Saturday, May 30, 2009

Jane O-Grady on Mind-Brain Identity Theorists & Eliminativists

Last night Linda and I went to Westfield Mall in Toledo. She was looking for a new dress. I brought a book to read while she tried on the dresses. I got a lot of good reading in - the book is Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language, by neuroscientist Maxwell Bennett and philosophers Peter Hacker, Daniel Dennett, and John Searle. Dennett and Searle critique the thesis Bennett and Hacker put forth in their previous book, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience.

I have long been fascinated by this subject, for the following reasons:

- as an undergraduate in philosophy I was interested in what is called "the problem of religious language." My reading was filled up with J.L. Austin, Wittgenstein, Searle, Antony Flew, A.J. Ayer, and various philosophers of language and theistic analytic philosophers.

- my doctoral thesis was on metaphor theory and religious language - Max Black's new non-Aristotelian metaphor theory (metaphor is not an "elliptical simile"), Paul Ricoeur, Wolfhart Pannenberg, linguist Andrew Ortony, and many others that totalled 50 pages of footnotes.

- my current, ongoing interest in "the hard problem" of first-person subjective consciousness (qualia) and the various responses to this problem (David Chalmers et. al.).

It seems to me that if persons have a "mind" in a Cartesian sense (or something akin to it; viz. not fully reducible to the physical brain) then we have evidence for super-naturalism. If this is not true then we have a possibly intractable problem that comes with physicalism; viz., the "hard problem" of first-person subjective consciousness. Issues of free will come in to play, as does the coherence of even theorizing about such matters.

This morning I read Jane O'Grady's essay "Can a Machine Change Your Mind?" O'Grady argues that "the mind is not the brain. Confusing the two, as much neuro-social-science does, leads to a dehumanised world and a controlling politics." She's challenging a growing view that it's "just a matter of time before the gap between physical brain-stuff and consciousness is bridged."

O'Grady is concerned that physicialist theory will reduce moral actions entirely to scientific explanations of behavior. Here's where the strange, intractable loop comes in, since if moral actions are entirely reducible to the physical brain then arguing for this theory is but the epiphenomenon of someone's physical brain. In this light O'Grady asks, "Even more ridiculous, by the same token, is the idea that we could be taught about, and discuss, brain states. Why would we ever dream of doing so?" I especially like O'Grady's definition of epiphenomenalism: "the view that, with any neural event, there is also a mental, causally inactive, spin-off."

O'Grady asks: "How do we get rid of the sense that there always seems to be something left over from the straightforward conflation of brain state activity into mental state occurrence? In The Blue Book, Wittgenstein imagines a scenario in which scientists open someone’s head and observe his functioning brain, while he, by means of mirrors, observes it at the same time, all observers equally able to watch neurones firing, synapses opening, etc. In principle, why not? But, as Wittgenstein says, the brain-owner, unlike the scientists clustering round him, is observing, or experiencing, two things rather than one. He can observe that when he feels, or thinks about, certain things, certain activities occur in his brain at the same time. He experiences feeling or thinking in certain ways, and also he experiences observing his brain working in certain ways. The scientists only experience observing the brain working. What one could add to this is that if, at some time in the future, the subject whose brain has been observed were to see a video of what had happened during the brain-inspection, he (unless his memory were perfect or the experiment very brief) would be in the same position as the observing scientists were at the time – he would have to deduce what he had been thinking about or feeling then from what he now observes of his brain in the video."

She concludes: "Given the brain’s material object status, it wouldn’t, and, for identity theorists, shouldn’t, matter whose brain is being observed, and by whom, owner or non-owner, when it comes to ‘recognising’ mental states as brain states, and vice versa. But of course, it does matter – it makes all the difference."

"... of course in some way consciousness may be caused by, or correlated with, the brain's microscopic properties. But (as Nagel hardly needed to remind us) what it feels like to be conscious of something, or to be in a particular state of pain or serenity, surely goes beyond those brain properties. A scientific description of what happens in the brain when someone has a certain thought or experience seems inevitably to leave out what the thought is about or the experience is like. Once again, there’s something left over, something which, if the person were observing their own brain states, they would be having in addition to seeing neurons fire and synapses wiggling."

O'Grady concludes: "Hard-line identity theorists, and eliminativists above all, don’t appreciate how much they would change things if indeed we could come to believe and implement their theories. Our world would increasingly be leeched of meaning, morality, dignity and freedom, and if we rejected folk psychology in favour of scientific terminology about brain states, not only would we know less, not more, about ourselves; we would also have less to know about, because we would be less." ("Eliminative materialism (or eliminativism) is the radical claim that our ordinary, common-sense understanding of the mind is deeply wrong and that some or all of the mental states posited by common-sense do not actually exist.")

Right. The social sciences are in jeopardy. What is the meaning of moral responsibillity if the identity theorists are correct? And, how could identity theorists themselves meaningfully arguer that identity theory is "true?" O'Grady's essay is a good one that serves as an entree into the brain-mind discussion. There's much more in it than I've here written about.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Post-Traumatic Bitterness Disorder

Is bitterness a mental illness? Read here.

I'm thinking:

1. The more prevalent philosophical naturalism becomes as a worldview, the more libertarian free will becomes epiphenomenal.

2. The more epiphenomenal libertarian free will is, the less responsible are persons for their actions since epiphenomena have no causal efficacy.

What do we do with mentally ill persons who commit a crime? "People once known as loving, normal individuals who suddenly snap and kill their family and themselves may have post-traumatic embitterment syndrome. That's reason enough for researchers to study how to treat the destructive emotion of bitterness." (Back to here.)

N.T. Wright on the Bible As Narrative

I just finished teaching an intro to N.T. Wright's idea of the Bible as narrative, like a "5-Act Play." I'm very interested in what Wright has to say about this, as many are. For example, when I was standing in line with other Palmer Theological Seminary professors a few weeks ago at PTS's commencement ceremony a few of them had just spent some time studying with Wright. One of them said Wright would get animated as he began to talk of the Bible as narrative.

Here are the notes I handed out to our RMS students, which I commented on. (For the fuller story go here, or read Wright's The Last Word.)

N.T. Wright on Biblical Authority
The Bible is not primarily about controlling things, people or situations.
The Bible is not primarily about presenting ‘timeless truths’ or giving us answers to our most pressing theological questions, although there are timeless truths in the Bible.
The vast majority of Scripture consists not in a list of rules or doctrines, but in narrative. The Bible tells a remarkably consistent story about God’s plan to restore the world back to God. Wright holds that the Bible, despite its many literary genres, can as a whole be described as “story,” or narrative. It is neither a “list of rules” nor a “compendium of true doctrines,” though the texts do include rules and doctrines.
Wright says “We must let the Bible be the Bible.”
We mustn’t belittle scripture by bringing the world’s models of authority into it. We must let scripture be itself, and that is a hard task. Scripture contains many things that I don’t know, and that you don’t know; many things we are waiting to discover; passages which are lying dormant waiting for us to dig them out. Awaken them. We must then make sure that the church, armed in this way, is challenging the world’s view of authority. So that, we must determine—corporately as well as individually—to become in a true sense, people of the book. Not people of the book in the Islamic sense, where this book just drops down and crushes people and you say it’s the will of Allah, and I don’t understand it, and I can’t do anything about it. But, people of the book in the Christian sense; people who are being remade, judged and remolded by the Spirit through scripture.
Does the biblical narrative best explain the way things are? Wright’s answer is: yes. Therefore the Bible is not merely a human story that reflects the beliefs and experiences of ancient communities.
A question: how can narrative function authoritatively?
· Stories have a unique power to change people – all the more when we are talking about the story of God as ‘the immanent lover of the human race’.
· In Scripture, the story is about God’s kingdom coming in power. Jesus’ teaching and healings carry the authority of the kingdom. So God’s authority “is his sovereign power accomplishing the renewal of all creation.”
· The authority of Scripture is an aspect of this kingdom power, and therefore, Wright reiterates, not merely the authority of doctrine or commands. So it is insufficient to think of Scripture merely as “revelation” or as a “devotional manual.” Rather, Scripture is God’s kingdom instrument for bringing us divine speech, transformation of mind, and power for mission.
Where does the Bible derive its authority from?
· Wright says: ‘all authority belongs to God,’
· Thus the Bible’s authority must be derivative.
· Biblical authority, then, is shorthand for God’s authority vested in Scripture.
o Wright’s thesis is “that the phrase ‘authority of Scripture’ can make Christian sense only if it is shorthand for ‘the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture.’”
o Scripture itself points away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself, now delegated to Jesus Christ. It is Jesus, according to John 8:39-40, who speaks the truth because he has heard from God.
· The Bible gives us a story that has various parts. Certain parts or “acts” of this story no longer have relevance for us today.
· It is here that Wright introduces his well-known” five act play,” which he claims is not only found in Scripture but also helps us to interpret Scripture.
The Bible as a “5-act play”
Wright writes:
Suppose there exists a Shakespeare play whose fifth act had been lost. The first four acts provide, let us suppose, such a wealth of characterization, such a crescendo of excitement within the plot, that it is generally agreed that the play ought to be staged. Nevertheless, it is felt inappropriate actually to write a fifth act once and for all: it would freeze the play into one form, and commit Shakespeare as it were to being prospectively responsible for work not in fact his own. Better, it might be felt, to give the key parts to highly trained, sensitive and experienced Shakespearian actors, who would immerse themselves in the first four acts, and in the language and culture of Shakespeare and his time, and who would then be told to work out a fifth act for themselves.
Consider the result.
· The first four acts, existing as they did, would be the undoubted ‘authority’ for the task in hand.
· That is, anyone could properly object to the new improvisation on the grounds that this or that character was now behaving inconsistently, or that this or that sub-plot or theme, adumbrated earlier, had not reached its proper resolution.
· This ‘authority’ of the first four acts would not consist in an implicit command that the actors should repeat the earlier pans of the play over and over again. It would consist in the fact of an as yet unfinished drama, which contained its own impetus, its own forward movement, which demanded to be concluded in the proper manner but which required of the actors a responsible entering in to the story as it stood, in order first to understand how the threads could appropriately be drawn together, and then to put that understanding into effect by speaking and acting with both innovation and consistency. [In other words, you and I and the whole world are part of this grand narrative.]
The Bible’s “5 Act Play” goes like this:
Act One: (Creation). Whatever means God uses to create the world it’s a crucial feature of the play that creation is good and that humans are in God’s image.
Act Two: (Fall) God’s good creation is full of rebellion: evil and idolatry become real features of the world.
Act Three: (Israel) The story of Israel as the covenant people of God for the world. This act begins with the Abrahamic covenant and ends with the Jewish anticipation of an event in which God will liberate Israel from spiritual exile and reveal himself as the world’s true King.
Act Four (Jesus) The story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. As the climax of the narrative it represents the inauguration of a new kingdom in which death and sin are being reversed throughout all of creation.
Many of the OT teachings, as well as some of Jesus’ teachings, have played out their intended purpose.
Wright compares the Old Testament to a ship that has brought travelers to their destination. Once they arrive, “they leave the ship behind and continue over land, not because the ship was no good, or because their voyage has been misguided, but precisely because both ship and voyage had accomplished their purpose.”
The apostles’ teaching, then, recorded in the New Testament books, becomes the “new covenant charter,” guiding the church in its encounter with the cultures of the world.
Act Five: (New Testament and the people of God). The New Testament forms the first scene of this act. The church is the people of God, in Christ, for the world; their job is to act in character: to live out Act Five by showing the world the true way of being human and to bring about God’s victory over evil on earth. This largely involves living out (“improvising and retelling”) God’s story and gospel – namely that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead to ‘put the world to rights.’
For Wright the five-act play is not just the grand narrative of Scripture, but also the true story that we are living out – more accurately, we are living out Act Five, which has yet to be completed.
What about the canon? How did we get the books we now have in the Bible?
It was not the church that gave authority to Scripture. To Wright, this view is a mistake like “that of a soldier who, receiving orders through the mail, concludes that the letter carrier is his commanding officer.”
Rather, the church recognized as canonical those books that carried on the larger narrative of the kingdom. Wright notes that the church’s martyrs were “normally those who were reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul and the rest,” not those who read, e.g., the Gospel of Thomas. For the latter was “non-narratival, deliberately avoiding the option of placing [Jesus’] sayings within the overarching framework of the story of Israel.” So, far from making the church more comfortable, as some have charged, the canonical books sustained the church’s “energetic mission.”

Uh-oh - Wright believes that in the early centuries there was in the church a “diminishing focus” on narrative, corresponding to an increasing use of Scripture as a “court of appeal,” or rule book, and as a “lectio divina,” a book of private devotions.
THE LOSS OF THE BIBLE AS NARRATIVE: In the debates between Protestant and Catholic, both parties, Wright says, devalued the narrative character of Scripture, thinking of authority as “the place where you could go to find an authoritative ruling.”
The Enlightenment adopted a different narrative from Scripture, one of human progress, leading to the eschatology of a fully rational society. Reason alone will deal with the problem of evil. This leads to “the muddled debates of modern biblical scholarship” (The Last Word, 89) which try to synthesize the Bible with rationalist themes. The best response, Wright says, is not to dismiss all biblical scholarship (as we are often tempted to do) but to “make fresh and rejuvenated efforts to understand scripture more fully and live by it more thoroughly, even if that means cutting across cherished traditions” (91). That, he argues, is what the authority of Scripture should mean for us today.
Wright says: “The story of the Bible, and the power that it possesses, is a better story than any of the power games that we play in our world. We must tell this story, and let it exercise its power in the world. And that is the task of the whole church.”

What Is It Like to Be a (Moral) Bat?

"Prof Marc Bekoff, an ecologist at University of Colorado, Boulder, believes that morals are "hard-wired" into the brains of all mammals and provide the "social glue" that allow often aggressive and competitive animals to live together in groups." ( Animals can tell right from wrong: Animals possess a sense of morality that allows them to tell the difference between right and wrong, according to a controversial new book.")

Bekoff's new book is The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy - and Why They Matter. Bekoff "has compiled evidence from around the world that shows how different species of animals appear to have an innate sense of fairness, display empathy and help other animals that are in distress." Animals, like humans, have morality.

"Bekoff believes morals developed in animals to help regulate behaviour in social groups of animals such as wolves and primates. He claims that these rules help to control fighting within the group and encourage co-operative behaviour. Recent neurology work has also revealed that distantly related mammals such as whales and dolphins have the same structures in their brains that are thought to be responsible for empathy in humans. Other findings have also suggested that some animals may even be capable of showing empathy with the suffering of other species."

Bekoff's theory is controversial. Not all agree, such as Emory University's primate behaviorist Frans de Waal. De Waal says: "I don't believe animals are moral in the sense we humans are – with well developed and reasoned sense of right and wrong – rather that human morality incorporates a set of psychological tendencies and capacities such as empathy, reciprocity, a desire for co-operation and harmony that are older than our species. Human morality was not formed from scratch, but grew out of our primate psychology. Primate psychology has ancient roots, and I agree that other animals show many of the same tendencies and have an intense sociality."

Consider bat behavior. "Vampire bats need to drink blood every night but it is common for some not to find any food. Those who are successful in foraging for blood will share their meal with bats who are not successful. They are more likely to share with bats who had previously shared with them. Prof Bekoff believes this reciprocity is a result of a sense of affiliation that binds groups of animals together.
Some studies have shown that animals experience hormonal changes that lead them to "crave" social interaction. Biologists have also observed a female Rodrigues fruit-eating bat in Gainesville, Florida, helping another female to give birth by showing the pregnant female the correct birthing position – with head up and feet down." Perhaps: beware of anthropomorphism here? See also Thomas Nagel's very famous "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" Here Nagel suggests that the subjective aspect of the mind may not ever be sufficiently accounted for by the objective methods of objective science.

From a Christian-theistic POV the idea that animals have an innate sense of fairness and display empathy is not shocking, but fits in with the idea that all creation is groaning for the redemptive activity of God. But it seems unlikely that animals have libertarian free will; viz., the ability to choose right from wrong even when it goes against natural desires.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Argument Against God From Divine Hiddenness

Next week in my apologetics class at RMS I'll present the "divine hiddenness" ("culpable nonbelief") argument against God's existence. I especially use the essays collected in the book Divine Hiddenness (Howard-Snyder & Moser). I'll also use Michael Murray's essay "Why Doesn't God Make His Existence More Obvious to Us?" in Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics. The entire Murray essay can be read at googlebooks here. See also Murray's "Deus Absconditus" here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Villanova University Conference in July

I'll be speaking and teaching July 3-5 at Villanova University in Philadelphia. The focus will be "Evangelism & the Kingdom of God"- "To give maturing Christians a heart for local outreach, and to empower them to share God’s love beyond the walls of their home church."

Faith Bible Church of NYC is hosting the event.

For more information and registration go here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Star Trek

I saw "Star Trek" a week ago. I thought it was good bordering on OK. A few parts bored me and I found myself fighting off sleep. A lot of it was like seeing some old friends which felt good. Spock's comment at the film's end was the philosophical highlight for me creating a needed epistemological paradigm shift.

Speaking of philosophy, the film lacked the moral-philosophical edge some of the original TV shows had. Or, I seem to think those shows had some substance - did they really? I couldn't argue yes or no about this, which shows I am not a "Trekkie."

Via negativa - "Star Trek" is not a waste of money.

Stanley Fish on God & Modern-Day Positivism

A number of people responded in disagreement to Stanley Fish's recent nytimes essay on Terry Eagleton's new book on God. Many who disagreed did so believing that “religion is a fairy tale, hogwash, balderdash, nonsense and a device for rationalizing horrible deeds.” The most common argument in support of this is based on “a sharp distinction between religion and science, or, alternatively, between faith and reason.”

The problem is that a lot of people think “facts” are to be distinguiished from matters of “faith.” Supposedly, “facts” are just there for all to see; faith deals with murky unseen things. Fish thinks such reasoning goes astray. He writes: “Evidence, understood as something that can be pointed to, is never an independent feature of the world. Rather, evidence comes into view (or doesn’t) in the light of assumptions… that produce the field of inquiry in the context of which (and only in the context of which) something can appear as evidence.” Or, as I learned a long time ago, all facts are theory-laden. There simply is no such thing as an “uninterpreted fact.”

Fish puts it this way: “There is no such thing as “common observation” or simply reporting the facts. To be sure, there is observation and observation can indeed serve to support or challenge hypotheses. But the act of observing can itself only take place within hypotheses (about the way the world is) that cannot be observation’s objects because it is within them that observation and reasoning occur.”

Christopher Hitchens has written, "You will feel better . . . once you leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking.” Fish thinks there are no "chainless minds," and it's good there aren't.

Fish writes: "A mind without chains – a better word would be “constraints” – would be free and open in a way that made motivated (as opposed to random) movement impossible. Thought itself — the consideration of problems with a view to arriving at their solutions — requires chains, requires stipulated definitions, requires limits it did not choose but which enable and structure its operations." One of Fish's respondents wrote: “Why is it not possible to reason simply as a gratuitous exercise.”" To which Fish responds: "Why, in other words, is it not possible to reason without anything in mind? Just try it; you can’t even imagine what it would be like."

"Simple observation" or "simple reporting of some 'fact'" is a fiction. Therefore to use this fiction to defeat faith is fundamentally misguided. "Religious thought may be vulnerable on any number of fronts, but it is not vulnerable to the criticism that in contrast to scientific or empirical thought, it rests on mere faith."

Fish, finally: "So to sum up, the epistemological critique of religion — it is an inferior way of knowing — is the flip side of a na├»ve and untenable positivism. And the critique of religion’s content — it’s cotton-candy fluff — is the product of incredible ignorance."

One more point, re. Hitchens. Hitchens was intellectually demolished in his recent debate with William Lane Craig. I concljude, after seeing this, that if one could have an unchained mind and the result was the mind of Hitchens I think I will pass.

Bethel Redding Comes to Monroe This Week

Bethel Redding Church in Redding, California (where Bill Johnson is pastor) brings its Bethel School of Supernatural Evangelism to Redeemer Fellowship Church this week, beginning Wednesday evening.

For details, schedule, speakers, go to Bethel’s website here.

Wed - 7 PM

Thurs - 7 PM

Fri - 1-5 PM; 7 PM

Sat - 1-5 PM; 7 PM

Sun morning - 10:30 - Chris Overstreet preaches

Sun. evening - 6 PM - Chris Overstreet preaches

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Palmer Theological Seminary Graduation

It's been quite a weekend for me. After a week of teaching at RMS last week I flew to Philadelphia on Friday to be part of Palmer Theological Seminary's graduation. I'm the Project Director of PTS's Doctor of Ministry Program in the Renewal of the Church for Mission. 12 of my students received doctoral degrees. It was my privilege to hood them and be the first to congratulate them.

I flew back to Monroe last night. We had a great worship service at Redeemer this morning. Then we had an all-church picnic plus our annual softball game. It was a beautiful day and a lot of fun.

When I got back home this afternoon I watched the Red Wings beat the Blackhawks and then fell asleep. When I awoke Linda had gone to Johnny Rocket's and got me a chocolate malt. What a wife!

I'm really looking forward to Bethel Redding's School of Supernatural Evangelism at our church this Wed - Sun with Chris Overstreet. I am with Bethel's idea that Jesus' "method" of evangelism was twofold; viz., proclamation of the good news of the God's kingdom + demonstrations of power, especially in healing and deliverance.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reputation Increases; Ability Decreases

In my church family I have many friends whom I know very well. We've talked and shared about life's deepest joys and struggles. When one of them experiences healing, or victory, or moves into greater freedom, I get a feeling that's so good I think, "This is what life is all about." When one of them suffers loss, I feel loss. Personal empathy seems to be increasing. I just turned 60 and think I am experiencing more compassion towards others than ever before.

And more powerlessness. The days of living under the illusion of personal power and innate ability are fading fast. I've long felt that I can't change anybody. I can't even change my own self, if "change" means a Romans 12:2 kind of metamorphe. I'm surprised people change, in this deep sense. I don't expect it. I know I'm not the causal agent of such change. I see this as a very good place for me to be. Being-used by God as a vessel through whom God's power flows happens through powerless people who know that's who they are. I am unable; God is able.

I just entered the decade of my 60s. I want this to be an experiential time of the reality of personal powerlessness and increasing trust in God. This is hard to grasp by 20-somethings. Most of them are incapable of heart-knowing this. It's not that older people get this by simply being older. I meet old people who are trying to recapture their youthful powers. That quest is vain. The truth is, as Dag Hammarskjold once wrote, "Reputation increases; ability decreases." I'll revise that to: Ability decreases; God increases. As John the Baptist confessed, "I must decrease, so that God will increase." The alternative viewpoint is false and dangerous.

I must learn a greater humility and dependency. "Dependency" is making plans to knock on my door. Spiritually this is good, because spiritual usefulness is in inverse proportion to physical and mental pride.

Today some of my friends are hurting. I feel with them. I want them to be better. I am not their answer. Because I want to help, I want God to move through me to bring healing to these ones I love. The only answer I know and trust in is this: human abilities are limited; a move of God is needed. Now, more than ever, when healing, release, and growth happen, it's easier to give God the credit.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

"Jaws" Burger

Tonight Linda and I ate dinner with some friends (Fowler's & DeSloover's). John Fowler took us all to "Jaws," a hamburger place in Farmington Hills that the Free Press ranked #13 in "Best Hamburger in Detroit" contest.

This is the burger I ordered - I ate the entire thing. Very, very good! That was two hours ago - I've been on a diet since then.

The Dead Faith of the Living

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

(Jaroslav Pelikan, in F.D. Bruner, Matthew, 453)

Jim Rayburn - Escape From Bondage to “Thou Shall Not”

As a new follower of Jesus Jim Rayburn found legalistic “Christianity” lifeless, boring, and joyless. One day he picked up a book by Lewis Sperry Chafer called He That Is Spiritual. Chafer wrote:

“How misleading is the theory that to be spiritual one must abandon play, diversion, and helpful amusement. Such a conception is born of a morbid Christian conscience. It is foreign to the Word of God. It is a device of Satan to make the blessings of God seem abhorrent to people who are overflowing with physical life and energy. There are many who in blindness are emphasizing negatives, giving the impression that spirituality is opposed to joy, liberty, and naturalness of expression. True spirituality is not a pious pose. it is not a ‘Thou shall not,” it is a ‘Thou shall.’ We cannot be normal physically, mentally, or spiritually if we neglect this vital factor in human life. God has provided that our joy shall be full.” (In From Bondage to Liberty, 18)

Jim Rayburn Smoked Cigarettes

I smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day from ages 18-21. I smoked when I awoke, after every meal, when I drank, while playing golf, while playing in various bands, and so on. I’m glad I stopped because I meet a lot of people who are now suffering with health issues because they smoked all their lives.

I have friends who smoke but want to stop, for three reasons: 1) it costs a lot; 2) health issues; and 3) the shame laid on them from legalistic religious people. These friends of mine are addicted to cigarettes. They need compassion more than judgment. If you’re reading this, just remember that you’ve got your own addictions, so we all won’t need to be pointing fingers.

Now - something about Jim Rayburn, founder of an enormously effective outreach ministry to teens called Young Life, and which we have right here in our high schools in Monroe County. Billy Graham once said this of Rayburn: “Jim Rayburn was one of the greatest Christians I ever knew, and he had a profound influence on my life.” And, by the way, Rayburn smoked cigarettes all his life.

In Rayburn’s biography his son writes: “In his heart, Jim didn’t feel such things were important spiritual issues, but he couldn’t step free from the guilt of breaking the many rules learned in church. He smoked his whole life, but never felt the freedom to do so in public. In essence, he feared the rejection and judgment of his Christian peers.”

Rayburn lived in a time when the health risks of smoking were not well-known. Perhaps had he lived today he might see that it’s not a good thing to smoke. But let’s add this also - it’s not a good thing to stuff our faces with chips and mashed potatoes and pop and cinnabons either. If you are a glutton and reading this I now free you from pointing your finger at someone who smokes cigarettes.

I think Rayburn was correct. Satan’s goal is not to get people to smoke. And Jesus didn’t die on the Cross so we could all eat correctly, exercise every day, and stop inhaling toxins. Legalistic forms of Christianity judge people for things like smoking while enjoying pot luck suppers in the church building. Jim Rayburn chose to “major on life’s majors” and not engage in gnat-straining Pharisaisms. The result is that many, many, many young people have been introduced to the Real Jesus and have lived lives producing lasting fruit. (Check out Young Life’s website here.)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Stanley Fish on Terry Eagleton & the God-Debate

(Terry Eagleston)

Stanley Fish here comments on Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections On the God Debate. Fish is quite a writer, as is Eagleton. Fish explains Eagleton's near-NOMA thesis, except that for Eagleton the magisteria are intertwined.

Fish: "Science, says Eagleton, “does not start far back enough”; it can run its operations, but it can’t tell you what they ultimately mean or provide a corrective to its own excesses. Likewise, reason is “too skin deep a creed to tackle what is at stake”; its laws — the laws of entailment and evidence — cannot get going without some substantive proposition from which they proceed but which they cannot contain; reason is a non-starter in the absence of an a prior specification of what is real and important, and where is that going to come from? Only from some kind of faith."

I agree. Science qua science says nothing about value.

Fish writes that Eagleston is "angry, I think, at having to expend so much mental and emotional energy refuting the shallow arguments of school-yard atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins. I know just how he feels."

Non-Discursive Experiences of God (a dialogue)

Matew (from Germany) and I are discussing my original post on non-discursive experiences of God here. I find his comments, and way of dialoguing, especially helpful, constructive, and encouraging. I'm going to take time to go over his latest response and re-respond back.