Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Undissipated Prayer (PrayerLife)

To be dissipated is to be scattered, scatterbrained, scatterhearted.

The self can be and is, in these times, spread out like a thin layer of Saran wrap over the minutia of life. We are the identityless people. The issue of personal and corporate identity is the crisis of our time. Our culture makes T.S. Eliot's "hollow people" look like the paragons of self-discovery.

The more we lose focus the more the self dissipates. Thomas Merton writes:

"The measure of our identity, or our being (for here the two mean exactly the same thing) is the amount of our love for God. The more we love earthly things, reputation, importance, ease, success and pleasures, for ourselves, the less we love God. Our identity gets dissipated among a lot of things that do not have the value we imagine we see in them, and we are lost in them: we know it obscurely by the way all these things disappoint us and sicken us once we get what we have desired." (Quoted in Henri Nouwen,  36)

Like Emilie Griffin once wrote, it's not life's failures that disappoint us, but life's achievements and successes, since once acquired we come to see they do not fulfill us in the way we imagined they would.

The dissipated, flat-as-a-pancake self becomes less and less in its never-satiated quest to consume more and more. Life blurs together. 

What's needed is the discovery, or rediscovery, of focus, of centeredness, of selfhood. This is a learned behavior, and can be found in a life of praying. In praying the self orients itself to the true north of the being of God. In praying God gathers the scattered fragments of self into an undissipated whole. In the dedicated act of praying we are pieced back together and restored to our first love, which is Jesus. In praying we realize, experientially, that our identity lies fully "in Christ."

Relationships Class (Redeemer Ministry School)

Image result for redeemer ministry school


Sunday evenings, 6-7:30 PM, March 29, April 12, 19, 26, May 5, 12, 19
This course will do two things:

1)   Examine the qualities of healthy relationships (of any kind – friendships, family, work place, marriage), and

2)  Present ways of helping and counseling troubled relationships.

One of the required reading books will be Real Relationships:From Bad to Better and Good to Great, by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.

Teachers: John & Linda Piippo

Signup will be in our church lobby, or by emailing me (johnpiippo@msn.com) or calling our office (734-242-5277)

Monday, March 02, 2015

Free Will and Responsibility

If there is no free will than people are not responsible for their actions. One ramification of believing free will does not exist is...

"There’s evidence that lowering people’s confidence in the existence of free will increases bad behavior. In one study ( Vohs and Schooler 2008 ), people who read passages in which scientists deny that free will exists are more likely to cheat on a subsequent task. In another experiment ( Baumeister et al. 2009 ), college students presented with a series of sentences denying the existence of free will proceeded to behave more aggressively than a control group: they served larger amounts of spicy salsa to people who said they dislike spicy food, despite being told these people had to eat everything on their plates."
- Alfred Mele, Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will, pp. 4-5. 

The more a person is convinced that free will is an illusion the less they will see themselves as responsible or accountable for what they do. "If you’re not responsible, you really don’t deserve to be blamed for your unseemly actions. And believing that you can’t be blamed for acting on your dishonest or aggressive urges reduces your incentive to control them. So you cheat or dish out unpleasantness." (Mele, Ib.)

Plantinga's Free Will Defense Against the Logical Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God

The river in our backyard

"Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim. Indeed, granted compatibilism, there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of God is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God."
- Atheist philosopher William Rowe, "The Evidential Argument from Evil," in Peterson et. al., Philosophy ofReligion: Selected Readings, Fourth Edition, p. 331, fn. 1)

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students)

Philosopher-atheist J.L. Mackie constructs an argument from evil intended to show the incoherence of theism. One cannot, thinks Mackie, simultaneously affirm the following three propositions (known as "Mackie's Triad"):

1) God is all-powerful.
2) God is all-good.
3) Evil exists.

Just as one cannot simultaneously affirm:

1) John is a bachelor.
2) John's wife's name is Linda.


1) Object X is square.
2) Object X is circular.

With this last example, we see that there is no possible world where an object, X, can be at the same time square and circular. There is, e.g., a possible world where a talking sponge can exist; i.e., it is logically possible that a talking sponge can exist. The term "talking sponge" is not logically impossible (logically incoherent). But "square circle" is. Mackie's claim is that theism, the idea of an all-powerful, all-good being, is incoherent on the existence of evil. That is, one cannot imagine a possible world where an all-powerful, all-good being coexists with evil.

As convincing as Mackie's argument sounds, it is false. To defeat Mackie all one would have to show is that there is a possible world (or there are possible worlds) where the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful being is compatible (coherent) with the existence of evil. This has been done. (Note: this is modal logic stuff.)

Nearly all philosophers, to include atheists such as William Rowe, believe Alvin Plantinga has defeated Mackie's logical argument, and that therefore theism is not incoherent. All Plantinga needs to do is show that there is a possible world in which Mackie's Triad can be affirmed. If Mackie's Triad was logically inconsistent then there could be no possible world where an all-powerful, all-loving being existed with the existence of evil.

Plantinga does this by showing:

1) It is possible that God has given persons libertarian free will.
2) It is possible that God has counterfactual knowledge.
3) It is possible that transworld depravity exists.

"Libertarian free will" is: making a choice (such as, e.g., a moral choice) that is not fully reducible to antecedent causal conditions.

To say that God could have counterfactual knowledge is to say that God knows the truth value of future conditional statements that describe possible states of affairs. (Note: if one thinks that God's counterfactual knowledge eliminates free will they have just made an error in modal logic - see here.)

By "transworld depravity" Plantinga means: in all possible worlds human agents will commit at least one evil act.

If, then, there is a possible world where libertarian free will exists and God knows what choices John will make, and knows that John will choose, on at least one occasion, evil, then God cannot make a world where John is faced with that choice and chooses good. This is because it would violate John's free will.

But what if, Mackie asks, God made a world where all persons on all occasions chose good? Plantinga responds by saying that it is possible transworld depravity exists. If so, then we have a world where one can affirm the existence of an all-powerful and all-loving (as well as all-knowing) God exists, as does evil.

How Our K-12 Educational System Is Morally Failing Our Children

New York City, 911 Memorial
Most of my college philosophy students are moral relativists without justification. That is, they seem scandalized by the idea that there are moral facts but, if asked, can give no coherent reason as to why moral facts do not exist. In addition to this they contradict their disbelief in moral facts by expressing outrage that anyone would push their morality on someone else. They believe It is wrong to push your morality on someone else, which is itself a moral fact. Some students even seem to want to push this moral fact on others.

Most moral relativistic students, when pressed, seem to agree that certain moral facts exist. For example, most would concur that It is wrong to rape and torture little girls for fun

How did my students come to be inconsistent moral relativists? Philosopher Justin McBrayer answers this in "Why Our Children Don't Think There Are Moral Facts" (New York Times, 3/2/15). McBrayer writes:

"What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it is not true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests? Would you be surprised?

I was. As a philosopher, I already knew that many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts. While there are no national surveys quantifying this phenomenon, philosophy professors with whom I have spoken suggest that the overwhelming majority of college freshman in their classrooms view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture."
Where did this idea come from? While there are academic philosophers who are moral relativists, none of my students are familiar with them (OK, maybe .001% have at least heard of a philosophical moral relativist). McBrayer says this incipient-yet-unreflected-on moral relativism comes from our K-12 educational system.
To demonstrate, when McBrayer visited his son's second grade open house he saw a pair of "troubling" signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:
Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proved.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.
These signs represent the norm, not the exception. McBrayer writes:
"Hoping that this set of definitions was a one-off mistake, I went home and Googled “fact vs. opinion.” The definitions I found onlinewere substantially the same as the one in my son’s classroom. As it turns out, the Common Core standards used by a majority of K-12 programs in the country require that students be able to “distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.” And the Common Core institute provides a helpful page full of links to definitions, lesson plans and quizzes to ensure that students can tell the difference between facts and opinions."
The fact-opinion distinction is wrong. Why?
1. The definition of a "fact" associates it with "proof." But this is wrong, since "things can be true even if no one can prove them. For example, it could be true that there is life elsewhere in the universe even though no one can prove it. Conversely, many of the things we once “proved” turned out to be false. For example, many people once thought that the earth was flat. It’s a mistake to confuse truth (a feature of the world) with proof (a feature of our mental lives)."
2. Students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions. "But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both." What a person believes can be a fact. I believe George Washington was the first president, and it is a fact that he was the first president.
Working from this false distinction the K-12 educational program places moral value claims as "opinions." Which means, according to the above false distinction, moral value claims are not "facts." So, there are no moral facts. "And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths." By this confused, false reasoning the moral statement It is wrong to rape and torture little girls for fun is only an "opinion" and therefore is not true. So "it should not be a surprise," says McBrayer, "that there is rampant cheating on college campuses: If we’ve taught our students for 12 years that there is no fact of the matter as to whether cheating is wrong, we can’t very well blame them for doing so later on."
My students, and our children, deserve better than this. McBrayer concludes, correctly:
"Our children deserve a consistent intellectual foundation. Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard.
That would be wrong."

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Moral Relativist as Enemy of the Oppressed

This is wrong, right?
I'm grading logic exams and listening to Bruce Cockburn. There's a line in "Down Where the Death Squad Lives" that has never left me. He writes:

sometimes I feel like there's a padlock on my soul
if you opened up my heart you'd find a big black hole
but when the feeling comes through it comes through strong
if you think there's no difference between right and wrong
just go down where the death squad lives

Correct. Where evil reigns lines become clearer. Moral relativists appear, if they do at all, as incarnations of the very evil they say is "right for you but wrong for me." The moral relativist is the enemy of the oppressed.


goons in blackface creeping in the road
farm family waiting for the night to explode
working the land in an age of terror
you come to see the moon as a bad news bearer
down where the death squad lives

they cut down people like they cut down trees
chop of its head so it will stay on its knees
the forest shrinks but the earth remains
slash and burn and it grows again
down where the death squad lives

Want to know something that's scary today? Teaching philosophical logic in a relativistic world where the relativism is the air we breathe, thus going unnoticed by the average university student. Logic is about "truth." Logic looks at statements and uses words like "true," "false," probably true, "probably false." These words leave the logician's mouth and horrify the student-relativists. 

I recently received a logic text to review - Critical Thinking Unleashed, by Elliot Cohen. The book is pretty much a standard logic text, except for the introduction, where Cohen's passion and sense of urgency falls from above like nuclear logic-bombs on our Facebook nation. Cohen writes, "Enculturation, or the socialization of children to cultural norms, is another factor in creating barriers to rational thinking." (4)

Uh-huh. When I teach about the fallacious nature of ad hominem circumstantials, tu quoques, and various forms of the genetic fallacy, I have this sense that, for a number of the students, I might as well be speaking ancient Greek. It's not that these students are unintelligent. It's that they have been enculturated and baptized in the warm waters of relativism.

This week I'm going to try again. I will use statements like "This is true," and "This is false." One brave student will say, "That's just what you happen to think," as others nod silently and Stepford-wife-like in agreement. Others are engaged in a meta-activity that may result in a break from cultural bondage into freedom. They are interested in truth - does it even exist? Can one get at it?

Cohen writes, "conformity to slanted norms routinely replaces self-reflective thinking." I agree. Now note this. Cohen is ethics editor for Free Inquiry magazine, published by the Council for Secular Humanism. I'm a theist, Cohen is a secular humanist, yet we're both in agreement that we're living in a time when reason has been abandoned. I suspect we both feel a bit like Nietzsche's madman, except that everyone else seems to have left the land for the relativistic seas while we're standing on the philosophical shores waving "Come back!" I presume Cohen and I want to reason and argue about our differences from the same logical foundation, as we reject the silly waters of il-logic.

Cockburn concludes:

I've got friends trying to batter the system down
fighting the past till the future comes round
it'll never be a perfect world till God declares it that way
but that don't mean there's nothing we can do or say
down where the death squad lives

the world can be better than it is today
you can say I'm a dreamer but that's okay
without the could-be and the might-have-been
all you've got left is your fragile skin
and that ain't worth much down where the death squad lives

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Christian Fellowship Is a Gift of Grace

Tonight I'm reading some documents that Payne Theological Seminary has sent to me regarding teaching spiritual formation course online. I get to be part of developing this at Payne, and am so thankful for the opportunity. 

One of the documents is "Spiritual Formation in Theological Distance Education: An Ecosystems Model," by Stephen Lowe and Mary Lowe. Lowe uses the ecosystem model of Uri Bronfenbrenner and others to establish the power of and need for authentic Christian community in transforming our hearts into greater and greater Christlikeness. 

While reading I found myself thinking how thankful I am that I get to be with my Jesus community tomorrow morning at Redeemer. I felt led to pull out Dietrich Bonhoeffer's beautiful book Life Together, and came to this:

"It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Kindle Locations 81-85)

"How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" 
- Ps. 133.1

Let the 'No' of Christ Be Formed In You (PrayerLife)

Sunset on a Lake Michigan beach

Robert Bly wrote: “The making of a man is making your body do what it doesn't want to do.” (Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men)

The mature person flourishes in life as they are able to wield the powerful word "No." The Jesus-idea is that, as we connect to him as a branch connects to a vine, we bear "fruit," part of which is awe-inspiring "self control." (Galatians 5:23) People drop their jaws and stare in wonder as people say No to mere self-gratification.

A Spirit-led, self controlled person is a free person. They have grown in their humanity to say "No" to eating the wrong things, to spending money they don't have to buy things they don't need, and to engaging in sexual behavior as the objectification of other persons.

"No" is the ultimate boundary word. The capacity to wield this word will not come from hearing slogans like "Just say 'No'." The authentic, boundary-setting 'No" must become one's heart, one's inner being. This happens as Christ is formed in us.

Think, e.g., of Jesus after he fed the 5,000. The people rushed after him to make him an earthly king. To this Jesus exercised his innate self control and refused. His 'No' was not only for him, but for the sake of others, indeed, for the sake of the whole world.

M. Scott Peck described The Road Less Traveled as "gratification delay." "No" is, perhaps, the ultimate other-centered word.This is a narrow road, said Jesus, and few take it. It is the road to freedom.

Let the "No" of Christ be formed in you and go free.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Judgmentalism and Making Judgments

The Mackinac Bridge, Michigan
A belief is a judgment that something is true, that a certain state of affairs obtains. Beliefs are expressed in statements. A statement is a sentence that is either true or false.A statement makes a claim that a certain state of affairs obtains.

If a statement is true it is true for everyone. In logic there is no such thing as subjective truth. To think that something is "true for you" but "false for me" is to fall into the rabbit hole of irrationality. 

Consider, e.g., the statement The lights in this room are now on. That is a belief, expressed in a statement. The statement is either true or false. If it is true (= the expressed state of affairs, viz. the lights being on, obtains) then it is true for everyone.

Of course there are things that are relative to persons. For example, John thinks sushi is good, but Jim thinks sushi is bad. But note this. When these two states of affairs are expressed in statements, the statements themselves, if true, are true for everyone.

Because everyone has beliefs, everyone makes judgments. This is unavoidable. Because every judgment is either T or F, every judgment (statement) marginalizes. If the statement The lights in this room are now on is true, then if I think the statement is false I am wrong. All statements make truth claims, hence all statements either embrace or exclude. 

Some people (many, I think) mistake the making of judgments with an attitude of judgmentalism. Let's say, for example, that X thinks There is nothing wrong with doing heroin. But I think It is wrong to do heroin. These two statements express beliefs X and I have. Both cannot be right. One of us is wrong. In fact, I think X is wrong about their belief. To say this is not to be "judgmental" or some kind of "judging person." It is only to make a judgment, and judgment-making is unavoidable and necessary and helpful in navigating through life.

Let's say X does heroin and asks me "What do you think about doing heroin?"

I respond: I believe (now here comes a statement) It is wrong to do heroin.

X feels angry and tells me "Stop judging me! You are so judgmental!" 

No, that can't be right. I only expressed a belief, only made a judgment. X has committed the mistake of confusing the making of a judgment with a judgmental attitude. This now becomes a problem with X, and not me. In fact, when X says You are so judgmental they have made a judgment about me which, in this case, is false.

Judgment-making is unavoidable and necessary to live this life. But judgment-making is not equivalent to being judgmental. The first is a matter of logic, the second is a matter of attitude.

More Praying in Peru

Our Redeemer team is still in Peru leading a conference for about 150 pastors. They are teaching the pastors to take alone, abiding times with God. Here's another short video of the pastors doing one of their hour prayer times.