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.

 

 

 

 

Dear Slugtail

I’m sure you’ve read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. This post is an homage to this book. The subject is the SCOTUS (Supreme Court . . . ) decision from a few weeks ago. Apologies for the delay. Do share. Thanks.

DEAR SLUGTAIL 

Dear Slugtail,

May I first congratulate you on your promotion. I never much liked Wormwood, although I often massaged his ego. How surprising that he didn’t notice my condescension. Or my lies for that matter. After all, the Enemy says I’m the Father of Inaccuracies – my spin, of course. So, welcome. And down to business.

Well, first I must express my disappointment with the recent Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage. That slow-burner was producing tremendous fruit. I fail to see your logic in tipping it over the edge towards an actual decision. There is no question that it has caused immense damage in the few days following the decision, but couldn’t you have kept the issue smouldering for a little longer? Well, we are where we are.

In mitigation, I must applaud you on the way you have taken advantage of the darkness in the human heart, which this issue brings to light. Our light, of course. How pleasing first to see believers turn on each other. You are right to concentrate on relations within the Body of our Enemy. Undermine the communion of the faithful and the whole enterprise collapses. And this particular issue has always worked marvellously well to take their eyes off the goal. So little talk of the wonders of our Enemy, so little reference to the Son, that hated man.

In addition, they do find it so very difficult to exercise self-control. Before they know it, the insults creep in, offence is felt and temperatures rise. All achieved without almost any action on your part, Slugtail. I have watched this with immense satisfaction. I notice, also, the manner in which they fight. They speak past each other, hardly hearing what the other is saying. The qualities desired by our Enemy, graciousness, tact, not to mention love, are almost completely absent. It is a joy to watch.

And so to the substantive issue, which has little to do with same-sex marriage. In fact, such unions interest me little. No, far more importantly, this issue has had a most pleasing effect on the manner in which believers interpret The Books. There is not one verse in the entirety of them which espouses or reinforces same-sex union. Not one. And so they argue over ‘context,’ which leads most of them a merry dance of confusion. In despair, they end up invoking our favourite hermeneutic of all: love. Oh, we’re making tremendous progress with that word.

There is much talk of re-defining marriage. How ridiculous! Marriage can’t be re-defined, even we know that. It is discovered by man and ordained by the Enemy, more’s the pity. No, it is not marriage that has been re-defined. We have gained something far greater and more valuable.

We have re-defined love itself.

The holy grail. Re-defining love has far greater power. Do ensure that believers don’t refer to the actual definition found in The Books: And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments. 2 John.

It’s particularly galling to see John talk about ‘walking in the truth.’ Never forget. It is incredibly important to keep emphasizing that love has no connection with truth. The moment they go seeking what the Enemy actually desires, we’re lost.

No, as you have done so well up until now, guide humans towards their own definition, ‘love means approving of whatever behaviours I tell you make me happy.’ It’s gloriously coupled with the admonition you have worked so hard to cultivate: ‘do not judge.’ Presenting love as ‘approval for whatever behaviour I tell you brings me happiness’ is truly a masterstroke. I see it everywhere, especially between believers.

And how gratifying to see how effective you’ve been in ridiculing those believers who present a considered, balanced and clearly argued perspective. No sooner out of the mouth or typed into a website than the believer is denounced as ‘hateful.’ This truly warms my heart. Of course, the media has always helped us with this, but now, believers are turning on each other with the same accusation.

I see that you have also carefully co-opted strategically important vocabulary to achieve your goals. Just as those who sought to protect human life were labelled ‘anti-choice,’ so now believers – merely by presenting their heart-felt convictions, well, they’re ‘anti-gay.’ Who can support people who are ‘anti’ anything!? We have cornered our enemies and made them look like killjoys and hate-driven bigots who are out of touch with people who ‘just want to love each other.’ Ho ho, on reflection, perhaps that Supreme Court decision was the necessary catalyst for all this escalating conflict. It certainly fills me with joy, I must say.

Keep up the good work,

Screwtape

© Richard Collins 2015