even if we think “yes”, how does God want to be known? Is something like this helpful? More later.

To wrap things up, my view in sum:

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.  My pastor read me right.  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!

Please go ahead and pushback against me here – I hope you agree with me that this is an important discussion to have.




* Also this from a page in a Francis Schaeffer book I happened to turn to the other day: “In my earlier books I have referred to Whitehead and Oppenheimer, two scientists – neither one a Christian – who insisted that modern science could not have been born except in the Christian milieu. Bear with me as I repeat this, for I want in this book to carry it a step further, into the area of knowing.  As Whitehead so beautifully points out, these men all believed that the universe was created by a reasonable God and therefore the universe could be found out by reason.  This was their base.  Modern science is the original science, in which you had men who believed in the uniformity of natural causes in a limited system, a system which could be reordered by God and by man made in the image of God.  This is a cause and effect system in a limited time span.  But from the time of Newton (not with Newton himself, but with the Newtonians who followed him), we have the concept of the “machine” until we are left with only the machine, and you move into “modern modern science,” in which we have the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system, including sociology and psychology. Man is included in the machine.  This is the world in which we live in the area of science today.  No longer believing that they can be sure the universe is reasonable because created by a reasonable God, the question is raised which Leonardo da Vincit already understood and which the Greeks understood before that; “How does the scientist know; on what basis can he know that what he knows, he really knows?” (He is There and He is Not Silent, p. 43, 1972)

**An interesting example my pastor thought of:Slumdog Millionaire relieved the angst of the actors and actresses in Hollywood by convincing them that they need not feel guilty about their popularity and wealth, it was just a matter of chance; if it was not them, it would have been someone else.” Note that this kind of thinking could be encouraged either by [mechanistic] naturalism or the kind of neo-polytheism promoted by Herbert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly where the idea is that the gods and goddesses come into being to explain the unexplainable to man. (see my critique on their book All Things Shining here)

***Though it seems to me that in reality, the one they are trying to please and appease through their deeds – this “hard man” – is actually the one to whom they are enslaved, the devil.

****I went on: “As a result of this, the human person – not considered in light of the Divine person of Jesus Christ and His love for all – is inevitably trodden underfoot, as at least some persons inevitably become means to other ends.”

*****This is a great quote, and also interesting for me in that even it makes the mind sound mechanical in our modern age!

******Why “somewhat”? Well, deism actually makes more sense than atheism in one way, because deism not only banishes a god who is distinct from his creation (this is in line with biblical theism) – where god is said to remove himself from the clock – but also acknowledges that this god will still judge man in some way.  And of course, here man imagines that he can, by cooperating with god’s system, justify himself before him in one way or another.  This is obviously not right, but it is more right than subsuming god in the impersonal system and making him become a part of it.

Of course, I am saying that the practical implications of deism and atheism end up going more or less in the same direction.  Why do many atheists refuse to become deists, a la Anthony Flew? The reasons are many, but here is how some justify this: in the practice of the physical sciences, observation of course plays a key role. If the Designer of the machine cannot be directly observed, one might say that an application of “Occam’s Razor” should cast him out.  After all, the chain of causation must stop somewhere – why not with the universe itself that we can consistently observe to one degree or another?  Of course here the main problem is still this, which was noted in my first post on this topic: we observe an orderly universe, and how is it that one would have an orderly universe without purpose and purpose without an Intelligence, a Mind, of some sort?


Related post on the temptations posed by information technology here.

Images: Wikipedia, Kurzweil:


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Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Uncategorized


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This is personal

nt Inteigibe without   chritin frme?

Kant: Intelligible at all without a Christian or at least theistic frame?

I mean that both personally and philosophically.

And again, I need to explain what I mean.

First Thing’s First Thought’s blog linked to a really interesting book review by Michael Rosen in the Times Literary Supplement the other day.  Looking at a recent monograph on Immanuel Kant he offers a critique based on his own understanding of the German philosopher.  For Kant, he says:

Personhood is an aspect of human beings that transcends the empirical realm and makes us, as it were, citizens of two worlds (“so that a person as belonging to the sensible world is subject to his own personhood insofar as he belongs to the intelligible world”). It is from this inner, intrinsic value of personhood that all other values must descend.

….If personhood is a transcendental inner kernel that all of us carry within us, then it is, it seems, something that can’t be increased, diminished or destroyed. How is it supposed to guide our actions? The immediate answer is that personhood is something that we have an absolute duty to respect.

the price of a coherent account of Kant’s moral theory may be giving up one of the principal features that drew Rawls and his students to him in the first place….[namely the potential for Kant to be made to be or read as “thoroughly secular”]*”

That put me in mind of a post I wrote some years ago, which I am quoting directly below.  Interestingly, I think it fits with what I posted the other day – about the problems inherent in seeing the cosmos as a machine – like a hand fits in a glove.

From the post:

It seems to me, that for the atheist – the strident philosophical naturalist (i.e. “nature” reveals itself to be unguided and purposeless) – they must believe that the personal realities of life are fundamentally false.  After all, reality is, at bottom, fundamentally impersonal.  Therefore, the idea of the personal – that we are persons, entitled to all the dignity that hallowed word implies, who meaningfully relate to other persons – can be nothing other than a useful fiction.

But if this is the case, this would mean, that in some sense, all of our experiences are false – even if, shunning solipsism, we take comfort in the fact we are all deceived together.  After all, would this not mean that all of our ideas about life: what we theorize in this or that case – as well as what we “know” to be true – could be nothing other than “useful fictions”?  How could anything other than useful fictions arise from useful fictions?  All ideas – including “personhood” and everything else – could only be used pragmatically, which means they can only be used with cynicism.  In other words, the philosophical naturalist must give up on the ideas of truth that philosophers have traditionally explored.

And as goes the person, so goes philosophy.

Really, if the personal arises from the impersonal, as some might argue, what does this mean?  How can the personal be real, unless the impersonal is fundamentally changed into the personal?  But how would this happen?  How would an atheist define person – over and against “human being” (the definition which would have to include, at some level: “…a complex aggregation of fundamental particles, arranged through unguided and purposeless [i.e. “impersonal”] processes”) that is?  And what would be the point – other than creating a useful fiction that allows one to sound sensible around people who really do believe in “personhood” and “human dignity” that is – of even trying to define such a [useless?] word (but then again, are not even all useful words ultimately useless, as life is ultimately meaningless)?

If the atheist says: we create our own meaning together, for some this is clearly too great a burden to bear.  After all, it is a shallow meaning and purpose created by those who have derived from meaninglessness and purposelessness.  What is truth indeed?

Of course, this is getting very far away from the thoughts of children.  I suggest that for them, reality is fundamentally personal.

From the very beginning – from our first cries upon entering this temporal world – we discover that life is personal.  Interaction with others is constant: we smile and look at one another, we make each other laugh, and we observe, study, and imitate those we admire and look up to.  Through one another, we receive joy.  And as Paul argued in Acts 14, seamlessly making the connection between the personal and the physical (or material):  “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”  Gladness is no doubt created in part through the awe and wonder the created world around us produces – but it is even more so a product of the loving relationships that we have been blessed to know.

How odd it would be if we were to discover that the closer we would examine this thing we call life, that it would reveal itself to be fundamentally made up of that which is impersonal.

(end of old post)

Yesterday, in response to my previous post, my pastor said to me: “Can you distill your argument to a sentence or two? Something like: “Modern man has been led away from God by the idea that the universe is simply a machine.”**

I replied: “…you drive me to be explicit.  In this case, the truth is that I don’t know what I finally think or how I can be sure.  Even if we think machine is a good analogy – and not a hard and fast reality – perhaps this idea does lead people away from God.  Still, I am not sure that this is true, or, if it is true, why that is the case.  I think that it is a reasonable and likely hypothesis (that is, that even the analogy is a strong causal factor in leading persons away from God) and it is what I want to explore – looking to see if this case can be strengthened – or if there are sensible objections.

I invite you to explore potential objections with me.  Needless to say, it occurred to me this morning that this old post I had written and now quoted above might be of some assistance in getting to the heart of the matter… The cosmos shouts Personal Creator and must be inhabited by real persons with intrinsic dignity and worth.

Does it not seem to be the case that mechanistic conceptions of the creation – and Darwinian theories built upon such conceptions – both undermine the Crown of God’s creation, bought with the very own blood of the enfleshed Son of God Himself?


* From the review: “O’Neill explains that she was both attracted and repelled by utilitarianism. On the one hand, she shared with utilitarianism the view that moral theory should be something precise and determinate that guides actions – that one should look for (as Rawls put it in the title of his very first published article) “a decision procedure for ethics”. Yet utilitarianism’s own decision procedure is one of ruthless aggregation. Kant’s moral theory, by contrast, looks to be a way of defending the individual from instrumental subordination to collective ends. It is, to use the Rawlsian technical term, deontological. Finally, Rawls and his students took for granted that a Kantian ethical theory must be as thoroughly secular and compatible with natural science as its utilitarian rival seemed to be. Hence they focused on Kant’s formulations of the categorical imperative as a “moral law” and not his – avowedly metaphysical – ideas about how human beings’ moral agency ties them to a “noumenal” realm of freedom.”

**He also asked: “And a question: Doesn’t the assertion that God is an ‘artist’ and the creation His ‘art’ have its own inherent weaknesses?”  I said: “I would be interested in hearing about the weaknesses you allude to regarding the art analogy.”  From readers of this blog as well.

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Posted by on July 9, 2014 in Uncategorized


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