Thursday, April 24, 2014

How I'm Leading Church (Tonight's Spiritual Formation Tele-Class)

Tonight I'm meeting by phone with the 12 pastors who have joined me for my Spiritual Formation Tele-Class. I've assigned everyone to pray 30-60 minutes/day, for these past three months. Tonight we'll share what God has been saying to us and doing within us throughout these times.

Plus, I'll lead a discussion on Ruth Haley Barton's excellent Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.

Here are some notes I'll share from.

HOW I’M LEADING OUR CHURCH (May I add, "imperfectly.")

1.   I have a personal prayer life and Christ-abiding life
2.   Our staff – prayer & abiding in Christ
a.   We individually pray
b.   We come together and share what God is saying and doing
c.   Barton – “When we began this venture, we were all leaders in a variety of ministry settings where we were achieving some level of effectiveness and success. But we were missing something. We were missing a place where we could be with other leaders—not just to work together, socialize and network, or even to be inspired to be better leaders—but to attend to our ongoing process of spiritual transformation in relative anonymity.” (94)
3.   We teach this to our people
a.   In our Ministry School
b.   Youth and children learn how to do this
c.   Special events focusing on spiritual formation
d.   Home Groups
4.   Mission Emerges From This Kind of Togetherness
a.   “The idea that we could gather first of all to be together around the presence of Christ in life-transforming ways was a truly winsome thought. We sensed that eventually a mission would emerge from our togetherness.” (95)
b.   Our “doing” comes from our corporate “being.”
5.   Spiritual transformation leads to discernment.
a.   “As we studied and reflected on the dynamics of spiritual transformation, we also discovered that spiritual transformation is not an end in itself—it leads to the ability to discern and do the will of God.” (p. 96)
b.   “What we do flows out of who we are in Christ.” (96)
6.   Hear from God first; then move.
a.   “A defining characteristic of any truly spiritual community [is] the shared commitment to move forward as we are led by the Spirit, not by our own thinking and planning. We are not opposed to planning; in fact, it is an important second step. But we are committed to discernment—listening deeply for God’s direction—as the precursor to any plans we make.” (99)
7.   Experience, not theory, breeds conviction.
a.   “Early on we agreed that we would not teach theories or concepts we merely wished were true. In fact, we actually wanted to experience transformation in community even more than we wanted to teach it! When it came time for us to teach, we agreed to follow Jesus’ example in his conversation with Nicodemus: “We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen” (Jn 3:5).” (100)
8.   We share how God is breaking us.

a.   “Growing self-knowledge is a crucial aspect of engaging fruitfully in a discernment process because it reduces the risk of the community falling apart due to people not being willing or able to own their negative patterns and sins.” (101)

1.   “Discernment” Is a Fruit of a Presence-Driven Church

Barton writes that some pastors have the "vague sense that our approach to decision making should be different from secular models—particularly when we are leading a church or an organization with a spiritual purpose. The problem is that we’re not quite sure what that difference is. In the absence of a clear consensus, that difference often gets reduced to an obligatory devotional (often viewed as irrelevant to the business portion of the meeting) or the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting. Sometimes even these well-meaning attempts at a spiritual focus get lost in the shuffle!" (Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Kindle Locations 180-185)

This difference is: God. God's presence. God, doing the leading. God, doing the building. Because unless God builds the house, we are laboring in vain.

What's needed is: discernment. 

"Discernment," writes Barton, "in a most general sense, is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives. The apostle Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2). This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind." (Ib., Kindle Locations 186-189)

What's fundamentally needed is mind-renewing transformation. Pastors and church leaders must therefore themselves be living in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about. Barton writes:

"It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do not have this as their clear mandate and reason for existence. This raises a serious question: If we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego?" (Ib., Kindle Locations 201-205)

Ch. 5 – Community

Be converted to community.
          Be committed to being a “transforming community.” (90)

“The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.”
-      - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (86)

Is the way we are doing life together in ministry transforming or deforming?

Gordon Cosby writes about his experience founding Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C.

"Our written commitment has grown out of our life together. The life occurred first and then it was put down in a written commitment. To make a formal commitment without having drunk deeply of the life of the group is simply to take a husk that can mock us. Only in commitment can there be real belonging.” (91)

Individuals are encouraged to become very clear about what values they need to know are in place in order for them to lean into the group as a trustworthy community. (91)

1.   The Language of the Presence-Driven Church

Language Shapes Reality

“Our commitment to being a community has been and continues to be the most essential thing about us. We knew that if we called ourselves a leadership team, a management team, a board or a cabinet, that might be all we would get—a method of governing that is basically secular in its orientation, with a few spiritual elements thrown in. At the very least we would have to work hard not to let that terminology define us according to whatever expectations normally go along with it. Language really does shape reality.” (97)

a.   “Connectedness” and “obedience” (rather than “success” – or: “success” is defined in terms of connectedness to God and obedience; “faith” rather than “success” – without faith it is impossible to please God)
                                         i.    Qualitative rather than quantitative
b.   “Disciple” rather than “decider”
c.   “Influence” rather than “numbers” (attendance; budget)
d.   “Discernment” rather than “decision-making”
e.   “Listening” comes before “speaking”
f.     “Relationship” (with God and one another) replaces “rules of order”
g.   To change a way of speaking is to change the culture. (Wittgensteinian language-games; the Whorffian hypothesis; see Kenyan scholar Ngugi wa Thiong’o)
h.     When a way of speaking has changed a culture has changed. A church’s culture will change from Program-Driven to Presence-Driven as Presence-Driven Leaders (PDLs): 1) live the Christ-abiding life themselves, foundationally and continuously; 2) lead their people into God’s empowering presence; and 3) nurture and champion the God-produced fruit-bearing. As this happens, over time, the “language-game” of the church will change. When the language has changed the reality has happened.

Our Youth at Norjo Cafe

Some of our youth went to eat at the Norjo Cafe last week. Here they are outside the cafe.

Photo: Thank you Norjo Cafe

The owner of Norjo Cafe then wrote this on their sign:

Why I Am Still A Christian

Clay pots, by Gary Wilson
At the end of my Philosophy of Religion class last night one of my students asked me why I am a Christian. Why, among the world religions, would I choose Christianity? My answer went like this (I'm expanding on it here). [And thank you A.B. for the question!]

My Christian faith is based on the following.

1. My Conversion Experience
2. My Consequent Studies

I came to believe because of a powerful experience that changed my life and worldview. The result of this experience included consequent study and increasing experience. Credo (I believed); Intelligam (I grew in understanding).

Credo: My Conversion Experience

From age 18-21 I was heavily into alcohol and drugs. I flunked out of college. A lot of things were getting ruined in my life as a result of my addictions. I was in a deep hole dug by myself. I was afflicted, and didn’t know where to turn.

One day I prayed to God and said, “God if you are real and if Jesus is real, then help me. If you help me I’ll follow you.” That was the last day I did drugs. My worldview was rocked. I attribute this to Jesus.

I see similarities between my conversion to Christianity and C.S. Lewis's conversion from atheism to Christianity. Lewis wrote:

"As the dry bones shook and came together in that dreadful valley of Ezekiel's, so now a philosophical theorem, cerebrally entertained, began to stir and heave and throw off its grave cloths, and stood upright and became a living presence. I was to be allowed to play at philosophy no longer. It might, as I say, still be true that my "Spirit" differed in some way from "the God of popular religion." My Adversary waived the point. It sank into utter unimportance. He would not argue about it. He only said, "I am the Lord"; "I am that I am"; "I am."

People who are naturally religious find difficulty in understanding the horror of such a revelation. Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about "man's search for God." To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat." (From Surprised By Joy)

The cat found the mouse. God found me. I was receptive. God existed. God loves me.

Intelligam: Understanding What Happened to Me 

This didn't happen in a vacuum. The soil of my heart had been softening for some time. I was looking for Help. Help came. My life forever changed. What shall I make of this?
  • If this event had not happened I would not have become a Jesus-follower. I needed something experiential that could change me. It happened. 
  • I agree with William James who, in his Varieties of Religious Experience, writes: "A mystical experience is authoritative for the one who experiences it. But a mystical experience that happens to one person need not be authoritative for other people." I'm good with that. (With the exception that the mystical-religious experiences of certain other persons have carried authority with me because of, to me, their credibility.)
  • My initial religious experience ripped me out of non-reflective deism into full-blown Christian theism. I now believed in God, and in Jesus. This experiential belief had an evidential quality for me, and propelled me to go after an understanding of what had happened. 44 years later, this has not stopped. Today I am a deeper believer in God and Jesus than ever.
  • True religion (not the jeans - they are too expensive) includes experience. Theory without experience is empty. Hebrew-Christianity is essentially about a relationship with God; a mutual indwelling experiential reality. This includes prayer-as-dialogue with God, the sense of God's presence, being-led by God, and so on. And worship. Worship is experiential and logical in the sense that: If God is love, and God is real, and love is about relationship (love has an "other"), then it follows that one will know and be known by God. ("Know," in Hebrew, means experiential intimacy, and not Cartesian subject-object distance. For more see, e.g., the current writings of James K.A. Smith.)
  • I realize that certain atheists claim to have no religious exerience at all. John Allen Paulos, for example, in his Irreligion, claims not to have a religious bone in his body. I don't doubt this. This fact does not rationally deter me, just as I am certain C.S. Lewis's religious experiences don't move Paulos from his atheism. (I'm now thinking of Antony Flew's recent conversion from atheism to deism. Flew was moved by the logic of the fine-tuning argument for God's existence. And the case of the famous and brilliant British atheist A.J. Ayer who had a vision and began to be interested in God.)
  • I keep returning to my initial God-encounter. It functions, for me, as a raison d-etre. Philosophically, it's one of a number of "properly basic" experiences I've had, still have, and will have. (See, e.g., philosophers like William P. Alston._
I began to study about Christianity. I wanted to know: is Christianity true? Is there any epistemic warrant for my God-encounter experience? I changed my major in college from music theory to philosophy.

My studies confirmed my initial act of faith. Here are some things I believe to be academically sound.

  • Good reasons can be given to believe in God. I believe it is more rational to believe in God than to disbelieve.
  • The New Testament documents are reliable in their witness to the historical person Jesus. (The recent minority Facebook claim that Jesus never existed is sheer unstudied goofiness.) (See, e.g., something like Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, or Craig Keener's The Historical Jesus of the Gospels.)
  • A strong inductive argument can be made for the actual resurrection of Jesus from the dead. (I shared briefly about this in my response to the student's question last night.)
  • Christianity is qualitatively distinct from the other major world religions. Only Christianity tells us that God loves us not for what we do or where we live but for who we are. The Christian word for this is “grace” and, to me, this is huge. The other major world religions are rule-based; Christianity is grace-based. And, in distinction from other religious alternatives, Christianity's claim is that God has come to us. These kind of things make Christianity more plausible than the other alternatives.

My initial life-changing encounter with God led to a lifetime of Jesus-following, God-knowing, and God-seeking. God did and continues to reveal himself to me. My faith is experiential, relational, and rational/reasonable. (Note: it's not without questions. Anyone who studies their own worldview will have intra-worldview puzzles. This includes me.)

For these reasons I became a follower of Jesus and remain one.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pray To Be At Home With God (PrayerLife)

Sunrise on Lake Erie
Sterling State Park in Monroe

C.S. Lewis believed that all human beings have within them an "inconsolable longing" for "we know not what." Lewis used a German word, Sehnsucht, to express this longing which is, ultimately, for God.

Lewis also spoke of "drippings of grace" which he experienced at times such as listening to music, or entering a sacred space like a cathedral.

The French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal famously wrote, in his Pensees: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing. It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.” No created thing can fill this empty place. Only God can. This is the place where God makes his home.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we read that God  "has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

In John 6 we see the nascent, forming church diminish in numbers. Jesus tells his followers that he is the "bread that came down from heaven" and that they are, figuratively, to "eat his flesh and drink his blood." Understandably, this was a hard teaching for some of them. We then read, in John 6:66: "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." Jesus then asks the Twelve if they are going to leave him too? Peter replies: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

James Houston describes Peter's response like this: "The radical nature of encountering  can shatter any other alternative resource for living." (Houston, The Transforming Power of Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God, 63) Christ is "the Holy One of God." In Christ, God fathoms us. He is the fulfillment of the deep, existential longing of the human heart for "something more." As God makes his home in us, we find our reason for being in Him.

I love how James Houston ties this in with a life of prayer. He writes: "Homesickness for God is a mark of the life of prayer. Once we recognize that we are in love with God, then we will want to experience his presence as a daily reality." (Ib.)

Jesus said that “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." (John 14:23)

In prayer, cry out for more experiential knowledge of His presence. Pray to be at home with God.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Zombie Argument Against Physicalism

Tonight in my Logic class I'll present David Chalmers's "zombie argument" against physicalism as an example of logical argumentation. 

The “Zombie Argument” Against Physicalism


1. If *physicalism is true, then it is logically impossible for p-zombies to exist. (I.e., physicalism entails the logical [or metaphysical] impossibility of zombies. See here Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Zombies," part 2 - "Zombies and Physicalism.")

2. It is logically possible for p-zombies to exist.

3. Therefore, physicalism is false.

*Physicalism - physical facts determine all other facts. This means that, on physicalism, there are no non-physical facts.

*P-zombie - i.e., "philosophical zombie" - a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except that it lacks conscious experiencequaliasentience, or sapience.

If physicalism is true, then there cannot be a world that is a physical duplicate of ours (that is, where everything is physically like in our world), which is not a duplicate
simpliciter of our world (that is, which does not contain anything more or less
than what our world contains). 

But zombies are conceivable: creatures that are physically exactly like us, but which creatures lack conscious experiences.

Therefore, physicalism is false. 

If it is logically possible for zombies to exist, then consciousness cannot be explained reductively, and non-physical reality exists.

Or... try this.

  1. If physicalism is true than physical facts determine all facts.
  2. If physicalism is true than anything that is physically identical to me will be in all ways identical to me.
  3. I can conceive of a zombie; viz., a being that is physically identical to me.
  4. But a zombie is not in all ways identical to me – it lacks first-person subjective consciousness.
  5. Therefore physicalism must be false.

1. A philosophical zombie or p-zombie is a hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except that it lacks conscious experience, qualia, sentience, or sapience. When a zombie is poked with a sharp object, for example, it does not feel any pain. It behaves exactly as if it does feel pain (it may say "ouch" and recoil from the stimulus), but it does not actually have the experience of pain as a person normally does. (See “Philosophical Zombie,” in wikipedia -

2. According to physicalism, physical facts determine all other facts. This means, on physicalism, that there are no non-physical facts. Therefore, since all the facts about a p-zombie are fixed by the physical facts, and these facts are the same for the p-zombie and for the normal conscious human from which it cannot be physically distinguished, physicalism must hold that p-zombies are not possible. Therefore, zombie arguments support lines of reasoning that aim to show that zombies are possible. Another way to put this, from SEP: "If a zombie world is possible, consciousness does not in that sense logically supervene on the physical facts, and physicalism is false. If that view is correct, therefore, to prove that a zombie world is possible would be to disprove physicalism."

3. NOTE: The zombie argument against physicalism is, therefore, a version of a general modal argument against physicalism, such as that of Saul Kripke's in "Naming and Necessity" (1972).The notion of a p-zombie, as used to argue against physicalism, was notably advanced in the 1970s by Thomas Nagel (1970; 1974) and Robert Kirk (1974).

4. See the “zombie argument against physicalism” developed in detail by David Chalmers in The Conscious Mind (1996). According to Chalmers, one can coherently conceive of an entire zombie world: a world physically indiscernible from our world, but entirely lacking conscious experience. In such a world, the counterpart of every being that is conscious in our world would be a p-zombie.

The claim of Chalmers and others is a strictly logical claim. Which means: Since such a world is logically conceivable, Chalmers claims, it is possible; and if such a world is possible, then physicalism is false. (Note: “square circle,” or “married bachelor,” are examples of concepts that are logically inconceivable.)Chalmers is arguing only for logical possibility, and he maintains that this is all that his argument requires. He states: "Zombies are probably not naturally possible: they probably cannot exist in our world, with its laws of nature."It’s easy to imagine a “zombie.” A “zombie” is a creature physically identical to a human, functioning in all the right ways, having conversations, playing chess, but simply lacking all conscious experience.

So if a person can be physically identical to us yet without consciousness, then it would seem that consciousness is not a physical thing.“There is an explanatory gap here that is really something of an abyss,” says Chalmers.

Pray For Judgmentalism To Be Exchanged For Understanding (PrayerLife)

Ann Arbor
Jesus tells us to stop judging other people. (Matthew 7:1) Here are some thoughts I have about this.
§  We can, and will, make “judgments” in life. This is unavoidable, and is not the thing Jesus warns us against doing. Consider this judgment: Killing people for fun is wrong. I judge that to be “true.” Every day we make hundreds of judgments ranging from moral judgments to “This cup of coffee is too weak.” When Jesus says “Judge not” he is referring to judgmentalism, which is different from making judgments.
§  A “judgmental” person weighs in on the hearts of other people and pronounces, like a trial judge, a verdict. Like: “guilty.” Or: ”That person is bad.” Or: "You deserve punishment." A judgmental person sees themselves as both judge and jury over people. Judgmental people feast off making moral and spiritual judgments about the motives of other people. Judgmental people see the worst in others irregardless of evidence to the contrary. Judgmental people make their pronouncements without any evidence at all, without understanding and compassion, or in the face of counter-evidence, or even on the basis of manifestly false evidence. Judgmentalism is the bedfellow of gossip and slander.
§  Behaviors can and should be judged, but the human heart is difficult to assess. If someone steals from you it is not wrong to say, “They stole from me; stealing is wrong; therefore what this person has done is wrong.” But why did they steal from you? Here’s where caution is advised. Because you do not have access to the human heart. Judge the behavior; refrain from judging the person’s heart. How many times I have been either positively or negatively surprised when a person’s true heart becomes evident. Which leads me to say…
§  I have, at times, assessed the heart of another person incorrectly. When my assessment has been negative I’ve built a case against that person. That’s neither good nor helpful. It breeds bitterness. I have made mountains, not out of mole-hills, but out of no-hills. Consider Proverbs 20:5, which says that “the purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters.” You and I lack epistemic access to the deep waters of another person’s heart. I can’t at times figure my own heart out! How then can I expect to accurately read the hearts of other people? If you wonder why someone did something that affects you negatively, why not ask them rather than put them on trial in your own mind and before others?
§  If God reveals to you some negative aspect of another person’s heart it is only so that you can pray for them or, with permission, help them. God doesn’t entrust such privileged information to judgmental people.
§  In John 7, in one of his confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders, Jesus asks them to “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” They have, again, misjudged Jesus. This is because what is seen with the eyes is not equivalent to what lies in the heart. It may “appear” to me that a person has just given me a nasty look. I should not conclude from this that they have a nasty heart. Maybe, maybe not. Many years ago, when Linda and I were dating, one of her friends told Linda that it appeared I did not like this friend because of the look on my face. Linda assured the friend that I did like her, and by the way that’s how my face normally looks. You can’t judge a book by the cover.
§  I think judgmental people are fearful people. Judgmentalism works as a barrier erected to ward off self-scrutiny. If I deflect attention away from my own sin and failure and get people to look at the surface-appearance of sin and failure in someone else, I can breathe easier. Instead of crying out “Search me O God, and know my heart,” the cry becomes “Judge them, O God, for I know their hearts.” Probably not.
§  It’s hard work being the judge of the world. I have spent too many hours trying to figure out just what the heck is going on in the brains of other people. Now, consciously, I am more and more giving this responsibility to God. What a relief! He calls me to love others, not judge them. God is able to speak into the hearts of all the people I find myself wondering about. In the meantime I will do well to allow him to speak to my own heart, and leave the judging to him.

I am asking God for freedom from judging the hearts of others. I can make judgments about things without being judgmental towards people. But note this: one cannot make a reasonable judgment without first understanding. It is foolish to judge without understanding. #1 – Understand; #2 – Evaluate if needed.

Things get tricky when it comes to the hearts of other people. We barely understand the complexities of our own heart. How can we think we have access to the inner workings of another person’s heart and mind? Yet this is precisely what the judgmental person claims. They say, “I know what you are thinking!” Or: “I know why you did that!” Which makes us want to respond by saying, “And just who are you – God?”
Strive to understand others and be understood by them. When understanding is achieved judgmentalism morphs into compassion.
Time spent judging the hearts of other people is wasted time, for the following reasons. 
  1. Our judgments can be wrong, and are surely incomplete. 
  2. Judgmentalism has no redemptive value. The point of judging others’ hearts is simply: to judge others hearts. There is an intrinsic vicious circularity to judgmentalism. 
  3. We can’t change peoples’ hearts anyway, so why waste time judging them? Years ago God spoke to me and I wrote these words in my journal: “John, why are you trying so hard to change other people when you can’t even change your own self?”

Spend time, yourself, with God today. Ask God to search out your own heart.
If God reveals to you some truth about another person’s struggle, thank him that he has entrusted you with this knowledge, and begin praying for that person.
In Matthew 7:1-2 Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” I can see the truth of this in two ways.
#1 – The judgmental-person-as-faultfinder-and-accuser-of-others will receive their own unfair share of retributive judgment heaped back on them. Everyone gets misunderstood. But if you waste your time picking out the faults of others others will waste their time picking out your faults. The big bang of your judgmental words creates an ever-expanding universe of judges, all skilled at finger-pointing. Not everyone who gets “judged” judges back. But when people feel judged the thought comes into their heads, “But you, also, are a failure.” One wants to attack back, unlike Christ responded. Judged people rise to their own defense. Tu quoque

#2 – The non-divine judges of all the earth suffer something even greater, which only gets exacerbated by the human judges who lash out at them. Most judgmental people I have met waste a lot of time being critical of their own selves. The people who hate and punish others hate and punish their own selves. The skilled, cynical critic of others is just as skilled and cynical about their own self. The one who hurts others is themselves a hurting heart. It’s the old “hurt people hurt people” thing, which I think is mostly true.
The antidote to this whole wasted mess is to find and experience the love of God for one’s own self. Be loved by God, not just in theory but in experience, and the result will be things like greater compassion towards others.

Love God.
Receive God’s love for your own self.
Stay connected to Jesus and experience, in relationship, his love.
Love one another.
Pray for judgmentalism to be exchanged for understanding.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Treating the Beast of Addiction

Tangled vines and branches near my house.
One Sunday at Redeemer I asked people who believe they have been freed from an addiction to share, in a sentence. About 20 shared, and a typical sentence was this: "I was addicted to prescription drugs, but have been free from them for 5 years." As many heard these words of testimony there was much applause directed to God.

Addiction is, as one drug addict once told me, "a beast." The addict is "attached" to a substance, or a behavior, that will not take its claws out of them (the French word for "addiction" is attache). I have met addicts who said they were set free only to see them return to their addiction. I've also seen people pray to be released from addiction who either have not been or not yet been. And, over the years, I have met many who were once addicted, turned to God for help, and were declawed and set free. I personally know many of these people. I find their testimonies credible.

Clinical psychiatrist Gerald May, in Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions, writes of the place of faith in God in the battle against addiction. He says:

"For the power of addiction to be overcome, human will must act in concert with divine will. The human spirit must flow with the Holy Spirit. Personal power must be aligned with the power of grace. How does this happen? It is surely impossible by autonomous willpower alone; the addicted systems of the brain are too numerous and overwhelming."

May's book remains beautiful and important to me in the struggle with addictive bondage, both my own and others. I mostly attribute any person's freedom from addiction to the grace of God. I've seen the "12 Steps" work, accompanied by the grace of God. But I have rarely seen pure clinical treatments to be of much help.

If someone who is an addict comes to me for help, I'll do any or all of three things:
1) Pray for God to graciously free them (because, again, I have seen this happen). My counsel here includes leading them into the presence of God where spiritual formation takes place. This is about a lifestyle.
2) Refer them to a counseling clinic, like this one (because I've seen God work here, too).
3) Refer them to the University of Michigan Addiction Treatment Services (U-Michigan Medical Center is one of our nation's great hospitals).

Regarding #3, how effective is this? Nora Volkow is the neuroscientist in charge of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She's interviewed here - "A General in the Drug War." Here's her take on the effectiveness of a purely scientific, clinical approach to treating one kind of addiction - to prescription drugs.
  • Addictions all "boil down to the same thing" - dopamine.
  • "All addictive substances send dopamine levels surging in the small central zone of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is thought to be the main reward center. Amphetamines induce cells to release it directly; cocaine blocks its reuptake; alcohol and narcotics like morphine, heroin and many prescription pain relievers suppress nerve cells that inhibit its release. Addicts and first-time users alike get the high that correlates with the dopamine wave. Only a minority of novices, however, will develop the compulsion to keep taking the drug at great personal cost, a behavior that defines addiction."  
  • "Addiction requires two things. First is a genetic vulnerability, whose variables may include the quantity of dopamine receptors in the brain: Too few receptors and taking the drug is not particularly memorable, too many and it is actually unpleasant. Second, repeated assaults to the spectrum of circuits regulated by dopamine, involving motivation, expectation, memory and learning, among many others, appear to fundamentally alter the brain’s workings." Addiction causes changes in brain function.   
  • "The overall success rate for curing drug addiction with medications, therapy or both is not high (about half of treated individuals return to active substance use within a year)."
  • Success in treating addiction is partly dependent on the social environment of the addict.        
  • The pace of addiction research is accelerating.
  • Prescription drugs "are lifesaving yet every bit as dangerous as banned substances. “The challenges we face are much more complex,” Dr. Volkow said, “because we need to address the needs of patients in pain, while protecting those at risk for substance use disorders.”"    

Pray for Faithfulness in Small Things (PrayerLife)

Kids praying at Redeemer
Today, like most days for me, will be a day of small things. My prayer is to be faithful in those things. I am a small person interacting with small people.

God can turn a small thing into a big thing, should He want to. It's up to Him. But the focus is not to be on faithfulness in "big things." The person who is not faithful in small things cannot be trusted with big things. And, God is not evaluating things by "small" and "big." Be faithful to God's calling. That's it.

Faithfulness is qualitative, not quantitative. The person who fails to love those within their own environment cannot be trusted to love others. Be not interested in "swimming with the big fish"; rather, consider yourself a little fish called to swim with whomever God brings into your life.

Jesus tells us, “He who is faithful in a little” is the one who will be rewarded much.
C.S. Lewis put it this way. “This then is the great secret. Good and evil both grow at compound interest. That is why the SMALL things you do each day are of such infinite importance. It is the small things that will turn you into either a heavenly or hellish creature.” (Mere Christianity)

Who dares despise the day of small things...

Zechariah 4:10

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Free Will - Another Intractable Problem for Atheism

Flowers for Linda

It would take more faith than I have to be an atheist because of how I see the logic of atheism; viz., given atheism, what follows logically?

The only variety of atheism I think worthy of the name is philosophical naturalism (PN), or physicalism. What is naturalism? 

Philosopher Louise Anthony, a confessing atheist-naturalist, says naturalism "can be taken to be the view that all entities, processes, and events are governed by natural law ; there are no supernatural forces." (Louise Anthony, "The Failure of Moral Arguments," in Debating Christian Theism, p. 105) Anthony says many atheists are naturalists, though not all. How odd, I think, to be an atheist and think there are forces in the universe that are not natural (nature).

On PN "matter" is all that exists, in various accidental collocations. Therefore "free will," whatever it is, is only material on atheism ("free will" is fully reducible to material conditions). This leads to the counterintuitive atheistic over-reach called "compatibilism"; viz., the compatibility of free will and PN-determinism. This is where I lack enough faith to be an atheist. The ramblings of a Daniel Dennett about how free will is something very different from what we've always thought not only don't help me at all, they make me suspicious that the PN-Emperor has no clothes.

PN, writes Paul Copan, cannot account for the very features on which the naturalistic moral realist hangs her hopes. These include self-awareness/consciousness, and reason. Free will is an illusion to some PN-ers (to their logical credit, no matter how hard it is to swallow a PN-er's "decision" to write books and articles on the illusion of decision-making). 

On PN, free will simply does not exist. Note these supportive quotes from atheistic PN-ers.

William Provine: “Free will as traditionally conceived— the freedom to make uncoerced and unpredictable choices among alternative courses of action— simply does not exist. There is no way the evolutionary process as currently conceived can produce a being that is truly free to make choices.” 

Francis Crick: Our sense of identity and free will is “nothing more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” 

Thomas Nagel: “There is no room for agency in a world of neural impulses, chemical reactions, and bone and muscle movements.” Given naturalism, it’s hard not to conclude that we’re “helpless” and “ not responsible” for our actions.  (Note: Nagel is a different kind of atheist - he's not a PN-er. He does acknowledge that, given physicalism, free will is an illusion.See here, e.g.)

John Searle: We believe “we could have done something else” and that human freedom is “just a fact of experience .” However, “the scientific” approach to reality undermines the notion of a self that could potentially interfere with “the causal order of nature.” 

John Bishop: Our scientific understanding of human behavior seems to be in tension with a presupposition of the ethical stance we adopt toward it.” 

- All quotes in Ib.

If I am not free to make choices what sense does it make choose PN as "true?" I don't even have a mustard seed in me for that one.