Thursday, December 30, 2010

Goodness and Righteousness, Part 2

Goodness is something we work at. Goodness, in being a goal, means that we can get closer to that goal if we work at it. Goodness is something we gain greater strides toward if we have discipline in goodness. At the same time, the goal of goodness is vague, nefarious. We can be good in one circumstance if we are very strict (for instance faithfully keeping every promise we make) but in other contexts strictness is decidedly not good (like consistently punishing our children for disobeying us, even when we tell them to do something wrong). Thus, goodness is more like an art. Art, if we are to be good at it, requires the discipline of certain skills, yet the application of these skills differ greatly in different contexts. And given the particular art we are to accomplish, that will determine the skills we must perfect. But even if our skills are honed to perfection, we may still miss the goal of our art.

What kind of skills is one required to hone in order to accomplish goodness? One must have empathy and with it, compassion. One must understand the nature of law, but also the nature of grace. One must constantly be following the law and then granting grace to others. One must be accomplishing what is good for all, not only within oneself, but for the sake of others.

Righteousness is also an art. Yes, one can see righteousness as simply a switch, either you have it or you don’t, but righteousness is fundamentally a relationship. It is the ability to have a relationship with God, who alone is righteous. And either you have that ability or you do not. But the obtaining of this relationship isn’t a switch you either turn on or off. A lot of people talk about getting a relationship with God as an either/or proposition. “Either you have prayed to receive Jesus or you have not.” “Either you are born again or you are not.” “Either you have been baptized or you have not.” Yet, biblically, righteousness isn’t obtained so easily. Jesus proclaimed righteousness to people by two principles: believing in the message of the kingdom and repenting. Believing in the kingdom the apostles defined simply—having Jesus as one’s Lord. Surrendering ourselves to Jesus’ reign isn’t an easy proposition, nor is it a simple act that can be accomplished in moments. To have Jesus as our Lord is a decision we make on a regular basis, even daily or hourly. We decide who is in charge of us, who is the one to make the final decision over who we are, what we have and how we relate to others.

Repentance isn’t exactly cut and dried, either. It is the realization that one isn’t good, at least not all the time. And it is the art of responding to the evil that creeps up from our soul, in order to accomplish the most good from the midst of the wrong we accomplished.
Also, if righteousness has to do with a relationship with God, like any relationship it takes time and effort and, like any relationship, there is a certain amount of creativity involved. Each relationship is different because each person is different. And if a single person has a relationship with many other people, each relationship will be completely unique, because the unit is always different from an individual. Thus, righteousness is an art.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Righteous Dude

Goodness v. Righteousness, Part 1

What is the good?

This question is really, “What is the good life? Or what does it mean to BE good?” It doesn’t mean just “what is good”, which can be answered with pecan pie or the movie Spirited Away. They are “good”, which means aesthetically good, but when we ask “what is the good” we are wondering what it means to be a good human. This is the foundational question of ethics.
Kreeft says that Aristotle states in his first sentence that goodness is a goal. It isn’t just something that happens to us, nor is it something that comes naturally. It is something that we aim toward. No one hits the goal perfectly, but certainly some get closer to that goal than others.

But what kind of goal is it? Is goodness simply a black and white, either you have it or you don’t? Some think of “righteousness” this way. Either you are “righteous” or you are not; either you have a relationship with God or you don’t; either you are a saint or you are unregenerated. But the idea of goodness isn’t necessarily the same as being righteous. Certainly the biblical idea of righteousness has to do with one’s standing before God. But one’s closeness to the mark of goodness may not have anything to do with it. Certainly righteousness isn’t something we work at.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


About the lack of posts the last couple weeks. I've been crazy busy and not been feeling too well. I hope to get back on track sometime this week.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why Jesus Came: In His Own Words

John 6:38-39
"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

Matthew 5:17
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill”

Mark 1:38-39
He said to them, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for." And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons

Mark 2:15-17
And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?" And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Luke 19:1-10
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house." And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner." Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

Luke 9:51-56
When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him. But they did not receive Him, because He was traveling toward Jerusalem. When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them."

John 12:46-47
"I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”

Luke 12:49-53
"I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Mark 10:42-45
Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

John 12:23-27
And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him. Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour '? But for this purpose I came to this hour.”

John 17:1
Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You.”

John 18:37
Therefore Pilate said to Him, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mirror Neurons, Morality and God

Now that I’ve laid all this out, have I just written God out of morality? No. I believe that God created human beings with these mirror neurons so that “do unto others” would make sense to us all. Humans didn’t obtain strong mirror neurons by accident. Rather they were placed in us so that we could experience empathy and so love each other and do the work of making the world a safe and just place for us all. And then God gave us Jesus to teach us—and more importantly, to show us—what a life without other-making looks like.

I don’t think that morality can be used to prove God, but I think that mirror neurons can assist us in creating a Jesus-like morality that could be a basic morality for all people, even those who do not believe in Jesus. It will not be the same as Jesus’ morality. For a good portion of Jesus’ morality is based on the idea of a God of mercy judging those who act on principles of hatred. However, a communication of the morality of mirror neurons can help us achieve an agreement on morality that can never be achieved in the multi-faceted, confusing world of religion.

The connection between morality and God is less intuitive, I think. God placed mirror neurons within us in order to experience and create community. And we have shared morality with those we are in community with—whether we like it or not. If we cannot share values with someone in community, then the community is broken. So what does this have to do with God? God is a part of our community.

God isn’t a peer, mind you. God is the creator and sustainer of all things. We should be grateful to Him and hear Him as He tells us how to live. Nevertheless, He created us in such a way that we might be in community with Him. Mirror neurons were given to us so that we might associate with God.

This makes me think that atheism and agnosticism, although intellectually quite different, are emotionally similar. Secularists cannot connect with God through their mirror neurons. Religionists might connect with God or not. Some actually sense God and recognize Him and have God as a part of their community. For some, the religious community is enough.

But the purpose of the religious community is not to create a moral atmosphere, although it helps. The point of religious community is to help one see God as a part of our broad community. If God is a part of our community, then what He says is moral or immoral is very significant. Not just as a member of the community, but as creator of it. Thus, if God is the creator of mirror neurons, then mirror neurons is a very important guide to help us understand God’s desire for our morality.

And thus, the main questions of morality are: How do we live in community with each other? How do we live in community with God? And how do we live in community with the rest of nature? Each question has a different answer. But the significant thing is that we answer these questions. The question of morality is not a matter of rule or laws. Nor is it a matter of creating the most happiness. It is simply a matter of relationship.

Thursday, December 2, 2010



This is a pic of a redwood, put through some effects.
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Mirror Neurons and Morality, Part 3

So if everyone has empathy or compassion, why do so many people suffer or starve at human hands? Why is there genocide? There is a process that explains this.

Our mirror neurons give us the experience of others, even if we don’t want it. For instance, most men are biologically repulsed by the idea of partaking in a homosexual act. This makes sense, just for the genetic continuation of the species. But to see a man, or to even consider a man involved in a homosexual act is, in the mind, to participate in it. This is the source of what one might call “homophobia”—the repulsion of actually participating in a homosexual act oneself. The homosexual might say, “It’s my body, and they don’t have a right to tell me what to do with it.” This is true, on the first rule of ethics. However, the person who is repulsed by homosexuality inadvertently experiences that which others in his community experiences. However, he is sickened by this. This can be applied to any act. Watching an obnoxious drunk person. Observing a severely mentally ill person. Seeing a criminal hurt another. Watching a murder. In observing such actions, we can participate in these acts.

How do we not experience these repulsive acts, if our mirror neurons are so strong? Typically, we play a mental trick on ourselves. Suppose we see a gruesome murder in a movie. We tell ourselves, “It’s not real, it’s just fake. Look at the fake blood, the camera trick—see, it’s not real.” Thus, we separate what we see from something that we are personally experiencing. And this seems to work. We can easily kill ants and other insects because they are not a part of our collective experience. They are something different, something Other, and so our mirror neurons don’t count for them. On the other hand, if we had to personally shoot our dog—even for her own good—we find the act to be reprehensible and intolerable. Because we would be killing one of our own community, a part of ourselves. To kill our dog is akin to killing ourselves. To kill a spider is to kill the other—that which is outside our experience.

So what about other humans? If another human does something repugnant—like, suppose, a child rapist—then that human being is no longer a part of the communal experience. In fact, the communal experience needs to be protected from such a one—for the children are a part of our communal experience. And other adults must not participate in the raping of the weak. Thus, the child rapist, in our minds, becomes one of the other—an outsider, no longer human, no longer a part of ourselves. Because the other is outside of our experience, our mirror neurons are shut off from what the other does or happens to them. Thus the child rapist can be raped, maimed, tortured or killed with no effect on oneself. They are completely of the other and because of the damage that person had done to the communal experience—to the children who is a part of the self—then they deserve whatever punishment they get.

Now, suppose there is a person who is labeled a “child rapist”, but it is not true. There are witnesses called and declare the man to be a child rapist, but they were mistaken, or simply lying. The person then is called a child rapist, and the better the story is told, the more we believe it. Why? Because our mirror neurons are experiencing the story, even if the story is not true. And we experience this story just as much as if the story were true. Our mirror neurons are not truth receptors, they are just there to help experience other’s experiences, not to tell us what is true. And the more graphic the presentation, the more our mirror neurons experience it. Thus, we would make this man a part of the other just as much as if he had not done the raping as if he had. He becomes a part of the non-human community simply because of a story.

And this is what happened to Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler was a powerful storyteller. And his story included the dehumanization of the Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. His story was told so well that most who listened to him were able to experience the acts that these groups did in their minds, even though such deeds never occurred. Because of this, the Jews became a part of the other, and worthy of whatever treatment they were given—the communal experience of Nazis didn’t experience their pain. They were the same as a spider that one kills because it is inconveniently placed.

And the Jews experienced the same other-making with the Palestinians. The Sixteenth Century Europeans other-made the Native Americans. The police other-make the criminal or the one who looks like a criminal. The Christians and Muslims other-make each other. And when a person or group is other-made, then anything can happen to them without compassion. There is no empathy, no feeling because our mirror neurons are shut off.

It is interesting that both Christianity and Buddhism agree on this one moral truth—that we must never other-make. Yes, we have the ability to do this, to dehumanize others, but we must not. We must always see a human as a human, no matter what evil thing they have done, or we suppose they have done. We must always experience the evil we do to others as if it were done to ourselves. We must see the evil done, but never use that as an excuse to make another person as less than human. Yes, this is painful and stressful. This may give us experiences we do not want. But the other alternative is clear to see: torture, murder, genocide. By othermaking, we become that which we despise.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mirror Neurons and Morality, Part 2

Because of mirror neurons human community is more successful as well. A human community only needs to be able to communicate to each other for there to be community. We don’t have to be physically present. Certainly there is more influence on a community if there is a physical presence, but such presence is not necessary for experiences to be passed on. Not only do we have books, but audio, video, and the most effective experiencing sharing communication—the combination of audio and video. Through television and film, we can take the experience of others and share it, participate in it. Because of the first half hour of Saving Private Ryan, we can all have some knowledge of war, even if we never had been on a battlefield ourselves. Because of United 93, millions of us have had the experience of a terrorist taking our plane and the experience of us knowing that we were about to die. Perhaps these are experiences we did not want to have, but they are “real” in our minds, we can remember them, and we can call up the emotions we felt when we saw our fellow passengers call their loved ones to say goodbye. We were never there, but it has become a part of the stored consciousness of the human community, even as the travels of Odysseus have.

And this shared experience is where we get our morality from as well. The basic foundation of morality is threefold: a. We make our own decisions. We decide for ourselves what we do, we are individuals and we have free will. b. We are responsible for our actions. If we do something, we are responsible for it. If we do something wrong, we are responsible to fix it, as best we can. But the third foundation has to do with community—“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

This final principle, which is the foundation for the philosophy of ethics is arguably the most important. It is a communal responsibility. A recognition that other humans exist on the same level as oneself, and experiences the same kinds of emotions and strengths and weaknesses as oneself does. It assumes a connection between oneself and every single other person that exists on the planet, even a complete stranger. It says that even if you have met a person for the first time, there is still a shared communal experience that you both can agree on.

This is an amazing statement in a world before knowledge of mirror neurons. It is a mystical unity, a shared origin, but one way or the other, no one denies the common experience we all have. If we have a common experience, this means that we know what another needs just as much as we know ourselves. Once again, we may miss on the specifics. As hungry as I might be, if a Korean man tried to feed me kim shi, I would have to refuse. But if I was starving, he would be right to try to give me food—we have that common experience. And if I was starving, that knowledge of my need gives the Korean man a responsibility to try to feed me something. He may do it misguidedly, but do it he must.

Why? Because of compassion. Com-passion means to “feel with”. It is a basic description of what mirror neurons do. Thus, compassion isn’t just something that “nice” people do. It is something we all do. It is built into us. It is part of our success as human beings—as individuals. Without this empathy, we could succeed at nothing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mirror Neurons and Morality

Knowledge is power. We all know it; it is in our core. If we know more, we can manipulate more. If we want to ride a horse, there are some basic facts we need to know: How to sit on a horse, how to direct a horse, how to remain on the horse when the horse makes a sudden movement. And this knowledge is not simply head knowledge. We could read five books on horse riding, but we will not really “know” how to ride a horse until we actually do it.

However, there is something we can do that accomplishes more than reading manuals about horse riding, still short of getting on the horse, and that is watching someone ride a horse. We can watch a person who is a little more skilled than we are ride a horse and learn most of what we need to actually get on the horse and try it ourselves. This doesn’t work as well if we watch a jockey racing—someone who is too advanced over us feeds us too much information and the wrong kind of information for us to try it ourselves. Besides, if we have never ridden a horse, we would rather know how to ride a horse walking than a horse at full speed.

The question is, how can we do this? There is so much information about riding a horse that it cannot be successfully communicated with words. But all we have to do is see it and suddenly we have enough information to try it ourselves. All of this is because of mirror neurons.

The mirror neuron is a recent discovery of neurology. They are parts of the brain in which we internally imitate what we see. In mirror neurons we “experience” things just by seeing them. We can watch someone playing a simple tune on a piano and even if we’ve never played before, we can sit down and try it out ourselves, with reasonable success. A savant can focus so well on this that they can accomplish great feats of skill without ever doing it before. But the basic ability to repeat what we have experienced second hand is something we all have.

And not just us. Most mammals have some level of mirror neurons. We can see this by who catches a yawn. If we see a yawn, our mind experiences it as our yawn and so replicates the act. Not only can we “catch” a yawn from a dog or a cat, but our dog or cat can “catch” a yawn from us. This means that they have some kind of mirror neuron.

However, the most successful mirror neurons are those developed by humans. There was an experiment done by an animal researcher where he allowed a chimp to hang out 24 hours a day with his son. His idea is that his son would teach the chimp how to be a human. This worked well at first, where they were creating their own games and the chimp did pick up on some pretty human traits. In the end, however, the researcher’s son became much more like the chimp than the chimp became like a human. This is because human mirror neurons are stronger, more able to pick up on others’ experiences than any other mammal. This also explains why humans have been a more successful species than other animals. Humans can draw on the experience of other humans, other animals and even insects and inanimate objects, while animals are more limited in their ability to fully know others’ activity.

Why do we have mirror neurons, let alone successful ones? Because mirror neurons have proven to be more effective in creating a successful species than any other physical apparatus. Chimps have opposable thumbs. Gorillas have the ability to learn language. And most species are more successful at obtaining food that is nutritious for them than modern humans. But humans are able to obtain and replicate more knowledge than any other species, and thus are more successful. And, because of mirror neurons, humans are able to create an ever growing store of knowledge. As a species, it only takes one person to learn something from an apple or a preying mantis or a horse, and we can all learn it. This knowledge passes on and the most successful of knowledge ends up in the permanent store of the collective human psyche.

Someone at this point will say that I am making an evolutionary argument. Not at all. God desired for humans to be more successful than other species, despite human weakness. And God created humans to be in His image. Mirror neurons are simply the apparatus by which God make human beings successful

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Is Atheism Too Simple?

“Atheism is too simple,” Lewis says. How does he come to this conclusion? Because we all have a sense of right and wrong, and we all make moral arguments. If there was no Christian God—or someone like Him—then where does a sense of morality come from?

But really, Lewis isn’t saying that all atheism is too simple, but only his sort. Lewis, when he was an atheist, felt that the world was too unjust for there to be a just God, and that the arguments of the Christians were just too complicated. But that just argues the point that there is an idea of justice, and that it had to come from somewhere.

What Lewis is actually saying, without explicitly stating it, is that pantheism makes more sense than his sort of atheism. That God is in everything, and thus everything—even cancer or child pornographers—is just as much a part of God as a saint. In other words, justice and morality is just an illusion. If the atheist continues to hold to morality, it makes no sense. But the nihilist, who admits that there really is not cause for any morality, can keep a simple atheism. The problem, Lewis seems to indicate, is not atheism, but morality.

So the question is, can anyone actually set aside morality? Can we live a life without a sense of morality? Or, even more so, is it possible to have a rational, God-absent, basis for morality? Although I believe that God is the source of human morality, yet still I think there is an argument to be mace for godless morality, and one that looks similar to Christianity, especially the popular form.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

All Truth Is God's Truth

It is very important for all Christians to note Lewis’ point at the beginning of “What Christians Believe”: that Christians do not necessarily think that other conceptions of God or truth are all wrong just because they consider themselves right. This is something Christians seem to misunderstand, especially when they see another particular worldview as “the enemy”.

For instance, many Christians want to claim that the Muslim Allah is a different God than the one they worship, even after they have studied Allah in Islamic texts. Does this mean that they have to deny that their God is merciful, beneficent, all-powerful and creator? Because we don’t have the right to tell other religions or worldviews what they believe. We can only explore what they believe. We can, however, determine what we personally believe. So if we see that another religion believes that God is omniscient, wise and all powerful, we can’t change their belief. All we can do is change our own. So if those outside of Christianity believe what we believe, must we change our own belief to keep their status as enemies?

The fact of the matter is, worldviews overlap a lot. We need to agree when we can agree and disagree when we must. And just because we disagree doesn’t make us enemies. However, if we see each other as enemies due to a different belief, then the enmity is created, not by the different belief, but because of the attitude of enmity.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Christian Ethics are Human Ethics

Previously I spent some time arguing against Lewis’ conclusion that a moral law in humanity necessarily means that there is some kind of Director of moral reasoning. My friend heard me present this argument and he asked me, “So where do you think the Moral Law came from?” I replied, “It was created by God within us. I am arguing against the necessity of that conclusion being true because of the existence of Moral Law. Human reasoning can come up with more conclusions than just one.”

Now, in Lewis’ fifth chapter of Mere Christianity, he tells us that his point was not to have us believe that there is a God. Even if he could draw that conclusion, he says, he wouldn’t have come close to the God of Christianity. The God of Christianity is the God of Jesus Christ, and even if you could possibly connect the creation of the universe and the placing of the Moral Law into human hearts, that is still distant from the God of Jesus, who caused the Old Testament to be written, who interacts with humans in the real-time universe, who heals and has mercy.

Rather, Lewis says that his point of this whole section is to prove to us that Christianity’s formulation of morality is correct. First of all, that there IS a standard by which we all can agree. It is not as specific as any given lawbook, nor is this morality agreed upon in all points, but there is a standard.

Secondly, we all must agree that we have all failed the very moral standard we agree upon. We have all screwed up and hurt people when we should have helped. In Christianity this is called “sin” but it could just as much been called a moral failing.

Next, the Moral Law shows us that these failings must be “repented” of. This doesn’t necessarily mean doing some penance, or some other dramatic ritual, but it does mean that we need to change our failings into successes. We cannot continue to live with our moral failings, but we need to act in accord with the moral law.

Finally, because we (almost) all have guilt due to our failings, we need to have a sense of forgiveness, of resolution of our guilty feelings.

Thus, Lewis says, the Moral Law shows that every single human deals with the outline of Christian truth. There is a moral standard, we have sinned, we need to be forgiven and we must repent. Even if you don’t agree with the Christian God, Lewis says, we must agree that this outline is a significant part of human life. So Christianity, even if it could be proven wrong, at least it deals with real human experience in an effective way.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Is the One Who Gets All He Wants Happy?

Talking about Plato's Republic and the character Thrasymachus' statement that "might makes right".

“We need to distinguish between two of Thrasymachus’ claims. The first is his connection of justice with power. That is not popular today because it seems too similar to crass totalitarianism. But his second conclusion is very popular. That morality is man-made. It happens by human social contract or by social consensus. It is not some universal, timeless objective truth that we discover as we discover the laws of physics or the truths of mathematics. Justice is an art, like building bridges. Or a game, like baseball. We make the rules, therefore we can change them. And we can cheat and sometimes cheating wins. That’s Thrasymachus.” -Peter Kreeft

Thrasymachus also says that the reason we have law is the attempt by the weak to control the strong. The weak band together to create government—a false, unnatural equality-- so the strong cannot have their will. “If this is the case, then there is no reason to be moral except fear of punishment. If you could get what you want by force—whether mental force or physical force—and if you could get away with it, why not? This is a question I ask my students in Ethics class. They think that we shouldn’t do anything morally wrong, so I ask them, ‘Why not?’ ‘Well, because you’ll be punished.’ Well, suppose you won’t, suppose you can get away with it? ‘Well, because people will hate you.’ Well, suppose they won’t. Suppose you can con them. Suppose your power includes propaganda, power over their minds. Or suppose you don’t care what other people think. Why not do evil if you can get away with it and get what you want?”

Yet if a person obtained all power, that person wouldn’t be happy anyway. Why? Because the people around him wouldn’t really be happy. We are not just isolated individuals, but we are connected to others. In the end, we cannot be happy with our own happiness, but we must have others around us be happy as well. Therefore, those who are truly connected to others will sacrifice some of their own happiness in order to create happiness in those around them. In the end, to make others happy increases our own happiness.

So why are we not happy in society, if everyone is connected to others, and some, let’s say, have the power to make others happy? Shouldn’t everyone be happy in that case? Well, no, because of separations and segregations in society. Judges don’t rub elbows with the homeless and Senators aren’t peers with people on welfare. If every president, justice, congressperson, bishop, governor and mayor were required, by law, to spend six month either living on the street or living in a mental health institution or in a nursing home or with a family on welfare, the society would change remarkably. Because then the poor would be real to those in power, they would have relationships with the poor and want to do something about it. Then, at least, the basic needs of those in society would be met.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Theology and Reputation

“It is difficult for me, living in such a secular and prosperous age, to fully comprehend the tremendous impact the juridical understanding of the atonement has had on the West. The view of God as a fierce Judge, angry, vindictive, pouring out His divine wrath on His Son Jesus because of “love” for us sinners appears ludicrous to many non-Christians. It explains in part why so many are repulsed by institutional churches and only admit to admiring Jesus on a strictly private and non-institutional level.” -Rev. A. James Bernstein

It not only seems ludicrous, it is. Love is as love does.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cause: Unknown, Therefore God?

Let’s look at the moral argument, as Lewis presents it. It is basically the same argument as Aquinas’ proofs of God. We see reality. Reality cannot be formed on its own, but needs a creator. Therefore, there must be a creator. Lewis is just narrowing this argument to moral law. There is a universal moral law. It is inexplicable that such a moral law could exist amidst complex cultures. Therefore there must be a Source of Moral Law outside of humanity.

However, this is not the only possible explanation. For instance, one of the basic premises of this Moral Law is that the Other is equal to the Self, or, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” But neuroscience has recently discovered “mirror neurons”. These are cells in the brain that observe and then create a facsimile of what is observed in the brain. In other words, we might observe someone jumping off a cliff—in our minds we experience ourselves jumping off that same cliff, without all the messy bits that happen at the bottom of the cliff. This is why, when watching a video of someone jumping off a cliff, we find our heart beating harder, our breath catching, perhaps we might get a little dizzy. This is because our observation of the other is being experienced ourselves. The Other is the equal of our Self because we have actually experienced it. This is a part of our brain, and we have stronger mirror neurons than animals have. Thus, this could very well be a neurological basis for a basic principle of morality.

And all of the arguments about the existence of God typically go this way. Someone takes that which has never been explained and then claimed that it proves a higher reality. Until someone comes along with an explanation for the complexity without the need for a higher reality. Then those who believed in that argument for God looks foolish, because human interpretation has a greater imagination than was ever thought. Then the argument descends into heated philosophical and theological arguments that cannot be won by anyone.

Personally, I think that we should leave behind the “reality proves Gods existence” argument completely. Not because it isn’t true, but because it is terrible proof, and just makes everyone look foolish when an alternative reason is discovered. Ultimately, the argument is a bet against the human imagination. “I bet,” the argument says, “That you can’t find a reason for this mountain, therefore the reason must be God.” And when the human imagination finds a reason apart from God, then the arguer looks like an idiot. “I bet you can’t find a reason for consciousness, therefore it must be God,” says Francis Schaeffer. “I bet you can’t find a reason for all the stars in the sky…” “I bet you can’t find a reason for agreement in human morality…” etc. These bets are always lost. Human imagination is as vast as the universe and the fictions it can create are unlimited. It is best never to bet against it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Moral Law-- Basic Ethical Principles for Everyone

This is just an outline. A longer discussion could follow. Do you think these are basic principles everyone considers right, even if they themselves don't follow it? Or are they too western, too influenced by Christianity? (Not that I mind that I'm coming up with Christian ethical principles)

1. Give Freedom
Every sentient adult is free to make their own choices, as long as they do not harm the community at large.

2. Be Responsible
“If you make a mess, clean it up”—We must correct any wrongs that we have done.
If you wrong another person, make it right in as much as you are able.

3. Community life
If you belong to a community—no matter how small or how large—abide by the rules of the community or find another community to live in.

4. Faithfulness
We must keep our promises or apologize for not doing so.
We must be loyal in a way that is appropriate in a relationship.

5. Do No Harm
Cause no damage to another unless it is for their benefit and/or with their stated permission.

6. Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do To You
Treat others as you would have them treat you, recognizing that everyone has different ways of receiving respect, help, etc.

7. Love Your Neighbor
Meet the needs of anyone you see who has needs, in as much as you are able.

8. Surrender what you have for the needy
Sacrifice your own needs for the sake of others’, especially for the weak who need protection.

Isn't Morality Simply Personal Preference? Part II

Of course, some ethical standards are determined by personal preference or culture.

It seems that we as humans have a tendency to take what we see as 'everyday' and to normalize it to such a degree that any activity that is not "normal" is ethically wrong. This isn't everyone, and in many cultures the "normal" is being degraded, but in general, for most of the world, that which is "normal" is also that which is ethically correct.

However, in a real discussion of ethics, we have to admit that this just isn't the case. Recently, on Science Friday, a group of scientists and ethicists were talking about the role of science in ethics. There was getting to be an agreement that science's role is in observation and experimentation, determining if a particular act is beneficial or detremental to people in general. Then one of the group piped up and said that we can "know" if some things are wrong without having done a study of it, for instance, having women wear burkas as a cultural standard. He said that such a standard is so "obviously" wrong that they don't need a study to determine if it is wrong or not.

The funny thing is, for me, that is exactly the sort of thing that should be studied. Yes, probably most women would find it oppressive. However, in that culture, perhaps women find the burka comforting or safe. We don't know if we don't ask the question. But just making the decision, a priori, that burkas are ethically wrong, is just a cultural presupposition. While forcing a woman to wear a burka who finds it oppressive would be ethically wrong, that doesn't mean that it is wrong for most people. That would be saying that insisting that people wear more than a loincloth is wrong. Our society demands it, others do not. But if a person feels oppressed if they wear more than a loincloth, then to make them do so, is that ethically wrong? No matter what the cultural standards are?

The fact is, there will be different ethical rights and wrongs within cultures. But oppression is always wrong. Injuring another permanently is always wrong. Treating some people one way and ourselves another way is wrong. There ARE moral standards. It is just the application of those moral standards that change.

Perhaps having a law saying that women must wear burkas is wrong. But if there are standards of modesty for both men and women, perhaps it is not wrong. It is something to investigate and to consider.

But for us to even consider such a thing, we need to know what moral standards are, what should and should not be the basis for cultural standards, and then apply these moral standards.

In a sense, C.S. Lewis' argument is weakened because he talks about a general sense of "fairness", but he doesn't tell us what that sense consists of. Just because I think it is not fair that Paul Allen has billions of dollars and spends it on entertainment doesn't make me right. It just means I have that sense. We don't know if there is a universal Moral Law unless we actually see what it is. What does this Law consist of, that everyone can agree on?

I think I have a list of principles that we could work on. Coming up.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Salvation Distant From Reality

“An essentially legal view of sin leads inevitably to a legal view of salvation. If salvation is primarily about the Father punishing the Incarnate Son on our behalf, then as a judicial necessity our failure to believe in Jesus compels God to punish us. Such theologies see the cross as saving us from the punitive, legally determined wrath of God—God the Son saving us from God the Father. In this view, I wondered, is really the obstacle that must be overcome, and must He overcome Himself for our salvation? Viewing God as vindictive can cause us great damage, particularly if we believe that the physical and spiritual harm we inflict on ourselves through sin comes from God. Confusing our guilt with God’s anger can cause us to fear and flee from Him, which only weakens us further, continuing the vicious cycle.” -Rev. A. James Bernstein

In other words, if Jesus only died to solve our position before God, then justice on earth doesn't matter. And that's strange, because throughout the Bible it is clear that justice and mercy and right living DO matter.

Also, if Johnathan Edwards is right-- as well as Calvin-- God is a monster, needing human sacrifice to appease Him. That's not my God. My God is ready to forgive and has the power to forgive. He is seeking repentance. Jesus' death gave the power for us to repent by giving us an alternative to Satan's kingdoms.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Jewish View of Atonement and Sacrifice

Italics quoted from Surprised by Christ by Rev. A. James Bernstein

“An Orthodox Jew… stopped to discuss theology with me. He was a very nice and civil fellow. As we talked he asked me, ‘Why can’t God simply forgive sins? Why does he need a sacrifice? In fact, why does He need anything?’
“I explained, ‘God cannot forgive our sins because He is just and from the beginning has provided sacrifices to atone for our sins.’ Leviticus 17:11- ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’
“My interrogator explained that atonement can mean many things and that the Leviticus passage did not necessarily mean God could not forgive sins without blood…. He pointed out that living a holy life and praying is more important than having a sacrifice. He said that because God is Love, he didn’t understand why God’s love could not be unconditional. Second, he thought I had a very legalistic view of God and of His Love, because I believed that God was incapable of forgiving us without a sacrifice.”

Interesting that a Jewish person, whose whole people have had two thousand years of learning to live with God without sacrifices had to explain to the evangelical God’s marginalized viewpoint of sacrifice. Sacrifice is a ritual to reflect the heart of the offerer, just like baptism or the Lord’s supper, or, frankly, weddings. In all of these circumstances the ritual is essential because the ritual mirrors the heart, and without the ceremony there isn’t a fair representation of the significant commitment. But it is the commitment that is the power, not the action. To put all power into the ritual is to bastardize the action—to rip it apart from the spiritual truth.

Even so, OT sacrifices and Jesus’ sacrifice is reflective of a true repentant heart, one that will do all that he can to get right with God. To live a holy life, to act in love as God does—this is the power of Jesus’ death. Without this, Jesus death in meaningless.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Is Inequality in Society Bad?

Notes taken from the podcast, Philosophy Bites. This episode is an interview with Alex Voorhove about Inequality
Italic passages are quotes from Alex Voorhove.

What kind of society has extreme inequalities, for instance, a huge gap between the rich and the poor?

Society of Domination and Envy
One group has all the power, and the lower group has no way of correcting power to meet their own needs.
The uppers and the lowers cannot connect or understand each other.
The lowers have envy and resentment or lack of self confidence or subservience
The uppers have a sense of entitlement and empowerment, that society should be run by them. They want to protect their position from the poor.
Thus, large inequality makes it impossible for the different groups to love each other
“No man should be rich enough to buy another and no man poor enough to want to sell himself.” –Rousseau

Everyone should have enough to have their needs met, and to have dignity before each other.

Do we just want to change the inequality gap, even if it improves no one’s life? In other words, should we take from the rich just so that they become closer to the poor? No, because although inequality matters, how people’s needs are met in absolute terms is more important.

“If you should get some manna from heaven which provides all your needs and someone else gets nothing and are doing very poorly, and there is nothing we can do to move it back and forth between you, then there is some unfairness there. It would be more fair if there were more balance.”

Inequality can matter without it being intrinsically bad. “Suppose that Anne has a moderate disability. She can walk on a level surface, but she can’t climb stairs and she can’t walk around outside. Suppose that Bob has a very severe disability. He can only sit up in bed on his own and he can’t move around on his own. Suppose you have to do one of two things. You can completely cure Anne, who has a moderate disability, restore her to full functioning or you can somewhat improve Bob’s situation so that he ends up, rather than very severely, he is only moderately disabled. And also suppose that both increases are equally valuable, there is an equal increase of well-being for either Bob or Anne. You can help only Anne or Bob. Who would you help?
“Almost everyone who has been asked questions of this kind think, If the gains are equally large to a better off person or a lesser off person we should give the gain to the lesser off person, if we can’t give it to both. This is a preference, in distribution, to those who are lesser off. It doesn’t follow that you believe that inequality is bad in and of itself. It doesn’t follow that you are committed to thinking that if we can’t help Bob it would be best to deny Anne treatment so that things would be more equal. But you can still think that Bob has a greater claim than Anne to a resource because he’s worse off.”

This idea has significant political and economic applications. The poor should be granted resources rather than the rich, if only one can get the resources. On the other hand, the rich shouldn't just have their wealth taken away from them for the purpose of creating a more equal society.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Is Man The Measure of All Things? Part 1

Lewis now is trying to make a conclusion based on his assertion of the Moral Law. I think that his argument for a Moral Law is a good one and pretty solid. Now he is trying to apply universal morality to understanding the nature of reality itself. In this, he speaks of the scientific process. That science is simply about observation and communicating that observation of reality. I agree, that’s the main point of science. Interpretation of observation is less science than scientific theorizing. But observation and drawing rational conclusions from that observation is what science is about.

However, Lewis says that the nature of reality cannot be determined by science. Because it is all about observation, therefore it does not allow for deep interpretation. That is the job of the philosophers and theologians. Again, I agree. Once a scientist says what the nature of reality is, they are no longer performing the observation of a scientist, but instead doing the job of a philosopher. This does not mean that a scientist cannot do both jobs adequately, but we need to recognize that there is a difference.

Then, Lewis says that reality cannot be determined by observation of outer things, but by understanding the interpreters, namely Humanity. This goes back to the ancient Greek argument that “Man is the measure of all things.” That, in the end, the interpreter is what determines reality. Since Humanity is the interpreter, then that is the standard of measure.
Lewis then wants to go on and say that what we understand about Humanity is reflective of the reality. So if all humanity has a Moral Law, therefore that is something that is reflective of the reality of the universe. This is where I think Lewis makes his first misstep.
The only thing we can determine by looking at Humanity is the nature of that which is interpreting, not necessarily that which is behind that nature. If we look through the most powerful microscopes, we can see atomic particles and how they move. In observing their movement, we may be able to guess what the particles are that make up these atomic particles. This is where theories about quarks and such are found. However, we cannot say decisively what the reality is behind the atomic particles. We can make pretty solid guesses, but there are other guesses that are equally solid. And this is the way with the interpreters of reality. We might guess as to what is behind that level of reality, but frankly we are guessing.

Some might say, “Well, we are human, so shouldn’t we know best what the reality governing us is?” In fact, I would argue the opposite. We are human, and thus we have an idea of how our lives OUGHT to work, not how they DO actually work. We are the consummate interpreters and we interpret first and explain later. We have our interpretation in mind when we look at ourselves and we see partly what we want to see, but more importantly we don’t see that which we think cannot exist.

Frankly, we are our own worst interpreters. We have interpreted ourselves before we have interpreted anything else and everything we see about ourselves feed into our interpretation. This has been what psychology has, for the most part, been about. It has been somewhat successful in seeing social aberrations, but it has been terrible at explaining why those aberrations exist. Theology can be seen as a series of cultural assumptions about the reality of life, despite the text one theology is supposed to be based on. The texts only determine the questions one asks of reality, but they almost never determine the theological answers—that is determined by the interpretation of the theologian.

Even so, I think that Lewis’ jump from the interpreter of reality to that which is behind reality’s interpretation is too quick. He hasn’t made his case. He gives me no good reason to determine why we can rely on this interpretation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is the "Moral Law" a Law?

Lewis argues that the Moral Law is a Law, in that it is known by everyone as a standard code of conduct. However, it is not a Law like the Law of Gravity, because it is not universally obeyed. He calls this “odd” because everyone sees it, but not everyone does it, at least not all the time. Everyone sees that it would be a benefit to society if it were done, but everyone finds exceptions to living up to it, at one point or another. Lewis stops there, saying that this is all we can really know.

I want to go a little further, however. I believe that the reason it is difficult to live up to is because of two reasons: First, because of what was mentioned before that there is a conflict between a code of what is good for everyone, and that which is good for ourselves. So there is preservation of society, and also a preservation of self, and these two instincts do not always work together. I can either share my chocolate with my children or I can have it all to myself, and I have to make a choice. I may choose to keep it all myself and have my reasons to do so, but it would be more difficult to explain that to my children. I will use moral reasoning to them, as if it were for their own benefit that I was not sharing my chocolate, but the real reason is that I was hoping to eat it all myself. Thus, I struggle with these two principles in my soul—that of benefiting the other or that of benefiting myself.

Kant believed that the benefit of the other is the only pure moral. However, reality is in fact much more messy. I could benefit both my children and myself by sharing the chocolate, because too much chocolate is bad for me, as it is bad for them. But if we all moderated the chocolate, then it is a benefit for both. So if I shared the chocolate, Kant would point his accusing finger at me and say that my motives were completely pure because I gained some benefit from it, both to my health and to my taste buds. But if we look at the many moral choices we make everyday, we find that the benefit to others is not often separated from a benefit to ourselves. Our motives are constantly mixed and often difficult to decipher because we often have more than one motive involved. Thus, when many people make an evil choice, say, like killing all the Jews in Europe, our motives may seem mixed, but how different is that from any other moral decision we make. From the Nazi point of view, the moral choices all look the same. It only looks different if we see it strictly from the Jewish point of view.

Also, exceptions are found because the Moral Law is not singular. Newton’s three laws of motion were found to be contradictory in the context of a black hole, and this led to the discovery of a much more complex set of laws called Relativity. There are still laws, but there are a number of them and it is difficult to determine which law will reign in a particular context unless one really works it out. And whether time slows or not is certainly not intuitive.

It is a similar case with the Moral Law. There is not a single law, but a set of them and given the context that we may be in, they may be contradictory. For instance, there is a law of human freedom, in which adult human beings have the freedom to do as they please, as long as they do not hurt another. But there is also the law of responsibility in which if a human makes an error, they must do their best to correct it. But do these laws not contradict each other? If one has responsibility, then one does not have perfect freedom and the more responsibility one has the less freedom one has. There is a balanced to be reached between these two laws in every life, in each situation, and the conclusions that would be correct may not be intuitive. It requires thought and careful reasoning.

However, most people are not trained in moral reasoning. In fact, most people are trained to obey laws, not to understand and apply moral principles. It has been determined in the ancient days that it is simpler to tell the masses “do this” rather than teach them how to determine themselves what is the best thing to do. However, we find in modern society that we have multiplied the laws to such a degree that we cannot expect everyone to know exactly what it is that they must do. To “do this” turns out to be more complex than simply learning to think for ourselves what the right thing it is to do.

But in education we still do not teach moral reasoning. Instead, we teach the obedience to rules, whatever they may be. This is a fault and a wrong. If, like Calvinists believe, every human is innately corrupt and selfish, then “do this or else you will be punished” is the right way to go, and all we have to do is find the right selfish incentive. However, studies of human nature have found that humanity is more complex than simple corruption or selfishness. We do have a code of right and wrong that we really do want to follow. However, it is too complex for us to figure out, if we are not trained to do it. Unfortunately, those who lead us in morality are just as empty in their moral reasoning. They are no better at making moral choices than the rest of us. Thus, what we are told to do is as morally weak as deciding ourselves what to do.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Isn't Morality Simply Personal Preference?

This is the basic argument that morality is simply what one prefers, not a universal ideal. If, however, all morality is simply individualistic, then it would be difficult to communicate across cultures moral decisions or reasoning. It would be just as difficult to communicate in another language.

However, morality across cultural lines is surprisingly easy. For instance, let’s take a movie. There is the movie Avatar which is a very moralistic film—yet it has communicated clearly its moral reasoning to all kinds of cultures, not simply western ones. As well, very moralistic films such as those made by Japanese directors Maiyazaki and Kurosawa are very moralistic from a Japanese perspective, yet they are easily understood by people from all kinds of cultures around the world, after they are translated.

If morality was individualistic, or culturally based, then such cross-cultural communication about morals would be very difficult. However, even if we disagree on a moral reasoning, we typically understand the argument the other person is making. And the disagreements tend to be in application, not in the basic principles of moral reasoning. No one, in any culture, says that it is reasonable to kill an innocent human being without cause. One may argue about the causes that are justified, or one might argue what a human being is, but the basic principle remains the same throughout all cultures. This is amazing and not easily explained. Some level of moral reasoning must be innate. So the question remains, why?

Isn't Morality Simply Taught To Us By Society?

Lewis agrees that right and wrong are taught by parents and teachers, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t a natural law. After all, he says, the multiplication tables are also taught, but that doesn’t mean that mathematics don’t reflect a reality outside of that teaching. Morality is certainly the same. We can see this by what generations rebel against. That which is simply cultural is usually set aside by one generation or another. Yet there is this moral standard which almost every generation uses as a standard to lambast other generation’s principles.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is Morality Human Instinct?

The argument is that what C.S. Lewis calls the Moral Law, or an innate moral agreement all humans share, is simply a developed instinct for species survival. Lewis admits that this may be the case, but there is also the instinct for self-preservation which often runs against species survival. Why is it that we know the “right” choice is to help the other person in need and not self-preservation? Lewis argues that it is because there is a third, mysterious inner heart that decides which instinct is more moral.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What is Justice?

The basic question of The Republic is this: What is justice?

Justice is taking what is good to do to others and applying it to a community. So if it is wrong to kill a human being, then there is a law that applies that idea to all, equally. When law allows some to kill human beings while others cannot, that is injustice.

Ultimately, the basic principle of ethics, and thus the foundation of justice is, “Do to others as you would have done to yourself.” This does not mean that we should treat each other exactly with what we would prefer, e.g. I like chocolate, thus everyone should have chocolate. Rather, it is understanding human nature that we all share, and granting people to do the good that we all share. We all have life, and a drive for survival. Thus continued physical existence is something we all share. Thus, we should recognize that life is a right that we all share and so should be supported by the community. When the community accepts the responsibility to protect the lives of all human beings equally, that is justice in that area of human nature.

God supports this idea by giving us a command not to murder, and by extending that command in Jesus to love our enemies. Thus, life is to be protected in all its forms, even to those who do us harm. Life is a basic principle that is to be granted to all humanity. This is the wisdom of God and if we see this accomplished in a community then God’s justice is realized.

“Might makes right” can also be summarized with another cliché: “The end justifies the means.” “There is no moral absolute. Morality is just a set of rules or ideals, something abstract in human minds, it isn’t real. This moral subjectivism or moral relativism was quite rare among the ancients, except among the Greek sophists, but it is far from rare among the intellectuals in our culture. In ancient culture, the teachers were more moralistic than the students—it is just the opposite in our culture.”

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Might Makes Right, Part 3

However, there is an argument that says that God is the source of justice not by means of might. This is that God is the wisest in the universe, due to his great knowledge and the application of that knowledge in creation. In this argument, God is the source of justice because He knows what justice is and thus applies it to creation. In the previous arguments, it would be pointless for humans to determine the essence of justice, for justice is held in the decision of God, which cannot be sought by human beings—all we can do is follow His commands, whatever they may be. But if justice is held by God simply because He is wise, then that justice can be sought by humans and imitated by them. We can look to God as an example, we can understand and apply the principles of justice in reality.

And these two approaches to justice is one of the major differences between the law of Moses and Jesus. The law of Moses gives laws, rules, commands, which one either obeys or disobeys. Justice is ultimately a mystery, and the closest a human can get to justice is to obey God. But Jesus gives us principles instead of laws. Jesus does not say, “Put a rail around your roof”, but rather, “love your neighbor.” Jesus does not say, “Place the entrails of the animal upon the altar”, but rather “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Jesus does not say, “Keep your vows to the Lord,” but rather, “Let your yes be yes and your no, no.” Jesus speaks principles and we are to apply those principles in our circumstance.

Jesus’ approach to justice is different from the law, because Jesus is not looking for clones, but lovers. Everyone is not supposed to worship the same way, or to do justice exactly the same way, but rather to be led by the Spirit, and the Spirit leads different people in different ways. This means that justice might look differently in different places, but ultimately comes from the same source of wisdom. God can lead both a modern city and a small tribe by the same principles, and each context will look different, but still be unified in the wisdom of God.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reversal Theory of the Atonement

Just in case you thought I was totally out of my mind when I discussed the atonement, here's a paper which presents a pretty close point of view:

Reversal Theory of the Atonement

Might Makes Right, Part 2

This point of view, that might makes right, is shared by many who think that they don’t hold to this point of view. It is held by those who claim that democracy is the best kind of government and that the world would be better if the whole world was made up of democracies (by which they usually mean a democratic republic, not a true democracy). They claim that if people were given power, that they could create their own laws and governance, that they could establish their own kind of justice for themselves. But this means that justice is different in each place, and looks like whatever those with power—the people—make it. Also, democracy of any form is actually granting those of wealth, popularity and majority the upper hand, while the disenfranchised or the minority do not allow their concept of justice to be realized. For instance, the homeless in the United States do not get their idea of justice realized, nor do women in a democratic Muslim country. Thus, democracy is ultimately might makes right, and while the power isn’t just one person, certainly those who can sway majority opinion are those with the vision for “justice”.

Another group that agrees with Thrasymachus are most religious ideas of justice. Justice, the religious philosopher claims, is held by God because He is God and no one can argue with God. God is, by definition, just, therefore God is justice. But this is basically to say that God is the most powerful being and thus justice is held by him. To be honest, this is pretty much the argument made by the book of Job. Job argues with God about justice, and God answers him by contrasting His power with Job’s. “Where were you when each star was made by my hand?” This is basically the argument that God is the most powerful and so He determines the rules. Might makes right.

A similar religious argument is that God is justice because He created the world. Because God is the Maker of all things, then He can determine what justice is, by right of creation. This is an argument of origin and possession. God created, therefore He owns all things. And the one who owns can determine the rules. This also is a “might makes right” argument.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Might Makes Right, Part 1

Italicized quotes are by Peter Kreeft in his lecture series, "What Would Socrates Do?"

In Plato's book The Republic, Socrates is looking for the essence of justice. This is not just a definition of the word, but what justice truly is, what it looks like, everywhere.

“Cephalus says, ‘Justice is paying your debts and telling the truth.’ But that definition doesn’t work in all cases because it doesn’t make sense to return a weapon to a maniac. Polymarkus says that justice is giving people what they deserve. He identifies this with ‘helping friends and harming enemies.’ But Socrates reminds him that we make mistakes and sometimes we think of our enemies as our friends and our friends as our enemies. So Polemarchus improves the definition to: ‘helping true friends and harming true enemies.’ Doing good to the good guys and bad to the bad guys. Socrates critiques this definition by saying something quite amazing. That justice should do good even to your enemies, to the bad guys! Because justice is a virtue, a virtue is a good, and good can only do good to everyone without exception. Socrates holds to the same principle as Jesus, ‘Do good to those who hate you, love your enemies.’ At this point Thrasymachus barges in to interrupt in order to bully Socrates. Thrasymachus claims that justice is whatever the strong man wants. Might makes right. Justice is only a mask painted on the face of power.”

Thrasymachus’ point of view is not so much a definition of justice as a denial of it. To say that justice changes with each powerful ruler is to say that justice resides in the heart of the powerful, and thus cannot be determined by reason or from a single source. That there is no essence of justice.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Platonic Christian Worldview

Most people think that there is simply one church, under the one leader, Jesus Christ. Why, do these idealists say, doesn’t the church just get unified? Apart from the different governing bodies that distinguish one denomination from another, there is another significant issue—there is more than one Christian philosophy. Within each denomination there exists a variety of different philosophies—all claiming the name of Christ, but in many ways incompatible. In this series of articles, we will explore different Christianities and try to understand them from an Anabaptist viewpoint.

In the third and fourth centuries, Christianity was coming into its own as a force in the Roman empire. Paganism was beginning to wane as the primary belief system, and it was getting competition from the revised Hebrew religion. But there was another belief system that was gaining popularity as well—Platonism. Platonism was begun by the philosopher Plato in ancient Athens, and held that the spirit world was the prime reality on which all of our physical reality was based.

Some platonic philosophers of this time —such as Ignatius and Augustine— saw quite a bit of compatibility between Platonism and Christianity, and came to believe in Jesus as the human face behind the platonic philosophy. Then these teachers began defending their platonic form of Christianity against those whom they saw as “heretics” and “unbelievers.” These became the strongest defenders of Christianity of the third and fourth centuries. Their idea of Christianity became enormously influential and their concept of Christianity continues to this day. Below are some of the main beliefs of a Platonic form of Christianity:

Spirit World is the Real World
According to Plato, there is an alternative universe which holds all the reality of the physical universe we see and feel. It is the Spirit world, and it is not less real than the physical world, but more real. In the spiritual universe, there is the real, pure Apple and all apples of our world are just poor copies of the original. Even so, the real Human exists in that universe, and all of us are simply copies of the true Human—and we are only trying to become like that Real Human.

God is the Primary Cause—Pure Spirit
Aristotle, Plato’s student, followed in this logic concerning God. He said that all things have a source, a cause. If creation came from the earth, then the earth came from somewhere, as did the sun and all of our universe. However, at some point one must arrive at the First Cause, because if there is no origin of all things, then nothing could exist. The platonic Christians hold that the Prime Cause is God, who is pure spirit, being made up of nothing physical, of this universe. God is the perfect being, complete Spirit, completely good, and the originator of all good, pure, spiritual things.

Flesh is Corrupt, Spirit is Good
Because God and the Spirit world is where all good comes from, then spiritual things are the only things that are good. This also means that the physical universe we live in is automatically crippled, automatically prone toward weakness. This weakness is called by the platonic Christians the flesh. The flesh is corruptible, able to drift further and further from the Spirit, which is pure good. Fundamentally, the more physical—the flesh—the more corruption and evil. The more Spirit, the more purity and good.

Humanity is part spirit, part flesh
Every human born, according to the platonic Christian philosophers, is part spirit and part flesh. The flesh, they say, is the body, which is corruptible and imperfect. But every human also has a spirit, which is the human’s connection to God. Between the flesh and the spirit is the soul, which is the basis of the mind and will. The soul is the fundamental part of humanity—neither pure flesh nor pure spirit—which determines the moral direction of the person, whether toward the spirit or toward the flesh.

Morality is based on the control of the flesh and motivation
To be a good human, therefore, we must constantly choose the spirit as opposed to the flesh. The flesh leads us to physical desire, to sexuality, to gluttony, to greed, to anger—all of the seven deadly sins are sins of the flesh, created by the platonic Christians. However, ultimately, humans are judged not on their deeds, but their motivation—that which their souls determined. If a soul chose the good, even though it lead them to corruption, then the soul may be saved though the body is corrupt.

Jesus was God Incarnate
Platonic Christians speak of Jesus as the Son of God, the human who was God from birth. Since Jesus was born as God incarnate, thus he was not human as we are human. Yes, Jesus was human, he had flesh and he had spirit, but his soul was already committed to the spirit, and so he constantly rejected the corrupt flesh. Thus, he never sinned. In this way, he had perfect faith and lived perfectly before his Father. Because of this, Jesus’ life could not really provide us with a proper example, because he had a different make up than we. So if we fall short of Jesus, that is only because he was God and we are not. Jesus died to give humanity the opportunity to be pure spirit. All of humanity has been corrupted by their flesh, but Jesus died so that such corruption could be left behind with one’s body, while the spirit and soul rises to God.

The highest Christian act is spiritual contemplation
Those of us who are Christians are those who have entered into Jesus death through baptism and the Lord’s supper. As we partake with Jesus, according to platonic Christians, we find ourselves being led by Him to act in the Spirit, and to set aside the flesh. Thus, as we find gluttony, drunkenness and sexuality set aside, we will also partake more and more in the Spirit realm through contemplation of the Pure Spirit—God himself. We can focus on God through meditation, through praise, through singing or through quoting the Scripture. But the focus is to transport oneself out of this world and into God.

The Church is Invisible
Because morality is a completely internal process, we cannot know who is more spiritual than another. While it is true that the most fleshly people would not be spiritually minded, for the most part we cannot tell. Some are spiritually minded and some are not. But the true people of God are invisible—only God knows who they are. The rest of us cannot judge.

Heaven is Living in Spirit
The ultimate goal of every platonic Christian is, therefore, the stripping away of our bodies—our corrupt flesh—and living in spirit in the presence of God. This is heaven—a pure spiritual existence. In heaven God is the continuous focus, and all who enter heaven take full satisfaction and pleasure in adoring and contemplating God, the Pure Spirit, the Source of all Things.

An Anabaptist Critique of Platonic Christianity
Platonic Christianity has tried to walk a wall that borders Platonism and the Bible—and so there are many aspect of their philosophy that reflects the Bible. Jesus himself said that God is Spirit and that we are not to worship him based on the physical. Jesus also recognized that the Spirit world is more powerful than the universe we live in, and that he himself is from the Spirit world. Jesus did die in order to help us enter God’s kingdom. And the flesh can corrupt us into doing evil.

However, the Bible takes a more balanced view of the physical world than the Platonists do. The physical world is created by God who called it “good” not corrupt. The perfect humans, Adam and Eve, were both flesh and spirit, and completely pure that way. There is no evidence in the Scripture that Jesus was not fully human, even as we are, and pure and innocent in that humanity. While the flesh can corrupt, as Paul said, it is not the flesh alone that corrupts us, but our determination to live out of balance with the flesh—to be obedient to our corrupt desires instead of God. God created sex, he created grapes, he created food, and he wants us to live in pleasure with these things. God also created limits so that we can live in the flesh, but in purity—through marriage, sobriety and moderation.

The physical world is the source of our good acts, as well as evil. It is in the physical world that we give to the poor. It is in the physical world that we love our families. It is in the physical world that we bow down and worship God. But most of all, the paradise that Jesus promises us is not a world of pure spirit. Rather, the cornerstone of his future promise is that we will be resurrected from the dead—we will not remain spiritual, but we will become physical again in God’s perfect utopia. In that time, our bodies will be incorruptible, pure, holy and completely physical.

Jesus also made it clear that what our bodies do is a reflection of our spiritual life. Thus, our moral life is not just in our minds, but equally in our actions. It is not enough for us to have the right motivation, even if we do the wrong actions. Rather, our motivation is shown by our actions. Our morality is based on the life of Jesus. Jesus’ life is not just the pie-in-the-sky ideal, but it is the paradigm for our physical life. We can—and should—be as willing to obey God, as willing to trust in God, as willing to surrender ourselves for the needy as Jesus was. This is our goal, and the purpose of our lives.

Spirit and Flesh

“ ‘A good man cannot be harmed by a bad one.’ In other words, Socrates’ answer to the big question of evil, Why bad things happen to good people, is that they never do.” -Peter Kreeft refering to Plato

Peter Kreeft concludes correctly that Socrates (at least Plato’s interpretation of him) is saying that it is the eternal, unchanging soul of a person that cannot be harmed by bad people. It is interesting that Jesus makes a similar statement. “Do not fear man who can harm the body, but rather fear Him who can take both body and soul and throw it into hell.” Note, though, that Jesus is not saying that bad men cannot hurt a good man. Rather, he is saying that the harm God could do is greater. To take Socrates’ position is to say that torture does no harm, while the fact is we all know that starvation, beatings and death are certainly acts of harm. The main point that Jesus makes in his teaching, however, is that whatever harm a good man receives, it is only temporary. Jesus is always pointing to the fact that the final state is greater than the present state. And that whoever is persecuted due to their faithfulness to God will receive greater reward in the end than the suffering they endured.

Platonists see a divide between the spirit and the flesh. Jesus sees a divide between the present and the future.

The First Step of Morality

“The first step of moral virtue is to know yourself. And that meant to know how foolish and unwise you are. And that meant to search for the wisdom you know you don’t have. But it also meant a second thing: to know human nature. To know what kind of a creature you were.” -Peter Kreeft

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Wanna Be Good!

“That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment any tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much—we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so—that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility.” -C.S. Lewis

It is a basic fact of human nature that we all want to see ourselves as basically good people. Even if others cannot see us as good, we need to see ourselves as good. From this are excuses and poor moral reasoning borne. This does not make us good, it simply convinces us that we are good. And if we cannot convince ourselves that we are good—because we see ourselves too clearly or because we condemn ourselves too much—then we become depressed and sometimes suicidal. Guilt is a serious human motivator. And this can only be true if there is moral reasoning that is natural within us.

Friday, October 22, 2010

What Ethics Is Not, Part 4

Italicized text is quoted from Peter Kreeft.

7. Ethics is not Religion

You don’t need religious faith to do ethics, though it may help you to do it. Philosophy and religion may be synthesizable, but they are different. Philosophy is based on reason, religion is based on faith… or on fear. But religious fear is very different than practical fear. The fear of God or a spirit is very different from the fear of a tiger or a bullet… The religious instinct is to believe in or aspire to or to worship that transcendent mysterious something. The moral instinct is to feel obligated in conscience to avoid evil.”

The religious act is to obey a Spirit being due to loyalty. The ethical act is to do good for good’s sake. The act may be the same, but the reasoning is different.

“We might confuse these two things with each other, especially in the West where in the three major monotheistic religions That which is worshipped is also supremely moral. God is righteous and commands us to be righteous. But the religious instinct and the moral instinct can be found separated from each other, more in Eastern religions than in Western where morality does not go all the way up to ultimate reality, to a God who is a person with a moral will. And religion and morality is separated much more in pagan religions which are not only often amoral but also immoral. And, of course, it is separated in atheistic and secularist humanism, which reject religion but not morality. Atheists have ethics, too.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Ethics Is Not, Part 3

5. Ethics is not “Meta-Ethics”
“Ethics is thinking about good and evil. Meta-ethics is thinking about ethics. Much of contemporary philosophical ethics is meta-ethics. It asks questions like how moral statements are linguistically meaningful or how moral reasoning is different than reasoning about facts, whether any judgment can be infallible, and how we make these moral judgements. Those are important questions, but they are secondary. They come secondary in time, in fact in the third place, after we have first made moral choices, and then, in the second place, we have reflected on this moral experience, only then do we, in the third place, do we reflect on our ethical reflections.”

6. Ethics is not Applied Ethics
Ethics is not specifically about the issues of abortion, genetic research, war or poverty. Rather, ethics is the development of the truths which we can apply to these issues. But if one is teaching ethics, we do not just delve into the application of the principles until the principles are established.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Universal Moral Code and Selfishness

Any quotes in italics are from C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

“Some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behaviour known to all men is unsound, because different civilizations and different ages have had quite different moralities. But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how every like they are to each other and to our own…. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five…. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.”

I would disagree only with his statement “selfishness has never been admired.” Interestingly, our current economic climate has supported Gordon Gecko’s statement “Greed is good.”

Selfishness is seen as a benefit to society, the building up of economic stability. We could just see this as an experiment gone array, as our current recession seems to make this claim a lie. However, amidst a sub-culture of economic power, this remains a principle of truth. Probably because they aren’t the ones who have been ousted from their homes.

But I would argue that even this principle of selfishness is not complete. Even if it benefits a stock broker to kill, there is not a cultural standard to murder for profit. Nor does one see a positive connotation of rape, even if it gives one an economic benefit.

But in certain sub-cultures do we not see murder or rape as a benefit? In Rwanda, the troops were encouraged to rape their enemies’ women publically, for then those women would be taken out of the gene pool, thus preventing that race from continuing. Is there not war for economic benefit, like, say, for lower oil prices, which could easily be understood as murder for profit? When economic gain is in one’s sights, there always seems to be a justification. One always finds a “moral” reason for stealing. I know of people who steal from large store chains, telling themselves, “They aren’t really hurt by my petty theft; they have insurance.”

But although selfishness is justified, it is justified by weak, but still moral reasoning. War for oil prices is justified by claiming that the security of a whole nation is at stake. Genocide is justified by claiming that the well being of another people requires it. Theft is justified by claiming that no one is really hurt. These are all moral reasons, they just aren’t looking at the whole picture. To look at the security of one nation neglects the other nation that one is warring against. To steal because “no one is hurt” is not to see the results of those who are fired because a company must pay insurance premiums instead of employees’ salaries. But the morality is still there. I think that Lewis’ argument of a universal morality remains, even when exceptions can be found.

Perhaps, it is simply a way or moral reasoning that is universal. A language of morality. Certainly moral action doesn’t seem so universal.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What Ethics Is Not, Part 2

Italicized quotes are by Peter Kreeft

3. Ethics is not psychology
Ethics is not about how we feel, but about real, substantial truths. We cannot establish truth by how we feel about something. If that were true, then every scientific hypothesis would be correct.

Instead, the scientist tests the hypothesis to determine the truth of her assumption. Ethics is different than science, in that to “test” an ethical hypothesis, such as “Jews are naturally evil and thus must be eliminated” can lead to monstrous actions. This is why it is best to allow the testing happen in one’s head, fully in the theory before it is tested in real life. This is one of the functions that fiction writers provide us—they take an ethical idea (or many of them) and test the idea in a separated universe where no one can get hurt. Philosophers do much the same thing by telling stories. We can also look at real life incidents and speak of the ethical implications of the incident, but real life often has complications that provide us with “red herrings” to erode a clear ethical idea.

4. Ethics is not ideology
Ethics cannot be labeled “conservative” or “liberal” or be connected with any political party or ideological fad. Ethics is truth, without regard to time or place. “Ideologies can be judged as moral or immoral… Ethics argues about and judges ideology.”

“Some philosophers today disagree with this, the Deconstructionists. They argue that ethics is just ideology. In fact, camouflaged ideology. Power putting on the mask of justice. In other words, ‘might makes right.’ Machiavelli teaches this. It is a claim as old as the Greek Sophists.”

Certainly some ethics is just an excuse to obtain more power, to control the masses. But there is an ethics that accomplishes truth. There are right and wrong actions that can be determined by reason.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Universal Moral Code, Part 1

This is my first post on an occasional series reflecting on C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Quotes in italics is from C.S. Lewis. The rest is me.

Lewis’ basis of his first argument is that there is a law of morality that all people agree upon. He calls this the Law of Nature.

“ Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football.

“The law was called the Law of Nature because people thought that every one knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. They did not mean, of course, that you might not find an odd individual here and there who did not know it, just as you find a few people who are color-blind or have no ear for a tune. But taking the race as a whole, they thought that the human idea of decent behavior was obvious to every one.”

Lewis then argues this by saying that what people said “about the war” would be wrong otherwise. We need to understand the historical context for this. Lewis is lecturing on the radio, and his audience is the British people of the early 1940s. “What was said about the war” has to do with arguments about how evil the Nazis are. But the fact is, the evil of the Nazis are seen by their bombing of London, and not about any intellectual arguments. Everyone in London would agree about the evil of the Nazis, no matter what they had thought about them previous to the war. This is an emotional argument, but not one that stands up historically. I think Lewis makes more solid reasons for his idea of a universal morality at other places.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What Ethics Is Not, Part 1

The outline is from Peter Kreeft's What Would Socrates Do? Comments are my own, unless quoted with italics, in which they are Dr. Kreeft's.

1. Ethics is not a checkup
Ethics is not something you use “just in case” something immoral comes up. This assumes that ethics is only negative. Rather, ethics is about the best way of living, oneself in connection with others.

The reason that many people think of ethics as a checkup is because they see it as a set of abstract “rules”. Most philosophers see it as something real and solid and substantial. What is a good person and what is a good life. Those are more fundamental than a set of rules.

2. Morals are not mores
Ethics is not just a collection of behaviors. You cannot take a poll and find out the right thing to do.

“The difference between morals and mores correspond to the difference between shame and guilt. Shame is the frustration of the desire to be accepted by others, the desire to save face. Guilt is the frustration of the desire to be morally good. Shame is social, guilt is individual. Shame comes from others, guilt comes from yourself. When the dog pees on the carpet, it feels shame, not guilt. If you weren’t there to see it, it wouldn’t feel anything at all.… In guilt, the self is divided in two in a way no animal can do. One of the two is the observing and judging self that says, ‘You are guilty,’ or ‘You are not guilty.’ ‘You are evil,’ or ‘You are good.’ The other self is the observed, judged self that hears this judgment. It is this self consciousness, this ability to split ourselves in to two—the judging and the judged self—that separates us from the beasts. It is not consciousness but self-consciousness that separates us. All animals have consciousness, and many of them are superior to us in their consciousness of the world. They often have better senses than we do. But only man has self-consciousness. That’s why only man has ethics.”

Peter Kreeft Quotes

Some quotes from Peter Kreeft,Catholic Philosopher, writer and professor, in What Would Socrates Do?

“You always find something new (in a great book) each time if you read both with your ears and with your tongue. That is, if you both listen and talk back.”

“Any great book is like the ghost of its author. It is not as alive as the embodied person was, but nevertheless it is alive. For minds are immortal.”

“Sex is something you do with someone else, if only in your fantasies. And thus it always has to do with justice, with fairness to others.”

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Response to Conservative Ethics

A Conservative Christian Summary of Ethics
I don't actually know who developed this video, but it seems to summarize briefly most Christian's viewpoint of ethics. The four points below summarize the points of the video, and after each I give my response.

1. Secular ethics are situational
This video seems to want it both ways. First, they say that secular ethics change according to the circumstance, that they have no basis for their morality. Second, they say that everyone, without exception, has God’s morality in their heart, and so morality is based on God’s ethics. I agree with the second principle, but not the first. Secular moral reasoning is based on an a priori ethic, the same as Christian ethics. The only difference between Christian ethics is that they, supposedly, have a foundation for their ethic that they can point to. Secular ethics do ethics without an actual known foundation for their ethics. However, as Paul says in Romans 2, often those without the law can do the things contained in the law even though they don’t have the law as a standard. It is funny how secular ethicists often live out a better ethical life than Christians based on their gut rather than having a standard that they can point to and make excuses about.

2. Christian ethics are authoritative
Usually, when Christians talk about ethics, they are actually speaking about commands. And commands, they think, are cut and dry, absolute moral standards, which clearly and simply create morality. However, as Jesus points out in Matthew 5, this is not the case. Jesus points out case after case that one can be strictly obeying the ten commandments and yet still acting in an immoral fashion. Thus, Jesus’ principle was that love must always interpret law and sometimes supersede it. Christian morality, then, must be principle based, not law based. In other words, Jesus gives us general principles to follow, such as “love your enemies” or “let your yes be yes”. We must determine, first of all, what the principles actually mean and then we need to apply those principles to our life. In one circumstance, “love your enemy” means to not cut your enemy with a knife. However, if you are a surgeon and use cutting to save life, then “love your enemy” may mean to cut your enemy with a knife. Law is an inadequate basis for Christians to determine morality, rather we must train Jesus followers to look at principles and how to interpret those principles in circumstance.

3. Christian ethics is based on God’s nature
One’s nature is what we can see. As I’ve already argued, human morality cannot always be discovered by looking at God’s nature. God can kill human beings because He is creator, but human beings must not. We must understand that God’s nature must and can be followed, but not necessarily all of God’s actions. The classic biblical statement of God’s nature is, “YHWH is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in faithful love and truth, offering forgiveness to thousands, but does not leave the wicked unpunished.” (Exodus 34). The first part of God’s nature, we must follow and imitate. However, punishing the wicked is not for humans following God, for it says “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord”. We can desire the wicked to be punished, but we are NOT slow to anger, NOT forgiving of the repentant. Thus we always screw up judgment. For this reason, judgment should be left in the hands of God who alone has the wisdom to judge correctly. God’s nature is not something we can just take on ourselves willy-nilly. God’s nature often requires God’s wisdom and power to live it out truly.

4. Christian ethics are based on God’s preference
Francis Schaefer is quoted as saying, “God can get ticked off”. Certainly God has preferences. And Christians are supposed to be interested in loving God as well as loving humanity. Part of loving God is knowing God’s preferences. Why? Because just like if we have a friend we want to spend time with, we don’t defecate in their living room. That isn’t good for our continuing relationship with them. Even so, if we want a relationship with God and want to love Him, there are things we may prefer to do, but we don’t do because we want to have a continuing relationship with God. If we act in certain ways, without regret or repentance, then we cannot relate to God in an open way. God is constantly disgusted by our actions, and so we can’t fairly have a relationship with Him.