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.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Euthyphro Dilemma: Where Does Morality Come From?

A few videos to tide us over until the final decision is made.

A Quick Defense From Plato

Euthyphro is a Socratic dialogue by Plato and an entertaining read. In this book, Socrates is about to head off to defend his life against those who want to claim that his teaching is “impious.” Before this, Socrates has a discussion with Euthyphro about what “piety” means. What does it mean to be a good religious person. Euthyphro basically says that a good religious person does what God commands. Socrates, however, shows that “goodness” or morality is something that even the gods obey, and this means that to be “good” isn’t just about obeying God, but is about finding that standard that even God obeys. This means that morality isn’t tied to religion at all.

Epydemic2020 summarizes this dilemma and then says that it isn’t really a dilemma because there is another option. He is doing this in order to defend his position that the common morality all humans hold—do not murder, do not rape—is proof of God’s existence. So he says that because there is a third option—that God’s nature holds the seed of morality—means that the Euthyphro dilemma is no dilemma at all. There are other options.

Okay, that’s true. But it doesn’t really answer the basic question that the Euthyphro dilemma poses—is God the source of morality or is morality the source of God’s justice? The fact that God has a nature of morality doesn’t mean that there isn’t a source that pre-exists God, unless we take the existence of God as being apriori—a basic unquestioned assumption (which I hate). But let’s just talk about morality and God.

There are two kinds of morality. One is circumstantial ethics, and the other intrinsic ethics. Intrinsic ethics are foundational principles of ethics that cannot be changed. Some hold to the value of life—all life—as an intrinsic ethic—that would be a foundational principle on which they base their ethical actions. Circumstantial ethics, however, is the action that one does based on two things—one’s intrinsic ethic and the context that one finds oneself in. For instance, since there are small bugs one may swallow, one who holds to the intrinsic value of all life would put a mask over their face in order to prevent this from happening. However, one who lived in a “clean room”, where no outside life existed, then the mask would not be necessary. The mask is only a correct moral act given the circumstances and the intrinsic morality—it is not a good in and of itself.

In Christian theology, we must acknowledge that God’s nature would only determine intrinsic morality, not circumstantial morality. First of all, God’s creation has changed radically from the beginning. First of all, sin has infected human life significantly, changing the circumstance. We respond to a sinful humanity, not an innocent one. Thus, since creation has changed, circumstantial morality has changed.

But what about intrinsic ethics? Is that based in God’s nature? It is possible that, say, “love” is the most base intrinsic ethic. If that is the bass of God’s nature, then why is God not always “loving”? Why does He kill innocent women and children? Why does he allow Job to suffer the death of his children? The difficulty of morality as the nature of God is that morality is clearly not the same for God as for humanity. Humans are not supposed to kill other innocent humans—that is God’s command. But God can do this, because the circumstances for being God is different than being human. God is Creator and humans are creation, as special as they are.

Why is obeying God’s will so important? Not because the nature of God requires a certain morality to be done, but because God is wiser than we are. He can see how certain moral decisions can either help us or hurt us. He has an objective perspective outside of our hormones and emotions and so can communicate to us what is right and wrong given the broader circumstance, not according to our own limited perspective.

I would not say that there is no intrinsic morality. And I would even go so far as to say that “love” is an intrinsic moral standard. However, how “love” looks when God is acting it out could be very different from how humans live it out. When we talk about morality and when we look at God’s commands about morality, we must realize that the commands and the morality is for the human context only. We cannot ask animals to engage in our morality—they have their own morality according to their circumstance. We cannot ask God to follow our morality, because His circumstance differs greatly. God and we may have similar goals, but the actual actions may differ.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Looking for Suggestions

Well, I've finished my set on "Tough Questions for Christians"-- AZ hasn't made any more since question 36. It was fun, though.

I've got some fill in stuff to use, but I have a question for you. I have a number of books I could read and comment on, but what would you like to see?

Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which has recently been made into a movie
The Shack the popular Christian novel by Gresham local William Young
The Thomas Merton Reader, which I have on my shelf from the library
Introduction to Ethics, a lecture series by Catholic Philosopher Peter Kreeft
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, which I could re-read and make comments on
The Imitation of Christ, the classic by Thomas Kempis
Spiritual Life In Anabaptism, a reader of sixteenth century Anabaptist writers.

If you have any opinion, make a comment or send me a note.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Authority Matters

Tough Questions for Christians #36—Collateral Damage
Watch it here.

AZ gives us a Bible theme—when one person makes a decision, other people get punished for it. So he asks, “Why does God punish people for actions they did not participate in?”

This has to do with the principle of authority. Anyone who has authority over others—a parent, a king, a church leader—has power over the other’s lives and how they are responded to. Thus, Adam’s decision causes the rest of us to suffer because we are all born children of Adam. David’s sin caused his people to suffer because his action related to his responsibility to the people.

This principle continues on today. If Congress passes a law, we are all responsible to obey it and we will be punished if we don’t. If our father is an addict, that effects his children severely. If our mother has AIDS when we are born, that effects the rest of our life. The actions of those who have authority over us effect us, even if we don’t want it.

This is true even if we didn’t choose the authority over us. Everyone born in the U.S. is a citizen of the U.S. even if we wished that were not so. This means that whatever the leaders of the U.S. choose, that effects our lives. If they decide to enact war against another country, then it is our sons and daughters who will die in that war, and also we will all suffer the moral and mental damage of them killing others in that war. A slave in a household is stuck in the system of his master, even if he didn’t want to live in the household. When it is a choice between stealing from a master’s enemy’s or dying under the master’s whip, the choice to the slave seems clear.

This is why if we have a choice of authorities to live under, we should choose carefully. To join up to the military is to accept the military as one’s master, and they train one to kill if they say kill. That effects everyone’s life. If we choose to be a citizen of a nation, we accept their laws and accept the consequences of the decision of their leaders.

This is why Jesus is so important. He is offering us citizenship in the kingdom of God. He offers to be our King, our Lord. If we choose Him, and release the ties to all other kingdoms, all other masters, then we receive the consequences of His actions and not the weak leaders we have around us.

Authority matters.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Manner V. the Meaning of Death

Tough Questions for Christians #35—The “Ultimate” Sacrifice
Watch It Here.

AZ asks why the thief who didn’t accept Jesus, who suffered the same as Jesus, but is still in hell, didn’t actually sacrifice more than Jesus. Why should Jesus be praised when basically he had a weekend in hell, but this guy has got all eternity?

Because the robber’s death didn’t do anything. His death was for a crime he had done (not stealing, by the way, but rebellion against the Romans), and so he was guilty. Jesus’ resurrection shows that he was innocent. It also shows that Jesus established a new kingdom. It wasn’t going to Sheol (not hell) that made Jesus special. It is the fact that he sacrificed himself in order to give the rest of us a second chance with God. The thief’s death didn’t do that. Sure, he suffered more. But the amount of suffering isn’t the point. It is what the suffering accomplishes. Jesus’ suffering accomplished more than we could imagine.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

God's Patient Love

Tough Questions for Christians #34—Reinforcing False Beliefs
Watch it here.

AZ gives an example of a Muslim couple who prays for a child from Allah and then gets pregnant. He says, why does the Christian God reinforce a belief in a false god?

Well, first of all, I don’t think that Allah is a different God than YHWH, but let’s suppose it’s a Hindu couple who are praying to Shiva or something. Whatever.

The basic answer is this: God loves humanity. All humans. And God grants blessings to all humans, without exception. Certainly some humans are blessed more than others, and some humans endure terrible suffering (almost always at the hand of other humans), but all humans are granted blessings by God.

God grants blessings because He wants to teach all humans how to love. This is what Jesus came to teach us as well, and Jesus is certainly the better, more direct teacher. However, in praying to Allah (or Shiva) for a baby, and God granting this, shows us how to love. It shows us how to offer the blessing of life to others, all others, without exception.

And this should teach Christians especially. If God gives the gift of life and health and joy to many behind the false disguise of Shiva, then perhaps we should be less concerned about how we love and focus on the task of loving. In other words, perhaps God is teaching US that we should love, and be less concerned about pushing Jesus down people’s throats. That maybe we should love and show how to love and then some—few, but some—will take this example and follow Jesus in action. It is important for others to know that we love them because Jesus loved us, but why should we only love if they love Jesus as we love Him? That is not the love of God, but the restrictive human love.

Love that judges isn’t love at all.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Justifying the Wicked

Tough Question for Christians #33—Christianity is an Abomination
Watch it here.

AZ is being pretty sneaky in this video, trying to get in two questions. His first question is a general complaint about God’s justice in condemning, even killing, an innocent man so that others can go free. I agree with AZ that this is unjust, but I explain in detail in my atonement blogs that this concept of atonement is only one idea of Christian atonement, and it is historically recent in the whole of Christian theology. I just don’t think it’s true. Rather, as I’ve said, I believe that Jesus was condemned by the Jews to show that every human system of justice, every human government is inadequate and that it rejects and kills the just and innocent, and then God established Jesus as the “First Citizen” of the Kingdom of God with its own law, it’s own system of forgiveness and it’s own merciful justice. And it is this kingdom that will rule the whole world.

AZ’s second question is his main point in this video, and in this he quotes Proverbs 17:15—“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.” Yet, AZ says, the whole point of Christianity is to justify the wicked. Does this mean that, biblically, Christianity is an abomination?

On the one hand, I can easily say that Jesus was fully condemned by the Law and thus made a curse. Part of that condemnation is seeking justification for the wicked.

However, I think specifically for Proverbs, we need to look at the general context. The point of Proverbs is to have a pithy saying which communicates a truth. However, since each saying is brief, we have to look carefully in a broader context to understand the more nuanced truth. First of all, if what AZ is saying is correct, it means that the very idea of forgiveness of sin is an abomination. This is hard to accept, since forgiveness is a central characteristic of God in many places in the OT. No, God doesn’t forgive everyone, but it says in Ezekiel 18 that God is ready to forgive anyone who repents. Jesus says the same as does many others in the NT.

So what does this mean? Even as I John and Hebrews 10 can both be misinterpreted to mean that anyone who sins is going to hell, the fact is the OT defines the “wicked” as the person who unrepentedly sins continually. But the person who repents of their sin is forgiven, and this is justice. Jesus, in creating a new kingdom, is simply creating a place where the wicked can have the opportunity to repent.

The Proverbs passage AZ is speaking of is saying that the wicked must be punished by a judge. The abomination is not in forgiveness of the repentant, but in forsaking punishment for one who continues in their sin.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What Will Our Eternal Bodies Be Like?

Tough Question for Christians #32—Foreskins
Watch It Here.

AZ acknowledges that this question is pretty silly. “When you get resurrected, do you get your foreskin back?”

It is silly, but it brings up an interesting assumption in Christian eschatology, which is that the resurrected body is a “perfected” body with nothing wrong. But we can see that Jesus’ resurrected body still had the scars of his torture on them. And Jesus also eats, which means that the body will have to also dispose of the food, and so one of the most unpleasant aspects of having a body still remains after the resurrection.

Is the body “perfected”? Paul says that the body is “spiritualized”, which really means “empowered”, but I don’t think it means perfection. In eternity, sickness is gone, which I assume includes mental illness and disabilities. If Jesus healed a man born blind, then it seems that other similar limitations will also be eliminated. But will we be perfect? I think we will still stumble over our words, sometimes saying the wrong thing. I think we will still have misunderstandings, as we will not be all knowing. I think that we will still have to learn away all of our prejudices and we may have to determine not to participate in certain behaviors we continued to have until death.

I really think that the idea of “perfection” is one of the most unfortunate one in Christian theology. The Bible doesn’t ever speak of “perfection”, but completion. And what that completion looks like is up to God, in the end. With or without foreskins.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Is the Jesus Story Plagiarism?

Tough Question #31—Made Up By Satan
Watch It Here

This is a common question, but that just means it needs to be answered. AZ claims that there are a number of characteristics of Jesus that are also characteristics of mythical figures in the ancient world, written down hundreds of years before the gospels. Among these characteristics is birth at the winter solstice, attacked by tyrants, grew up to perform miracles, death by violent means and raising from the dead. Thus, AZ asks, is the story of Jesus embellished by these details, or simply invented completely? (The “made by Satan” part comes in the church father’s response to why these similarities existed. Their supposed answer is that they were “made by Satan” before Jesus was born to deceive the world.)

First of all, most of the similar characteristics exist in the birth narrative, not in heart of Jesus’ life. Let’s talk about those first. If God wanted to communicate that one baby in particular was special, to a limited and select group of people, why wouldn’t He use cultural ideas that already existed? It is simply a matter of communication, even as Genesis 1 and other portions of Scripture are similar to previously written texts. Just because a form is similar and it borrows characteristics, that doesn’t make it untrue.

Secondly, most of the things about Jesus’ life is unique. There are few in ancient history who is a miracle worker on the level of Jesus. Perhaps Elijah and Elisha, but apart from pagan gods, you don’t see people walking around doing miracles, including Heracles, or other ancient humans. And even so, Jesus is the only one making rules for how his miracles work or why he was doing them. Jesus’ miracles isn’t about “Wow, aren’t I great?”, but about helping those in need and following God’s will.

Another unique aspect about Jesus is his death. Not the fact that he died a violent death, which, as AZ says, is pretty common among ancient heroes. His death is unique because the one thing that was emphasized is that his death is not simply punishment, but it was a. punishment for a crime he was innocent of and b. it emphasizes his rejection by the nation. This rejection is what is most unique. Jesus was an outcast, which made him uniquely UN-qualified to be a savior. And yet Jesus’ teaching and NT theology continually claim that this DISqualification is, in fact, the true qualification. This is thinking outside the box in the ancient world.

And another unique feature is Jesus’ resurrection. Life after death isn’t really amazing. In the ancient world, everyone assumed there was life after death—that people’s empty spirits went to Hades to live. Not only did Jesus return from Hades, but he returned to his own body, which was restored, better than before. This is the unique aspect that most people who look at ancient myths don’t understand. You see, Osiris, Hermes, etc, all were already eternal. They were in their spiritual bodies—the interesting part of the story is that they escaped from Hades. Heracles became divine. But Jesus’ restoration is different—He is still perpetually human in an eternally human body. Resurrection in this manner—life after life after death—was a unique concept. It was talked about in Daniel and hinted at in Isaiah and Psalm 22, but Jesus’ story is the only one that actually talked about it actually happen.

So AZ and others can deny the historicity of Jesus’ life if they wanted to, but it can’t be done on the basis of Jesus’ similarity to others’ lives in myth. Jesus’ situation was completely unique, unparalleled by other myths unless you squint so much that they all look the same in that blurry fashion.