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Is there a cure for the disease of hatred?

In Rants, Worldview on April 6, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Poison treeHatred, a disease?

We haven’t been able to eliminate the scourge of hatred, so perhaps we’ve been looking at it all wrong.

In “Finding A Cure for Hate” Jennifer Yang reports on a University of Toronto initiative that looks at understanding and preventing hatred by “treating it as a public health issue.”

Experts from a variety of fields discussed the problem of hate, “touching on everything from Hitler to 9/11 to the Rwandan genocide.”

The meeting was initiated by U of T associate professor Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who “likes to think of hatred as a disease or mental disorder.”  His idea is that people “are not born with hatred, [rather] they acquire it from the environment, just as people are exposed to bacteria or second-hand smoke.”

Not everyone is on board.  Although not at the conference had he attended, British neuroscientist Semir Zeki, a professor at University College London would have disagreed with Abuelaish.  He believes hatred is a part of our biology–put there by evolution:  “We would not have had this capacity to hate to the degree that we have — and all humans have it — if it had been a negative evolutionary force. It would have petered out.”

I find it interesting that both of these approaches to hatred completely remove the responsibility for hatred from humanity.  If it’s a product of Nature, then we can blame it on evolution.  If it is a result of Nurture, then we can blame it on the environment.  The scariest part of all this is the next bit–where the logical solution to hate is the controlling of the environment; my question is, “Who will have the control?”

Both these perspectives take the responsibility for hate away from the one who hates.

William Blake does not:

A Poison Tree.

I was angry with my friend:

I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe:

I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears

Night and morning with my tears,

And I sunned it with smiles

And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,

Till it bore an apple bright,

And my foe beheld it shine,

And he knew that it was mine –

And into my garden stole

When the night had veiled the pole;

In the morning, glad, I see

My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

I’m sure folks over at the U of T have honorable intentions, but by removing responsibility for hating from the human agent, I fear that they will do a lot more more harm than good.

The Myth of Progress

In Why I am not a "Liberal" or "Conservative", Worldview on February 22, 2014 at 11:40 pm

Progress myth“People tend to confuse the words, ‘new’ and ‘improved'”  — Agent Colson, Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. (pilot episode)

In the modern world, we assume progress.

We do so because, among other things, we see it all around us.  The iPhone 5S was better than the iPhone 5C, which was better than the iPhone 5, which was better than the iPhone 4S, which was better than the iPhone 4, which was better than the iPhone 3GS, which was better than the iPhone 3G, which was better than the 1st generation iPhone.  I remember the dial telephone with a three foot coiled cord.

It could be our infatuation with technology that underlies our assumption that civilization is forever progressing.

But it’s wrong.

Interestingly, the ancients actually assumed the opposite.

Book five of The Iliad follows Diomedes’ busy day on the plains before the city of Troy.  This was my favourite part of the story the first time that I read it.  He has just killed boastful Pandarus with a spear shot that severed the braggarts tongue.  Aeneas is attempting to recover the body, but has to face Diomedes who “picked up a stone, a massive rock which no two men now alive could lift. He threw it all by himself with ease.”

The Greeks thought that the great men of old were better than we are today.

The modern story is much more optimistic. The increase of knowledge in the area of science and the achievements which follow as knowledge is converted to power through technology certainly can give the impression that civilization is advancing.

Philosopher John Gray, author of The Silence of the Animals: On Progress and other Modern Myths, suggests that growth of scientific knowledge and  technological power is not the same thing as ethical development.  We do not become more civilized, rather we merely produce new forms of civilization as well as new forms of barbarism.

He points out that we don’t unlearn scientific knowledge, but we regularly forget the moral lessons of the past.  Errors in science don’t come back, but we regularly resurrect and repeat the moral errors of the past.  Progressives tend to believe in gradual and incremental progress, but this idea assumes we retain what has gone before.  This is not the case; we destroy our ethical foundations and without the stability of the past we can never improve.  Gray says, we are constantly changing what is good and what is evil, consequently what appears to be moral evolution is always a short upward movement toward whatever the fashionable idea of the day.

I’m currently reading Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 by Max Hastings.  In the beginning of hostilities in WWI, the Germans were so angry at the French francs-tireurs (guerrillas of sorts) in the Franco-Prussian war over 40 years earlier, that the leadership authorized the execution peasants and the burning of villages.  Consequently, in the opening days of the war, almost 6,500 civilians were executed (often without even meager evidence) and many thousands left homeless in Belgium and France by the Kaiser’s armies.  In The Iliad, Homer tells the story of Achilles, so violently despondent over the death of his cousin that he profanes the body of noble Hector after slaying him in combat.  It’s the same story, separated by millennia.  100 years of tremendous technological advancement separate us from the German atrocities of World War I, and the same scenario is reported everyday in the newspapers all over the world.

Human cultural, ethical, moral progress is a myth.

Scientific knowledge and technology doesn’t make us better, it just give us more power to do what we do–whether that be good or evil.

Jesus, Zeus, Thor and the Kraken

In Rants, Worldview on December 23, 2013 at 12:22 am

FootballOne more thing about the Bill Maher video.

Consider this my Christmas post.

In the video, Maher equates faith in Jesus Christ with belief in Zeus, Thor and the Kraken and all the other “stuff that is not evidenced based.”

I love it when he gives us the circumstances by which he would become a believer. He challenges, “Show me a God and I will believe in him. If Jesus Christ comes down from the sky during the half time show at the super bowl” and starts doing miracles, then he will believe in God. Confidently he concludes, “But that’s not going to happen.”

But it did happen.

It is only in timing that God’s plan diverges from Maher’s. Other than that, the Incarnation of God on earth was exactly the sort of proof that he demands. If the Incarnation is what Christians proclaim, I don’t think that even Maher would insist that there ought to be some repeat performance just for his sake. The issue for Maher is that he doesn’t trust the first century Jews and Romans who saw, first hand, the events as recorded in the Gospels. For some reason, he doesn’t trust their testimony. Perhaps he doesn’t think they were as smart as he is, or at least rational–too easily duped.

A good argument can be made that first century Jews were less likely to believe that Jesus was the son of God than modern day atheists. They proclaimed every day that God is One–they refused to give up this tenet even in the fact of the most horrendous persecution by the likes of Antiochus Epiphanies. Still, they were convinced. Christianity started with a significant number of these very people willing to die equally horrible deaths at the hands of the Romans proclaiming what they had seen with their own eyes.

Granted, there were some who saw and did not believe. I wonder if Maher would be convinced even with his Super Bowl miracle. Then as now, to accept that God exists and that Jesus Christ is his son necessarily leads to submission to this God. For many, it’s this submission that is the issue, rather than the evidence.

Within Maher’s cynicism is an incredible testimony of how incredible an event the coming of Christ was. What actually happened, and convinced so many of the inconvincible, was much more wonderful than the trick of changing “nachos into loaves and fishes” at a football game. Instead of changing a modern snack food into the ancient equivalent, he fed the hungry, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and made the lame to walk again; he offered forgiveness to all–shady businessmen, prostitutes and me. 0

Evidence aside, this is a God of a different category that Zeus or Thor or the Kraken?

Is Atheism a Religion?

In When Atheists are Right, Worldview on December 14, 2013 at 5:55 am

AthesismBill Maher sure doesn’t like it when religious people say that atheism is a religion.

In one sense, Maher is right; atheism is not a religion.  Atheism doesn’t have any explicit rituals or holy texts, nor does it believe in a deity.  When Maher restricts his  definition of religion to “this looney stuff” he can safely declare that “atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.”

But if we were to broaden the definition of religion to something like–people who have faith in something that can’t be proven rationally.  Well, then it would be a little more legitimate to declare Maher a religious person because atheism is based on a belief that cannot be proven.  It requires a leap of faith to accept the claim that the whole of reality is strictly material.

A lot of discussion (argument) comes after we have agreed on this point.  For instance, we’d have to talk about upon whom the burden of truth rests, but it is important that we accept the fact that there is no belief that does not begin with a claim that cannot be proven rationally.

Maher claims it is only “idiots” who stand in the “grand intellectual tradition of ‘I know you are but what am I?'” who assert that atheism and theism are “two sides of the same coin.”  But this isn’t exactly true.  Fredrich Nietzsche, who on the continuum between idiocy and genius makes geniuses look like idiots, said exactly this.

In one sense, Nietzsche would lump Maher and the Christians who drive him crazy into the same category.  He that, just like religion, the rationalism and scientific optimism celebrated by Maher, is another attempt to set up an ideal to which we might aspire.  Maher’s transcendent ideal is an aggregate of equality, freedom of speech, science, democracy, etc.

There is nothing wrong with belief in transcendent meaning.  Nietzsche said that human beings have a hard time flourishing without something to believe in.  So it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

. . . the line between faith and reason

There are some pretty distinct lines between his “evidence based belief” and my “faith based malarkey” but it is not helpful to draw ones that don’t really exist.

Progressive Liberal Optimism

In False Dichotomies - the lines between, Worldview on December 8, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Eddie Izzard’s show is hysterical and historical.  His latest show, “Force Majeure,” gets a lot of laughs at the expense of the Religious and the Nazis.

When it comes to religion, he’s not as bad as many in the popular media.  He’s not nearly as bitter so there’s more comedy than mockery. He also distinguishes between different types of religious people: the ones that do charity and the ones that are ignorant bigots.

Izzard’s understanding of history is quite clear: in spite of some setbacks here and there, we are moving upward and that is the important thing.  One of the major setbacks was the Nazis, but they were merely an interruption in the upward trend.

In the Q&A after the show, a fan asked Eddie if he’d be changing any of his Nazi material when he toured Germany in the coming year.  He said that this wouldn’t be necessary.  He believes that the German people are like us, and that Hitler kidnapped Germany for 12 years.  Once the Nazis were removed the German people could get back onto that upward trajectory.

This interpretation of history is very popular–it is the modern story.  Mankind is basically good and freedom is the goal of history.  Over the last 500 years we have been gaining freedom–first from the Church, then from the monarch, then slavery, then God.  In the 20th century freedom spread through the civil rights movement and women’s liberation and it continues through all sorts of sexual freedoms.

For many, this optimistic view of history has filled the gap created by the loss of religion.  There is an almost supernatural faith in humanity to achieve its utopian ideals.  Like all worldviews…

One of the problems with Izzard’s view is that it divides people into them and us.  The “them” is the religious and the conservative, and the “us” is progressive and open-minded.  It is the later group that is responsible for the upward trend in history, and the former group that is largely impeding progress.

I don’t fault Eddie specifically for holding this view–we are all guilty of “them=bad/us=good” thinking now and again (all the time?).

But it is wrong.

The line that divides good and evil is not between individuals, but within each individual.

There aren’t good religious people (Izzard’s charitable Christians) and bad religious people (opponents to freedoms sought by the LGTB)–they are all bad.  Christians aren’t less evil than Muslims–news out of Central African Republic  is evidence of this.  Atheists have to accept Stalin and Hitler as theirs, and Christians have to accept the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades as things that Christians did.

Because the human soul is divided, human flourishing will not inevitably increase over time.

The 20th century alone provides ample evidence of exactly this–incredible medical and technological advances, on the one hand, two devastating world wars on the other.  The United Nations was born and so was the Atomic Bomb.  The Olympics and the Holocaust.  Civil rights and Abortion.  The music of the 60’s and the music of the ’80s.

Humans are capable of tremendous good, so we may again have another Mandelas, but unless we recognize that the true impediment to human flourishing is the evil that lurks in every human soul, we will again face evils as great as any we’ve encountered in human history.

The solution to our plight is not for everyone to become a progressive liberal.  It’s to deal with the evil that exists within all humanity.

 

Conversation with a Textbook

In Christian Education, Worldview on November 1, 2013 at 5:54 am

Pathways-Banner

You won’t believe what this textbook said.

This is a conversation I had with a few pages of the new edition of  “Pathways,” a Social Studies textbook used in grade 8 classes.  The section was called “Religion and Civilizations.”

Me: Since you are written for use in public schools, it must be a little dicey when you talk about religion given that you are supposed to remain neutral on this sort of thing.  What do you see as the relationship between religion and civilization? 

Pathways:  “Religion is an important aspect of civilization.  In many civilizations, both in the past and in the present, religious beliefs are one way a civilization defines and describes itself.  Religion also influences people’s values and actions.” 

Me: I see.  And why do we study religion in grade 8?

Pathways: “Learning about different religions allows us to understand the civilizations to which these religions belonged.”

Me: That shouldn’t upset too many people, but as a religious person myself, I’d consider this a bit of a limited view.  Religion is more than a means by which we understand others, but I guess you’re limited in how much you can say about religion and still maintain your neutrality.   Tell me, what is your view on why we have religions in the first place?

Pathways:  “Human beings have always asked what we call ‘big questions.’  You have probably asked them, too.”

Me: Yes, I love the big questions.  That’s one of the reasons I like to blog.  But just to make sure we’re on the same page, what do you mean by big questions?

Pathways: What happens to me after I die? What is the difference between right and wrong? Why am I here? Why do bad things happen? How was all this created?

Me: Yes, these are pretty much the same as my questions.  I’ve heard them called worldview questions, and you are right; everyone asks them and everyone answers them (whether they admit it or not).  So what do these “big questions” have to do with why religion exists?

Pathways: “Human beings like to have answers to their questions.  Having answers make us feel more secure.” 

Me: Whoa! I might be jumping ahead here, but are you one of those people who believes the function of religion is to create a feeling–a feeling of security?   If that’s the case, then religion is pretty much a safety blanket for the weak, is it not?  I’ve heard some call it a crutch for those who can’t face “reality.”   Aren’t you supposed to be neutral on issues of faith?  I mean, it is a pretty low view of religion, isn’t it?  Most religious people understand that any security they may feel is merely a by-product of the more important search for truth and meaning–religion itself is actually a product of this search.   I understand I’m not being neutral either, but I think it’s impossible.  Is there no sense in which the big questions that religion answers might be rooted in a search for objective truth?

Pathways:  “But these big questions cannot be answered the same way ordinary questions can be.”

Me: I understand that, but just because they cannot be answered in the same way–or are harder to answer–does not mean the answers aren’t true.  Anyway, you were saying something about the difference between big answers and ordinary answers?  Can you elucidate?

Pathways: “For example, science tells us that water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen.  This is based upon creating a hypothesis and then using experiments to discover if our original ideas were correct.  With religion, people have to accept answers that are based on non-scientific evidence. “

Me: I’ve noticed your word choice.  Did you know you consistently us the term “us” when speaking of knowing and the word “people” when speaking about believing?  I thought it was interesting how you distance yourself, and, consequently, your readers from the act believing.   Where were we?  Oh yes, you said that ordinary questions are the ones that can be answered empirically and big questions can’t be answered empirically so their answers are non-scientific.  That sounds bad when you put it that way.  Are you implying they are just sorta made up?

Pathways: “In effect, [people] have to accept them based on their beliefs (faith).”

Me:  You are saying that something can’t be” correct,” unless it is proven empirically: with scientific evidence.  That means the only things that can be true are things having to do with the properties, history and function of matter.  This would make sense, I suppose, if matter was all there is.  Wait, if you think that, you just answered a big question: “Is matter all there is?”  This is not an ordinary question, it’s a big question.  You can’t know if you are correct because this answer is based on non-scientific evidence.  If you are going to be answering big questions, I might accuse you of being religious.  Then what would happen to your neutrality?  Let’s move on.  So how do you explain why we have so many different religions?

Pathways: “Different Faiths, Different Answers”

Me: Could you elaborate?

Pathways: “There are many religions in the world, and each one has different answers to the big questions.” 

Me: Which one is right?

Pathways: “Which one is right? No one religion has the ‘right’ answers, because the big questions have no scientifically provable answers.”

Me: How do you know that to be true?  Isn’t that assertion based on non-scientific evidence?  I think you just answered another big question: Can something be true even if there is no empirical evidence to verify it?  Your answer to this one can only be right if your answer to the last one is right, and you can’t prove that one so you can’t prove this one.  Don’t forget about neutrality. 

Let me ask you something.  Isn’t a religion that teaches to love of one’s neighbours a little closer to the truth than one that teaches it’s OK to kill innocent children?  That doesn’t make sense to me. 

But, I digress.  Your claim to neutrality seems to be a little suspect; you seem to have very clear views as to how we understand the beliefs of others, but you aren’t really admitting when you accept answers that are based on non-scientific evidence.  I’m not sure that you are suitable for use in a public school, because you seem to support one set of unscientifically supported beliefs, over all other sets.  My concern is for the students.  What do you say to a grade 8 student who is thinking about the big questions?  I don’t think it would be appropriate to explicitly discourage them from being involved in religion.

Pathways:  In Canada today, there are many different religions.  If you were looking for a religion to belong to, you could find out what different religions say about the big questions.  Then you could choose the religion with the answers you are most comfortable with, or that fit best with what you already think. 

Me: It doesn’t really matter what religion someone belongs to? At least you are consistent.   You suggest that the choice between religions is to be based on the feelings of comfort each offers or how well they conform to one’s preexisting ideas?  I understand that you think you are being equally fair to all religions, but you are not really.  You are being equally unfair.

People aren’t looking for comfort when they ask and answer the big questions, they are looking for truth–universal and objective truth–because they believe they can find it, just as you believe they can’t.   Given this, people can’t just shop for a religion like they do for a dress–take the one that fits.  (Nearly) every religion says that adherents need to conform to some objective moral standard.  If you are going to respect religion, you must recognize that, the individual conforms to religion, not the other way around.  Your method of selection is legitimate only if all religions were equal.  They can only be equal if your answers to the big questions are right.  But you haven’t proven that they are–because you can’t.

Aren’t you really saying that if everyone had your religion, then we’d all get along better?

Pathways:  “Even if you had a different religion than your friends, that probably would not matter too much.  If fact, you could probably learn something from each other.”

Me: I agree that people of different religions ought to get along.  But I don’t agree that this cooperation is contingent of not taking our religions seriously.  On the contrary, we can only get along if we give each other the freedom to take their faith seriously.  Wouldn’t the picture of true tolerance be a materialist, such as yourself, talking with a Christian and a Muslim over a good cup of coffee, disagreeing, but enjoying the company, the conversation, and the coffee all the while respecting each others beliefs, because, even though they are not scientific,  they are rational.

Wouldn’t this be a better picture to present to the grade 8 student? 

Doing the Dishes and the Gnashing of Teeth

In Devotional, Worldview on October 21, 2013 at 3:57 am

DishesWhen my kids were younger they had chores—one of which was doing the dishes. It should have been as simple as everyone taking a turn on a rotating basis, but was never that simple. Lacrosse games or ballet practices meant that somebody would miss their turn. To ask another child to take care of it resulted in anguished lamentations. These were even louder if the prospective dishwasher could conjure up a scenario where this debt might not be repaid. Then there was the was wailing and gnashing of teeth over the unfairness of having to do dishes on a night when we had a roast, as opposed the other night when a sibling had only to contend with the remains of a meal of bread and soup. I got so sick of it that sometimes that I just did them myself.

I wouldn’t have been any happier if I had their silent obedience either.  It certainly would have been quieter, and possibly less frustrating, but it wouldn’t have lead to their happiness, and in my better moments what I wish most for my children is fulfillment regardless of the circumstances.

The problem in both of these responses is that doing the dishes are only seen as a duty.  The idea of duty or obligation or requirement is set in opposition to happiness and joy.  For my young children, happiness and joy could only be achieved through doing what they wanted as opposed to what they had to do.  My kids put freedom first

All this was a long time ago.  My children have all grown up. The great thing now is that when they come over for a meal, they joyfully do the dishes. It’s the same activity, but their attitude is completely different.

What accounts for this difference?  Surely, it’s maturity.  They’ve lived away from home and know how much money and work it takes to put a delicious meal onto the table.  But it’s more than maturity; the most important thing for them is no longer freedom from duties and obligations, but a relationship with me.  I cook for them a delicious meal because I love them and they wash the dishes because they love me.   

If we think that Freedom is more important than anything else in order to live the good life (read more here), our focus will usually be hostilely directed toward those things which limits ones freedom—duties, obligations, responsibilities.

If relationship is more important than freedom, our focus will be lovingly directed toward other persons who we love.

It’s obvious which leads to greater joy and happiness.

It’s all there in Deteronomy 10.  The writer implores God’s people to

 12 . . .walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.

Obedience certainly restricts our freedom, but washing the dishes after a good meal is a loving and joyful response to a great meal prepared for you in joy and love, and it’s all for our own good anyway.  My kids were miserable when they were focused on the duty and they are happy now that they are focused on the relationship.  God wants what’s best for his people, and it turns out that is obedience.

But it’s not just simple obedience.  That’s for the simply religious, and they are miserable–it’s joyful obedience that God is after and that will be a blessing to us.  In verse 16 of the Deuterononmy 10 it says 

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

Circumcision was a duty for the people of God and if they understood it only as an obligation, they’d be stiff-necked.  God certainly didn’t want disobedience, but silent and grudging obedience wasn’t any better; he wanted their hearts so that we can flourish.

Human flourishing is not about freedom, nor is it about fulfilling religious obligations, it’s about relationship. 

 

Made for Freedom?

In Devotional, Worldview on October 12, 2013 at 8:31 am

RelationshipsWhen I got married, I was no longer free.  I couldn’t play League of Legends whenever I wanted.  I couldn’t eat chicken wings in bed.  I had to tell my wife that I was going down to the store to get a jug of milk.

But I don’t mind.  Not at all.

I’m not sure why exactly.  It’s not because I’ve somehow gained more than I’ve lost–it’s more like I’ve gained what I lost as well as gained what I’ve gained.  It doesn’t really make sense but that’s the way it is.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  I think that this sort of counterintuitive accounting occurs when anyone is in a good relationship.

A. C. Grayling  recently presented the first of eight  “Fragile Freedoms” lectures on CBC’s Ideas.  In it he said that there is no possibility of living the good life if one is not free.

Grayling, along with most other modernists, would be right if human beings were made for autonomy.  But what if we weren’t primarily made to be free?  What if we were made first for something else?

What if we were made for relationship?  Not just in marriage, but in friendship and family, and not just with people but with animals and even the physical world.

The Biblical story suggests human beings are made to be in relationship, first with their Creator and, after, with everything else.  We were made to be the objects of God’s love.  He says through Jeremiah, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (31:3).  Suppose we were made to receive and the to return his love and to spread it out to the rest of the creation?

If this is the purpose for which we were made, freedom is still a very important part of who we are.   Love is impossible without freedom.  There is no possibility to love someone if there is no freedom to reject their love.  It’s all there in Genesis 1-3.  Humanity was created for relationship with God (and with each other and with the world).  We had a choice and chose to reject God’s love.  This didn’t change our purpose, just our ability to fulfill it.

So who is right about human nature?  The modernists like Grayling or those who adhere to the Biblical view of man?

There is a simple test:  Who experiences more fulfillment in life?  The person whose freedom is expressed through relationships or the one whose relationship is subordinate to his freedom.

In my experience, freedom is best enjoyed in the context of relationships, even though you surrender it most of the time.  I think this is a universal experience when we are talking about “good” relationships.  Those who insist on freedom first will be able to eat chicken wings in bed, but they won’t have anyone who cares that they stepped out for a jug of milk.

The Modern Worldview

In Worldview on September 21, 2013 at 7:12 pm

The modern worldviewLesslie Newbigin’s book, Foolishness to the Greeks, changed my life.  I don’t remember a lot of the specifics, but by reading this book I came to realize that I was looking at the world through some very thick and tinted lenses.  Everyone looks at the world through the metaphorical spectacles of a worldview.

There are competing worldviews in the West, by which I mean Europe and North America.  One of the dominant ones has been around for a while–the Modern story.  This may be in the process of being replaced by the newer “Post-Modern” story.  Another worldview that has been around much longer is derived from the Bible.  Although very different, we in the West look at the world through a weird blend of all three.

If you are going to understand the glasses through which you are view yourself and the world, you need to begin by understanding the basic characteristics of each worldview which is tinting the lenses by which you look at everything.  In our culture, all our glasses are being strongly tinted by modernsim.  The roots of the Modern worldview are in the 18th century, the Enlightenment.  While it took some pretty big hits in the 20th century, many of the ideas which characterize this perspective are with us today.

Here are the main ideas:

    1. Human reason is the source of truth; the light, in Enlightenment, is Reason.  Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes really got this idea going and it has suck with us.  They trusted in reason to be the arbiter of truth (Read “Fact versus Truth“) albeit from different starting points. Bacon used reason to take him from observation of particular phenomenon to universal principles, and Descartes saw the human mind as the final authority in understanding reality. Although they approached it from different angles, both trusted reason to lead to the truth.
    2. Reality is material.  There is nothing that transcends the material world, or, if there is, it has no relevance to one’s life.  In other words, there is no such thing as the supernatural, only the natural.  This idea is called materialism or naturalism.  If human reason is the source of truth, then Bacon’s approach, called empiricism, will help us to discover the truth.  This only works on the natural world, but since nothing else is real, there is no problem.
    3. The individual is of primary importance.  In the modern worldview, human reason is autonomous.  So also is the individual whose motto has become, “You’re not the boss of me!”  Our history is one of emancipation from those who would curb our independence: kings and queens, God and the church, communism and socialism, and tradition and social conventions.  Our free economies and liberal democracies are testaments to our individual autonomy.  One source of this idea is Rene Descartes whose “I think therefore I am” not only grounded truth in the reason, but in the reason of the individual.
    4. Faith in Progress. Humanity is on an upward trajectory.  Because of human reason and its offspring, science and technology, Modernity places a lot of faith in progress.  It has long believed that we need to get rid of silly superstitions and religious beliefs.  Reason rather than religion will allow the human race to continue up the road toward perfection and science and technology will solve the problems that we face.
    5. Categories and more categories. Because human reason is only autonomous if the world is only material, the modern mind establishes and defends boundaries between categories.  There are many.  Here are a few: mind/body, natural/supernatural, material/spiritual, imminent/transcendent, public/private, rational/emotional, fact/value, reason/faith, knowledge/belief, sacred/secular and objective/subjective.
 The Biblical worldview differs significantly with the Modern worldview on each of these points.
  1. Human reason is part of God’s good creation, but it has also been distorted by sin, so it cannot be completely trusted.

  2. Obviously, the Biblical worldview is not materialist or naturalist because it proclaims a transcendent God who is the source of objective realities like The Good, The True and The Beautiful.

  3. The communal nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit challenges the idea that those created in the image of the triune God ought to be understood first as an autonomous individual.

  4. God’s Grace and not man’s ability will be the cause of any progress we experience in this world, and that’s only if we surrender to Christ because he’s the only one that can deal with our real problem–SIN.

  5. Christ, who is wholly God, became wholly human and yet did not surrender any of his divinity; this alone presents a challenge to the clean categories so loved by the Modern mind.  An honest reading of the Bible will blur many of the other boundaries between the other categories held so dear by modernism..

The problem is, the Biblical worldview and the modern worldview are not kept distinct.  Our glasses are tinted by both of these (and other) contradictory worldviews.

A Christian Worldview?

In Worldview on September 14, 2013 at 4:28 am

Secular freedom storyThe term “Christian worldview” is often used, but not always understood.

Too often, people think that if you simply believe the Bible, oppose abortion and avoid R-rated movies you have a Christian worldview.  OK, this is a bit of a caricature, but my point is, Christians often have a far too superficial understanding of worldview.  Even Nancy Pearcy’s book Total Truth, which is a book about worldview, begins with the story of Sarah, a Christian woman who works as a counsellor in a Planned Parenthood Clinic.  Pearcy explains this incongruity:

“Sarah’s story illustrates how even sincere believers may find themselves drawn into a secular worldview–while remaining orthodox in their theological beliefs” (32).

Although Sarah’s story may illustrate what Pearcy says it does, it does not help readers to understand the depth at which we hold worldviews–Christian, Secular or whatever.

Here’s an illustration that I think better illustrates how deeply worldviews are held and the conflict between a Christian and a “Secular” worldview.

I’m teaching Grade 9 Humanities this year so I started reading the textbook.  I think it’s a standard textbook for Social Studies across the province.   I didn’t get beyond the first page and I knew that this year I would be teaching a lot of worldview in my class.  Two sentences in the introduction to the first chapter entitled “The Early Modern Age” grabbed my attention.  They present a worldview that is completely contrary to a Biblical one.

Here’s the first sentence:

Sometime around the year 1500, Europe began to experience profound changes in its political, religious, social, economic and intellectual life.  As a result of these changes, European history began to enter a new era–the Early Modern Age.

This is the second:

All civilizations experience a kind of evolutionary change in their histories.

The significant word here is “evolutionary.”  The popular use of the term “evolutionary” connotes a positive change.  The Free Online Dictionary captures the developmental aspect of the word when it defines evolutionary as “A gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.”

Together these sentences suggest that humanity is moving toward a better world and that the Early-Modern Age was a significant step in that direction.  Many people accept this without batting an eye.

It is true that there were a lot of changes going on in Europe around the year 1500.  It is also true that some things have improved over the last 500 years–transportation technology, for example, is much faster than it used to be.  But is it true to say that our civilization has improved just because some aspects of it has?  A survey of the last hundred years–with two World Wars, one Great Depression, the nuclear arms race, ecological disasters, new and deadly diseases–provides a lot of evidence to the contradict the idea that things are getting better.

So why does the textbook make this claim?

They make it because it is true; true within a certain story.

No claim (or “fact,” thing, event, person) means anything until we place it into a story.  This is why human beings always tell stories — we are always seeking meaning.

All stories, whether myths or movies, share some common elements.  They always have a protagonist, a person who strives for some goal.  This quest drives the story toward a meaningful end.  Stories also have conflict because there are always antagonists, that is, a person (or people or a force) that impedes the protagonist in the fulfillment of his or her purpose.

Two stories concern us here:  the so-called “secular” story and the Christian story.  In the secular story, the dominant myth in our culture, the protagonist, humanity, is on a long quest for autonomy (freedom from authority).   Some of the antagonists in the secular story are  kings and queens, God and the church, communism and socialism, and tradition and social conventions.  Many of these villains and monsters have been vanquished and only a few remain.

Because my grade 9 Social Studies textbook has placed the events following 1500 into this Secular story, it can claim that we have experienced evolutionary change in our history.

This is the dominant story in our culture, but it isn’t the only one.  The Christian story says that humanity will find fulfillment only in the presence of the loving God who made him.  Sin, the antagonist, thwarts humanity at every turn, but the hero of the story has come to find us and will bring us home (actually, bring home here).  This is the meaningful end of the Christian story.

When you consider civilization from this story, change has not been evolutionary–civilization has not improved because we have come no closer to dealing with our basic problem.  Freedom, according to this story, is a good thing, but Sin causes us to make GOOD things our objective instead of he who gave us the good things.  This inversion is, in essence, to make Freedom, into a god, a false god, an idol. Freedom is a good thing, but it is not the ultimate thing.

The secular story, or worldview, is foundational to my entire grade 9 social studies textbook and most of the other textbooks used in schools all over North America.  And it’s not just textbooks; it’s the worldview upon which the whole curriculum is built.  And it’s not just in schools, this story is reinforced by popular culture.  We are inundated with this story, and it is a powerful story.  When we consider the people who have fallen away from the church, I don’t doubt that many they left to seek autonomy–they wanted to do what they wanted to do and not have anyone or anything restrict their freedom.

One’s position on abortion is not a worldview–worldview runs much deeper–but your position on the issue of abortion is dictated by your worldview.  So will be your position on other issues that are, at their core, about human freedom.

I’m still using that textbook though, because discerning worldviews is one of the objectives of this and every other class taught at my school.  I worry for the Christian kids who aren’t in a school that is deliberate about exposing the competing stories in our culture.  And I also worry about the kids who are, because the secular story seems so true, because we are immersed in it.

I take more than a little comfort in the fact that none of the competing stories ring so true as the one where sin is the antagonist and the end is being reunited with the One who gave us every good thing–including Freedom.