Thursday, October 19, 2017

COMPASSION AND SECULARISM





Christian values are the pillars of Western civilization. Secular philosopher Jurgen Habermas admits:

·       “Christianity and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source.”

When we examine the most advanced classical cultures, we find them short on compassion. Historian, Rodney Stark, wrote:

·       Classical philosophy regarded mercy and pity as pathological emotions—defects of character to be avoided by all rational men. Since mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it was contrary to justice.

In contrast, Christian thinking takes very different turn on the topic of compassion. The early third century theologian, Tertullian, commented:

·       We Christians have everything in common except our wives. It is our care of the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. “Look,” they say, “how much they love one another.”

Similarly, Aristides of Athens commented:

·       If the brethren have among them a man in need and they have not abundant resources, they fast for a day or two so as to provide the needy man with the necessary food!”

Christian compassion was so evident that even the pagans took note. Lucian (190 AD) remarked:

·       The earnestness with which people of this religion help one another in their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end.

In “How Christianity Conquered the World,” Alvin Schmidt wrote:

·       Emperor Julian [an opponent of Christianity] ordered the creation of hospices saying, ‘It would be shameful, when the Jews have no beggars, when the impious Galileans feed our own people along with their own, that ours should be seen to lack the help we owe them.’”

It was Christian compassion that had led Christians to stand against slavery, as Dinesh D’Souza had written:

·       Christians were the first group in history to start an anti-slavery movement. The movement started in late eighteenth century in Britain…In England, William Wilberforce spear-headed a campaign that began with almost no support and was driven entirely by his Christian convictions…Pressed by religious groups at home, England took the lead in repressing the slave trade abroad. (“What’s so Great about Christianity,” 73)

Today, the secular humanist argues that we do not need to be Christian in order to be compassionate. However, according to D’Souza, the example of the humanist Aristotle suggests that this might not be the case:

·       Aristotle, too, had a job for low men: slavery. Aristotle argued that with low men in servitude, superior men would have leisure to think and participate in governance of the community. Aristotle cherished the “great-souled man” who was proud, honorable, aristocratic, rich.

While acting compassionately can be rewarding, it later becomes wearisome and costly. Consequently, it is not enough to merely feel compassion. Instead, we also need a belief system that supports and requires compassion. It is easy to be compassionate with those who can repay us, but not otherwise, not for long.

Can secular humanism deliver compassion on a consistent basis? Perhaps the easiest way to demonstrate that it cannot is to segue to the related Christian value of equality, based on the belief that we are all created equally in the image of God. In fact, it is so exclusively a biblical revelation that Friedrich Nietzsche had observed that:

·       Another Christian concept, no less crazy: the concept of equality of souls before God. This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights.” (“Will to Power”)

The concept of equality is not a “self-evident” truth as Jefferson had claimed.

·       When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” he claimed that this was a self-evident truth. But it is not evident at all. Indeed, most cultures throughout history, and even today, reject the proposition. (D’Souza, 70)

D’Souza is clearly right. If we look at our fellow man from a strictly non-biblical and materialistic perspective, we do not see equality. Instead we observe that some are healthy, while others are not; some are big and strong, while others are not; some are intelligent and highly educated; while others are not. Perhaps more importantly, some make positive contributions to society, while make negative.

Without this biblical revelation, there is no rational basis for equality, apart from the argument that equality is healthy to society – we profit from it. However, in the short-run, we do not. We profit more by showing compassion to those who will repay us. Besides, not every human will be seen as an equal candidate for our compassion.

In short, secularism cannot, for long, make use of Christian values without the Christian God and His Scriptures. Currently, we are living on borrowed capital. We still retain some of our Christian habits, which had once made the West great. However, without their rational underpinning in God, they are quickly eroding, along with the benefits we had once enjoyed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

SAM HARRIS’ ATTACK ON GOD AS OUR MORAL BASIS





I was just watching a segment of Sam Harris’ debate with WLC. Harris argued that the God of the Bible could not possibly serve as the basis of moral law because:

1.    Thousands of young children die every day.
2.    Then they will be banished to hell if they’ve failed to in believe exactly the right way.

Not only did Harris argue that this disqualified the God of the Bible as the possible basis for moral truth; it also disqualified everyone who believes in such a God as “morally reprehensible,” not just mistaken or even logically ignorant.

Since I qualify as one of his moral reprehensibles, I thought that it might be appropriate to defend myself.

Let’s first address point number one. Admittedly, we do not comprehensively understand why God allows such evil and suffering. However, we might be able to put together a modest attempt to explain what God has not explained. For one thing, he might be allowing us to reap the consequences of both our sins and humanity’s initial rebellion which had resulted in the Fall.

I am sure that Harris will not be satisfied with this explanation. However, his argument depends upon the hidden premise that there is no possible way to explain God’s passivity in the face of such widespread suffering. I think that he will find this impossible to prove, especially in light of the next consideration.

Our lives here are just a drop in the bucket compared to a blissful eternity. In light of this possibility, Harris would have to prove that our temporal suffering outweighs anything that eternity can offer. However, he cannot do this. So let’s go on to point number two.

Will these little children be banished to hell because they failed to believe in exactly the right things? I don’t think that Harris can make this assertion about the Biblical faith. Once again, we are only given a sketchy picture of heaven and hell, especially in regards to the outcome of babies who die prematurely. For example, Jesus taught:

·       And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12:47-48; ESV)

Babies do not know much. Therefore, according to Jesus, there remains only an uncertain basis for accountability, if any. Nor had they been entrusted with much.

Yet, I am sure that Harris understands that this perplexing question of evil does not constitute the basis of our faith let alone our morality. Nevertheless, he will take this mud and smear it in our face and call us “reprehensive” when we fail to turn this mud into diamonds.

However, Harris also lives on the same muddy road of death and suffering. In The Moral Landscape, Harris argues that reason and science show us that “human flourishing” is our absolute and objective standard is good or bad. Anything that helps humans flourish is good.

However, according to Harris, the daily death of thousands of little children argues against any just and objective moral law. Therefore, following Harris’ logic, it would be impossible to reason that this universe of suffering and death contains any objective moral laws. Consequently, we are left to merely make-believe that we are surrounded by moral universe and that “human flourishing” is its motto, rather than “termite flourishing.”

Consequently, both Harris and we reprehensibles are left to explain the problem of evil. However, for us, evil only has a very limited shelf-life, and will be swallowed up by our Savior’s eternal and glorious kingdom. Meanwhile, we have found many reasons to trust in His moral teachings and even find great delight in them.

IS THERE ANYTHING ILLEGITIMATE ABOUT USING WORDS?





The charges brought against the servants of the Lord are endless. Here is the latest - that a real Christian should be doing acts of love and not using words:

·       “Indeed your approach here seems more Spanish Inquisition (here is some doctrine you must adopt) rather than Christ-like who brought people to God through acts that meant something to those to be converted. I don’t see you doing that with this approach.”

Here is my response”

“Admittedly, here in the world of social media, I can’t clothe you or even offer you a cup of coffee. Instead, the way we “touch” each other is through the medium of words. However, rather than coerce people to believe certain doctrines, I attempt to follow the Biblical model and to provide reasons to believe.

I think that Jesus’ Great Commission (along with the rest of His ministry) is revealing of His priorities:

·       And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Of course, we don’t just preach the Gospel, we attempt to embody it in our lives. However, acts of love alone, apart from its interpretive words of the Gospel, can easily be misinterpreted. People might think, “You are such a wonderful person.” It is then necessary for me to correct them:

·       It is not about me. I am just an unworthy servant. It is about the Spirit of Christ working through me.

Words are necessary, in fact, central to our relationship with our Savior:

·       Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)

Without the Bible’s words of enlightenment, we do not even know how to live a life of love. Even if we might look loving on the outside, Scripture is necessary to humble us and even to teach us how to regard ourselves and our God. Otherwise, we become proud, and this will undermine everything.”

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ARE MORAL LAWS JUST BRUTE FACTS, NOT NEEDING ANY EXPLANATION?





There are some atheists who believe in objective moral laws. However, we have to ask, what is the source of these laws? If they are merely beamed in from a planet in a far off galaxy, why should we obey them? Do we obey everything we hear in a sitcom? Of course not! Why then messages from other planets!

Well, what would give these laws their authority? One atheist confessed that moral laws are just “brute facts”:

·       The brute ethical facts [laws] just are - that's the nature of brute facts.

However, if these laws do not come from an authoritative and all-wise Source, why does it even matter if these “ethical facts [laws]” exist?

The atheist might argue that these laws are actually wired into our nature by evolution. They are part of us, and, for our own well-being, we have to live in harmony with them.

I agree in part. These laws are wired into us. However, they teach us about universal and objective moral truths. They are not just a bio-chemical series of reactions. Instead, this wiring serves as a fire-alarm bell. It sounds to alert us of a real and external fire that needs our attention. When we hurt another, we have ignited a fire, and we have to do something about it. It is not just a disturbing bell but has significance beyond our bio-chemical reaction.

If moral law was no more than a disturbing bio-chemical reaction, it would be like a fire-alarm that sounds without there being a real fire. In this case, the appropriate reaction would be to either repair it or simply destroy it.

This is the strategy many have pursued in regards to their annoying conscience – to stifle its annoying bio-chemical reaction. This can be achieved, at least partially, with alcohol or drugs. Others resort to psychotherapy or affiliations that affirm them despite their anti-social or even criminal behavior, while it seems that others have succeeded in dismantling their conscience.

Besides, if morality is just a set of impersonal laws, brute facts, then there is no reason that we cannot simply find ways to overcome them as we have done with the laws of physics. We have been able to defy gravity simply by flying on an airplane. Is there any reason that we cannot practice the same defiance on a moral level?

Should we defy the moral taboos against adultery or incest? Why not, if they are impersonal brute facts?

Instead, following God’s laws have become a joy for me. They have infused my life with meaning and fullness:

·       Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. (John 4:34)

THE NEED FOR STRAIGHT-TALK





My response to a dedicated atheist – Do you think it too strong, or do you think that love requires these very direct words?

“What if someone told you that they couldn’t detect the color green – that they couldn’t detect the difference the colors red and green? You would conclude that they are color blind.

This is how the Bible regards the atheist who cannot see what is clearly there:

·       Romans 1:18-20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are WITHOUT EXCUSE.

But even worse, the atheist’s blindness to the evidence of God is culpable. It represents a willful determination to NOT see.

Meanwhile, science has uncovered further evidence of Intelligent Design, even radar in bats, sonar in various fish, the ability to detect and navigate magnetic friends in Monarchs, infrared detection in snakes… The list is endless and staggering. This demonstrates that no amount of evidence will ever be enough for some. Even worse, to deny that these examples represent ID has eternal consequences.

I pray that you will reconsider.”