Thoughts from Udo:
March 18, 2013
Thought you might want to read what I wrote in response to a piece I received from a number of sources.
It may have come to your attention that the Romeikie family fears deportation from the US because the reason for leaving Germany with their six children does not justify granting them the political asylum they sought. They claim home schooling their children as a human right, which is not recognized by Northern European countries like Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands!
They may be sent home! And so they should be, for the better of their children and a more coherent and sane expression of Christianity.
Their appeal and the fact that it was reported by the Christian media, among them World Magazine (March 4th) is another nail in the coffin of the wisdom of Christians. There is no human right (only a legal one in a few countries!) or even possibility of parents to control what ideas a child is exposed to and needs to sort through, examine and evaluate. We have an obligation to teach, to explain and to encourage discovery in a child. We never have a right or even the ability to control a child’s thoughts and responses. Where that is sought, it often happens by way of violating the child’s integrity and physical safety. We must secure their life with shelter and food and supply the information about reality needed to make good decisions.
But we must also seek the power of the law, and social services, to prevent some parents from imposing their view on their children. For, the weaker person needs the protection of the law against physical and mental and spiritual violence by imposing parents.
Parents do not own their children. They make them and must further their individual and personal development. Society, or the elected state, has an obligation to see that each child receives that care, and where it is lacking, to make rules insisting on it. The right to choose, to vote, to work and to marry can only be exercised by people who think for themselves, and that needs to be encouraged from early childhood on.
The parents in question, together with many others, believe they should be the only source of information or training for a child. They share that view with Muslim parents who in California withdrew their daughters from public schools to train them in Madras schools with only the Qur’an to become nothing but good Muslim wives. What a fine example Christians gave them to copy and now claim as their human right!
There is no such exclusivity ordered in our Scripture. Such parents are arrogant in their belief in the finality of their own views and practices. When the child’s development does not include the ability to stand in the forum and debate, choose, oppose and generously address the views of opponents, the society needs to provide these abilities. Free societies even need that for its own survival!
School is a good start for that, even with contrary, wrong or biased views: firstly, because all views contain a bias, including our own. We are not like God, but finite, damaged here and there, anxious and widely ignorant. For that reason we have the Scriptures, seek good advice, weigh all arguments, and study things beyond the rim of our parents’ or pastor’s ignorance.
Secondly, one appreciates one’s own views more when one looks at the alternatives. In the case at hand, it will also sharpen some people’s rejection of Christianity when they see how faith has affected the Romeikie’s confidence in truth! I wish that story would never reach a non-Christian.
Perhaps the real tragedy beyond the lives of their six children lies in their church’s failure to so teach that Christian convictions are always the result, not the presupposition or starting point. Francis Schaeffer repeatedly suggested that the only reason to be a Christian is your conviction that it is the truth of the universe (which needs to be discovered through exposure to the whole universe!). We conclude for good reasons that Christ was raised. We don’t just believe it as a point of doctrine…or parental indoctrination.
Presented at the LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania. Over 700 students attend from several of the countries formerly associated with the Soviet Union. You will find all or at least parts of it interesting. In the present consideration of open borders, shifting barriers and weakened boundaries in various areas of life and thought - Udo
"A World of fewer Boundaries demands a Life of Greater Discipline."
By Professor Udo W. Middelmann
Our generation should be delighted that previous political borders between countries have opened up to facilitate the flow of goods and services to new markets, the transfer of both intellectual and material resources and to encourage cultural exchanges and tourism. The benefits of such a two-way exchange opens up new opportunities to broaden one’s outlook on the world, on life and ways of coping with the challenges of an overall complicated reality. It also exposes most people to new ideas which question and dilute many earlier ideological fixations and other attempts to harness people into straightjackets of belief and conformity.
A closed collective society tends to devalue the capabilities and longings of the human mind and inquisitiveness by arresting and absolutizing the present by constant repetitions, or to pursue a vision of the future end through neglect of present intellectual and material needs and the manipulation of the individual person into part of a collective.
With more open borders, with barriers to fruitful imagination lowered and boundaries shifting in social interaction and arrangements we are able to live with greater freedom, vastly facilitated access to information and multiple professional choices outside of social customs or ideological needs. Mobility in both geography and intellectual fields is appreciated and the horizons are lowered for uplifted minds. In this sense the world has indeed become flatter. Former natural boundaries like oceans, mountains, rivers, and the time necessary to have access to information are no longer insurmountable. Even language barriers are reduced with the spread of English as a more common language for commerce, technical information and diplomacy.
When restraints are loosened the human mind can take off and respond to broader challenges and address new areas to subdue through inquiry. Such liberation of individuals occurs in the midst of political uncertainty, or through travel abroad and wider fields of education. Prior restraints by papal doctrine and imperial power were weakened when their unresolved conflict over final sovereignty opened up space, which the mercantile drive of craftsmen filled from and with discoveries through commercial interests further afield, across the mountains and to far-away shores. Grouped together they created free cities and established market rights, guilds and eventually also banking.
The scholastic theology imposed the church’s interpretation along philosophic lines between nominalists and realists, and provoked reactions, between which alternative practical views of life could blossom as grass does in the cracks between slabs on sidewalk. The Renaissance sought greater fidelity to the real world in Giotto’s and Masaccio’s human figures and in Donatello’s sculpture of Young David, then only accepted because it was a Biblical subject, however new and prohibited the sculpture of a male nude boy was at the time.
The Protestant Reformation was to a large extent a reaction to the increasing moral and theological decadence in much of the Church. A new search into Man’s relationship with God came through the re-discovery of the Bible and its affirmation of God’s favor. The text became also more commonly accessible in a translated and printed text that could be held up to argue with priestly power and disarm it. Foreign explorations brought news of worlds, people and wealth hitherto unknown and opened areas beyond previously assumed limits on intellectual horizons.
The discussion and development of greater tolerance was the response to the religious wars of the 17th century. It was part of the Enlightenment, the attempt to know, reason and practice a life beyond fanaticism and authorities that did not stand up to the test of rationality. Both the authority of a helpless and seemingly uncaring monarchy and the humiliating life and teaching of the Roman Church provoked the revolutionary movements in France and in a different form in the US, for a freedom from religion in the former, a freedom of relation in the latter case.
Likewise, the increasing mismatch between monarchist insistence on old values and growing economic, technological, scientific and cultural/intellectual new values in the 19th century encouraged widespread emancipation efforts, leading to changes in social arrangements, behavior, fashions, art and culture, family life and such things as professional orientations and even reviewed and changed standards of politeness.
In our own times and during the past hundred years wars and destruction pushed for other forms of art and literature, changed international relations and gave rise to growing criticism of Western arrogance, even if not always with positive replacement. Hypocrisy, corruption, pretense and external signs of power, including national identity movements and state boundaries were copied more readily than the rule of law or the advocacy and protection of human rights to life, work, property and respect.
More recently, the several energy crises, a growing awareness of ecological problems and the effects of ever increasing individualization make room for alternative thinking and new resources, the development of new technologies and professional opportunities that affect all areas of life: family, society, the use of time as well as the exploration of political necessities and vaster, better communication.
We associate greater freedoms, the opening of borders, lower barriers and shifting boundaries with the changes that first arrived when iron curtains became lacey and permeable with an increased flow of information. The materialist Soviet state paid for finalized borders in Europe with greater facilities for BBC, VOA and Radio Vatican to broadcast, like an old-fashioned farmer broadcasting his seeds by hand over a circle of plowed land with his hands, ideas, verbal pictures and interviews with writers and scientists. This broke up the monolithic ideology of dialectic materialism and escaped the filter that prevented more accurate information about the outside world to come to the attention of people.
The creation of industrial and market unions across Western European frontiers prepared the way for larger open and more easily accessible areas required for multinational corporations, the fluid supply lines, the division of labor and manufacture and the transfer of investment, funds and products to larger markets. The coal and steel union, the European Union and the Reunification of Germany, NAFTA, ASEAN are illustrations of trans-national openings.
With the wonder of earlier national borders taking on less significance, with the reduction of earlier travel and trade hindrances from borders we must not forget that political borders as they existed in much of the 19th and 20th century, were far from common in earlier times. Only ten countries were something like nation-states by 1800. The remnant of the great project of a Holy Roman Empire broke into multiple states after Napoleon, who had crowned the end of Charlemagne’s attempt with his auto-coronation in 1804, a thousand years after the Pope gave the crown to the Emperor in 800 in Aachen. Napoleon took the crown, he did not receive it! With it the idea of a new Augustinian peace or Constantine’s Pax Romana christiana went bust.
In response, and following the wind of revolution, the ONE nation broke off into particular states. New countries were created ever since (Poland 1829; Belgium 1830, Greece, later Italy (1861), all South American countries, and Germany in 1871).
Previously areas of taxation and military service were more defined, as language differences also formed separate communities. But the rule of Emperor Charles 5th over 20% of European populations in 1519 had little to do with one or several states. Henry 8th of England married Anne of Cleve from Germany and pursued the very young Princess Christina of Denmark for bed and bounty. Frequent attempts to reduce the rivalries among groups and territories within the same empire lead to clusters of agreements, such as between Ferdinand and Isabella, bringing together Aragon and Castille; an agreement between Spain and France addressed questions of supremacy in Europe; Catholic Spain submitted to an agreement with Protestant England after the Armada in 1588; Catholic Spain and the Calvinist Northern Provinces in Holland finally settled in 1609, and the Eastern Habsburgs held off the Ottomans until the 30 years war in 1718.
To overcome language differences within the same language backgrounds Francis 1st in 1539 made Parisian French the common language for all of what was then France, which was smaller than after the absorption of Burgundy under Louis 14th before 1715. In 1589 “the unusual language of London” was ordained to become the common language for the city and all the surrounding shires within a radius of 60 miles! Luther’s German translation of the Bible would spread a common reading, grammar and vocabulary, distinct from local dialects, which like the Alemannic of Switzerland, did not go through with the vowel changes and consonant shifts from older German to Luther’s.
Early Maps also did not focus on territorial separations or establishing boundaries. Mercator’s map of 1554 located Europe, as Johannes Mueller’s map located his hometown Nuernberg, in relations to a wider world. Rome saw itself as the center of the God’s world, around which even the sun rotated. Maps served geographical and ideological purposes and showed land and water delineations, resources, towns and markets as well as trade routes, but not political entities. Later the size of estates for taxation purposes, to plan roads and canals was the point. The maps in the background of some Vermeer paintings show the fascination with two-dimensional descriptions of three dimensional realities and were used as decorative background of a world fascinated with measurement and increased mathematical knowledge like triangulation. Maps presented a personal location within a defined space to assist orientation in a larger than the visible world.
The absence of political borders allowed also for future adjustments through politically motivated marriages, endowments and territorial changes through conquest and loss.
Religious differences created borders after the Peace of Augsburg (1553), when each ruler could determine the relation of his people by his own choice and reference. The Dutchy of Lithuania and Poland united their forces against the Orthodox Russian religious influence, whose followers Nikolai Radziwil describes as “wild, wearing Turkish Clothes and having painted women, and a Czar”! For protection Lithuania also chose a French king to rule over them from 1573-5 (curiously a situation repeated when a French government ruled the country for five years after 1918 and the end of the First World War!) , a Transylvanian Stafan Batori from 1775-86 and the Swede Sigismund 3rd from 1578 – 1632. In the Southeast, the Habsburg Empire made agreements with the Ottomans to form a bulwark against the expanding Islamic Crusades.
Such non-political, but cultural borders were also behind the statement of relief by a Venetian trader, who, returning from further East, remarked: “Past Split (in modern Croatia) we passed into Christendom, seeming to be a new world.”
Perhaps the strongest borders existed in the minds of people through the influence of an internal and several external sources of instructions. The former source is the inner grammar found in the workings of the human mind, by which distinct concepts enrobe distinctly observed pieces of reality in sounds and words, in mental images to order and make us of what the senses perceive as distinct and in relationships to each other. Distinctions in the external world confirm the only way human beings can know anything: by distinctions, through giving labels and thereby having dominion over what until then is a confusing and disjointed world of sense perceptions.
A distinct reality of a world where God made all things according to their kind and speaks about them is mirrored in the human mind by means of distinct terms which separate everything according to their kind. Distinction is in the nature of language. Definitions set apart, draw borders around things, concepts and situations that are separated by delineated content. All language and mental concepts recognize the ultimate reality as a sum of what is distinct and defined, rather than as an undifferentiated ONE. Distinct recognition is part of learning to understand the universe and to be able to live in it.
Our culture, descended from Jewish and Christian views of God, Man and Text, is based on the significance of the WORD, while most cultures demand silence through obedience in the face of an undifferentiated unity of Being, for which there is no separate term. Jews and Christians encourage greater moral and factual discernment, while Islam, Buddhism and Zen, even Bolshevism as a secular religion, demand non-inquisitive obedience to whatever is or shall be. The only sound is that of the repetition of slogans.
The second source of instruction shaping the outlook of people was the instruction in church and from daily experiences that the world was a dangerous place, where life is always threatened, where little justice exists and real pain and various threats need to be recognized, distinguished and opposed. Our present experience is that of a broken world, no longer the reflection of the creator’s character. The need to develop skills for making the right choices between options, to argue for justice, to work for life against death, to elaborate a well-founded system of morals and ethical behavior is powerful evidence of the phenomenon that everyone, independent of their religion or worldview, always find some things to complain about. Everyone distinguishes between what is and what in their view ought to be.
Church and simply all of daily life, the individual’s response to perceived moral and intellectual conflicts and social mores, and all of nature in its particulars express boundaries between opposites and de-finitions, which separate. Law, science, the very nature of language are possible where distinctions are a personal and cultural habit. Ultimately they are extensions backwards of belief in a God with a defined character. The distinct nature of God is manifest in his creation of a structured Nature. God’s efforts to make clear the differences between truth and belief, between an imaginative exploration of reality and images or ideologies impossible to bring about, is found in the linguistic nature and communicative intentions of the text. Here lies the intellectual background for what became the moral map for human existence. It orients and enforces efforts to bring culture to nature, to overcome passivity with enterprise, and to fight for life and against death. The basic commands to love and multiply, to have dominion and to plow the fields, to heal relationships and to seek justice, to pursue what is real and true in all areas of life are all finally rooted in distinctions from ”before the beginning”, from eternity.
Of course Greek culture also drew borders between barbarism of the people outside and civilization, the working together of people under one law or definition. Roman law as well had clear barriers between right and wrong, being a Roman citizen or not, and between being guilty or innocent. There was even a clear border drawn between facts, which alone mattered, and the inner life of thought, intentions or motivations, which could not be discovered or defined with any objectivity.
The Bible also established a defined purpose in tying the individual and each moment into a cloth of relationships and meaning. There was a starting person, God, who purposefully set in motion creation in all the particulars. Choices would result in consequences, guilt in blame, and repentance in forgiveness as part of the flow of an external, real, material history. The meta-narrative of the Bible anchored people in a purposeful, comprehensive explanation to encourage pursuit of the human purpose: to live as human beings. Only a person can give and fulfill a purpose, a distinct pursuit of intended means and ends in life. The Bible makes that purpose clear in separating both God from creation, and Man, male and female, from mere nature.
In keeping with that purpose Biblical mandates direct people to pursue life through love, imagination, effort, enterprise and to set signs of his and her presence in an always expanding creation. Culture is to give shape to nature as expressions of moral insistence on goodness, variety, justice, life and at all times resistance against any form of decay, sin and death.
These sources of instructions and this wider comprehension of the Bible’s unique outline for life lies also behind the attempt to establish a Holy Roman Empire after Vandals, Saxons, Goths and other marauding tribes had largely destroyed the relatively orderly inheritance of the Western Roman Empire. Irish monks and new monastic orders solidified the intention to pacify the land, to create centers of learning, safe markets, insight into greater health care and to establish seats of justice, as well as more religious activities like prayers and sermons. Emperor Frederick 2nd (1194-1250) became known as stupor mundi, as many times he crisscrossed his realm on horseback and in the midst of winter from Sicily to Saxony to encourage science, philosophy and politics in an attempt to undergird the spread of Christianity with distinct practical outlooks into a more orderly rule and life.
The meta-narrative of Christ’s Kingdom does not only add an eschatological dimension to the present life, but also sets clear and reasonable boundaries to human activities at any time from creation and its forms (“everything according to its kind”) forward. In a fallen world, under the presence of sin, such forms need reminders and repetition, because the increase of transgression requires boundaries, so that right and love can have fuller expressions.
The Great Command to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength and one’s neighbor as oneself is repeated and stated in a more elaborate exposition of the Ten Commandments. They in turn are, like the Constitution of a Country, a condensed statement of the Foundation Law, fleshed out in greater details in all the other prescriptions in the Bible. The law distinguished real and imagined options and establishes choices and responsibilities to resist evil in order to allow good to flourish: Love, create, do good, and acknowledge God; honor truth, neighbor and his work. Every reminder involves a pro-active engagement. Man, male and female in the image of God should in all things reflect the source of that image. Like God, who deliberately took time to create a world of form, beauty and function, Man should over time make creative choices from love through innovation within the original form of the universe. In addition, after the Fall of Adam and Eve, he must keep in mind the boundary between good and evil, plow against the reign of thistles and have babies against the tragedy of death. The boundaries would be set by love and truth to avoid folly, pretention and impossibilities such as “being like God”.
Boundaries exist with power limitations and moral contradictions. Icarus, the son of Daedalus, attempted to escape from Crete with wings made for him by his father and held together with wax. He disregarded the father’s warning not to fly too close to the sun lest his wings would melt and fell to his death in the sea. Like Icarus, we are free to function within the boundary conditions of the external world, but their neglect leads to tragic results. We must always consider what cannot as well as what should not be done. There are factual and moral limitations.
The failure to remember the moral limitation, i.e. to love rather than to treat with indifference, is played out in what Christians call The Fall of Adam and Eve. Their choice was not between good and evil substances, not between knowledge and ignorance, but rather between love and disregard of God. The latter choice would bring about an experience (the ‘knowledge’ spoken off is experiential, not intellectual) of evil God wanted Man not to have. That experience of real evil has been part of human existence ever since: the reality of a lonely existence removed from God’s presence, including the falling apart of each person’s body and spirit or soul at death.
Still, this experience at all times reminds everyone of the need to make good choices for life in what can and must now always be regarded as an abnormal history. The distinction between real opposites of life and death, truth and lies, good and bad governments, teachers, judges, spouses and neighbors is essential for working in a damaged, dangerous, and fallen world.
For that reasons borders are set in the form of ordering laws to clarify the area in which life is possible, protected and even furthered. The Bible’s laws are not rules for membership in a church, but statements which draw boundaries around aspects of reality where that reality is overlooked or not recognized and respected. We should not steal, because everything belongs already to someone. We honor father and mother, because without them we would not exist, etc. Such laws, as all laws in the best of societies, prescribe behavior in order to prevent evil. Courts of Law apply such laws to establish facts and results, using laws, procedures and witnesses out of respect for an objective reality against mere opinions or desires.
This large project of a Holy Roman Empire, in which Biblical insight about reality would be brought into the daily context of society, came to an end when internal weakness and corruption increased all along the life of the dream. It did not turn people and rulers into saints, for any change in thought and behavior is always an individual choice, in that sense an existential one.
The dream of One Nation ended symbolically with the event of Napoleon putting on his own crown in the presence of the Pope in 1804, one thousand years after Charlemagne had received his from the Pope. The pursuit of a Universal had been shattered by nationalist particulars, preparing the field for fragmentation within the geographical, intellectual, spiritual and social unit assumed by the previous program of one Holy Empire.
Instead of the notion of God’s rule through ‘holy’ institutions, diverse emancipation and revolutionary movements turned to more pagan notions of land, language, blood and national myths to identify a growing number of separate states and nations. The Nation, a unity of values and aims, broke into various rival states, with new and now more fixed political boundaries and armies. “Das Deutschtum”, “La Gloire de la France”, “Rule Britania” from the off-shore island, American Exceptionalism from “Manifest Destiny” and a Lithuanian quest for a history linked to Rome (“waylaid Roman soldiers landing there after drifting from Britain across the Baltic Sea in a storm”) arose as concepts to justify the differences. Greece separates from Turkey, Poland is once again glued together, Belgium is imposed on France by Britain and Switzerland is made neutral as a defensive barrier between France and the Holy Alliance Monarchies in the East.
All together a door is opened for the rapidly increasing number of separate states around the world. They established political power within their borders and competed for resources abroad in colonies, in the search for dumping places for criminals and “Lebensraum”. South American liberation does away with the old Papal division between Portugal and Spain and sets all countries on their way towards independence. Italy comes away from Papal, Spanish, French, German and Austrian parents to become one state in 1861. Germany unites in 1871. In the 20th century new borders are drawn to create Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia (only to become unglued peacefully in the first, and through wars in the second case, during the past two decades). The Ottoman Empire is reduced in size and influence and new nations are created with pens on paper in the hope to separate age-old rivals and to assign loyalties which often had little more substance than border demarcations.
Parallel to this process of fragmentation Christianity is increasingly discredited, both intellectually by some Enlightenment thinkers philosophically and by a growing fascination with human abilities to understand the rational workings of the natural world. The fruit of the Reformation and the benefits from an affirmation of human responsibility in the Jewish world of thought matured both philosophers and scientists. However, they, like the prodigal son in Luke’s Gospel and following the earlier example of Adam and Eve, chose to pursue a tempting “ideal” and therein to treat God and his text with indifference. Instead of filtering revelation through reason, as Scripture teaches, they sought to make reason the source of revelation. They became fascinated with how reality functions and saw in nature, creation, in history a more challenging, but morally less demanding manifestation of purpose.
As the God in heaven was increasingly removed through reliance on reflection and calculation alone, he was now assigned a role as a divine immanence in history. The result was that the quasi-identification of God with history or nature removes the critical review possibility of an outside voice, text or nature. All three have become one, and with the possibility of an external moral critique lost, the only remaining boundary is a factual, natural, one. The new proposition became the familiar “history needs no justification”.
History became viewed as the horizontal field in which purpose and morality, all of human existence, plays out progressively. Philosophers like Spinoza and Leibniz, joined later by Kant, made the human mind the arbiter and source of truth with no possibility of an outside rational, defined text. We find here the seeds for not only the denial of the supernatural in theological discussion, but also the replacement of God by an impersonal Nature as the creative and selective power in Darwin’s attempt to explain suffering and death. Nature is and happens within laws describing factual repetitions. But Nature does not apply moral barriers or distinctions. Only a de-liberating person, who is precisely liberated in his mind and imagination, in his creative sovereignty, from the boundaries of current factual reality, distinguishes between what “is” and what “ought to be”. Without an outside text, nature itself became the text.
In a case parallel to Darwin’s, the same desire and mood to overcome the pain and suffering of the death of his young child and the tragedy of the many dead in the American Civil War moved President Lincoln to replace the Bible’s proposition of a good God in heaven with the idea of Providence. The idea of Manifest Destiny for America took root throughout the 19th century and beyond. History can make no mistakes. Lost is the idea of arguing with it, even placing history into the seat of the accused. History is only a record of what happened, of what was inevitable.
These were not a few persons’ attempts to explain away the reality of tragedy by subsuming everything to an inevitable natural program. Schleiermacher, Feuerbach and Schopenhauer supported the removal of God and his replacement by historic forces in an emerging social, political, economic and scientific progressive development. A significant illustration is found in those 19th century Christmas cards, which replaced the Holy Family in Bethany’s stable, anticipating already the cross of Golgotha in many paintings, with pictures of the bourgeois family around a tree with neatly wrapped presents. The energy assumed by older generations to be, rightly or wrongly, either from acts of God or from people who believed and practiced their faith, was now discovered in natural events, to which increasing precision in scientific research gave access.
The power of monarchs and churches was gradually diminished and then abolished, their authority over people was assumed by these and their representatives, as revolutions set structural barriers in the form of constitutions, parliaments and political, including opposition, parties. Religious faith was weakened by two opposing directions in search of new authorities. The increasing understanding and influence of a more rational science focused on the material world, while a more romantic focus drew on the inner life, hopes and dreams of those, who saw reality more from the perspective of what they would like it to be than what it was. They relished fantasies and imagination unencumbered by verisimilitude. The importance of the inner voice reflected the importance Kant gave to the apperception of the human mind.
In line with these two sources of truth, emancipated from Scripture or any larger moral framework than Kant’s concept of “Duty” and later Freud’s proposition of the centrality of the sexual drive to move forward, was the embrace of Hegel’s lectures about the World Spirit moving history along dialectically by means of the energy released when thesis provokes and then is confronted by antithesis to form a synthesis. That power is inevitably moving the universe beyond rational matter to spirituality. Rationality grasps life through logic and categories, while spirituality reaches for the sensual harmony of all and willingly abandons all sensibility.
While the ‘right-wing Hegelians’ marveled at the new machinery of a driven, developing history of progress and became passive observers in love with the new way of seeing history and replaced the moral God of the Bible with an amoral progress, ‘left-wing’ Hegelians saw in the new model the encouragement to drive history along its scientific, inevitable course with revolutionary fervor. They sought ways to give history a kick to speed it up.
Now history represents a divine immanence, a quasi-supernatural revelation of what is right, setting people free to pursue endless progress. The end in sight meant that the historic path towards it needs no moral discernment and loses its existential significance. In practical terms, it means that people’s democratic expressions are always good, that market forces determine morality, the invisible hand is assumed to be God’s and that every opportunity is an open door to walk through. The end alone matters, not the means. A few years into the 20th century we would hear the sentence that “in order to have an omelet you have to break some eggs”. In our generation we accept that in order to make a profit you may have to use people as machines and wait until benefits for them trickle down to their station in life.
The blueprint about the better, if not perfect future required countless sacrifices along the way. The underpaid ‘employee is certainly happy to not starve to death without a job’! Do the market as a magnificent, highly efficient tool, or the majorities in elections as mathematically weightier expressions of opinions, determine justice as well? For such impersonal tools, or history as a band of events, justify all things without moral reservation. History describes, but cannot prescribe; it encourages whatever human beings believe and do, and in its course all things possible become all things do-able.
Two responses to this impersonal master and CEO are possible. When that historic power is understood as inevitable, passivity and fatalism result, a submission from moral indifference must satisfy, even though it gives no hope or significance to the individual.
Most religions fall into this conclusion. They merge the individual person into a river of time, there to float along in silence, perhaps admiration and faith, but no moral engagement or opposition to whatever happens in life. From Islam to African tribal religions, from belief in destiny to participation in scientific dialectic of inevitable events, the person is without voice or moral discernment as a part of a collective.
Where traces remain of a more Jewish/Christian teaching about both human significance in a personal calling from God as well as an awareness that in a fallen world much happens that ought not to happen, the response tends to be the opposite to passivity and resignation.
As among the left-wing Hegelians of the 19th century, this memory will notice things to correct, value personal significance and tend to have people stand out to do something. In an amoral history the only limit is what is possible, what a person can do. Moral considerations have become irrelevant. Therefore such people will tend to push ahead, complain and seek, if not solutions, personal advantages. They will tend to be arrogant (Lat: ‘not asking questions’), self-centered and focused on short-term benefits, for they can do no wrong when history, the market or popular elections have given them authority in what they do.
History as descriptive is without a moral control, as it has no outside moral reference or purpose. In that view the human being is always the first victim. Fatalists assume that everyone deserves what he gets in life, good or bad. For, history is a record of what justly happened. Among the arrogant individualists, the neighbor is the victim, as the pursuit of personal ends matters more than the means to them, and every action in pursuit of personal advantage is without boundaries, definitions or limitations in an amoral record of history.
In each case the human being is carried along in a meaningless process. His life counts for little, his death is the next event. History anchors everything to the coordinates of time and place, but is incapable to also attribute moral barriers. This essential element, which distinguishes people from sticks and stones and yet is so easily neglected, is in dire need of protection, affirmation and appeal. Without it the human being is just one more object that could so easily to be tossed onto the junk heap of history in our own generation. We hold up, therefore, the insights of that Lithuanian philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906 – 1995), who cries out in his writing against the loss of the person with the protest “every death remains a scandal” and in “reality nothing is just an arrangement”. Henri-Bernard Levy states the same opposition to the way our culture has widely leveled the border between things and people by making them jointly participate in the flow of history. His term is that each person should be a “coup d’état” with his will, his sensitive and informed mind giving him a moral compass with which to object to evil, death and oblivion especially when amoral, impersonal history removes all moral obligations towards my neighbor.
The critical interaction with what is mere history is the only way to maintain that there are borders between evil and good, right and wrong, life and death. The Bible alone gives us permanent mandates to work with them on the basis that eternal is a morally specific God who created us for life, not a merely powerful, all-inclusive deity in control of history. The information that there has been a Fall of Man with the consequence of a damaged, imperfect and now deadly world is only possible within that reference to a morally specific, i.e. limited God, who can do no evil or get away with it. The failure to maintain moral barriers in history and to recognize the results of the Fall leaves mankind only with descriptive details of what happens.
The scene is set at the beginning of the Jewish/Christian Bible. Reminders of its propositions are essential to maintain the boundaries between life and death, between human and all else, between truth and lies. History merely records them all as they occur. Without the definitions tied to a moral God and an unacceptable “fallen” i.e. damaged history everything becomes fluid, democratic, unsteady and untidy. All previously defined terms are reduced to cultural values, sounds and impressions. As variable personal definitions and opinions they float along in the course of history. They present an image of individually defined mental and moral territories, but lack compelling substance. They are like fads and curious images as weighty as when celebrity opinions are preferred to educated reflections, and when polls taken among children receive equal weight as studied and reasoned arguments. Curiosity is nurtured, but wisdom from more careful reflection is thrown away.
External events and social movements contributed to this relativisation of morals, meaning and finally also Man, who remains only as a historical phenomenon. Rigid and stupid nationalism of the 19th century made it easy to abandon all boundaries in daily life, as well as in the arts, after the horrors of that immoral and wasteful First World War. Cynicism about sources of information, media and politicians spread widely after the further deceptions in the media and propaganda (the deliberate misrepresentation of facts) about wars, political schemes and ideologies. Our culture embodies a pernicious Darwinian practice without substantial and binding moral and social commitments: History moves on and, like Nature, selects the winners. Even facts are manipulated to create impressions, make promises and advocate the pursuit of dreams, though they are of a pretend reality in the future without any foundation in the present. Everyone has but one thought in mind: to so arrange things, talk and gain power that one wins without any consideration of whether the means will harm or even destroy the competition.
The cornerstones of a civil society are barriers against evil, defining borders around truth, facts and reasoned argument. It requires constant discipline and self-control in all areas in which freedom could produce foolishness and a neglect of real boundaries might lead to death. Most of reality is not invented through our imagination or good intentions, but already has a form of its own, and I do well to work within it by choice. Mind-expanding drugs, alcohol or spiritual exercises do not change the real world in which I need to function if I want to live. All mushrooms are eatable, but not all are beneficial. Their poison acts regardless of my intentions, religion or sexuality. My choice is to either accept their boundary conditions and live, or die independently of every good intention.
In areas like hygiene, punctuality, commitments and promises, measurements and reports, constructions of buildings or legal systems we depend on submission to forms which relate to an external orderly creation or reality. It is bordered off from all random, arbitrary or all too creative subjective interpretations. At all times one would struggle for order, for life and for people. Without this common pursuit trust is impossible, loyalty is temporary at best and commitment to any contract is subject to legal enforcement. Rigid social norms may well need to change with time. Exposure to alternate ways of coping may stimulate creative efforts to master life better. Competition will always increase competence. Dynamic human creativity and individual interests contribute to innovation, improvements and revisions. But in each case the effort must, in order to succeed, recognizes the areas of freedom within the boundaries established not by culture or tradition, but by the structure of nature (creation) itself, by the essence of reality as an orderly interplay of factors, and by the alarms raised whenever the human brain attempts to establish logical sequences and whole pictures out of separate events and then encounters contradictions.
Such limits to the field of personal freedom are denied when history is embraced as the ground of being, the motor of progress and the justification of everything. In that perspective the passage of time abolishes permanence and encourages a revolution from within by the power of an idea of emancipation. Nothing has permanence but change itself. All assertions, whether of God, a text, social norms or reason itself, are permanently critiqued. Personal values simply exhibit variable experiences, which are uniquely personal criteria for relevance without lasting or binding boundaries. Everyone gains freedom from victimhood under social boundaries, which, as outside constructs from religion, traditions, even grammar and forms of language, deny the person his or her immediate, individual emancipated podium. Barriers to such liberty must be de-constructed in search for a true anarchy of behavior, where temporarily intersecting emancipated persons explore their always changing identity, their gender and sexuality, their mind in mind-expanding experiences with drugs and alcohol, without shame, guilt or fear. Choice is the authentication of freedom and is elevated above all restraints from nature, reason, knowledge, and scientific data. Limits imposed from accountability are rejected.
Such advocacy of inner reactions to external situations comes from a new sovereignty claimed not only against temporary social constructs, but even all laws found in nature and the human mind.
This was the program of the Frankfurt School of Social Research, which from the 1920s onwards sought to replace the either/or distinctions of a factual and moral reality with the both/and inclusive view of Hegel’s ‘divine’ history, Marx’s advocacy of advancement of society in history through revolution and various emancipation movements through permanent critical and individual values clarification. It advocates life in a borderless reality, where all barriers to personal anarchy are removed, where nothing remains true, independent of a personal choice and where each person can assume his or her self-importance. Gender, marriage, contracts, truth and reason all lose their formerly understood content.
In this perspective reality is established through Belief alone. Wishful thinking now determines truth and value, meaning and purpose; and they can disappear just as quickly, lacking an outside reference and stability of form, borders and definitions. In modern expressions the social networks of Twitter and Facebook facilitate ‘friendships’ and publish information about anything without the need for qualifications, reflection or reasonable arguments. What stands one day, can be cut off the next without any regret, for history needs no justification.
A similar move to embrace an individualistic perspective has also transformed the political right, where more the understandings of a more stable world and boundary definitions has given way to unbounded self-interest. The belief and trust in the ‘invisible hand’ of the market or democratic gathering of opinions through elections has freed the person from further, moral obligations. He becomes a participant of what takes its own course, as history does for the political left. The flow of history, which needs no justification for happening as it does; the market as it serves as tool for the exchange of any information, good and services; and Democratic elections as a way to establish majority views on power over much of life: each of them assumes the benefits of a self-regulating system. It cannot make a mistake, will not be corrupt, and will always bring about what is best.
That also is the Darwinian and Hegelian perspective: what is fit will survive, without the need for moral review in light of the fact that what market, democracy and history reveal is only whatever is, without moral judgment! Again the moral dimension of what “ought to be” is excluded, even though markets, democracy and history have frequently done much damage to people. Absent any moral prescription, they readily accept any favorable or unfavorable selective definitions of social behavior and norms. For example, “Human Rights” are variably interpreted and applied, or neglected, in different cultures and political systems (The “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” became a necessity in 1948 precisely because of the enormous violations of human beings in preceding decades. It did not establish rights, neither does the state grant them, because persons are already sovereign and not subject to the generosity of the state. Instead, the Declaration set out to guarantee and protect what was threatened by the state). The Bible states that “The law was given because transgressions increased” (Gal 3:19). It had been established already in the character of God and the form of the real world, but was now threatened through neglect and moral failure.
Where there is no moral definition from the beginning, history justifies all events, because they came about in history. The market and democracies can justify any behavior, as these impersonal tools likewise serve the end they are intended to serve. The principle is that whatever is possible is acceptable. There is no room for moral complaint, for judgment and correction in such smoothly functioning systems. Yet the problem remains: tools do not address the moral and personal nature of human beings and their needs.
Lower barriers to increase access to knowledge, easier facilities in travel to encounter wider efforts of human culture, and the more efficient flow of resources for economic benefits are a great advantage for more people. Yet it is a grave mistake to see in the reduction of material, political enclosures a suggestion that barriers in all areas were attempts to prevent the emancipation of the individual in his and her personality, professional choices and tasteful ways to arrange their life. Largely physical and political limitations are now reduced. But the diminishing moral accountability, which occurs underneath the smooth functioning of markets, democracy and historic progress, has brought about belief in the autonomy of action without accountability, a belief in endless possibilities and acceptance of whatever comes to pass, as long as pleasure, personal peace and economic benefits are secured.
Yet, a civil society cannot function without contract, without agreed and well-anchored moral borders. They must now have their religious or ideological veneer peeled off and reveal again the quality of their form and function, given by the nature of a moral/factual reality which God was pleased with at the start. They can they become part of the intellectual furniture of what makes us human beings, to satisfy the demands of reason and undergird hope in and from God during the one quick life each person has. There has to be a contract with virtue through a trained moral conscience, so that an intellectually honest and credible answer is provided to explain both the form of an impersonal Nature and the mannishness of significant human beings.
I propose that there is no alternative to the Jewish/Christian view of God, Man and history. In it the bonds of love, rather than the choice for personal emancipation or freedom circumscribe and fulfill human existence: love for knowledge and life, for God and people, for the mind and for work through the discovery of how reality functions truthfully. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is unique to this text and gives a totally different outlook on all of life. It is much more than a passing romantic attraction. Love is a command for people who are not accidents of history, nor victims of circumstances, to have dominion by figuring out how reality is ordered. It sets out a calling to create life, relationships, knowledge and mastery, using ideas and training to skillfully do good, and to resist evil and death. It includes the desire for education, the factual and moral discernment to prevent hindrances and evil out of concern for what Lorenzetti painted in his murals for the town hall of Siena about “good and bad government”. From love and insight we distinguish between those things that are movable (like tastes and location, ways of making life interesting and varied, occupations and language) and those that are fixed like life and death, physical laws and need for verification, having parents and neighbors, and being finite.
Borders, boundaries and barriers serve like a harness for support without being a straight jacket. They were definitions of state and nationality, of outlook and grammar, of moral purpose and common goals, and individual space. Often they were related to the need to survive in a real universe. At other times they were imposed only to let us survive within power structures. In open societies they were the result of discoveries from the laws in nature and attempted to prevent the contradictions contained in evil, death and tragedies. They relate to grammar in a common language and to the professional requirements to build trust in dealing with others. They were regulations to channel the often all too creative inventive- or disruptiveness among neighbors in need of getting along.
Borders are realizations of a defined world. They clarify details and serve administrative ends. They lay out good and bad behavior, bringing before people’s mental eye the need to distinguish factually between the limits of what is and is not possible, and morally between what is and what ought to be behaviorally. In both areas borders prevent the harmful belief in a world created only in and through a person’s dreams.
Where the borders, which previously directed our life to fit into the shape of the real world, are removed each person by himself must find out for him- and herself what is possible, realistic and right. The pleasure of personal freedom in matters of choice among livable variables must not spill over into foolish use of that freedom into areas where the consequences catch up with us. There is really only one and the same world in its form. When it is no longer laid out by sensible common boundaries, it must be discovered and accepted through personal discipline. What is possible in light of the removal of social norms and economic limits must be reviewed at all times in light of the cost in social fragmentation, overextended expenses and the boomerang of selfishness coming back to hit us. There is no free lunch, and disregard for the way God’s created nature is structured can only lead to sorrow and death.
Comments about declining church attendance in Europe.
April 20, 2011
Declining church attendance in most European countries is no clear evidence for reduced appreciation of Christianity. Nor is it an obvious indication that people turn to other faiths or abstain completely. While Sunday services are generally poorly attended, free concerts in church buildings on Sunday afternoons are highly prized and attract an interested audience across all age groups. On almost any Sunday during the winter months two to five concerts are offered nearby.
The first may be due to taking Sunday literally as a day of rest not to be interrupted by a scheduled service. More likely it has something to do with the diluted content from Scripture. A focus on inner illumination, spiritual feelings, and orientation to something other than daily obligations can also be achieved by hiking in the mountains, watching the wind curl ripples on the surface of the lake, or enjoying the larger family on walks and at play.
The second is unsurprising and satisfying. It reflects the power to communicate a specific Christian content in the context of the church buildings. Even if the words of sermons have been robbed of their meaning, the building, the stained glass windows, the presence of an open Bible refresh the knowledge of Christianity in the minds of people.
Compulsory religious education in public schools has given everyone a basic knowledge of Moses, the Prophets, and Jesus Christ. Visual reminders of the truth surrounding these personages are not only found in church architecture (where the events portrayed in the windows are once again teaching tools of biblical content), but also in civic life enormously influenced and widely colored by centuries of Christian teaching. Respect for others, tolerance, civil arguments, a solid work ethic, social responsibilities taken seriously, and a good educational grounding in schools result from a biblical view of life and people.
A concert on a recent Sunday was in the church of La Tour-de-Peilz near Vevey, Switzerland, built on the foundations of an earlier 12th century church building, with its simple white walls, light gray tuft stone choir section, a balcony all around for additional seating. The table with an open Bible (replacing the altar after the Reformation), the cross suspended from the ceiling, the chancel for the exposition of the Word, and the dry vine roots in a bed of gravel as floral arrangement—all speak of and give visual substance to one reality: the truth of the Bible’s message.
The choir, accompanied by a single piano, gave verbal content to the setting, leading the people to comprehension and worship. Among much else, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Easter Song” has these words:
Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.
Sing his praise without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him may’st rise;
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more, Just.
His “Love Bade Me Welcome” used a variation of a familiar Reformation choral theme, known to almost everyone, to tell us:
Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them:
Let my shame go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love; who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat.
The understanding and acceptance of the basic biblical message is not expressed in the demonstrative and personal forms we may expect and look for, but it is rooted deeply in the perception and faith and life habits of this intergenerational audience. Church attendance and commitment as evidence of belief is less frequent than a deep confidence in the truth of the message of the Bible . . . when it has not been outright rejected and replaced by a more personal religion and frequent preference for Buddhist prayer flags. Here the failure of an intellectual engagement of the population by the church brings in a tragic harvest.
Comments about "Crossing The Tiber" by Udo
August 2, 2010
The article “Evangelicals crossing the Tiber to Catholicism” in Religious Dispatches (August 2, 2010) (http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/2731/) has received some attention. For me, this is not only interesting because of the mention of the college I teach at or the stories of some of dear students, whom I have learnt to appreciate and respect.
“Crossing the Tiber” describes a phenomenon from a mixture of personal inquiry and frustration and a longing for something ‘more true’, intimate, personal and spiritual that repeats itself often in the history of the church, but also in our open, self-correcting and “protesting” culture. Rather than bathed in traditionalism and authoritative repetition, both our own dissatisfaction with what Scripture describes as a fallen world (where we are not “at home”) and with ourselves as imperfect cause us to long for something more, possibly elsewhere, possibly in some other dimension.
I see it as the quest for perfection, intimacy, the ideal, which Scripture tells us will be realized at the return of Christ, but not before. The lure in ideologies has been the offer of perfection now. Utopians have held out what is both ‘no place’ and ‘good place’ = ‘eutopia’. Religions, including parts of classical RC and Evangelicalism, have often offered that integration in their system, their community, their historical claims, their artistic demonstration (After all Baroque came out of a reaction to the Reformation’s emphasis on God’s word and peace with God through faith in Christ, and sought to portray the richness, splendor and heavenly presence already now in architecture and painting in the RC churches). Prior to that, the celebration of the mystery of the Eucharist drew believers equally much to awe from the common, material, earthly place. Yet the earthly place and in our bodies is where we live as God intended, and where Christ came “down to earth”, as later the heavenly Jerusalem will come “down to earth”.
The exposition of the Word and its application was a Reformation emphasis; there was almost no preaching in earlier times since the High Middle Ages in what then became the RC church. Only when preaching drew greater crowds and gave greater wonder and peace than the Eucharistic mystery did the RC church also start to give sermons instead of reciting the lives of the saints. The Protestant church, as well as the ‘one catholic church’ before somewhere around the 10th century, understood God’s relation to us through the WORD, written and in the flesh, by which we shall live more than “by bread alone.”
That bread satisfies appetites, sensations, feelings. The WORD satisfies the mind and soul and gives direction to work and to practice society. For that reason Jesus did not feed the 5000 when they came back to be fed a second time. He told them instead to believe the true bread that came from heaven.
We find reactions from a desire for something ‘more’ were also the root of romanticism against industrialization; ‘Sturm und Drang’ against authoritarian governments; Mozart’s music against the dictates of the church, the hippy culture against the bourgeois parents; the Jesus movement against staid theology; Bill Gothard’s “Basic Youth Conflict” against the loss of parental control in the revolutionary times of the 1960s and ‘70s; the private focus, vows of poverty (past and more recently), search for mystery and self-analytical repentance movements rose against sound rationality, unequal wealth, captivating scientific reductionism and evident injustice around the world.
Common is always the search for perfection here and now, but with a twist: While Utopians propose perfection for all of life, the whole community, the search is now for a more personal perfection through an attachment to a historical myth of one true church and aesthetic sensation.
Thomas Howard (brother of Elizabeth Elliot) converted for among other reasons because the communion elements were not held high enough in his Episcopal church. My brother-in-law converted because “Evangelicals invent their theology as they go along. I want certainty from historical continuity, aesthetic integration and effort. RC has one pope; we know the error in its teaching. Evangelicals have a thousand popes whom people follow obediently, and there is no way to know what is right and wrong.”
Scripture suggests that there has never been the perfect church: why else where disciples called “oh ye of little faith” and why else were so many letters written to churches in trouble? They were mostly efforts to correct weird, false views, not uncommon from what we may find here and there.
Scripture shows that perfection is not within reach now. We wait, believing, struggling, comparing and in prayer for our own faithfulness to God’s word and Spirit. We hunger and thirst, and these will not be fully quenched until Christ walks down the street and announces the fullness of his Kingdom.
In the meantime we do well to show that there is no perfect church, no perfection within reach in any area. For that reason we favor and benefit from democracy, market access, the rule of law, the review of all things: rooted ultimately in the encouragement from Scripture to argue with God for the sake of heaven. (That is a combination of titles from two wonderful books – Arguing with God and Arguments for the Sake of Heaven - by Jewish authors, among them Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of GB, quoted often in the Financial Times!!). Job, Jeremiah, Moses, even Jesus did that. It is the consequence of understanding that things, history, peoples, churches are not a final, perfect product. We must always ‘protest’ any supposed finality in us or others, in life and organizations, before the 2nd coming.
The dream of and for perfection has also a Platonic element to it, which contradicts the core of Christianity. There is for us no absolute and static form somewhere, not even in heaven. The Trinity is in holy dynamic of love, etc. They created a good world also in materiality. Where the material world, including the body, space and time, sexuality and food and drink, work and money are suspect, understood to be a hindrance or a distracting temptation, the flaw is in our minds, not in the substances themselves. Our thinking must change, not the reality once made by God and by those who bear His image. We do not escape sin and frustration by denial, by seeking to abolish dependencies, by becoming more ‘angelic’ or floating ‘above’ the material world in a world of the spirit and the soul. These are ideas inherited from Greek thought, not Biblical thought. God created a real world and will one day make it whole again. This life is not a passing phase to gradually avoid in search of deepening spirituality.
Instead we should deal with temptation, dependencies, materialism through greater fidelity to what God’s Spirit has revealed through the Scriptures and by present power: sin as guilt starts in the mind, it is not present in creation. We must change our thoughts, our understanding, our priorities and our desires in the effort to put on the mind of Christ and then to seek rightness, not a spiritual escape.
These are some of the reasons why I do not believe that Foster’s “Spiritual Disciplines” is an accurate elaboration of Biblical insights. In my reading of it, it is born out of the Platonic influence on a particular political outlook. It describes ways to become independent of the material world, including our bodies, of the use of the mind, to fast from material needs and to become precisely ‘spiritual’ in a way that is not Biblical (though having been advocated in the church in every generation).
I admire the monasteries that brought justice and peace to the land, education, healthcare and economic development to people in regions torn by strife, war, rape, ignorance and poverty. That is far more in line with what God gave in the original mandates to Adam and Eve, to have dominion over the world and themselves , to add to creation knowledge (names of the animals) and love (as a couple equally made in God’s image) and children through sex to make more creatures in the image of God. After the fall the effort included healing what is broken and resisting evil. Never does it advocate the abandonment of the material world, the body or the active testimony as whole people to God in heaven. Adam became a living soul; he was not a body into which God poured a soul, which is now waiting to become independent of the material body.
I seek to give students a way to create a life, not to find a way to escape its frequent difficulties.
More on Haiti: Dawkins Again Falls For Hypocrisy
February 1 , 2010
It is an understandable that someone with little clue about the Biblical view of reality assumes that every claim to speak for God is true to who God is and how He sees things. Little wonder then that Richard Dawkins makes that mistake. He is too gullible when he accepts without discernment what some people, claiming special spiritual insight, propound as a judgment from God when catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti occur. He seems to ignore that the Bible itself speaks of the danger of believing false prophets, lousy priests and spiritual charlatans.
It is also understandable that, faced with such enormous catastrophes and unfair life experiences like the Flood of Noah or the delay in the rescue of Nineveh due to Jonah’s tardy arrival, with the deaths of almost all people during the settling of the Promised Land (and other evidence, that significant choices by one generation bring about unmerited results into the next) Dawkins would be upset with anyone who just explains it all away with God’s judgment over sin.
Yet Dawkins cannot get away so easily. He also admits on some level that something is wrong with it all. He does not just accept it as natural, in the normal course of events, a statistical datum. In fact he has his own, obviously also biased view, when he accuses pastors to have a wrong view about it. He does not merely note it as a view ‘natural to pastors’. He objects against what he, in this case rightly, sees as an error and a deception.
But even nature does not come off without a complaint by Dawkins, who says that a catastrophe occurred as a result of ‘the bumping and grinding’ of two tectonic plates, interfering with human affairs and creating human misery. Dawkins here makes a moral statement, couched in scientific terms of “a force of nature”, obviously un-deliberate and therefore ‘sin-free, unpremeditated, unmotivated, supremely unconcerned’ with what to human beings, including Dawkins, are ‘human affairs and human misery.’
If nature and natural forces were all there was, one could not speak in moral terms. There would be no misery; at all times there would be simply a different appearance of the streets of Port-au-Prince, its dead and alive citizens from what was before. To justify the speech of moral upset one needs a moral framework, a recognition that things do not have to be the way they now are. One needs an explanation for the moral abnormality, when the framework of nature only reports what is natural.
Either Mr. Dawkins with his moral motions of describing a human misery is like a fish out of water, a misfit in a natural world of “just- and always-so”; or in fact he is on to something, when he realizes that there is a misery, calling for action, not just a notice.
That moral framework exists only in a personal universe of more than nature. People are more than nature, as we choose, create, deny or in other forms express our significance and moral judgments – about the misery on Haiti and the misery of flaky theology or corrupt government.
Any of these choices produce result with effects into a continuous future. Real significance, personal sovereignty, does not affect only us. That is why not all who died in the Flood were guilty of what decided God to punish people. In no war do only the guilty lose their life. Every child inherits the genes, the body, the world his or her parents helped to bring about by their choices. I appreciate the Bible’s view that there is no justice under the sun, that we all have more than we deserve and less. What happens on earth is precisely not justice, nor the will of God. We have to wait for that, and the conquest of Christ over death gives us hope that the insanity of a fallen world will one day be terminated.
When we recognize such significance of our actions, the account of the mess Adam and Eve created by their choice to walk away from God across all reality is the one possible explanation for the admission by Mr. Dawkins that there is something wrong that leads to the human and geographic misery. It also contains an idea of rationality and justice, including scientific rationality, from which we take our comparative basis for such a judgment.
Finally, if with our moral motions and laments about misery we are like fish out of water in a mere naturalist world, we should have the honesty of not feeling pity with the people of Haiti or anger with the mistaken pastors and brethren. In any case, such complaints as Mr. Dawkins is eagerly expressing are without significance, if he just has to say things which his ‘nature’ tells him to say.
Why respond as if he mattered? Mr. Dawkins cannot be anything but what his nature made him to be. I for one do not see things that way and can therefore have pity….on him and return his choice of words to him: What hypocrisy, Mr. Dawkins!
• Regarding Scott Roeder and the sentencing for murdur - January 30, 2010
After the sentencing for murder of Scott Roeder a few days ago, Francis Schaeffer’s book and video series Whatever Happened to the Human Race and A Christian Manifesto are cited as encouraging if not justifying such actions as the one now condemned as murder.
Earlier pieces published in The Huffington Post (I only access only when someone points me there. I have always been disappointed!), also suggested such connections.
If you look up relevant passages in A Christian Manifesto (Vol. 5, The Complete Works, pages 483 – 489) you find the following: Francis Schaeffer’s calls for any civil disobedience also frightens him, “because there are so many kooky people around” (488). He writes: “People are always irresponsible in a fallen world. But we live in a special time of irresponsible people, and such people will in their unbalanced way tend to do the very opposite from considering the appropriate means at the appropriate time and place. Anarchy is never appropriate.” On page 489 Schaeffer continues a quote with a reference to the American Declaration of Independence: “Whenever civil government becomes destructive of these rights, it is the right of the people to alter and abolish it and institute new government.” Schaeffer was always very much aware of the burden of unintended consequences and therefore spoke both for some civil and political actions, and tried to restrain other kinds of actions. Schaeffer was well aware of the temptation to “kooky people” to take the law into their own hands. He warned against anarchy, and is therefore not responsible for what this killer and others have done.
There is no call for vigilantism found in Schaeffer’s world, when other means are available.
The defiance towards a false and counterfeit state, which Schaeffer has in mind on page 483, takes the form of hiding Jews in Hitler’s realm. Schaeffer did not seek, did not accept and at all times tried to avoid becoming a front man or a driver of the religious right. While advocating political participation and moral justification, he was always the restrainer of the wild men out there.
He flew to Mr. Falwell to restrain him, not to put fuel into his fire. The same goes for Pat Robinson, Jim Kennedy or the crowd now gathered in Colorado Springs. He did not incite them to what they choose to do. He saw no necessary benefit from a government composed of only or even a majority of Christians; instead he taught and worked for lawful opposition, a changing of people’s minds and the renewal of government by a change of heart, mind and purpose by legitimate means.
The practical problem is that such “kooky people” and many of the non-hunting gun owners in the country do not in fact wish to take the law into their own hands (though that is what they claim). For, if they wanted to so that they would help make the law, follow and use it: before using their guns in their own sovereignty they would require two witnesses, a psychiatric examination of the trespassers to establish the degree of accountability, allow for a cooling-off period before reacting (modeled after the cities of refuge in the Old Testament and the preparation of the prosecution case in our modern procedural law), appoint a defense attorney and consider that the punishment must fit the crime, as well as reckon with a possible appeal process to a higher court. Is that not what we should always keep in mind when we are admonished to love our neighbor as ourselves?
No, the “kooky people” want to make their own law, shoot on sight; they are in fact the anarchists Schaeffer spoke against. They want to have the license to kill, maim and repel without law and proper accountability.
In my childhood, Mother resisted the wickedness of Nazi ideas for all 12 years, always insisted that her children have their own reason for doing things. She was surrounded by too many blind followers, ‘true believers’ as described by longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer. The excuse that someone else had taught or done it was null and void. For, each person is accountable for himself before God and history!
• Haiti - January 30, 2010
I was asked to respond to some of the simplified and in the end erroneous views stated in the media. He is what I wrote.
The assumption that God is behind all things happening, behind the earthquake in Haiti, Katrina’s destruction in New Orleans, and catastrophes as large as the Tsunami or as little as a household accident, is built on the view of a closed system universe.
There is an effect: therefore there must be a cause. True, but who or what is the cause?
If there is a single cause, there is no distinction between good and evil. If there are many possible causes, we do well to discern and oppose the destructive ones.
To blame historic Christianity’s God is not justified in light of Scripture and the person and life of Jesus. The Bible speaks of a world which now gives God grief, where people and nature are not "at peace," and where God interferes precisely because, as the Lord’s Prayer tells us, His will is not yet being done "on earth as it is in heaven." God sent prophets because what people did was in opposition to the will of God, not in concurrence with it.
Likewise, Jesus, who is God in the flesh and the exact image of the Father, does not walk about holding people’s hands in their misfortunes and accompany them through misery. Instead he aggressively opposes sickness, false teaching, vile government, and death itself.
Where other religions and secular philosophies start with the assumption of the normality of things and events, as sad as they are, God describes a sickening abnormality in his creation and acts, speaks, protests, and encourages us to do likewise.
There is no fatalism in Jewish and Christian teaching, though many times it seems to be in the language and explanations believers use to erroneously comfort themselves. There is the sound of false piety from what is in fact a total contradiction to what Jesus taught and did.
The faith and hope that God’s sovereignty is expressed in every event is something for the future.
For the time being, Haiti, Tsunami, Katrina, and your child falling out of a swing are things you should be upset about. We should not settle into acceptance, but rise for energetic and healing intervention to oppose, prevent and diminish each and recurrent tragedies.
For a more thorough development of these ideas you may want to consult my book The Innocence of God.