Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The Uniqueness of Jesus

C.S. Lewis was once asked, what is the difference between Christianity and the other world religions. Lewis responded, "That's easy. It's grace." The story of Jesus is about God coming to us in a great act of grace. The other major world religions are about persons trying to achieve acceptance with God (or gods, or some God-concept) by means of their own deeds. I believe this is why Christianity today is the only real global religion, impacting all cultures.
I saw this firsthand in visits to India and Singapore. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese primitive religion all teach the need for persons to do good deeds in the hope they will be accepted by God or the gods. As I sat in a village in central India and told the people that, with Jesus, there is no "caste system," but that God loves all persons by his grace, I sensed great hope in their hearts. It is easy for me to see how religions based on particular laws and deeds remain mostly culturally localized, while the message of a loving, gracious God who has come to us spreads all over the planet.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The DaVinci Code & the Silence of Scholars

Today's Sunday New York Times has Dan Brown's fictional book The Da Vinci Code as #1 - again. Why? People are looking for a good summer read, and DVC appears to be that.
But its historical claims are false.
In my Ph.D studies I took one of my comprehensive exams in the area of Christology (the study or doctrine of Christ). The many books on my shelf tell the tale of the amount of study I had to do in this area - from the New Testament documents, and the Old Testament Messianic passages, to the early Christological formulations at Chalcedon and Nicea, then on through history to the great contemporary Christological works of scholars like Edward Schillebeeckx. I love studying Christology so much that it remains one of the main areas of my personal reading and scholarly investigation. Thus I have a pretty good idea of who the main Christological scholars are, past and present.
How many of these great scholars, who come from a variety of theological perspectives, are paying attention to Dan Brown's claimed scholarly theses? None. Not one. This is because his ideas are considered nonsensical because non-historical and groundlessly speculative. Actually, the very few who are paying attention to Brown are doing so only to write rebuttals so that the many people reading DVC will find it only a good read and nothing more.
No serious scholar believes that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that this "fact" has been hidden by the church. The great New Testament scholar Ben Witherington writes: "We can say with certainty that there is absolutely no early historical evidence that [Mary Magdalene's] relationship with Jesus was anything other than that of a disciple to her Master teacher."
The Great Silence among the great scholars tells us something; viz., that what works as interesting fiction does not thereby translate into historical fact.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Evil, Suffering, Atheism and Theism

Why is there so much evil in the world? Why is there so much suffering? While these two questions seem to be asking the same thing, they are really two different questions. This is because the word “evil” makes a value judgment word, while “suffering” (or “pain”) is essentially value-neutral.
I recently accompanied my mother to see her doctor. My mother suffers with the pain of arthritis. The doctor pointed to the “smiley scale” on the wall and asked, “How much pain are you experiencing?” On a scale of 1 to 5, what is your level of pain? My mother said, a “2” or a “3.”
My mother experiences ongoing pain from her arthritis. Is this pain “evil?” Is my mother’s pain “unjust” or “unfair?” To ask questions like this is to ask for a value judgment. Value judgments only make sense if measured against non-subjective moral standards with which most agree; viz., “goodness,” “justice,” and “fairness.” In other words, what sense would it make to ask if something was evil if there was no such thing as good? Further, if by "good" we meant only subjective ideas of good then "evil" would fluctuate and vary with a particular person's personal idea of "good."
Non-subjective moral standards are, by definition, objective moral standards. Objective moral standards are moral standards that exist outside of human subjectivity. I believe objective moral standards exist, and find their locus of meaning in the nature of God.
But note this. A person who believes there is no God-as-Locus-of-Moral-Standards cannot really use the word “evil” in a question like, “Why is there so much evil in this world?” This is precisely because the atheist believes there are no common objective moral values to which all persons ultimately appeal. All the atheist can really say is something like: “Suffering exists.” And, “I don’t like suffering.” But, on atheism, one cannot universally refer to suffering as “evil.” This makes no sense outside of theism.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Spiderman, Essence, & Existence

The core question of "Spiderman 2" is: "Who am I?" Peter Parker, aka Spiderman, has a crisis of identity. Parker's decision to ignore his true identity fails to suppress what is really in his heart. Ultimately he accepts who he really is, thus finding meaning and purpose in life. And joy.
Spiderman 2 illustrates the ancient truth that, until one discovers their real, essential identity, there is no meaning and purpose to life. Atheistic existentialists like Sartre and Camus realized this, and were led to despair. This is because, for them, instead of there being any ultimate meaning to persons, persons create their own meaning. Putting this in existentialist terms, instead of essence preceding existence, existence precedes essence. Persons create their own human nature through free choices. On atheism persons do not have an "essence" independent of their existence. So, one has to invent their own essence.
This is what Peter Parker does in the middle of Spiderman 2. He tries to walk the existentialist walk by creating his own life-meaning to the tune of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head." But this fails. Ultimately he cannot deny his true, given nature. He only needs courage to accept who he is. Parker's return to meaning and joy lies in rediscovering his essential being that precedes existential being. 

As a theist I believe every person has a God-created essential being. Persons are created in the image of God and, as Augustine wrote, are "restless until they rest in God." This is also the thesis of Rick Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Life. Spiderman 2 illustrates the great truth that our hearts will remain restless until they rest in the essential being that God has created every person to be.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Hypocrisy and Humanity

I often meet persons who think little of Christianity because they have met Christians who are "hypocrites." Here are some things I think about hypocrisy.
  • Hypocrisy is not imperfection. A hypocrite is one who does not admit imperfections.
  • All persons are imperfect. No person is perfectly consistent in what they believe. Persons who do not own up to their inconsistencies are hypocrites who posture themselves as perfectly consistent with what they believe.
  • Persons who claim "I believe in nothing" really do believe in something; viz., that they believe in nothing. Such persons rank as the world's greatest hypocrites. This is because every time they feel moral outrage at something (like getting angry at hypocritical Christians) they show that they really do believe in ethical "oughts" and "ought nots." This contradicts their "I believe in nothing" philosophy, thus making them hypocrites.
  • Hypocrisy thus is a form of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is found in all persons, whether they are religious or not.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Vacation & Books to Read

I'm leaving on vacation Thursday and won't be back until 7/26. So, I probably won't be adding any posts for a while.
I'm taking with me the following reading material: Albert Borgmann's Power Failure; Marva Dawn's Unfettered Hope; Thomas Merton's The Inner Experience; and Lee Strobel's The Case for A Creator.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Personhood and Abortion

Logically, personhood begins with the fertilized egg. The idea that the conceptus (= fertilized egg) is not a "person" but becomes a person somewhere along the way is rejected by atheists and theists alike. I call this the "sudden personhood" argument; viz., that the conceptus is not a person but eventually becomes a person.
An atheist has reason to reject the sudden personhood argument because atheism implies that human life has no "soul." Therefore, there is nothing special about persons. Persons, on atheism, are simply animals. Human animal life begins with the fertilized egg, and nothing "special" (i.e., "becomes a 'person')happens on life's journey.
Christian theists believe personhood is defined by having a soul. The human soul is not somehow inserted into a fetus along the developmental way. If so, how could this be determined?
A conceptus is as much a person as you or I. Do you have pictures of yourself from 10 years ago? That was you. Do you have pictures of yourself as a baby? That was you. Do you have intrauteral ultrasound pictures of yourself? That was you. If a picture could have been taken of you as a conceptus - that also was you. "You" were once a fertilzed egg. Had someone aborted you, "you" would not be here to tell about it.
As a conceptus you were helpless to protect yourself. You were extremely limited in your abilities. But the potential was there to develop greater abilities. I believe it is most rational to hold that the conceptus is fully a person. Then, we do best to hold to a developmental view of personhood in the sense that persons grow and change while being, at root, the same person.
For deeper study read Francis Beckwith's book Politically Correct Death.