In Quo Vadis III, we promised to post our cover image and blurb for A Digital Carol. Please read the blurb here. Click on the thumbnail image to see it at quarter scale. All rights reserved, of course.
Monthly Archives: April 2014
God – Mean Ogre or Transcendent Benefactor?
An Aeon article on the possibility and ethics of a human imposed artificial hell opens with the following statement:
Even in my most religious moments, I have never been able to take the idea of hell seriously. Prevailing Christian theology asks us to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing being would do what no human parent could ever do: create tens of billions of flawed and fragile creatures, pluck out a few favourites to shower in transcendent love, and send the rest to an eternity of unrelenting torment.
I wouldn’t want to worship that god either.
But God isn’t that. He created man sin free but with an ability to become otherwise through an act of disobedience.
We are responsible for evil in the world.
The fact that God saw fit to create man and communicate with him at all, even as a friend, is amazing. That He did all this knowing we’d disobey is a wonder. That He would sacrifice His Son on our behalf is a miracle beyond compare. That he would save any (rather than none) is a superlative I can’t express.
It’s characterizations like that in the Aeon article which lead others to make heartrending statements like this:
As I have explained previously, the problem of evil prevents me from believing in God, or at least an all-powerful God who gives a damn about us. But the problem of beauty keeps me from being an adamant atheist.
Beauty is an attribute of God and His habitations. He set beauty in our midst for our enjoyment and so that we’d look to him for salvation.
The Three Languages of Politics – A Review
Arnold Kling is a Cato Institute Adjunct Scholar, a Mercatus Center affiliate, and regularly posts to his askblog site. His book: The Three Languages of Politics is a short essay and analysis of political speech in the United States.
Kling identifies three ideological groups and their dominant dichotomies. Progressives divide issues along an oppressor–oppressed axis. Conservatives use a civilized–barbarous axis. And libertarians, Kling’s camp, use a freedom–coercive axis.
He goes on to say that individuals in each camp use political language divided along these axes to show loyalty, elevate status, and create hostility towards others in opposing camps.
Political debate using these preferred axes is frustrating and endless as each camp talks past the other without communicating.
A debater might either aim to: open minds of those in opposition, open minds of those in their camp, or close the minds of those in their camp. The majority opt for the third option.
Uncharitable discussion focuses on finding an opponent’s weakest argument and denouncing it.
Few participants attempt to be charitable and end up narrowing and reducing their audience’s understanding of the issues at hand.
In the course of argumentation, Kling observes, we suggest we are reasonable and our opponent is not. The only people we are qualified to call unreasonable [or other derogatory terms] are ourselves. Our opponents may be wrong, however, and it is our burden to prove it [which is often hard or impossible].
Kling suggests we treat these ideologies as languages to be understood and not heresies to be stamped out.
Learning the language of other camps enables us to understand how others think about political issues without demonizing their positions or them.
Constructive reasoning weighs the merits of facts and theories to take a stand on an issue. Motivated reasoning filters the facts and theories to legitimate preconceived opinions.
Engaging in motivated reasoning is like arguing a case at law. We present evidence to justify or reinforce already accepted ideas. Openness only extends to those facts and theories that support our views.
Kling concludes that constructive reasoning applies an equal standard to evidence that supports or contradicts our preconceptions. We become open to changing our minds.
Remarkably, we find scripture touches all these axes: oppressor–oppressed, civilized–barbarous, and freedom–coercion. Then again, perhaps it’s not surprising that He plays no favorites.
Authority of Scripture?
Since we appeal to the authority of the scriptures on this blog, we should discuss what we mean by it.
We agree with John Calvin in his defense of scripture’s necessity, authority, and character:
Institutes, Chapter 6: …For if we reflect how prone the human mind is to lapse into forgetfulness of God, how readily inclined to every kind of error, how bent every now and then on devising new and fictitious religions, it will be easy to understand how necessary it was to make such a depository of doctrine as would secure it from either perishing by the neglect, vanishing away amid the errors, or being corrupted by the presumptuous audacity of men.
It being thus manifest that God, foreseeing the inefficiency of his image imprinted on the fair form of the universe, has given the assistance of his Word to all whom he has ever been pleased to instruct effectually, we, too, must pursue this straight path, if we aspire in earnest to a genuine contemplation of God;—we must go, I say, to the Word, where the character of God, drawn from his works is described accurately and to the life; these works being estimated, not by our depraved Judgment, but by the standard of eternal truth.
Institutes, Chapter 7: …The next thing to be considered is, how it appears not probable merely, but certain, that the name of God is neither rashly nor cunningly pretended. If, then, we would consult most effectually for our consciences, and save them from being driven about in a whirl of uncertainty, from wavering, and even stumbling at the smallest obstacle, our conviction of the truth of Scripture must be derived from a higher source than human conjectures, Judgments, or reasons; namely, the secret testimony of the Spirit…
Still, however, it is preposterous to attempt, by discussion, to rear up a full faith in Scripture…. Profane men think that religion rests only on opinion, and, therefore, that they may not believe foolishly, or on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired. But I answer, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit…
Institutes, Chapter 8: …For it is wonderful how much we are confirmed in our belief, when we more attentively consider how admirably the system of divine wisdom contained in it is arranged—how perfectly free the doctrine is from everything that savors of earth—how beautifully it harmonizes in all its parts—and how rich it is in all the other qualities which give an air of majesty to composition.
Our hearts are still more firmly assured when we reflect that our admiration is elicited more by the dignity of the matter than by the graces of style. For it was not without an admirable arrangement of Providence, that the sublime mysteries of the kingdom of heaven have for the greater part been delivered with a contemptible meanness of words.
Had they been adorned with a more splendid eloquence, the wicked might have caviled, and alleged that this constituted all their force. But now, when an unpolished simplicity, almost bordering on rudeness, makes a deeper impression than the loftiest flights of oratory, what does it indicate if not that the Holy Scriptures are too mighty in the power of truth to need the rhetorician’s art?
In light of our previous post, we do not so much agree with the tone with which Calvin defends his positions (and these are mild). He’d definitely have given the current crop of vehement deniers a run for their money were he alive in this day and age.
We say that the scriptures, in the original languages, carry God’s authority as His proclamation of redemption for all who will believe. We say this, rather than maintain, as some do, that they are an accretion of fables or that they consist of truths [that] are illusions which we’ve forgotten are illusions. We believe that God deigns to use vernacular translations in the communication of His truth to the world. We see the scriptures as the window He offers us through which we may know the True and Living God.
Neil deGrasse Tyson Mistakes God for Who He Is Not
Of course all humans fail and err. However, does Tyson mean to impugn God?
According to Mother Jones’ biblical and cosmological authority, Chris Mooney:
To be a Young Earth creationist is to hold a truly unique place in the history of wrongness. These religious ideologues don’t just deny human evolution; their belief in a universe that is only a few thousand years old commits them to an enormity of other errors, including many beliefs that fly in the face of modern physics.
But maybe he’s just host of MJ’s Climate Desk.
According to Mooney, Tyson explains:
To believe in a universe as young as 6 or 7,000 years old is to extinguish the light from most of the galaxy. Not to mention the light from all the hundred billion other galaxies in the observable universe.
But, by this statement, Tyson fallaciously misrepresents his opponent.
Someone of no import nowadays, John Calvin, had this to say of God’s prerogatives with respect to His universe:
With regard to inanimate objects again we must hold that though each is possessed of its peculiar properties, yet all of them exert their force only in so far as directed by the immediate hand of God. Hence they are merely instruments, into which God constantly infuses what energy he sees meet, and turns and converts to any purpose at his pleasure. No created object makes a more wonderful or glorious display than the sun. …No pious man, therefore, will make the sun either the necessary or principal cause of those things which existed before the creation of the sun, but only the instrument which God employs, because he so pleases; though he can lay it aside, and act equally well by himself: Again, when we read, that at the prayer of Joshua the sun was stayed in its course; that as a favor to Hezekiah, its shadow receded ten degrees; by these miracles God declared that the sun does not daily rise and set by a blind instinct of nature, but is governed by Him in its course, that he may renew the remembrance of his paternal favor toward us…
We addressed this previously with our blog post Superstition. Another expert, Aldous Huxley, said:
Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence… No philosophy is completely disinterested. The pure love of truth is always mingled to some extent with the need, consciously or unconsciously felt by even the noblest and the most intelligent philosophers.
However, I think we’d all do well to heed John Horgan when he says:
Of course we feel validated when others see the world as we do. But we should resist the need to insist or even imply that our views—or anti-views—are better than all others. In fact, we should all be more modest in how we talk about our faith or lack thereof.
By way of disclosure, we do not hold to typical creation hypotheses, we believe Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are in harmony, and John Horgan does not endorse the content or views expressed on this blog.