MonthJanuary 2014

Why I Am Not a Liberal

Liberal or ConservativeThe main reason I am not a liberal is because liberalism leans toward naturalism.  This is not to say that one who identifies with liberalism always rejects a supernatural explanation for anything, but the idea of freedom is so fundamental in liberalism that it often means freedom from most external authority, and this almost always includes the authority of tradition and religion, and often the authority of a transcendent (supernatural) God.

If there is a rejection of all things transcendent, the naturalist liberal will have some difficulty finding an ultimate purpose to life.

This is not to say that they find no purpose to life.  Life can have lots of purpose and meaning within naturalism:  Enjoying family and friends (and our animal companions), sports and recreation, the arts and culture, seeking beauty and working hard to make the world a better place.

Purpose, is not the same as ultimate purpose.  Many naturalists will accept that their philosophy does not offer an ultimate purpose or meaning to life.

Having no ultimate purpose does not mean living in profound despair.  Some live with a defiant courage in the face of oblivion.  Others embrace humanity’s natural desire for meaning as a bit of a cosmic joke and just delight in the irony of it all.  Many focus on the process and not how it’s all going to end; the process can be a lot of fun.  Making cookies with a friend can be very meaningful without the final reward of eating the finished product.  For the honest naturalist, these and other approaches are preferable to believing in a supernatural source of meaning.

The least acceptable philosophically, but probably the most common way of avoiding existential despair is to borrow meaning from our Christian heritage.  Like the neighbour who borrows our leaf blower then stores it in his garage so long he thinks its his.

These “liberal” ideals borrowed from Christianity can include:

  • Attending to the needs of the sick and the poor,
  • Taking care of the environment,
  • Being hospitable to people who are different than we are,
  • Fighting for justice for the oppressed,
  • And freedom for the enslaved,
  • Recognizing dignity and of all human beings.

There really is no philosophical foundation for these ideals in naturalism.  This critique of liberalism is not just mine, actually, it’s Nietzsche’s–so if you really disagree with what I am saying, you might want to take it up with him.

One might ask, “If these are Christian ideals, why does it seem like so many Christians oppose them?”

Good question.

I suggest there are a couple of things going on here.

For one thing, it “seems” as if Christians oppose Christian ideals, but in actuality lots of Christians and Christian organizations work very hard in all these areas.  These things don’t receive as much attention as the those, who work contrary to these Biblical ideals, especially if they are religious.

But unfortunately it is not just a misconception.  Some Christians are obviously working against what I have called Christian ideals.  But, just as there are many naturalists do not live lives consistent with a naturalist worldview, there are many Christians who do not live lives consistent with Christian ideals.

In the first instance I would call it common sense, in the second, sin.

The Bible Supports Slavery?

Slavery and ChristianityI don’t care who does it; it makes me crazy.

The sacrifice of truth for the sake of argument.

This billboard is a case in point.

In an attempt to discredit the Bible, the makers of this billboard equate first century slavery with its 16th – 18th century version.  Further, this billboard illustrates the hermeneutical crime of “proof texting,” and therefore missing the entire point of Colossians 3:22.

The device presented on the billboard was used in the Americas a few hundred years ago.  The hooks protruding from the collar “are placed to prevent an escapee when pursued in the woods, and to hinder them from laying down the head to procure rest” (reference).  This is one of the ugliest faces of one of the ugliest periods of human history.

Many centuries separate this slavery from  that of the first century slavery:

 In the first century, slaves were not distinguishable from free persons by race, by speech or by clothing; they were sometimes more highly educated than their owners and held responsible professional positions; some persons sold themselves into slavery for economic or social advantage; they could reasonably hope to be emancipated after ten to twenty years of service or by their thirties at the latest; they were not denied the right of public assembly and were not socially segregated (at least in the cities); they could accumulate savings to buy their freedom; their natural inferiority was not assumed.          —Murray Harris, Slave of Christ: A New Testament Metaphor for Total Devotion to Christ, NSBT (IVP, 2001), 44.

I am not saying that slavery in the Roman world was equivalent to staying at an all inclusive resort, but it is irresponsible to evoke all the repugnance of post-Enlightenment slavery when talking about the ancient practice of bond-servanthood.

Although this comparison is unfair, it really isn’t the point, because Paul is not advocating slavery even of the Roman variety.

When I was in grade school and I felt that the teacher had treated me unfairly , my parents weren’t nearly as concerned with the unfairness of the teacher as with my response to it.  They made it clear to me that the general principles regarding my relationship with those in authority were still in play.  Like my parents, Paul has other priorities and they are not really all that obscure for those who which to find them.

The billboard suggests that if Paul were against slavery, he would have said done something about it.  But Paul’s purpose in Colossians is to explore the implications of a life in Christ, not to reform society.  Paul knew that once a person experiences the love and grace of God in Jesus, everything changes.  One is no longer a slave to sin, but received as a child adopted into the family of the King.  We move from slaves to sons and daughters (even if we remain slaves in society).

This message was such a big deal to Paul that he endured treatment worse that most slave would have.  He was beaten and imprisoned and eventually executed.  Obviously, Paul had other priorities than simply being free.

The makers of the billboard are proof texting: taking isolated passages of the Bible and use them to justify one’s own views .  In Christian circles, proof-texting is considered lazy and irresponsible.  When Christians use the Bible in this way they can come up with some of the worst forms of religious evil possible.  A case in point, the Christian slave owners in the American south (We’ve seen this recently in the film, 12 Years a Slavemy comments here).  Ironically, just like the slave owners, the makers of the billboard are proof-texting; they are taking a verse completely out of context to justify their views.

The “Christian” slave owners are an example of the great evil that can be done when the Bible is used irresponsibly.  This type of Biblical misreading results in reprehensible behavior that held justifiably condemned, but also results in charges leveled against Christianity by the critics of religion.  I don’t see how it helps the conversation when the American Atheists and the Pennsylvania Non-Believers engage in the same behavior as the worst of their religious opponents.

Conequences of Naturalism

HBO-True-DetectiveHBO’s new drama, True Detective aired this past weekend.   There’s a great bit of dialogue between principals, two Louisiana CID detectives, while they drive through a rundown Louisiana neighbourhood.  Reacting to the setting, Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson)mutters, “There’s all kinds of ghettos in the world.”    (View video. Warning: there is some strong language)

His partner, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) replies, “All one ghetto, Man. . . . giant gutter in outer space.”  When pressed, he explains his philosophical perspective:

I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution.  We became too self-aware.  Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself.  We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. . . .  We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self.  A secretion of sensory experience and feeling programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody.  When in fact, everybody is nobody. . . . I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming–stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction one last midnight, brothers and sisters, opting out of a raw deal.

Cohle describes this worldview as philosophical pessimism.   It starts with naturalism, the belief that all is material and material is all there is.  According to naturalism, there is no God, nor anything one could call spirit.  There are also no transcendent ideals like, The Good, The True and The Beautiful.  If you carry it a little further, there is not natural basis for identity, purpose or meaning.

Denial of God, need not be as bleak as this–one can still believe in friends and family.  One can still enjoy art and believe in power of reason.  And fight for freedom and equality, and against poverty and oppression.  But I think Cohle would say they are avoiding the logical consequences of their naturalism.

Cohle does not smuggle Christian conceptions of human dignity and equality into his view of humanity, nor does he wrap his view of life in the warm blanket of meaning and purpose.  He accepts that without the transcendent–I would be a little more specific, without the living God–life is a tragic accident, it has no purpose or meaning and identity is an illusion.

I look forward to how this philosophy runs up against Hart’s very nominal Christianity as they investigate the actions of a serial killer.

Does Religion Divide us?

Photo by Jose Maria Garcia Garcia on Upslpash

John Lennon asked us to imagine a world with no religion.  I think the reason he wanted to get rid of religion is because he dreamed of a world united by love and he thought that religion divides us.

 Debate.org wonders the same thing.  They asked the question: Does religion divide the world?  73% of those responding said yes.

Why does religion divide?  One of the respondents (AbdulRaufw4lr6s) nailed it explaining that

“Religion is another form of categorizing.  Religion . . . tries to divide between good and evil . . . ; accordingly, people who belong into that particular definition of ‘good’ is called the ‘believers’ and likewise, those who belong into the definition of evil is termed ‘sinners.’ From there, the whole process of giving definition and categorization escalates . . .

It is true that religion divides humanity in exactly this way.

Religious beliefs definitely divide us in exactly the way that AbdulRaufw4lr6s says it does.  But this is not only a characteristic of religion.  Whenever someone claims and exclusive truth there is a great danger of division.

Truth Claims Can Divide

Everyone makes truth claims–decide between exclusive beliefs–and when they do, they will create categories.  These categories aren’t usually as either/or as we make them, but they do create camps.  These can lead to hatred and disunity.

“Jesus or Mohammad”

“Liberal or Conservative”

“Republican or Democrat”

“Theist or Atheist”

“Ford or Chevy”

“Ginger or Maryann”

Some of these are more exclusive than others, but the issue is not whether or not one will hold to an exclusive belief; the issue is to which an exclusive set of beliefs will one hold.  We can be nice about all these categories, but John Lennon had it right, we tend not to be nice.

So, as long as we make any claims for truth, we are stuck with the categories.  So is there no hope for the peace and unity of which John Lennon imagines?

The Differences that Lead to Unity

Christianity is different than all other religions, and these differences are humanity’s best bet to achieve peace and unity.

  1. The central figure of all other religious beliefs is a human being, but in Christianity, it is God himself.  This God became a human being and was killed on our behalf.  We are saved because of what he did, not on what we do.  In all other religions the central figure tells us what we need to do in order to be blessed, but in Christianity, God blessed us because we could never deserve it.
  2. Because we aren’t saved by our performance, we can’t even begin “the whole process of giving definition and categorization” as described by           AbdulRaufw4lr6s.  People who live the Gospel believe that they are no better than anyone else, probably worse.  If you’ve run into Christians who think they are better than everyone else, you’ve either misunderstood them, or they’ve misunderstood the gospel.
  3. Most other religions point to a life to come as the true destination for humanity.  Christianity, on the other hand, is very interested in THIS life.  By becoming flesh, God himself is affirming this world–this physical world.  He wants all of humanity to work together to make this world a good world–he wants us to serve the world, as he did when he died for it and us.  Consequently, Christians desire and work for the flourishing of others; they are generous with their time and money. If you’ve run into Christians who don’t care about the environment, for instance, then you have either misunderstood them, or they have misunderstood the gospel.

Jesus came into a divided world.  There were tremendous divisions between Jew and Greek and rich and poor. But because of the differences between Christianity and other religions, the early Church mixed races and socioeconomic classes.  This unity was created because people understood Jesus to be God who came to earth and died for people who hated him so that they might live, both now and forever.  How can a person who follows this God, look down on others for any reason?

All truth claims create divisions and categories.  Religions usually do this as well, but the truth claims concerning Jesus Christ do not.  These differences, if they are embodied, are the very things that will bring peace on earth of which John Lennon sang.

© 2018 crossing the line

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑