Monday, May 23, 2022

Jesus Was a Binary Thinker


(Flowers in our front yard)

At Redeemer we have been preaching through the five "discourses" of Jesus. As we near the end of a lot of study on these verses, I continue to be struck by the many binary statements of Jesus. 

Jesus was a binary thinker. Jesus used binary examples in his teachings. For example, on this coming Sunday (5/29/22), our focus is on "the wise and wicked servants" in Matthew 24:46-51. A follower of Jesus is either wise, or they are wicked. They are either prepared, or they are unprepared. That's binary logic. (See Aristotle, "law of excluded middle.")

Jesus's actual teachings were not "fluid," not on a continuum. One cannot read Jesus and think differently. As regards Jesus's self-understanding, you are either for him, or against him. You are either walking in the light, or walking in darkness. Hence, when it comes to allegiance to himself, there are not fifty shades of gray.

I am talking about how we are to read the teachings of Jesus. This has nothing to do with cultural acceptance. Non-binary thinking doesn't fit Jesus, or his culture. We know that because, e.g., the parables are lush gardens of binary thinking.  Progressive strivings to interpret Jesus as fluid and non-binary are anachronistic and anthropomorphic. Whoever Jesus was, he surely wasn't a 21st-century progressive, (To go deeper into the hermeneutical issues involved, a good place to start would be here.)

There's a whole lot of binary thinking going on in the world. Science is filled with it. Moral pronouncements exemplify it. (For example, Racism is wrong.) Computers are binary creations. (See here. And, I don't think I am here equivocating on the term 'binary'. It's "either/or" that I am thinking of.)

And then, there is logic. I taught logic at our local community college for eighteen years. Logic is still employed, often tacitly, even by postmoderns who reason that binary thinking is oppressive, and use logic to prove so.

Jesus was a logician. (See Dallas Willard, "Jesus the Logician." See J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason In the Life of the Soul.) I now present some thoughts about logic. 

I believe the following propositions (i.e. 'statements') are true:

1 - God exists.

2 - Jesus is God incarnate.

3 - The only way to God is through Jesus (Jesus is, e.g., "the door").

These beliefs marginalize many people. To marginalize someone or something means to draw a line and exclude them. Proposition 1 (P1) marginalizes atheists. P2 marginalizes atheists, Muslims, and most Jews. P3 marginalizes all non-Christians and even some Christians who deny the truth of P3.

Such is the nature of truth. Truth always marginalizes. 

"Truth," whatever it is (e.g., as a property of statements), is not all-inclusive. (See, e.g., philosopher Simon Blackburn's book Truth: A Guide.) Every statement draws a line. Every statement expresses a belief. Every belief excludes someone, or something. This is often good. 

Motor oil is not a soft drink. Motor oil is excluded, banned, from the soft drink aisle. A line has been drawn. This is good. 

Only children are allowed on the playground equipment. A sign is posted, saying: No adults on the playground equipment. A line is drawn. I am excluded.

Here is something that shocks most of my logic students, because they are so postmodern-relativistic: If a proposition (statement) is true, it is true for everyone. Truth, in logic, is binary. Either true or false. We may not know which.  That doesn't change the binary nature of a proposition. (See this, e.g., on truth-functional propositional logic.)

Consider the statement Detroit is the largest city in Michigan. This statement is either true or falseIf it is true, it's true for everyone, everywhere, cross-temporally. If someone thinks this statement is false (while it is true), then they are wrong

But aren't some things "true for me," but "false for you?" For example: For me, it is false that God exists. But this statement, if true, is true for everyone; viz., X thinks it is false that God exists. If that is true, then it's true for everyone. Note what is not being claimed here; viz., It is false that God exists. That's an entirely different proposition. And, if it is true, it is true for everyone. On the "subjectivist fallacy" see the text I use to teach logic - The Power of Critical Thinking, by Lewis Vaughn; Chapter 3.

All persons have a worldview, a belief system. One's beliefs can be articulated in a series of statements. The beliefs of other people marginalize me, because I think they are false. Consider these three beliefs (propositions).

4 - God does not exist.

5 - Jesus is not God incarnate.

6 - There are many ways to God.

P4 marginalizes all theists, such as myself. P5 marginalizes most Jesus-followers. P6 marginalizes Christian exclusivists such as myself. (See here Alvin Plantinga's essay "Pluralism: A Defense of Religious Exclusivism," Found in Louis Pojman's Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology.)

To say that P4, P5, and P6 "marginalize" me is to say they do not include me. They draw a line, and I stand in opposition to the beliefs. I am outside the margins of any worldview that believes P4, P5, and P6. 

P6 may sound inclusive, but it is not. I am not included in the inner circle of P6-ers, because I believe P6 to be false. If P6 is good news to some, it is not good news to me, and I am not included in the celebration. (I think P6 is untenable, for reasons that, e.g., Stephen Prothero gives in his book God Is Not One.)

Every proposition has a certain level of arrogance attached to it. Consider, e.g., the following:

7 - I am now writing this sentence.

P7 is, I believe, true. Or, a moment ago P7 was true, but now P7 is false. But still, P7's truth was only prob
able, and someone could reasonably believe it was false. Nonetheless P7's arrogance-level seems to me to be low. Which means that most would accept P7 as having been true a moment ago.

Now try this:

8 - One should never try to convert others to one's own way of thinking.

P8 seems to have a high arrogance-level. Because P8 is itself a way of thinking that is being forced on someone like me who thinks P8 to be inherently false. P8 functions for me in the same way that P3 functions for others.

Let me try one more.

9 - Christian theists like Piippo think they are right, and that people who disagree with them are wrong.

But of course. And so what? That is the nature of propositional thinking. 

A proposition is a sentence that is either true or false. In logic there's no "true for me" stuff (i.e., don't commit the "subjectivist fallacy"). Every proposition contains a level of epistemic arrogance that necessarily marginalizes those who dissent.

This is unavoidable. Every proposition marginalizes. Every belief that engages you disengages someone else. Every belief disinvites someone to the party. This is binary thinking.

Every statement draws a line. Don't freak out about this.