Friday, April 29, 2016

If You Can't Say it You Don't Understand it

In my MCCC Philosophy of religion classes I give the students three one-one-one, 10 minute oral exams. They know in advance the questions I'm going to ask them (such as, "Explain Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of God"). 

On occasion a student complains (even though they have been instructed) about the oral exams. They say, "I understand the material. I just can't say it." (Which means: They don't understand the material.) 

Or, a student says: "I can't say the answer, but I can write it down." (Which means: they don't understand the material. This may not be true in everything, but it's true in philosophy. Or, in medicine. Imagine a doctor who tells you, "I can't say what's wrong with you, but I understand it and can write it down on paper." Avoid doctors like this.) 

I evaluate the students' understanding of the material, not their agreement or disagreement with it. They cannot begin to evaluate arguments they don't understand.

Plus, giving oral exams protects me from this.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Smart Enough to Know How Ignorant I Am


I am smart enough to know how vastly ignorant I am. Here's some proof


Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:
By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:
By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:
With a bachelor's degree, you gain a specialty:
A master's degree deepens that specialty:
Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:
Once you're at the boundary, you focus:
You push at the boundary for a few years:
Until one day, the boundary gives way:
And, that dent you've made is called a Ph.D.:
Of course, the world looks different to you now:
So, don't forget the bigger picture:

Keep pushing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Why I Believe Prayer Works (I Lay My Googler Down)


James 5:16 states that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. I believe this is true; i.e., I believe that prayer "works." Here are some preliminaries before I give my reasons to believe that prayer works.


  1. I define prayer (following USC philosopher Dallas Willard, et. al.) as talking with God about what we are thinking and doing together. Prayer is a relationship with God that I have. (This is important for what follows.) When I claim that prayer "works" I have this definition in mind. 
  2. My reasons for believing in prayer's efficaciousness form an inductive, not deductive, argument. I have reasons to believe, or why I see it as rational to believe, that prayer is powerful and effective. (Logically, I'm using abductive reasoning, or inference to the best explanation.) Can this be doubted? Of course. Any inductive argument is subject to doubt, more or less. In the same way the inductively arrived-at claim Prayer does not work can logically be doubted. (Note: If one begins with the claim God does not exist, then it deductively follows that Prayer does not work.)
  3. I present why I believe prayer works. I think it is important to state it this way. I lay my omniscient God-substitute Googler down and speak for myself. (Note: This is why I also value meeting face-to-face over coffee with people who don't believe what I believe. Thanks to all of you who have done and do this with me. I have learned from you.)
Why I Believe Prayer Works

  1. In 1977 I began a practice of getting alone and praying for several hours each week. I have maintained that practice, to this day. I believe the question "Does prayer work?" can only be answered by those who have committed themselves to a life of praying. 
  2. I have kept journals recording my prayer life since 1977. My journals total over 3500 pages. I have had many incidences where the best explanation for an event, as far as I can tell, is that it is an answer to my prayers. 
  3. So, I have much personal experience with praying. This is important to me because of a deep philosophical belief I have, which is: experience, not theory, breeds conviction.  
  4. I'm going to be praying today, and tomorrow. I would not pray if I thought it did not work. (This reason is by via negativa.) It is important to say this. I'm not saying it to convince others. I don't expect my experience to convince others. But this is my experience, just as you have your experiences; therefore, I stand convinced. Call this an existential reason, without which I have no idea why I would pray (To religiously fake it? To impress others?).
  5. I have taught praying to many people. My estimate is that I have taught at least 3000 pastors and Christian leaders about praying. 1500 of them have engaged in 6-weeks of praying an hour a day, 5 days a week. They have kept journals recording their prayer experiences. They have sent their journals to me. I have read them. These students have been, literally, from all over the world. A few have invited me to their countries to teach prayer to their people and colleagues. I have a broad, deep data base of people who committed themselves to actually praying. These people tell of experiences and events that deepen my already-held conviction that prayer works.
  6. I have studied, and taught, the history of prayer and praying. I am familiar with the praying lives of many historical figures. The end result of my studies has been to inspire me to continue to pray.
  7. Scholarly, empirical studies of prayer and praying support my existential belief in the veridicality of praying. Such as, to cite but two, Testing Prayer: Science and Healing, by Candy Gunther Brown; and The Psychology of Prayer: A Scientific Approach, by Bernard Spilka and Kevin Ladd. 
  8. I have read countless counterexamples to my belief that prayer works. This is important to me. I've read innumerable (over the years) atheistic (and other) arguments that the statement Prayer works is false. I began reading this counter-literature in 1971, as an undergraduate philosophy student. (Beware - philosophy makes you read opposing ideas!) I have little sympathy with atheists who have never had a praying life and out of their non-engagement believe they have falsified the claim that prayer works. Their theoretical arguments, which are logical manifestations of their worldview, do not dissuade me. I have also read many books by, e.g., ex-theists who claim to have prayed like I have but found no reciprocity. I am sympathetic towards these testimonies. But note this: since my personal testimony is to the efficacity of praying, absence-testimonies do not persuade me any more than my testimony persuades an ex-believer.
  9. Jesus believed praying works. I believe Jesus is God incarnate. Therefore I believe praying works. A major portion of my adult life has been spent immersed in Christological studies. I remain convinced that Jesus is who he claims to be. (Note: my Christological studies are historical and textual studies. Some of my critics mistake me for a religious fundamentalist, which I am not. Ironically these critics are usually themselves hermeneutical fundamentalists.) Again, note the pronoun 'I'. I know why I believe praying works. Obviously I do believe praying works, since I continue doing it. Here personal knowledge is important (see Kierkegaard, and Michael Polanyi). 
  10. I believe prayer works because I believe a personal God exists. If I did not believe this I would not pray, period. My praying life is a function of (is in direct proportion to) my belief in God. 
  11. I have a deep, experiential and philosophical belief that not only does God exist as a personal agent, but God is good, God loves me, and God is working all thing together for good ("good" is defined in relation to God's plans and purposes [no, this does not lead us to the "Euthyphro dilemma"]). Because I am certain and happy that I am not the all-knowing, all-loving God, I know I do not have full epistemic access to what God is doing. I have prayed for things that, from my POV, seem unanswered. At this point my properly basic belief in God helps me trust that my prayers are not going unheard.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bono & Eugene Peterson | THE PSALMS



Reading tips for the Psalms:

  1. Pay attention to the whole of a psalm, not just to the parts of a psalm.
  1. Read the psalms consistently, rather than occasionally and sporadically.
  1. Pay attention to the internal coherence of a psalm or a section of psalms, rather than allowing them to remain fragmented parts, reflective of our immediate and self-absorbed interest.
  1. Read the psalms out loud, not just silently.
  1. Read and sing and pray the psalms together, not just alone.
  1. Pay attention the Psalter’s “hospitable ‘I’” and its “intimate communal” sense, rather than allowing the individual expressions to devolve to individualism and the communal expressions to devolve to an impersonal communalism.
  1. Immerse yourself in the metaphors that the psalmist employs, rather than remaining distant and detached from them.
  1. Pay attention to the placement and role of the psalms in the biblical canon, rather than viewing them as isolated and idiosyncratic.
+ These suggestions were written by David Taylor. Read his curated list of resources on the Psalms here.

“What can I give back to God
for the blessings he’s poured out on me?
I’ll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God!
I’ll pray the name of God;
I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do,
and I’ll do it together with his people.”

+ Bono frequently reads Psalm 116 from Eugene Peterson’s The Message at the beginning of U2’s concerts.

Bono & Eugene Peterson Colloborate on a Film About the Psalms







Is this cool or what? Bono (U2) and Eugene Peterson (The Message, and more) have collaborated to make a film about the biblical book of Psalms.



They entitled their project "Bono and Eugene Peterson: The Psalms," according to the New Boston Post. Bono and Peterson have known each other ever since they met during the band's 360 Tour back in 2010. They credit the Book of Psalms as the foundation of their friendship.



(Yes, Bono is a Jesus-follower.)



Produced by Fourth Line Films, the documentary was directed by Fourth Line’s Nate Clarke. It’s the first production to be released by the Pasadena school’s new website, Fuller Studio, a resource from Fuller, a seminary founded by a 1940s preacher who reached the masses through radio broadcasts. 

Solitude Comes Before Community

Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin

The ontological order of spiritual formation into Christlikeness is:

1. Solitude.
2. Community.

"Then, return to solitude, and back to community, over and over again and again, year after year. This is a dialectical movement, meaning a forward motion where every return to solitude is a small but significant gain in Christlikeness, which is then brought to community, and so on and on as Christ is formed in us." (Galatians 4:19)

Practically, in my life, it looks like this.

I take time alone with God.

Linda and I meet with a small group of Jesus-followers every week (we've done this together for 43 years).

Linda and I meet with the large group community (our church family, on Sunday mornings at at other times).

Then it's back to solitary, alone-times with God, and the forward-moving spiral begins again.

Solitude makes me better in community. Henri Nouwen writes:

"Why is it so important that solitude come before community? If we do not know we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we are going to expect someone in the community to make us feel that we are. We will expect someone to give us that perfect, unconditional love. They cannot." (Nouwen, A Spirituality of Living, p. 21) 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Community Is Not Easy

Purple field, in Monroe County

At the top of my prayer petitions for myself is: "God, increase your love in me for others, even for those who may not like me, even for those who despise and dismiss me." I would not be praying for this if I already had it. 

I knew a man who dismissed the whole idea of "church." He went from church to church, finally to leave them all. He thought he was a Christian. He refused to coexist with other people. He missed the very heart of Christianity. 

Jesus comes to build community. The notion of the isolated, solitary "Christian" is non-Hebraic. The core of the Jesus-community is love, and love is relational. There is no love without the other. The problem here is that you and I are "the other," and I am to love you, and you are to love me. Something great and deep and wide and high and long is formed in us as we learn to do this. 

This is the greatest challenge of the church; viz., to love one another as He has loved us. This is the mark of the true church, and a sign to this loveless world. People should look at the church and say, "See how they love one another." People should look at you and say, "Look how _______ loves others."

Henri Nouwen wrote:

"Community is not easy. Parker Palmer once observed that community is the “place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” In Jesus’ community of twelve disciples, the last name was that of someone who was going to betray him (Luke 6:13-16). That person is always in our community somewhere. In the eyes of others, we might be that person." (Nouwen, A Spirituality of Living, p. 20)

I am praying for Christ's love to be more deeply formed in me.

Rejoice, Because the Poor are Rich, and the Rich are Poor - James 1:9-11


My sermon on James 1:9-11 can be heard HERE

Wisdom From God In the Middle of Suffering - James 1:5-8


You can listen on my sermon on James 1:5-8 HERE.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"No" + "Run" = "Freedom"



An MRI produces a powerful magnetic field. Metal objects are not to be brought close to it. For example:

"Metal objects in the vicinity of a MRI can be dangerous. In 2001, a six year-old boy was killed when an oxygen tank struck the child. When the MRI magnet was turned on, the oxygen tank was sucked into the MRI, and the child was struck by this heavy object. Because of this potential problem, the MRI staff is extremely careful in ensuring the safety of patients."

When I was a campus pastor in the 1980s at Michigan State University we had a number of medical students in our ministry. Some of them told me the story of two med students who flirted with an MRI. They took a ten pound dumbbell and held it closer and closer to the MRI until they could feel the gravitational tug. Closer. Closer. How strong was the pull? How strong were they? Suddenly the dumbbell ripped out of their hands and flew into the MRI, causing massive damage. 

They could have chosen not to do this. But they gave in to temptation's magnetic drawing power. Paul would have told them they had a way out of this. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul writes: No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

What is this "way out?" The "way out of temptation" is: "choice." "Choice" has two options: one verbal, the other physical.

The verbal choice is the word "No!"

The physical choice is: get your butt out of there and "Run!"

Anything less than "No!" + "Run!" is flirting. Those who flirt, lose.

Therefore, my dear friends, flee... (1 Cor. 10:14)

Is it that simple? Yes and no. When tempted to do something God would not want you to do you can choose to leave. It is possible. Is it easy? Not if you flirt. Not if you see how close you can get the dumbbell to the MRI without getting sucked in. The more you flirt the greater the odds are that you'll get hurt. One who flirts with disaster has already felt the tug.

When the addict utters "No!" and chooses to "Run!" a new neural pathway begins to be formed in her physical brain. Choose "No!" + "Run!" enough times and the old neural highway becomes as pot-holed and unused as a Michigan back road, while a new neural highway [a new behavior] begins morphing into I-75.

Am I kidding? See, e.g., N.T. Wright's After You Believe, Ch. 3, "The Transformation of Character." Wright writes: "Learning results in physical changes to the brain, and these changes are unique to each individual... Contemporary science is actually able to study and map the way in which lieflong habits come to be formed."

Try this little essay "The Human Body and Spiritual Growth" by Dallas Willard. And here's a teaser by J.P. Moreland - "The Bible and Neuroscience on Promiscuity."

Where does God fit in? God provides the "way of escape." God gives us the word "No!" and the ability to "Run!"

Get out of the environment that flirts with sex. Don't drive down the street where the supplier lives. Stay away from the bar where you fail. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

This Sunday at Redeemer (April 24, 2016)


THIS SUNDAY MORNING AT REDEEMER: I will share the meaning of "blessedness" and show how it is way different and far better than "happiness" - James 1:12.
THIS SUNDAY EVENING AT REDEEMER: I will teach on "Managing Anger the Jesus Way." 6 - 7:30 PM.
THIS SUNDAY AFTERNOON: I will be taking a nap.

George Mavrodes On the Weirdness of Moral Obligations in a Russellian World

Notes on George Mavrodes' essay "Religion and the Queerness of Morality.” (Also in Pojman and Rea, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology).

Former (now retired) University of Michigan Professor of Philosophy George Mavrodes writes: “Many arguments for the existence of God may be construed as claiming that there is some feature of the world that would somehow make no sense unless there was something else that had a stronger version of that feature or some analogue of it.”

Which means: Noetic structures must account for experiential realities.

For example, morality. Some have claimed that if there was no God, then there would be no morality either. As Dostoevski said, “If there is no God, then everything is permitted.” 

Sartre echoed this idea.

Mavrodes’ purpose: “The suggestion that morality somehow depends on religion is rather attractive to me. It is this suggestion that I wish to explore in this paper.” 

Mavrodes’ method: “I will outline one rather common nonreligious view of the world, calling attention to what I take to be its most relevant features. Then I shall try to portray some sense of the odd status that morality would have in a world of that sort.” 

Mavrodes looks at Bertrand Russell’s nonreligious worldview – a "Russellian world." What would that be like? He quotes Russell’s famous statement from “A Free Man’s Worship”:

"That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

Mavrodes asks: What if the world was like this? What would be the status of morality in such a world? To get at this Mavrodes lists the “most relevant features” of a Russellian world.

They are:

1) Phenomena such as “minds” and “consciousness” “are the products of entities and causes that give no indication of being mental themselves.” 
a. The causes are ‘accidental collocations of atoms” with “no prevision of the end they were achieving.”
b. What we call “life” is a latecomer in the long history of the earth.
2) “Human life is bounded by physical death and each individual comes to a permanent end at his physical death.” 
3) “Not only each individual but also the human species is doomed to extinction “beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.” 

Those are the main features of a Russellian world.

Next Mavrodes introduces the idea of “Russellian benefits.” “A Russellian benefit is one that could accrue to a person in a Russellian world.” 

E.g., to live to a contented old age.

Or, to have sexual pleasure.

Or, to have a good reputation.

BUT… “going to heaven” is NOT a Russellian benefit. It does not fit in a Russellian world.

Mavrodes next asks: Could the actual world be Russellian?

In the actual world human beings do exist, and they have moral obligations to act in a certain way.

If they do not act in those ways, then they are judged adversely. (Such as, e.g., the young man who killed 9 people in a church yesterday.)

“People who do not fulfill their obligations are not merely stupid or weak or unlucky; they are morally reprehensible.” 

“Morality ascribes to particular people an obligation to do a certain thing on a certain occasion.” If such a thing is not done (what Mavrodes calls a “final obligation) then this subjects the person to adverse judgment. 

“Pleasure, happiness, esteem, contentment, self-realization, knowledge – all of these can suffer from the fulfillment of a moral obligation.” Which means: following a moral obligation can cost you such things. You may, e.g., suffer.

Mavrodes' point is: in the actual world people experience, not simply moral feelings, but moral obligations or, in Kant's sense, moral duties.

But does it logically follow, necessarily, that following a moral obligation will have some corresponding personal benefit for me in a Russellian world? The answer is: no, it does not follow. In other worlds, it could follow; i.e., moral obligations could always bring some personal benefit.

While it does not logically follow, it still is false that it does follow. In other words, moral obligations do not in fact always lead to personal benefits.

“In the actual world we have some obligations that, when we fulfill them, will confer on us no net Russellian benefit. – in fact, they will result in a Russellian loss.” 

“If the world is Russellian, then Russellian benefits and losses are the only benefits and losses, and also then we have moral obligations whose fulfillment will result in a net loss to the one who fulfills them.” This is what Mavrodes finds “queer,” or weird, or strange.

Namely, that in the actual world we do have moral obligations. And, such obligations do not always lead to some personal benefit; indeed, there could be personal danger and loss as a result of acting morally. If the world is Russellian, then “the world that included such a fact would be absurd – we would be living in a crazy world.” 

Mavrodes goes on to explain why that would be absurd, or weird. He makes a distinction between moral “feelings” and moral “obligations.” In a Russellian world moral feelings would not be weird. But moral obligations would be. (Mavrodes acknowledges his indebtedness to Kant here.) Or, in a Russellian world morality as having a survival value would not be weird. But, again, moral obligations would be weird in a Russellian world.

Mavrodes writes: “An “evolutionary” approach… cannot serve to explain the existence of moral obligations, unless one rejects my distinction [between moral feelings and moral obligations] and equates the obligations with the feelings.” 

The argument: “Morality… seems to require us to hold that… human beings have in addition to their ordinary properties and relations another special relation to certain actions. The relation is that of being “obligated” to perform those actions. And some of those actions are pretty clear that they will yield only Russellian losses to the one who performs them.” 

In the actual world persons who do NOT perform them are considered “defective in some serious and important way and an adverse judgment is appropriate against them. And that certainly does seem odd” [if the world is as Russell says it is].

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Purity

"How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing (and perhaps, like you, I have met it only once) it is irresistible." 
- C.S. Lewis, in Letters to an American Lady





A few years ago I did premarital counseling with an engaged couple. I use the FOCCUS premarital inventory. It's so well-put-together, and gives me an MRI of the relationship. It asks all the questions I want to get into. Most couples enjoy taking this survey, and end up talking about a number of important things they have not yet thought of.

This couple - call them Jason and Andrea (not their real names, and I've altered their story slightly) - scored high on the FOCCUS. I had a good feeling after my first meeting with them. Especially because of their stance toward pre-marital sex.

Jason and Andrea had known each other for many years. They dated for several years. She was working on a graduate degree, and he managed a business. The FOCCUS survey led us to talk about sex.

"Have you had sex together?" I asked them.

"Neither of us have ever had sexual intercourse or come close to it," they responded in unison. Andrea said, "When Jason told me he loved me and was interested in pursuing marriage I immediately told him, 'There's no way I'm having sex before I get married.'"

"How did Jason respond to this?"

"He respected me for it," said Andrea, "and never has pressed himself on me."

Jason added, "It's not always been easy, because I love Andrea and look forward to sex in marriage. But I agree with her. God wants us to wait, and we are waiting."

I stopped.

I was stunned.

This was, for me, a holy moment.

Jason and Andrea are two attractive, intelligent, and successful people with great futures. Yes, they are Jesus-followers, but many Jesus-followers who get married have premarital sex because "they can't wait." 

I don't wish to judge them for that. Yet I want to bow down before Jason and Andrea and do a little worship! Who are these rare, unusual people who take the road less traveled and delay gratification? Especially in our sex-addicted culture where sex is used to sell everything from hamburgers to vacuum cleaners.

From my pastoral POV I see lots of sex addiction. Sometimes I wonder, falsely I am certain, "Who is not a sex addict today?" Have you ever seen or counseled one? Addiction is a monster. The French word for addict, as Gerald May has told us, is attache. Attachment. Claw-like attache. Being married or shacking up (I'm not talking about the book The Shack) cannot cure this. Our culture of sexual freedom has, ironically, imprisoned many. A sex addict outside of marriage will be a sex addict within marriage (unless The Transformation happens, to be accomplished only by grace).

Somehow, Jason and Andrea escaped the prison house of "sexual freedom."

I told them I was proud of them. Delayed sexual gratification displays self-control and breeds trust.

Linda and I abstained. In my abstinence I was not some religious legalist. I was so screwed up sexually that I just wanted God to heal the garbage of my heart so that, should I marry, I would not infect my life partner and children. When I told Linda I would not be asking her to have sex with me, I asked how this made her feel. She said, "Safe." I didn't love her only for her physical beauty. I wanted her heart. The two are different.

While dating I waited several months before I kissed her. I will never forget that kiss! We were walking in a park, and it began to lightly rain. A little voice told me, "It is time!" I asked for her permission. She said yes. That kiss lasted only one second, but mega-volts of lightning came through her lips! From then until we got married we kissed only occasionally, and then only for a second or two. Our love and trust and respect only grew. This was wild and unbelievable to me, a former drug-alcohol-fraternity-sex-womanizer. A foundation of faithfulness was being laid from which we have never diverted (for forty-three years).

I don't see that often. When I sat in my office with Jason and Andrea I got those feelings that have to do with my understanding of real, deep, growing Jesus-love that lasts a lifetime. Because Jason and Andrea have no history of sexual partners and have not sex-partnered with each other I predict they will stay faithful to one another. They are disease-free, physically and spiritually. In this they are...  pure.

The odds are greatly in their favor. Their children will be blessed. They will pass marital fidelity to their kids. And maybe a couple of children whose parents are named Jason and Andrea will lead the counter-revolution to purity?

***
A few resources on Jesus-following and sexual purity include:

Every Young Man's Battle, by Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoeker

Every Young Woman's Battle, by Shannon Ethridge and Steve Arterburn

Moral Revolution: The Naked Truth About Sexual Purity, by Kris Valotten, Jason Valotten, and Bill Johnson 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hoping Beyond Death

So-Fee and me

I paid my taxes a few weeks ago. If there is one thing that is certain, it is paying your taxes. But there is something more certain than paying taxes. One day I will die. Death is more certain than taxes. 

I think about death. One result of my conversion to Christ forty-six years ago was a greater awareness of death. Being a philosophy major helped me, since "death" is a big-time philosophical theme. How we think about death influences how we live today. Heidegger, for example, told us that life is best lived in light of one's death. The death of Socrates, as told by Plato, is philosophically famous as a example of a good life and a good death. 

Attending a theological seminary and becoming a pastor meant that I was always being called into life-and-death situations, some of which ended, of course, in death. I have done many funerals. I did the funerals of my mother, my father, and Linda's mother and father. My infant stillborn son David never got a funeral because of the crazy circumstances surrounding his expiration. When you minister at a funeral you deal with death. You meet with people whose loved ones are gone.

I have cried at the death of loved ones. I cried when we put our dog So-Fee "to sleep" a few years ago. That was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We loved her so much! Driving her to the veterinarian's office as when she was dying was, for me, ridiculously painful. The fact that she trusted in us, in me, but could not be communicated to, made the situation harder. It also made me angry. Angry... at death... at the fact of death.

For several years I was the pastoral chaplain at the Mid-Michigan Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Lansing. This was Sparrow Hospital's "HOPING" group. HOPING: Helping Other Parents In Normal Grieving. My loss of David made me, in some way, "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief." Once or twice a year I would speak, representing HOPING, to parents who had lost their children in the hospital. That was intense. It feels intense as I write about it.

I will never forget these things. I do not want to forget them. I cannot and should not forget that death is still with us. In times of death, in times of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, some people think and reflect. Not all, but some. I once did a funeral where friends of the drug-overdosed deceased were having a tailgate "party" in the funeral parking lot. Alcohol was their drug of choice for dealing with grief. They staggered into the funeral service having failed to "drown their sorrows."

I see every funeral as a God-opportunity. Worldviews kick in at funerals. Some people are weighing things, evaluating things, dealing with incomplete things, with unsaid things that should have been said, with the experiential finality of death, and with their own mortality. All of these are thematic in the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. I share how forgiveness is possible in Jesus, and how in His resurrection we have hope beyond the grave. As I speak I see people who are listening, who are HOPING. Some who live in denial come out of that dark closet and stand, for a while, in the light. In that moment they are looking for some hope, and before them stands the Hope of the World.

How do I handle death? I like what Thomas Merton said after one of his healthy meditations on life's mortality: "The important thing is simply turning to [God] daily, preferring his will and mystery to everything that is evidently and tangibly "mine."" (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander) Note the quotes around the word "mine" since, obviously, we own nothing in this earthly life. This includes other people. I don't even think we own our own selves. 

I'm going to die. You are too. But Christ has been raised. Therefore I have hope, and you can, too. Today I choose to live in the light of that eschatological hope and connect with "Christ, the HOPE of glory."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Presence of God Advertises Itself

Wilberforce, Ohio
A.W. Tozer, in The Pursuit of God, writes:

"Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and the servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all. If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must first determine to find Him." (Tozer, The Pursuit of God, Kindle Locations 128-133)

We don't need to promote God, right? I mean, if it's really God that shows up and inhabits the house, the word will get around just fine without advertising. The presence of God advertises itself. Focus on God's presence and your church's advertising budget will shrink to $0.

You don't have to advertise a fire.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Managing Anger the Jesus Way - Sunday, April 24, 6 PM at Redeemer.


In our next Inner Healing class I will teach on "Managing Anger the Jesus Way." Sunday, April 24, 6 PM at Redeemer.

The Difference Between Moral Ontology and Moral Epistemology


Detroit
In my MCCC Logic class we are now talking about about apply logic to ethical theories. This involves the matter of "worldviews." Our text raises the worldview issue and encourages us to develop critical thinking skills to enable us to evaluate our beliefs regarding Big Picture matters.

Everyone has a worldview. Every worldview has a set of core beliefs through which persons view the world; viz., through which they construe reality and experience. For example:

  • In the worldview of Chinese primitive religion one's ancestors dwell in an afterlife and still need to be provided for. Hence, this belief: One's ancestors' well-being depend on sacrifices offered to them in this life.
  • When I was in Kenya I learned that, in Sub-Saharan Africa, divinization rites are an essential part of daily life. I was told that in Kenya, e.g., "diviners are everywhere." So, one belief in the worldview of African primitive religion is: casting pieces of a kola nut can tell a person what to do to make it safely through the day.
  • I embrace the worldview of Christian theism. One of my beliefs is: When I die I shall continue to exist, in the presence of God, in an afterlife (on the basis of Christ's historical resurrection).
Worldview beliefs are expressed as statements, or claims. In logic a statement is a sentence that describes a state of affairs; a statement is a sentence that is either true or false.

Here, e.g., is a belief, an atheist would [and should] have: morality does not exist. An atheist's reasoning would be this:

  1. If there is no God (as moral Commander), then there is no morality (no objective moral values).
  2. God does not exist.
  3. Therefore, objective moral values do not exist (morality does not exist).
A number of philosopher-atheists have made and continue to make this claim. For example, Nietzsche (there are no moral facts), Camus, Sartre (existentialist atheists in general), and more recently Michael Ruse, E.O. Wilson (morality is an evolutionary illusion), and Joel Marks. Were I an atheist, I am certain I would follow this reasoning. As Marks writes: "I now take the non-existence of a Commander as a kind of proof that there are no Commands, i.e., morality." Of course.

Am I claiming that an atheist cannot be moral? Not at all. In fact, I know some atheists who are more moral than some Christians. My point (as made by other atheists and theists) is that, on atheism, there is no longer any metaphyscial foundation for morality.

Important to understand here is that this reasoning is not about describing how moral beliefs come about. To describe how moral beliefs came about (moral epistemology) is irrelevant to this discussion. That is a matter of moral epistemology. The issue is, rather, a matter of moral ontology. It's not a matter of normative ethics; it's a metaethical issue.


As theistic philosopher William Lane Craig says, "The claim that moral values and duties are rooted in God is a Meta-Ethical claim about Moral Ontology, not about Moral Linguistics or Epistemology. It is fundamentally a claim about the objective status of moral properties, not a claim about the meaning of moral sentences or about the justification or knowledge of moral principles."

On atheism, objective moral values (i.e., Marks's "morality") do not exist. I find that eminently logical. An atheist who thinks otherwise is misguided and is, following Nietzsche, still too indebted to the village of Christian theism.

Note: Without morality, what does an atheist who has moral inclinations do? One example is Marks, who rejects utilitarianism and, following his Kantian inclinations, proposes something he calls "desirism." See "An Amoral Manifesto: Part I," and "An Amoral Manifesto: Part II."

Philosophy of Religion – Final Three Questions


For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students 
Final oral exams are the week of April 25

Question 1: EXPLAIN NIETZSCHE'S "PARABLE OF THE MADMAN"

1. Spell 'Nietzsche.' (I once put wrote this question on a written exam. 95% of my students got it correct.)

2. Explain what Nietzsche means by "the horizon of the infinite.'

Nietzsche is writing to the European, especially German, atheists of his time. The metaphysical foundation of their culture, the "land" upon which they stood which provided the basis for their understanding of morality, is Christian theism. But once a person adopts the worldview of atheism, that metaphysical foundation and all that is built upon it must be abandoned. The result is that now the atheist is sailing alone in a boat upon a sea with an "infinite horizon." By "infinite horizon" is meant: there is no "land," no new metaphysical foundation, in sight.

This is one way of expressing Nietzsche's struggle with nihilism. "Nihilism" is the belief that life has no meaning.

3. Explain the "parable of the madman."
  • In the parable the madman is Nietzsche.
  • The madman is an atheist and enters a "village" of atheists. In this village there are "village atheists"; viz., "atheists" who do not have a clue about the philosophical ramfications of their atheism.
  • They mock the "mad"-but-logically consistent atheist, who rants depairing, dismal things like: "The earth has been ripped out of its orbit around the sun and we're spinning out into total blackness!"
  • The "sun" for us was Christian theism. It was our light and life, and gave meaning to our existence. Once we abandon that worldview we're out in the infinite blackness of space, looking for a sun to orbit around. Nietzsche's point is: when you abandon a worldview, you leave all its propositional truth behind. This includes the moral values that come from a God as divine command-giver. At this point, for Nietzsche, everything is up for grabs; we have begun de novo.
  • On atheism there is, of course, no God of Christian theism. That's what we got out moral values from. That's the "village" we've been living in. One can no longer live in the village if one is an atheist.
  • This realization that there is no God is the greatest event ever, "and whoever is born after us will on account of this deed belong to a higher history than all history up to now." This is because an entire world of meaning and value (viz., the Christian theist worldview upon which Europe exists) has been taken away. It is as if, to use a metaphorical analogy, the entire world was seen as the game of baseball, and the truth is the entire world is actually the game of tennis. In tennis the rules and values of baseball do not apply.
  • The madman stares at the pseudo-atheists, holding his little lamp since there's no longer a sun to light our way. They don't have a clue. He smashes his lamp on the ground, says "I guess I've come too early," and goes into an empty European church and Gregorian-chants "God is dead."
  • Such is the logic of atheism. Village atheists are those who live as if there's a moral foundation beneath ("land") while in reality they are all alone in an infinite situation.

Question 2: EXPLAIN BERTRAND RUSSELL’S “A FREE MAN’S WORSHIP”

What, then, are the beliefs of atheism? Some (but not all) atheists have come forth with them. The famous British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell has done so, in his 1907 essay "A Free Man's Worship." I think Russell has done an admirable and logical job; i.e., were I an atheist I would believe the following four things.

1. Humanity is the product of causes that had no prevision of his appearing.
I am certain Russell is correct on this. If there is no Creator-God, then the universe and all that is in it is not some "creation," like every work of art has a creator-artist. If there is no Supreme Personal Agent who has made everything and is responsible for everything, and who is the cause of it all, then no one or no thing or no being "had us on their mind" when the universe began. Sometimes I hear someone who self-designates as an "atheist" and believes there is some reason or purpose for their existence. They don't realize that, on atheism, such thinking is nonsense. Humanity just is, for no reason.

2. Humanity is but the result of an accidental collocation of atoms.
A "collocation" is a "coming together," a "being located together," a "co"-"location." An "accidental collocation" is an unplanned, random "coming together." For example, I am writing this from my home office, located on the second floor of our house. I'm looking down on our front lawn, and leaves from one of our maple trees are scattered randomly. Why are the leaves scattered as they are? Not because an intelligent agent arranged or designed them that way. Purely natural conditions caused them to lie where they do. Beyond this, there is no meaning or purpose. Sometimes I read an atheist who believes their existence is more than some cosmic accident. But this is more nonsense. On atheism the formation of humanity is no more than the random, accidental blowing of the leaves on my front lawn.

3. There is no personal existence after death.
Russell was once asked what he thought would happen to him after he dies. He responded, "I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my own ego will survive.” (In Paul Edwards, “Great Minds: Bertrand Russell,” Free Inquiry, December 2004/January 2005, 46) If the worldview of atheism is true, then I am certain this logically follows. On atheism all that exists is matter (accidental collocations of atoms). There is no non-physical, non-material reality. Persons have no spiritual being or essence or "soul" or "mind" that survives physical death. Obviously, on atheism, "soul friends" don't exist. "You" and "I" simply will not be, on death.

4. All the heroism and human fire in the world cannot stop the fact that all man’s accomplishments will ultimately be destroyed and come to nothing in the vast heat-death of the universe.
According to physics, this is true. Of course, it's not going to happen tomorrow. Nonetheless, on atheism, it will happen. Nothing can stand in the way of Nature (Russell capitalizes it). I use this analogy to explain. Imagine life is a voyage on the Titanic. Imagine also that we know the fate of the Titanic, and that nothing can prevent it. We can choose to polish and rearrange the deck chairs if we desire to do so. But in the end all this labor will be undone. All heroic talk of "Let's make a better world" is, ultimately, futile. This atheistic fact has caused a number of atheists to despair (see especially atheistic existentialists)

State Russell’s “Temple”
For Russell, these four truths are certain. They form the pillars of a "temple" upon which humanity erects a scaffolding and dwells within. Russell writes: "Within the scaffolding of these truths, which are nearly certain and cannot reasonably be denied, humanity must build its temple for worship on a foundation of unyielding despair. (“Unyielding” refers to the inexorable destructiveness of Nature. "Despair" describes the emotion felt about the absurdity and meaninglessness of life.

State Russell’s “Free Man’s Worship”
Astoundingly, nature has produced “man” as a conscious and self-reflexive being. (Here is the matter of consciousness arising from unconscious matter, no less astounding today than it was in Russell's time.) Even though nature is and will do its horrific thing, in our minds we are free and should not bow to Nature (as Nietzsche calls us to do). This is our freedom in the face of the inevitable – free to create, act, live, be moral, rational agents.

***

Craig's essay is: “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality.”

First, state the argument.

1. If there is no God then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Second, explain how Craig defends premise 1 (P1).

Define “Objective Moral Value”
Many atheists affirm P1. Nietzsche, for example.
- If there's no moral lawgiver, then we're just making moral values and duties up. Such things are only subjective. If they are only subjective, then they are not binding.
“Objective moral value” defined: a moral value that is valid independently of our apprehension of it. An OMV says is something that is good or evil independently of whether any human being believes it to be so.

• A moral value is about whether something is good or bad.
o This has to do with the worth of something.
• A moral duty is whether something is right or wrong.
o This has to do with the obligatoriness of something.
o Right and wrong are not the same as good and bad. Right and wrong have to do with moral obligation, what I ought or ought not to do.

“Objective”: to say that something is objective is to say that it is independent of what people say or perceive.

“Subjective”: to say that something is subjective is to say that it is not objective; that is, it is dependent on what human persons think or perceive.


Third, explain how Craig defends premise 2 (P2).


- Objective moral values are properly basic beliefs.
- Moral duties logically imply that there is someone to whom we are morally responsible.

How does Craig defend premise 1?

Imagine you are a student in a class where the professor is never seen. Every day you come to class and assignments are written on the board, such as: "Do problems 1-50 on p. 100." One day you ask, "Who is teaching this class?" Someone replies: "No one. This class does not have a teacher." At that point you respond: "Then I see no reason why I have to do these problems."

Analogically, if there is no God who issues moral commands, then moral values are only invented by "the students." Thus they are not binding on us. As Ivan Karamazov never said, "If there is no God, then everything is permitted." Craig cites ethicist Richard Taylor:

"A duty is something that is owed . . . . But something can be owed only to some person or persons. There can be no such thing as duty in isolation . . . . The idea of political or legal obligation is clear enough . . . . Similarly, the idea of an obligation higher than this, and referred to as moral obligation, is clear enough, provided reference to some lawmaker higher . . . . than those of the state is understood. In other words, our moral obligations can . . . be understood as those that are imposed by God. This does give a clear sense to the claim that our moral obligations are more binding upon us than our political obligations . . . . But what if this higher-than-human lawgiver is no longer taken into account? Does the concept of a moral obligation . . . still make sense? . . . . the concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart form the idea of God. The words remain, but their meaning is gone."

Conversely, if God exists, then God’s commands make things right and wrong. This view is called Divine Command Theory.

For an introduction to Alston's, Adams's, and Quinn's reasoning that Divine Command Theory does not fall by the sword of Plato's Euthyphro Dilemma, see
the article in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

***
How does Craig defend premise 2?

NOTE HERE that evolutionary explanations claiming to explain how moral reasoning evolved do not affect Craig's argument, and if intended to they commit the genetic fallacy.


If moral values are only subjective, then they function like personal tastes, such as, e.g.: I like Coke better than Pepsi.

If moral values are only subjective, then I have no moral obligation or duty to follow them.

Is P2 true? Do objective moral values exist?

I think so, for the following reasons.

Moral values are “properly basic.” Like, e.g., sense experience, or the laws of logic.

A “properly basic belief” is one that we assume to be true even though we cannot evidentially prove it to be so. (This is anti-W.K. Clifford stuff.)

We assume, for example, sense experience to be veridical (true). We cannot evidentially “prove” it to be so. Because that would require using our sense experience to “prove” its own veridicality.

Likewise we assume, e.g., modus ponens to be logical. (“If P, therefore Q. P. Therefore Q.”) We can’t prove it to be so by using logic, since that would require we trust in logic to “prove” that we can trust in logic. The claim here is that we are to view our apprehension of objective moral values in just this way, and that it is reasonable to do so.

To further explain, we are wise to assume that our senses, our powers of reasoning (Plantinga calls this “our belief-forming mechanisms), and our most fundamental moral instincts are not systematically deceiving us. They are all to be trusted in the absence of a defeater. Even the most radical skeptic trusts in his sense experience and in logical reasoning. Thus statements like “I perceive a world external to myself” and “1+1=2” are “properly basic.” While it’s certainly true that we can misperceive things and make logical mistakes, such mistakes hardly call into question the general reliability of our sense or reasoning powers; indeed, they presuppose it. The ability to detect error presumes an awareness of truth.

Just as we can be mistaken re. our senses and our reasoning, so also we can by mistaken re. the making of moral judgments. In spite of this there still are certain moral truths that we can’t not know unless we suppress our conscience or engage in self-deception. We possess an inbuilt “yuck factor” – basic moral intuitions about the wrongness of torturing babies for fun, of raping, murdering, or abusing children. We can also recognize the virtue of kindness or selflessness.

For example, President Obama referred to the bombing in Boston as an act of "evil." That such an act is evil implies "for everyone." The statement bombing innocent people is evil is objectively true.

But what about the person or persons who did this evil act? What about people who can’t tell the moral difference between Mother Teresa and Joseph Stalin? Craig's (and others') answer is: Those not recognizing such truths as properly basic are simply wrong and morally dysfunctional, like someone who believes that “1+1=3.” Note: we imprison persons who like to rape little girls.

Are moral values, like sense experience and logical reasoning, properly basic? Is our moral awareness epistemically foundational and “bedrock?” Even some atheists think so. Atheist David O. Brink states: “Our commitment to the objectivity of ethics is a deep one.”

Atheist Kai Nielsen writes:

“It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [as wife-beating and child abuse] to be evil than to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot know or reasonably believe any of these things to be evil… I firmly believe that this is bedrock and right and that anyone who does not believe it cannot have probed deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.”

If this is true, then basic moral beliefs are “discovered,” not “invented.” Just as a person who cannot understand the logic of a disjunctive syllogism is logically dysfunctional, and just as a person who is skeptical that they are now eating breakfast when they are, so also are persons morally dysfunctional who cannot see that torturing and raping little girls for fun is objectively wrong.