Monday, August 31, 2009

What the Rabbis have Said about Messiah

Below is a letter I wrote to an orthodox Jewish woman who had cited only those Messianic verses that pertained to the Messiah’s triumphant establishment of His glorious eternal kingdom:

All of these verses are very true about the Messiah, but there is one additional consideration that affects our understanding of who this Messiah is. Many Rabbis, along with Christians, have recognized that Scripture contains two distinct portraits of the Messiah: one in which He will suffer and die for the sins of the people; the second in which He will establish the everlasting kingdom. The verses that you selected point to His final return.

Let me acquaint you with verses which support the first portrait along with what the Rabbis say about it:

Isaiah 53:1-5 Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. 3He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. 4Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. (You really should also read until the end of the chapter to derive the full force of this prophecy!)

Here’s what Maimonides wrote:

“Yet he carried our sicknesses, being himself sick and distressed for the transgressions which should have caused sickness and distress in us, and bearing the pains which we ought to have experienced. But we, when we saw him weakened and prostrate, thought we were healed [53:5] – because the stripes by which he was vexed and distressed will heal us: God will pardon us for his righteousness and we shall be healed from our own transgressions and from the iniquities of our fathers.”

This is also reflected in the day of atonement musaf (additional) prayer:

“Our righteous anointed is departed from us: horror hath seized us, and we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities, and our transgression [53:5]. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by his wound, at the time that the Eternal will create him (the Messiah) as a new creature.”

Here are some additional rabbinic references:


“The children of the world are members one of another. When the Holy One desires to give healing to the world, he smites one just man amongst them, and for his sake heals all the rest. Whence do we learn this? From the saying, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities’ (53:5).” (52)


“While Israel were in their own land they freed themselves from such sicknesses and other punishments by means of offerings, but now the Messiah frees them from them, as it is written, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions…’” (Isa. 53:5)


“As long as Israel dwelt in the Holy Land , the rituals and the sacrifices they performed removed all those diseases from the world; now the Messiah removes them from the children of the world.”


“The Messiah, in order to atone for them both [for Adam and David] will ‘make his soul a trespass offering,’ (Isaiah 53:10).”


“The meaning of the words Bruised for our iniquities’ [Isaiah 53:5] is that since the Messiah bears our iniquities, which produce the effect of his being bruised, it follows that whoso will not admit that the Messiah thus suffers for our iniquities, must endure and suffer them for them himself.” (All the above quotations are taken from What the Rabbonim Say About Moshiach, Douglas Pyle)

There are many other verses that also point to Messiah’s death for His people: Zechariah 12:10; Daniel 9:24-27; Psalms 22; 69. At least the first two, many Rabbis also regard as Messianic.

Please let me know if you have any questions or challenges.

Denying Free Will

I may not be able to touch or taste it, but it’s just as plain that I exercise freedom of choice as it is that I breathe! Nevertheless, a growing chorus of atheists deny it exists. The renowned biologist Francis Crick states, “It seems free to you but it’s the result of things you are not aware of.” The equally renowned E.O. Wilson writes that “the hidden preparation of mental activity gives the illusion of free will.”

Why would such intelligent scientists deny something that is so obvious and so foundational to the way we live? Atheism (or materialism) has no room in its world view for something that isn’t totally material and totally determined by chemical-electrical processes. Atheism correctly perceives that free will requires an additional element—something that is beyond the material and reeks of the Transcendent—a horrid stench that no faithful atheist can endure.

But the atheist must pay dearly for the luxury of his refusal to acknowledge the obvious. For instance, another renowned atheist Steven Pinker writes, “The self…is just another network of brain systems…The evidence is overwhelming that every aspect of our mental lives [including free will] depends entirely on physiological events in the tissues of the brain.” This means that everything that we think and do has been pre-programmed by “physiological events.” Nevertheless, Pinker also writes, “happiness and virtue have nothing to do with what natural selection designed us to accomplish…They are for us to determine.”

Here, he seems to indicate that there is a distinction between “us” and our physiology, whereas, before he had stated that we are entirely our physiology. Pinker adds, “Well into my procreating years I am, so far, childless…ignoring the solemn imperative to spread my genes….If my genes don’t like it, they can jump in the lake.”

Pinker makes a very ordinary claim—he can resist his genes. We do this all the time when we turn down an additional scoop of chocolate ice cream. However, according to Pinker, he is not distinct from his genes. Therefore, whenever he decides anything, it’s his genes that are calling the shots, the very opposite of free will. If we choose against our genetically programmed inclinations, the we must stand apart and distinct from these inclinations. Otherwise, it’s merely a matter of the stronger genetic inclination winning out over the weaker.

Pinker can’t have it both ways. Either he can resist his genes because the he is distinct from his genes, which he denies, or else he cannot resist his genes because “he” is his genes, in which case there is no free will involved.

Why does the brilliant Pinker allow himself to fall prey to such flagrant contradiction? Why does anyone remain an atheist? It’s not simply that atheism can’t account for free will. Atheism can’t account for hardly anything. It can’t account for life, the cell, DNA, the origin of our laws of nature, the fine-tuning of the universe, morality, consciousness… Ordinarily, this inability to account for the facts within its domain would disqualify any theory. Nevertheless, atheism survives. Why? The philosopher, Thomas Nagel confessed,

I want atheism to be true…It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God…I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that. (All the above quotes are taken from What’s So Great about Christianity, Dinesh D’Souza.)

We can deny our perceptions like the ostrich who sticks his head in the ground. But denial will inevitably exact its appropriate price.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Theistic Evolution: Marrying off Jesus to Darwin

(This represents a response I made to a theistic-evolution blog, BioLogos)

Thanks for acknowledging that we encounter great problems when we try to put Jesus and Darwin together. It is vexing to dialogue with a Christian who pretends that they go together like peanut butter and jelly.

I think that we’d both agree that, despite the challenges, we must somehow seek to reconcile the physical world with the Bible, recognizing that they both represent God’s singular truth. We’d also agree that this endeavor is made even more difficult because we “see in part.”

We both probably work from what we know and try to apply it to what we don’t know. We take what is most certain and use it to illuminate what is less certain. However, I think we take divergent paths from this point. While you might start with the modern consensus of the community of science as certainty, I start with Scripture, as Scripture mandates (2 Cor. 10:4-5; John 15:5-8). It becomes my lens through which I see everything else.

You might regard this as putting my head in the sand and refusing to take an unbiased look at the real world. However, I see Scripture as a good pair of glasses that brings the world into sharp focus. In fact everyone wears his own lens. The question becomes this: “Does my lens obscure or illuminate what’s out there? Does Darwin blind or lead research in fruitful ways?”

Several esteemed archeologists have claimed that their diggings had been profitably guided by Scripture. Scientists have stated likewise. Karl Giberson even had an interesting post on this subject. (Please see my July post, “Christians can’t do Science!”)

Our paradigms exercise tremendous influence over our selection and organization of the facts. This helps to explain our variant ideas. While you regard evolution as an unassailable fortress, I see it as a tottering fa├žade. Likewise, two people can write my autobiography; one will make me into a saint, while the other can have me looking like a rank sinner, all depending upon the facts they choose. This same principle pertains whether in regards to science, history, or any other discipline. (I don’t mean to relativize the facts, but merely the way we humans make use of the facts.)

Here’s one example out of many. While you, choosing certain supporting facts, may regard dinosaurs as having pre-dated humans by millions of years, Creationists point to other evidences—ancient drawings of people fighting dinosaurs, dinosaur recorded history, a footprint containing both species, DNA found in a dinosaur remains.

You write about how many disciplines are bringing together convergent evidence for evolution. Evolutionists point out the agreement between several systems or measures of dating the earth and its objects. However, we need to see this claim in light of the fact that there are literally thousands, even millions, of possible ways to date. Each object moves or deteriorates at its own formulaic way and rate. So each object becomes a possible source to assess dates, given certain presuppositions. Creationists have pointed to many of these—the movement of the moon towards the earth, the deterioration of Saturn’s rings, soil formation, sediment deposits. The list is potentially endless.

If all these possible measures exist, it becomes easy for us to cherry pick which measures agree with our hypothesis and forget the rest. It also becomes easy to find agreement for evolution between the various disciplines. Besides, there is a lot of energy, time and resources being invested to prove this very thing. I would be surprised if they didn’t find oodles of evidence in this unbalanced manner.

It’s like an insurance company going to court with their team of lawyers. How could they not build an overwhelming case for their client!

Atheism Can’t Escape God, Not Completely

The world-renowned atheistic ethicist, Peter Singer, sometimes sounds like a Christian:

"If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it. An application of this principle would be as follows: if I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing." (Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, Christina and Fred Sommers, 836)

This bit of Scriptural wisdom (James 4:17) shouldn’t surprise us. We are made in the image of God, and He has written His law upon our hearts (Romans 2:15). However, we are left to wonder how an atheist makes this leap from following our moral impulses to something we all “ought” to do for ethical reasons. An impulse is just an impulse. We don’t follow all our impulses. Most of us don’t murder and steal. Why does Singer obey certain impulses and not others? Why are certain impulses more morally binding than others? This question is highlighted by the fact that elsewhere Singer writes,

When we reject belief in a god we must give up the idea that life on this planet has some preordained meaning. Life as a whole has no meaning. Life began, as the best available theories tell us, in a chance combination of gases; it then evolved through random mutations and natural selection.

If life came about by chance, without any intention or purpose, then it can’t contain meaning or values, and Singer is correct. How can an explosion in a godless universe have meaning and value if there is no one to value it? How can music be pleasurable if there is no one to listen to it?

How then can Singer conclude that there are certain acts that we “ought” to do when there is no intrinsic meaning to determine what should and shouldn’t be? In Singer’s world, we’re no more than specks on the broad expanse of existence, left to ourselves to create our own meaning and moral truth. A speck can no more guilty than can a tree for falling on someone’s head.

Why then the necessity to act morally? Specks and other products of chance aren’t moral agents. We can’t expect a moral response “from a chance combination of gases” anymore than we can from the dust on my bookshelf. Where then does Singer find justification for his moral “ought?”

I begin with the assumption that suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad. I think most people will agree about this.

What is the basis for his “assumption that suffering and death…are bad” if “life has no meaning”? What authority or standard can determine that these things are bad? Indeed, our feelings tell us that they’re bad, but why should we regard our feelings as standards for moral truths if none exist? Some people feel that suffering and death are worth pursuing, at least in respect to others. If there is no higher, objective standard of moral truth, how can we object or discredit psychopathy? Singer seems to base his assumption on the fact that “most people will agree about this.”

Although he is correct that most people do agree, does majority opinion establish truth and moral obligation? Should our assessment of what is moral change once the majority changes its tastes and adopts a trendy moral novelty?

For the Christian, the sentiments of the majority do carry some weight. This is because Scripture declares that God infused us all with a common and uncompromising truth so that we can agree about right and wrong. It is because we all do have access to a transcendent truth that we can find wisdom in the perspectives of others. But is majority agreement, by itself, a sufficient basis for moral absolutes and judgments? Even if every Nazi agreed that it’s right to murder Jews, this wouldn’t make it right. Likewise, if every scientist deemed that leeches cured cancer, this wouldn’t make it true. Truth isn’t established by the majority; the majority can only bear witness to it.

Majority opinion doesn’t establish reality, or even moral obligation. It’s like saying that the earth revolves around the sun because most scientists agree that it does. Indeed, if most scientists agree, wisdom requires us to pay some attention to their claims. However, the fact that they agree cannot be the basis or reason why the earth revolves. Their opinions do not effect the earth’s rotation, however prestigious they might be.

Likewise, popular agreement may be a good indicator about what is ethical, but it fails to provide a basis or rationale for what is ethical. Even if every ethicist agreed that torturing babies was right, this wouldn’t make it so. (Interestingly, when we make such judgments, we consult our moral feelings, as if these revealed an authoritative judgment—and they do!)

Also, Science can’t establish moral “oughts”. Although science can help us determine how to deal with parasites, it can’t tell us why we should! The philosopher David Hume famously asserted that there is no way that we can get from an “is” to an “ought.” Science can tell us about what a parasite is and does, but it can’t tell us what we “ought” to do about it.

Transcendent values and morals do that job! These can only come from above. If there is moral truth, it must transcend us. Without a transcendent and independent truth, which stands in judgment of us, Bob’s feelings and inclinations are no less valid than Betty’s even if Bob is a serial killer. We may feel that Bob is acting inappropriately, but Bob feels he’s not! What makes our feelings any more authoritative than Bob’s? There has to be a higher court of last resort where this type of thing can be conclusively adjudicated.

The atheist has to get off the philosophical fence. Either there is a moral truth above what we feel, will or think and to which we must conform, or there isn’t. In this last case, our conscience is no more than a mad clatter of changing chemical-electrical impulses. The atheist can’t have it both ways.

Elsewhere, Singer attempts to base morality on what works for us individually (pragmatism):

Most of us would not be able to find happiness by deliberately setting out to enjoy ourselves without caring about anyone or anything else…Our own happiness, therefore, is a by-product of aiming at something else, and not to be obtained by setting our sights on happiness alone…normal lives have meaning because they are lived to some larger purpose.

It is quite true that fulfillment is often a by-product of ethical, self-sacrificial living, and it should be this way. God commands what He blesses. Consequently, it’s a joy to serve Him, as Psalm 1 affirms:

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
(Verses 2-3; also John 4:34)

We perceive that there is a divine harmony between moral truth, following this truth, and the blessings we derive. But the atheist can provide no explanation for this glorious harmony, but can only acknowledge “Most of us would not be able to find happiness by deliberately setting out to enjoy ourselves.” Although this is true, it doesn’t explain anything.

As a painting says a lot about the painter, life preaches a continuous sermon about its author. We continually marvel at the design and harmony surrounding us, whether physical or moral, and its glorious Designer. Consistent with this, C.S. Lewis pitied the poor atheist in his desperate attempt dodge God: "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere -- 'Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,' as Herbert says, 'fine nets and stratagems.' God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous." We can close our eyes to His things, but eventually, we’ll stumble.

There’s an additional problem with pragmatism or, as some call it, “enlightened selfishness.” There is something grotesque about it. It declares, “The only reason I’m doing good to you is because I’m profiting from it.” It also acknowledges, “As soon as I don’t profit from loving you or helping you, I no longer have any reason to do so.” So much for marriage!

Similarly, Singer acknowledges that his moral system, based upon “enlightened selfishness,” has its limitations. It is sometimes “prudent” and “rational” to not act in highly ethical ways:

'Why act morally?' cannot be given an answer that will provide everyone with overwhelming reasons for acting morally. Ethically indefensible behavior is not always irrational. We will probably always need the sanctions of the law and social pressure to provide additional reasons against serious violations of ethical standards.

Singer admits something we already understand— if all we have is this life, it’s not always rational to act morally. Hiding Jews from the Nazis put one’s entire family in jeopardy of a bullet to the head. Self-interest is sometimes ill-served by truly moral behavior, unless we broaden our vision to include an eternal afterlife, where God will right all wrongs and comfort all hurts.

Singer would therefore legislate against what, in his opinion, is rational, thereby admitting that rational self-interest doesn’t always equate with morality, and that pragmatism sometimes produces selfishness. Well, what’s the matter with selfishness? Wasn’t it selfishness that empowered the survival of the fittest? Why then would Singer disdain selfishness in favor of something higher? This suggests that he recognizes that there is higher ideal than his this-worldly rational constructs. But what is the source of such an ideal?

To find an enduring meaning in our lives it is not enough to go beyond [the behavior] of psychopaths who have no long-term commitments or life-plans; we must also go beyond prudent egoists who have long-term plans concerned only with their own interests. The prudent egoists may find meaning in their lives for a time, for they have the purpose of furthering their own interests; but what, in the end, does that amount to. (501)

I think it’s impossible for an atheist to live in a consistent manner. Not only does Singer admit that he cannot formulate a coherent and comprehensive ethical system, he also admits that having a meaningful life requires that we go beyond a strictly materialistic worldview and adopt transcendent values.

Even Singer’s language is God-breathed. He writes about finding “enduring meaning,” not creating it! How can he find something that, according to him, doesn’t exist? He also rhetorically asks what it is all worth “in the end.” A consistent atheist shouldn’t be unduly concerned about the end as long as the ride was fun. However, Singer seems to recognize that life is more than just the ride. Clearly, Singer needs a broader worldview, one that can only come from God!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Darwin and Hitler

Here's another comment I left on the blog of David Klinghoffer, an Orthodox Jew, who is also trying to establish the connection between these two individuals.

Although there isn’t a necessary connection between Darwinism and eugenics and genocide, there seems to be a logical one for at least two reasons:

1. As society rejects theism in favor of naturalism (Darwinism), it also rejects any basis for moral absolutes. As such, morals no longer constitute an independent reality to be discovered. Instead, they must be arbitrarily created. This opens the door to the creation of any number of moralities—social Darwinism, hedonism, enlightened selfism, utilitarianism—none of which have an adequate rational basis. As philosopher David Hume had pointed out, it isn’t logically possible to go from what “is” to what “ought to be.” Therefore, how can we contemplate standing up against evil if we refuse to recognize that such a thing even exists?

Consequently, atheist Arthur Leff, Duke School of Law, writes,

“The so-called death of God wasn’t just His funeral, but was the elimination of any coherent ethical or legal system…As it stands now, everything is up for grabs…Napalming babies is bad, starving the poor wicked, buying and selling people is depraved—but, ‘Sez who?’ God help us.”

2. Within this moral vacuum, the Darwinist understands that natural selection is the guiding and mothering force that has sired us forth from the slim, and we are its grandest “achievement.” It is therefore understandable that genomic progress would become our highest goal. (And historically, it often has!) For many, this means helping natural selection along with some of our own eugenic, genocidal manipulations.

Although this course will not always be taken, there is nothing within naturalism that argues persuasively against it.

The Adequacy of Morality without God

This represents my response to an atheist who challenged my last posting regarding the proof for moral absolutes:

You did an excellent job in analyzing what I “failed to show” or write, but you would have done better having analyzed what I did write. Perhaps it would now be most productive to take up your challenge:

“All that you have shown is that what Naturalists (a more general term than atheist) do and say is inconsistent with the idea of Moral Absolutes but you fail to show that they are inconsistent with the idea that Morality is a strictly natural phenomenon.”

While we can discuss morality as “a strictly natural phenomenon,” this perspective is not adequate to provide us with a moral system with a rationale to act morally. Here are some reasons for this:

1. Although we both agree that we have a strong natural moral sense (conscience), this provides an insufficient guide and rationale for moral behavior. For instance, we have many anti-social impulses like lust, rage, jealousy, bitterness, and anger. What is our rationale for following one impulse rather than another? Worldview/philosophical considerations must be added to this “natural” perspective.

2. We also both agree that acting morally has personal and social benefits. We also acknowledge this elegant correspondence (or design) between following our conscience and the salutary benefits we derive. However, this pragmatic philosophy is also very limited. In the short run—and we are very short-sighted without a principled divine perspective—pragmatism becomes selfishness. We want immediate benefits and lack the conviction that serving Christ best serves our long-term needs. Without this conviction, pragmatism leads us to sell-out for immediate results. Who is going to be a whistle-blower, understanding that we’ll loose our job in the process, to the immediate detriment of our families? Who would rescue Jews from Nazis knowing that this would result in a bullet to the head? Faithless pragmatism will choose immediate results over uncertain, insufficiently-founded, long-term ethical principles.

3. Much of this discussion about ethics is purely academic. We already agree on many ethical issues: It’s right to preserve the environment; laws should be just; we should be concerned about the welfare of others; it’s wrong to torture babies or kidnap our friend’s wife. However, you lack an adequate rationale to live according to your convictions. If your conscience troubles you, why follow it if you can take a pill to silence it? If a moral action violates your pragmatic convictions, so what! If pragmatism is merely a matter of what renders positive results, it’s no different than selfishness. Pragmatism would argue against sheltering Jews or placing one’s family in jeopardy. Why not then just live a self-serving, selfish life without all of the hypocritical trappings of a “higher” philosophy? Interestingly, the vast majority of people who rescued Jews had a strong faith in Christ.

To return to your original assertion that we can be moral without recourse to the Supernatural -- a “natural” or pragmatic rationale for morality just doesn’t “cut it”! As human beings, we require more than just “natural” inclinations and a philosophy based upon selfishness. We need to have the conviction that we are serving Truth and that this Truth will serve us.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Moral Absolutes

This is a comment I posted on an atheist blog in response to the charge that I couldn't provide evidence that there are moral absolutes.

Proving the existence of moral absolutes isn’t easy. They can’t be seen, touched, measured or quantified, but neither is it easy to prove our own existence. Although I can be touched and even photographed, all of this “evidence” might be no more than a dream, and not even my own dream. Nevertheless, I can’t deny my own existence without also denying everything that is part of my life—my thoughts, speech, and activity.

Likewise, I want to demonstrate that the denial of moral absolutes is contradicted by our very lives, thereby contradicting and disqualifying this denial. In others words, a denial of moral absolutes can’t stand any more than a denial of one’s own existence.

I think that we would all agree that we are wired for morality, whether this wiring of our conscience is a product of evolution or also reflects some grand design and a truth independent of our own electro-chemical reactions. It is interesting to note that many atheists say something like this:

“You don’t need god to be good. I am good because there are many benefits personally, socially and politically.”

Although this is true, this also acknowledges certain facts around which we can all agree:

1. Acting “morally” has its own rewards.
2. There is an obvious correspondence between moral behavior and personal and social benefits.
3. This very obvious and thorough correspondence gives the appearance of a grand design.

Putting the question of design aside, I want to demonstrate that while the atheist denies the existence of moral absolutes with his mouth, he involuntary affirms them with his life, thereby disqualifying his denial.

We cannot avoid acting like we are aware of moral absolutes—a common law to which we are all bound. It is unavoidable to say things like, “How would you like it if someone did the same to you?” or “That’s my seat! I was there first!” or “Leave him alone; he isn’t doing any harm,” or “Give me a bit of your orange. I gave you a bit of mine!” All of these statements imply that there are external and authoritative moral truths that govern our lives. Regarding this, C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity) writes,

“Now what interests me about theses remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behavior which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies, ‘To hell with your standard.’ Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse.”

“Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promises to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining, “It’s not fair.”

“If we do not believe in decent behavior, 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.”

Of course, the atheist will laugh in agreement, but will also insist that this is merely the product of his genetic programming. However, rather than steadfastly maintaining the relative nature of his moral inclinations and dissociating himself from the “Rule of Law,” he embraces it. He continues in his moralizing judgments as if they are based in objective reality (which they are).

Atheists have often called me “liar” or hypocrite,” suggesting that there are objective and external categories I have violated. They aren’t merely saying, “According to my subjective and relative way of thinking, you are a liar.” Instead, their denunciations suggest that I have violated a cardinal truth.

If you deny the existence of moral absolutes, you must act in accordance with your denial and quit making accusations.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

An Alternative Deity

We all need confidence. Without this intangible ingredient, we wouldn’t pursue any new goals or perhaps even have the courage to pick up the telephone. But where we do we find this confidence? In a Psychology Today article, “Get Lucky,” Matthew Hutson writes:

“People who believe luck works in their favor are motivated to try challenging tasks and persist at them. Feeling in control breeds confidence” (August 9, 2009, p.18).

This is an ambiguous statement. When we feel that we’re in control, we usually don’t resort to a confidence in “luck.” Luck represents an agency external to ourselves, a providential force or guidance that we can trust in when we believe that we can’t fully trust in ourselves. Resorting to luck suggests that it’s difficult to trust in self, and it is! It requires the denial of our life experiences and psychic manipulations to convince ourselves that we’re worthy of trust, especially in view of the fact that we’ve often failed ourselves. Besides, trying to trust in self, when the evidence says “baloney,” breeds internal conflict.

While “luck” removes this weight from our shoulders, it introduces a similar problem—believing in the unbelievable. This takes many forms. In the same issue, Joshua Gowin notes our tendency to trust in super-heroes:

“We want to believe in heroes, especially when the world feels unsafe. [Robin] Rosenberg [the author of Psychology of Superheroes] notes that Spiderman, Smallville, and 24 all came out after 9/11. ‘As a country, we were just sucking up the concept of someone coming and rescuing us’” (“The Pedestal Awaits,” p.15).

Indeed, we yearn for a rescuer, even if it is merely a good-luck charm, but what’s the matter with God? Spiderman and Superman might rejoice our hearts, but they are no more believable or substantial than “luck.” Why have they won our hearts while the idea of a divine Savior is scorned?

Jesus explained this paradox to his physical brothers: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil” (John 7:7). We intuitively know that any God would have an intimate interest in justice and morality, especially our own moral blemishes! Therefore, our relationship with God represents the ultimate generation-gap. We’re the teenagers and God the super-Parent. However, while the teenager can often get-over on his parent, we are left without such hope in regards to an all-knowing God. It therefore becomes easier to change God into a benign, smiling Santa Claus or simply to deny His existence. However, in doing this, we condemn ourselves to finding an alternate super-hero, one who will inevitably fail us.