SHORT AND SWEET – 9

Yesterday, I noted that prominent atheist Sam Harris doesn’t believe in free will. He follows the majority view among science writers. He’s a neuro-scientist.

His answer? Science can give us morals. No kidding. That’s his answer. Essentially, it’s this. Science describes the world. It is by far the best (and possibly only) source of knowledge that we have, so they argue.

It is not hard to come up with a description of human flourishing. Not subjective, but objective. Then, all we have to do, is use science to show us how to get there. Eg. A child dying of malnutrition in Africa is a worse state of affairs than a healthy child attending school in the West, where good parenting and positive social interaction and learning lead to a happy life. We just have to figure out – using science – how to increase the latter while decreasing the former.

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it? I think he’s right.

Half right. The half he’s right about is this: The world can be described objectively. In other words, there is such a thing as Truth. We can discover and evaluate, through a whole variety of disciplines, what leads to beneficial results for ourselves and our children.

But then we come to that word ‘moral.’ Objectivity, I’m afraid, doesn’t lead to morality.

Tomorrow, some thoughts on why that is.

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SHORT AND SWEET – 8

Most atheists don’t believe in free will. Did you know that? In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris writes,

From the perspective of your conscious mind, you are no more responsible for the next thing you think (and therefore do) than you are for the fact that you were born into this world. 

Why is this? Because in a purely physical world, every event can only be caused by physical stuff. There’s no room for a ‘ghost in the machine.’ There is only the machine, whirring away. Consciousness is, therefore, something for which they have no real explanation. It just is. And free will is an illusion.

So far, so good. Your assumptions lead you to believe that free will doesn’t exist. Be my guest. But be bold, Sam, Richard D and Steven P. Follow the logic wherever it leads. Surely, no free will means no responsibility for our actions, right? Well, how could we be responsible if we’re not responsible for what we think?

Yet, suddenly, cold feet appear. Sam Harris certainly doesn’t want to exonerate those who commit hideous crimes, does he? No, he doesn’t. No one wants to look like they don’t believe in morality.

Tomorrow, his answer, which will make your head spin.

SHORT AND SWEET – 7

“A statue of founding father and writer of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson is sparking debate at the University of Missouri, with some students demanding that the statue be removed over Jefferson’s “offensive” history as a slave owner.” Online article. 

A similar thing took place with regard to a statue of Cecil B. Rhodes, the Victorian adventurer.

Yesterday, I wrote about Progress. Some refer to it, I suppose, as political correctness. Were figures from the past sexist and racist? No question. There’s just no way of getting around that. But the urge to remove commemorations of historical figures because you don’t approve of their values, I’m not so sure. As with all things progressive, where do you draw the line and on what grounds? For fear of offending people, we will end up living in a world with nothing but white-washed walls. A kind of modern Puritanism.

A while back, Bomber Harris’ statue was criticized because he was responsible for destroying Dresden during WW2. Should he be removed? I think not. Morality in times of war is notoriously difficult to assess.

As for Jefferson, his case is much clearer. As the author of the Declaration of Independence, he is one of the greatest Americans in history, whose life has affected millions. Worthy of honour, I think.

Feels like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

SHORT AND SWEET – 6

Ever heard this one? ‘You’re on the wrong side of history.’ This from David Cameron during the gay marriage debate: “Strong views exist on both sides but I believe MPs voting for gay people being able to marry too, is a step forward for our country.”

This is about Progress, we’re told.

But arguing for anything on the basis of Progress is a bad idea.

It asserts that morality is ‘progressing’ and therefore our ‘current morality’ is superior to anything that has gone before. Yet, if we’re progressing, if we’re on a continuum, then why think that we’re correct just because we live in 2016? It amounts to this: This is what we think nowadays and because we’re living now . . . er, then we must be right. Because that’s what we think . . . now. 

Bizarrely, this is counter to another popular viewpoint, namely cultural relativism. This assigns each culture’s practices an equal and inviolate value purely due to the status of being from a different part of the world.

Which do you prefer? Progress – everything is moving – or culture – we’re right because of our traditions?

God forbid we should actually argue for Truth.

SHORT AND SWEET – 5

You can’t buy God. That’s religion, isn’t it? Paying for God’s approval. Good behavior that earns God’s favour and love. Or let’s face it, a much baser assumption, you’ll get what you want. The prosperity gospel. Ugh.

But you can’t download God either.

This is a truth we struggle to cope with. Really? Stay with me.

Almost everything we do nowadays is done through the medium of the computer. All our shopping. Our social interaction. It’s the source of our news, our entertainment, our information, even our wisdom. It’s a tool so powerful, surely it should be possible to download the Creator himself.

But of course, that’s not possible. Downloading is initiated and controlled by the user. Genesis 3 reveals that we have an innate desire to be God, to be in control, the ultimate master of our own destinies. And we know how Genesis 3 ends.

You can’t download God because you can’t control him. He is unfathomable and like the wind, he blows who knows where. The desire to download God is like wishing you could herd cats, lasso the moon, make a woman love you.

You can’t. Because ultimately you’re not in control.

Time, instead, for a little faith.

SHORT AND SWEET – 4

No clearer example of morality being based on heart and not head is the issue of abortion. But let me start with some short observations on language.

Pro-choice. If you’re into marketing, this is possibly the best example of clever marketing you’re ever likely to find. It is quite brilliant. Why?

First, because words matter. They really do. Words create pictures, worlds; they build up, destroy, they exert immense power. Christians know this better than anyone. After all, we follow a man called The Word, whom we believe created the universe.

Pro-choice. Genius. The subject is abortion and you’ve framed it as choice. It isn’t actually about choice, but you’ve sold us the lie that it’s about choice. Nice work. Who could possibly be against ‘a women’s right to choose?’ Oh, there’s another tasty word, ‘right.’ Or maybe ‘a woman’s freedom to choose.’ Even more powerful. Freedom and Choice. Words don’t come more powerful than those two.

So, before we even get started, those who oppose abortion are up against it. We’re up against the power of language, and the other side is using the big guns.

Want to know why our culture approves of abortion?

Start with language.

SHORT AND SWEET – 3

‘You’re imposing your morality on me.’

Two responses. First, ‘Well, yes, of course, because morality is supposed to apply to all of us. It’s about how we should behave. All of us. It’s wrong to mistreat children. Yes, you over there. And me too. So, yes, I think some behaviours are right and some are wrong. Probably a little old-fashioned for our culture, but there you go.’ Pause.

‘But don’t you think the same? Don’t you also hold certain moral views? What privileges your views over mine? And when you accuse me of ‘imposing mine,’ isn’t that exactly what you’re doing to me? Rejecting my views because they conflict with yours?

Why is this attitude so common? Partly because it’s assumed that there’s actually an over-arching position of neutrality from which all views can be assessed and judged. From the outside. But that isn’t true. We’re all on the inside. The view is called the Myth of the Neutral Centre. Not a very sexy title, but true.

So, when you think I’m imposing my morality, methinks a little humility and clear-thinking might be in order.

And I haven’t even addressed assumptions. More soon on that.

SHORT AND SWEET – 2

What drives your moral judgements? Yesterday I suggested heart and not head. Here’s an example to get you started. It’s a story about ‘gendering’ in Manchester. Yes, it’s about toilets. My apologies.

Gendering? Where did this word come from? And it’s transitive. Oh my gosh, it’s actually transitive! You are gendering me! How dare you? There are few things more emotive than the charge ‘don’t gender me!’ Even with this horrible use of language. Forget reason, this is all emotion.

But it’s really postmodernism gone completely mad. There is no longer male and female. We are what we choose to be and apparently, it’s fluid. You want to cause massive confusion in a young person’s life, tell him/her that genitalia are no indicator of gender. Really. You can make it up as you go along.

I’m thinking three Scriptures, just for some enlightenment.

Male and female he created them. Gen. 1

For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God. Gen 3

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit. Judges 21 

I hope you don’t think I’m ‘imposing my religion on you.’

That hot chestnut I’ll address tomorrow.

SHORT AND SWEET

Short and sweet. A post every day of the working week.

200 words or less. A minute of your time. Enjoy.

So, why is it that if you mention Hitler, you always lose the argument? It’s true isn’t it? And it happened last week. Boris – gotta love a great entertainer.

He was vilified immediately. Why? Because Hitler is a non-starter in an argument. Why? It’s because in our culture we respond primarily with our emotions and not our judgement. We’re all heart and no head. Second, we’re really into ‘being offended.’ Hitler ticks both boxes. I’m offended by your suggestion that there is any similarity between the Bad Guy and me or my position. Second, my emotional response trumps whatever argument you were making.

Did Boris have a point? Who cares? We’re all so offended, it’s got lost.

So, when you’re tempted to mention Hitler, remember Basil Fawlty. ‘Don’t mention the war. I did once but I think I got away with it.’ He may have, but you won’t. Your argument will be lost.

 

Fight or Journey

What’s your life? Fight or Journey? No contest, right? It’s got to be Journey.

Ah-ah, no mixing the two. Enough of ‘well, what about a fight while I’m on my journey!’ The point about the metaphor is that you have to choose one. Just one. Fight or Journey.

First some reasons why we either reject or avoid the idea of ‘fight.’ First, of course, because it involves violence and most of us are not physically violent. We might engage in arguments – let’s call them fights – but for the most part, we avoid physical violence. Very understandable. I love Elton John’s Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting, but I’m not familiar with that kind of scene. Be thankful you don’t live in the Middle Ages, where your lifespan would probably have been determined by your physical ability with sword or bow.

Second, a fight has winners and losers and this is anathema to people who are committed to community. A community – the church – is surely about downplaying conflict and highlighting shared values. Furthermore, who wants to think of life in terms of what you’re against? Fighting is so . . . unpleasant.

With me so far? Hope so.

What’s the attraction of the journey? Well, for one, it has great antecedents. Pilgrim’s Progress, for example. The life of faith has to do with progress. We’re moving closer to God. Movement is surely a journey. We feel this inside instinctively. Not surprising, then, that ‘journey’ is a well-worn theme in art and culture. Dante’s Divine Comedy (Hell, Purgatory and Paradise) is surely the archetype of the Christian journey, second to none in its depiction of the soul’s progress towards God. Also in its favour is the fact that people who aren’t Christians often talk of ‘journey.’ Oprah, for example, is very much one for the journey.

So, which one should we favour? If we had to choose. Which one aligns most closely with Scripture?

It’s a close call, but I’m going to make a controversial case for Fight.

But first, Journey. What about Journey in the Old Testament? Yup, it’s there. From Abe to Zerubbabel, the Israelites are on the move. No question. There is almost no OT figure who doesn’t travel long distances. They may be seeking to stay still, but they don’t do it. They move and as they move, they learn and make mistakes and more importantly, we learn about God’s character in the process of their journeying.

New Testament. More movement. Jesus, the itinerant preacher. Luke emphasizes Christ’s decision to travel to Jerusalem (Luke 9.51) as a high point of his gospel. Indeed Luke-Acts uses ‘journey’ as its dominant motif. Not only this, but some of the most famous parables include journeys. The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son both use journeys as metaphors into which spiritual truths are poured. You could also add The Parable of the Tenants, when the King leaves and sends his son back to his land.

Finally, St. Paul’s missionary journeys form an essential part of God’s message about mission. All believers are called to ‘go.’ We’re all to journey and while we go, we will experience the presence of the Spirit, who is with his journeying believers. A strong metaphor for our spiritual journey towards God, surely.

So why choose Fight?

First exhibit: The Old Testament. For reasons that reside deep inside the mind of God, he chose to form a nation and then set that nation on collision course with other nations. You can’t get away from this truth. The Israelites fought pretty much every nation with an –ite on the end of its name. It is true that they were sometimes condemned for such behaviour, but on dozens of occasions, they are commanded by God to go and slay their enemies. Yes, commanded. God’s use of warfare to achieve his ends must, of course, be placed within the context of his redemptive purposes, but he surely does not avoid warfare as a means to an end. Fighting, a violent physical activity, and yes, a symptom of our fallenness, is used by God as a tool in his hands to achieve his ends.

Second and most important exhibit: The gospels. The gospels present Christ in direct opposition to the Devil. His temptation in the desert, followed by his myriad healings and exorcisms bring him into conflict with his Opposition, the prince of the air. Furthermore, he is opposed constantly by people who want to kill him. In addition, he frames his teaching in terms of ‘with me or against me.’ Even in the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are you when you are persecuted ‘in my name.’ That’s Fight. With me or against me. You must pick a side. No fence-sitting permitted.

But the crucial one must be the highpoint of history, when the Son of God hung upon a cross, died and was then resurrected. This act is represented as a triumph. A victory over sin, death and Satan. It is Fight which lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. A fight which God wins and into which he calls us.

It is, of course, tragic that European Christian leaders and Popes thought that capturing Jerusalem or fighting each other on behalf of God was a correct interpretation of Scripture. They were wrong. The Fight is internal – for purity – and yet it is also focused outwards.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.… 

I wonder if you have attended churches where the dominant idea was ‘fighting the devil.” I have. Every prayer meeting was a duel with the devil. Off we went, ‘taking the land,’ ‘declaring spiritual truths to each other and to spiritual forces.’ It can get tiring after a while. I’m bound to say, however, that when the sense of Fight is absent, a church can lose its confidence.

And it can lose its way.

Ask yourself as you look out over your congregation on a Sunday morning: ‘Do we look like an army? Do we live like people who are in a fight for the Kingdom of God, praying with fervour for the glory of God to be revealed and for his kingdom to come?

I love these lyrics from Our God Reigns by Delirious:

Yes he reigns, yes you reign, yes you reign,
For there is only one true God,
But we’ve lost the reins on this world,
Forgive us all, forgive us please,
As we fight for this broken world on our knees. 

As we fight for this broken world on our knees. What passion! What drive!

I favour Fight right now, because we need it more. Simple as that. I don’t wish to pit Fight against Journey. They are both valid, both important. But in our desperate world, we need more fight right now. We need to care more, sacrifice more, pray more, believe more.

We fight on our knees because we know that our God is already victorious. Believe it. May his Kingdom come. May his will be done! Amen.