Monday, January 23, 2017

Love Is What God Is

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Linda, walking at Sterling State Park in Monroe



God is love. Love forms the very being of God.

"Love" is an essential attribute of God. Just as a triangle cannot not be three-sided, God cannot not-love.

Christian Trinitarian Theism best expresses this idea that God is love. In  this way.


  1. God is a three-personed being. God is, essentially, a being-in-relationship.
  2. God as Father-Son-Spirit makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. This is because "love" is relational. "Love" requires an "other," an object to-be-loved.
  3. So, in the very being of God there is a unity of otherness. Which allows for love.
God's essence is love. Just as an apple has appleness, God cannot not-love you. 

God does not love you because there is some command external to his being he must follow. God is love, therefore all God's thoughts and actions are loving.

God's love for you is genuine, 100% pure-squeezed love.

This means that when God thinks of you, he has a good feeling. God likes you. You are God's child, his son, or his daughter.

God made you, and what he has made God calls "very good."

You are deeply loved by God. Nothing can change this because God is love.

***
My current book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Pastors Pray for Their People

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One of my praying places is Sterling State Park, on Lake Erie

Tomorrow is another Tuesday. For the past forty years I have taken Tuesday afternoons to go to a quiet place and pray. Tomorrow will be no exception.

One of the things I do during these extended praying times is pray for the people in my church family. On occasion, I send them a note like this one, which I sent a few minutes ago.


Dear Redeemer Family:

Most of you know that, for forty years, I have taken Tuesday afternoons to pray.

I'll be going to a quiet place tomorrow afternoon to pray.

If you have a prayer request that you would like me to pray about (and Linda as well), please send it to me and I'll carry it with me to my prayer time. (Your request will not be shared with others unless you ask me to send it out to my Redeemer prayer list).

Blessings and love,

PJ


Pastors - we are shepherds of the beautiful people entrusted to our care. Let them know you are praying for them, and then do so. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Understanding Comes First (Love Is Greater than Judgment)

Monroe County

To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.
Proverbs 18:13

I wrote a letter to a young person whose marriage was struggling. There's a lot of fighting and yelling in this marriage. One of them keeps repeating past failures to the other,. The  other called me and asked "Why do they have to keep reminding me of mistakes I've made in the past!"

Here's the note I sent to them. 

Dear _________:

Understand ______. 

Understanding always comes before evaluation. 

Linda and I spend little time evaluating each other,
and tons of time understanding one another.

To understand is to love; to be understood is to be loved and to feel loved.

Understand why ______ feels a need to repeat things to you. It's probably because they feel you are not really listening, or because they cannot trust you. 

You do not need to defend yourself about such things.
Work to understand why they feel the need to repeat things to you, 
and they will begin to feel understood, 
which is to feel loved.

Communicate with me as needed, and we'll talk on the phone again.

Blessings,

PJ

Making judgments without understanding is the cause of many relationship breakdowns. To judge without understanding is foolish. Here's the order of relational priority:

1. Understand.
2. Evaluate.

In knowledge and relationships understanding comes first. Which is a way of saying that love is greater than judgment.

(After sending that note I went looking for a book in my library - To Understand Each Other, by Paul Tournier. This is one of the books that shaped Linda and I in how we approach relationships and marriage. We used to give newly married couples a copy of it. For those who value depth and wisdom, Tournier's works are must reading.)

***
My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A March of Euphemisms in Our Orwellian World (On Abortion)

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Storefront of mindless followers in Savannah, Georgia

I'm watching actress Scarlett Johansson speaking at today's women's march in Washington, D.C..

She just used two euphemisms: "safe abortion," and "reproductive rights."

A euphemism is a spin word. It puts a positive spin on a negative event (such as "collateral damage," instead of "killing innocent people").

"Safe abortion" is a euphemism for "killing inborn children." Obviously, an abortion is not safe for the inborn child.

"Reproductive rights" is another euphemism for "killing inborn children." Obviously, in such a catastrophe, the inborn child has no rights.

The culture war is a war of words. If you can get people to accept your euphemisms, or your dysphemisms, then you are winning people to your side. Few will look deeper. They will begin to take, as literal and factual, what began as rhetoric. See their blank stares of approval and anger.

This is Orwellian. It's the Thought Police. 

Plantinga's Modal Version of the Ontological Argument for God's Existence

In my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class I am teaching Anselm's Ontological Argument for God's Existence. In our last class I mentioned the modal version of the Ontological Argument. Here is Alvin Plantinga's modal version of the Ontological Argument for God's existence. It is a real head-twister! 

Using modal logic the following is true: If a necessary being is possible then a necessary being exists. (Think about it, modally.)

Or:

1. There is a possible world in which a necessarily existing being exists.
2. Therefore, a necessarily existing being exists.

Note: This argument avoids the Kantian criticism that 'exists' is not a predicate.


PLANTINGA’S MODAL VERSION OF THE ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT FOR GOD’S EXISTENCE


The argument goes:


1.    It is possible that there is a being (B) that has maximal greatness.

2.    So, there is a possible being that in some world W has maximal greatness.

3.    A being has maximal greatness in a given world only if it has maximal excellence in every world.

4.    A being has maximal excellence in a given world only if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in that world.

5.    Therefore, “there actually exists a being (B) that is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect; this being, furthermore, exists and has these qualities in every other world as well.”

Needed to understand this argument:

Logical possibilities and impossibilities do not vary from world to world. If a given proposition or state of affairs is impossible in at least one possible world, then it is impossible in every possible world. For example, "square circles" are logical impossibilities in our world. Therefore they are logical impossibilities in every possible world. There is no possible world, no creatively invented world, that could contain a square circle.
  • There are no propositions that are in fact impossible but could have been possible. For example, square circles could not exist in any conceivable/possible world.
  • And, there are no propositions that in fact are possible but could have been impossible. For example, if there is a possible world in which SpongeBob exists, then there is no possible world in which SpongeBob could not exist.
  • Therefore, B's nonexistence is impossible in every possible world. And because B is a maximally great Being, B exists in every possible world.
  • Therefore B’s nonexistence is impossible in this world (since this world is a possible world).
  • Therefore B exists and exists necessarily.

Love Requires a Predicate


Trees in Love
Lake Erie sunrise, Sterling State Park

"S loves p." As in: John loves Linda." A 'subject' loves a 'predicate'; in this example, a subject loves a person.


Love is other-centered. The lover desires the beloved

At its best and purest a lover loves the beloved in such a way that the beloved experiences being-loved. Real love is for the sake of the other, not for one's own self. Love serves the beloved. Where there is love, the beloved's well-being is paramount.

Love gives. Love describes a relationship in which the predicate benefits at the expense of the subject. The subject spends itself on the predicate. When it's the other way around, when the subject "loves" for the sake of benefiting at the expense of the predicate, the predicate loses their personhood and becomes an object. "loves p" gets reduced to, simply, "S." The identity of the beloved is wallowed up in the narcissism of the lover. 

This is the loopy logic of self-love, of "love" for the sake of one's self. The predicate is the subject. A strange self-reflexive reaction forms. This is "love" that is never satisfied. This is "love" that leads to adulterous affairs, serial monogamy, and other forms of non-investment.

Thomas Merton writes: "The one love that always grows weary of its object and is never satisfied with anything and is always looking for something different and new is the love of ourselves. It is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unqiet and all misery and all unhappiness - ultimately, it is hell." (The Waters of Siloe) Object-predicates fail to satisfy the greedy "subject" because the subject has become an all-absorbing thing, consuming love-objects like dogs devour chunks of meat.

"S loves p" could be construed not as a subject-predicate statement ,but as a subject-object statement. What, precisely, in "S is in love with p," is predicated of S? Isn't p to be understood as the "object" of S's love, and not a predicate ascribing something to the subject? No and yes. 

No: p is not best understood as an object of S's love. Subject-object language implies relational distance. Love has nothing to do with that. Love is a connected-relational thing. Love speaks of oneness and unity, not two-ness and distance. Two lovers "become one flesh." "One flesh" language resists the Cartesian dichotomy between a knowing subject and an object which is to be known. Love is a unitive thing.

Yes: because if love were an ontological union between the lover and the beloved both would disappear. Or, perhaps, the beloved would be absorbed into the lover. In this case "S loves _____" would become, simply, S. There is always a distance between lover and beloved, but not a Cartesian metaphysical distance whereby one eventually wonders if the beloved exists. 

Subject-predicate language better explains the love-relationship than does subject-object language. In the statement "The chalk is white," "whiteness" is predicated as an attribute of "chalk," telling us something about a certain piece of chalk. Analogously, to say "S loves p" (or "S loves ____") tells us something about the being of S, instead of simply objectifying p.

The noetic framework that best accounts for the nature of real love as predicate-centered is Christian Trinitarian theism. The Christian idea of God as a "trinity" of Persons conceptually explains the idea that God is love. God, in his being, is love. Because we have a God who is a three-personed being sharing one essence, the love of God is not self-love. In the idea of God-as-Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit love one another throughout eternity. God's love is "predicative" and relational, rather than objectifying in the sense of Descartes and the influential Cartesian tradition.

In John 14-17 Jesus extends an invitation to enter Trinitarian love. The love that ultimately satisfies, the love that provides the foundation of all earthly loves, the very source of love itself as other-centered, becomes ours, in reality and by experience. Love requires a predicate because the God who is love is, in his essence, a lover of others. God is the author of the subject-predicate love that defines his very being.


***
My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Genetic Fallacy




A common student response to the God-discussions in my philosophy of religion classes is to reason that how beliefs are acquired is relevant to the truth of those beliefs. If one can establish that, e.g., John was taught to believe in God by his parents, then somehow this casts doubt on the existence of God. In logic this kind of false reasoning is known as committing the genetic fallacy.


The genetic fallacy is an informal logical fallacy in which the origin of a belief, claim, or theory is confused with its justification. This fallacy is more often used to discredit a belief, though it may also be used to support one.


For example: "You only believe in God because your parents taught you to. So your belief must be false."


This kind of thinking is fallacious because the origin of the claim has no logical relation to its truth or falsity. The origin of a belief (how we acquired the belief) is irrelevant to the truth or falsity of that belief.


Another example is: "You only believe Christianity because you were indoctrinated by your parents and culture. If you came from a Hindu family and culture you would be a Hindu," with the spoken or unspoken impression "Thus, Christianity need not be preferred over Hinduism."

These are sociological, statistical claims.  Nothing can be inferred about the truth of Christianity from reasons as to where Christian belief originated.

Logic, and philosophy of religion studies, care nothing for sociological, socio-cultural, anthropological, and psychological explanations of the formation and transmission of beliefs. This is because such studies are irrelevant to the truth of beliefs.


Further note that, were genetic fallacy reasoning valid, then we ought to question everything we have learned from our parents, to include "1+1=2," "The earth is not flat," and "Milk comes from cows."


Logic is concerned with whether or not statements of belief are TRUE. or FALSE


CONSIDER:
· Christianity – An omni-God exists
· Atheism – no omni-God exists
· Hinduism – there are 330 million “gods”
· Buddhism – everything that is, is metaphysically One.
· Pantheism – everything is God
· Agnosticism – we can’t know whether or not an omni-God exists
· Skepticism – there are so many alternatives we can’t possibly know which one is true.


The origins of these beliefs have nothing to do with logical truth-claims.

Philosophers look at these statements individually and ask: Is this statement true or is it false? For example, is the statement God does not exist true? How one came to believe that God does or does not exist is irrelevant to the issue of truth.

Love Is the Imperishable Seed

Image result for john piippo heart
Heart-shaped snowflake

I'm up early and praying. I'm praying for people today. For friends and enemies who are sick, struggling, failing, addicted, facing hard choices, and experiencing circumstantial hopelessness (nihilism).

I feel compassion towards them. I have visited all these places. I know what they are like, to a degree. I am a man of joys and a man of sorrows, acquainted with bliss and sadness. 

I am praying for friends and enemies to be healed, to conquer, to win in life, to go free, to get clear direction, and to be filled with hope. I am also praying for myself. I am praying to be a better, freer lover of people. 

Part of this morning's reading is from Thomas Merton's journals. He writes:

"Now I see more and more that there is only one realistic answer: Love. I have got to dare to love, and to bear the anxiety of self-questioning that love arouses in me, until “perfect love casts out fear.”" (Merton, Learning To Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom (The Journals of Thomas Merton), p. 44.)

Love is the answer. By "love," I mean the love Jesus exemplified.

Dare to love, because love is risky. Love makes me vulnerable. People get crucified when they love. Because of this, I am often afraid to love.

Love causes me to question my self. What is this thing in me that wants to hate? Where does this judgmentalism come from? How could I even begin to entertain hatred? To hate or to love, those are the options.  

The love of God, the love that is of the essence of God and manifested when the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, is the only logical, realistic answer. Love is the imperishable seed planted by God in my soul.

***
My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Love Has No "If"


Image result for john piippo love
I bought this card in a bookstore.

I was talking with someone who has lived all his life under the oppression of conditional love. Conditional love is love that has "conditions" that must be met if "love" is extended.

In logic, a "conditional statement" (also called a "hypothetical statement") is an "If... then" statement. Like: "If it rains, then the ground gets wet." Which means: on the condition that it is raining, then the ground will get wet.

Conditional love is "If... then" love. This disqualifies it as love. It is hypothetical, while love is real and actual. Like: "If you have sex with me, then I will love you." Or: "If you give me that money I asked for, then I will act lovingly towards you." Or: "If you do not have sex with me, then I will not love you." It's all the same thing. It's all hypothetical, not real, love.

My friend grew up in a world of hypothetical love, with a father who said this: "Son, if you perform for me, if you do just what I want you to do, if you measure up to my expectations, if... if... if..., then I sure am proud of you and I sure do love you."

Hypothetical-conditional love treats others like trained seals in a circus act. "If you jump through the ring of fire then I'll give you a fish." But only "if." Hypothetical-conditional love asks the beloved to make a sacrifice for one's own pleasure. My friend has a hard time thinking that love means anything other than this. He inwardly punishes himself daily, interpreting true selfless love as self-serving "If... then" love.

The New Testament word for love, agape, takes the "if" out. Agape love is non-hypothetical, therefore actual. Which means: no conditions need be satisfied in order to receive love.

Agape love as non-hypothetical is propositional love. In logic a "proposition" is a technical term which refers to a statement that is either true or false, describing a state of affairs that obtains. Agape love does not say "If...  then," but simply "I love you," and acts accordingly. Propositional-agape love sacrifices selflessly for the beloved. That is God-love.

This is God-love because God, whose essence is love, cannot not-love. One cannot thereby say "If God loves me," but stands in awe before the state of affairs "That God loves me." God's love doesn't wait for conditions to be fulfilled.

Hypothetical-conditional love is abusive, dangling a fish before a hungry animal, saying "Perform for me." Propositional-agape love says, "Forget the performance, take off the costume and makeup, and get used to the truth that God loves you."

When God-love dwells in us we love others unconditionally.

Our love for them is not hypothetical, but true, constant, abiding, selfless, sacrificial, and never-failing.

***
My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of God (Philosophy of Religion Students)


(For my Philosophy of Religion Students)

I begin my Philosophy of Religion class by introducing students to an a priori argument for God's existence, as formulated famously by Anselm.

I give 1-on-1 oral exams on my teachings. Here are my expectations for question 1 on the first exam - Anselm's Ontological Argument for God.




First: state the argument exactly as I have stated it in class, and written it on the board.

1. I have an idea of a being a greater than which cannot be conceived.
2. Therefore, God exists.

Or:
1. I have an idea of a greatest possible being.
2. Therefore, God exists.

Second: explain what it is like to have an "idea" of something (explain essential and contingent attributes).

Every time you have an idea of something, that idea has essential attributes and contingent attributes. Essential attributes are what makes that thing what it is, and without which it would not be what it is.

Use the example of a triangle. Essential attributes of "triangle" include: "having three sides," and "angles equaling 80 degrees."

A contingent attribute is a non-essential attribute. E.g., the triangle in my mind is "pink." "Pinkness" is not an essential attribute of triangularity; i.e., a triangle does not have to be pink in order to qualify as a triangle.

Third: Anselm claims to be able to conceive of "greatest possible being."

I can think, in my mind, of a greatest possible being. That is, I can have an idea of "greatest possible being." Because whenever I have an idea of anything, that idea has essential attributes (otherwise I could not have the idea), my idea of "greatest possible being" includes essential attributes of: "omniscience" (knows everything that can be known); "omnipotence" (is able to do everything that can be done); and "all-loving" (assuming it is greater to love than to hate). 

OK. But why must such a being actually exist? Because... 

Fourth: explain that, for Anselm, it is greater to exist in reality than in the mind alone.

"Existence," for Anselm, is a great-making attribute or property.

Therefore a greatest possible being (AKA "God") actually exists. Because if "actual existence" is not an essential attribute of "greatest possible being" then I am not thinking of "greatest possible being."

Fifth: explain why, for Anselm, if someone says "There is no God" then they are a "fool."

Because in order to say "There is no God" one must have a concept or idea of "God." Thus, that being the case, even the fool must acknowledge that God exists.

Finally: explain how, then, the argument works.

Anselm thinks his argument works because one cannot conceive or think of God as not existing, any more than one can think of a triangle that does not have three sides.