Saturday, 28 February 2009
Typically a church will have few if any high earners; more will be in the middle-income group. And then there are the pensioners, young singles and newly-married couples, many with more limited incomes such at those working voluntarily or unemployed.
Open not your mouth to speak of other men's infirmities, especially behind their backs, but if to their face not without grief and sorrow.
Of every idle word account must be given, and much more every wicked word, and therefore let your speech be gracious, good and for the sake of others.
Friday, 27 February 2009
No man is owner, but steward of all that he has. You must therefore impart of the blessings you have, to those that are in need, wisely, heartily and in due season.
Note your own special corruptions whether they grow stronger or weaker, and you yourself can resist them: and if any assault you more strongly, pray and make the matter known to God: the best way for a woman solicited to folly, to be rid of the Tempter is to tell her husband.
Thursday, 26 February 2009
The Usual Fears:
- fears for your safety and the safety of those you love
- fears about how you will die; a progressively debilitating disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, being alone, sudden, penniless, in pain....
- fears about what happens after death: being forgotten, being maligned, being judged, being extinct
- fears about living with a meaningless life
- fears about being unloved or alone
- fears about being in love and the high probability of being hurt
- fears of what you might lose: your figure, boyfriend, girlfriend, hair, youth, mind, money, job, spouse, health, hobbies, purpose, faith.
I am looking forward to reading it. It will be more use than this I expect:
We are more feeling-driven than we think.
But in depression you don't feel. (Or, whatever you do feel isn't going to motivate you to do anything profitable. It's more likely that you feel like dying, crying, running, disappearing, avoiding). How can feeling-driven people set goals, have purpose, or get motivated when they don't feel?
Initially, you will have to learn another way to live. You will have to be like the woman whose muscles still worked but they stopped giving her information about her limbs. She wasn't paralyzed, but if she closed her eyes she couldn't tell if she was standing, reaching, or resting. Gradually, by looking in mirrors and seeing her body rather than feeling it, she began to walk again. After much practice, walking began to feel natural again.
In depression, the new way of living is to believe and act on what God says rather than feel what God says. It is living by faith.
Mark other mens profiting in religion, to provoke yourself, their slips, to make yourself more wary, their risings, to be thankful to God for them.
Meditate often upon the four last things: 1. Death 2. Judgement 3. Heaven 4. Hell
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
What is a child?
As Christian parents we need to ask some questions:
1. Knowing Our Children
2. The Biblical Necessity for Correction
3. The Biblical Motives for Correction
4. God's Authority in Discipline
5. The Place of Prayer
6. Love and the Rod
7. The Rod and Reproof
8. Discipline by Measure
9. Correction Within Reason
10. Pesevering Consistency
11. Partners in Management
12. Children in the Congregation
13. An Honest Confession
What does this look like? I have no idea. Yet. And so I take 2 Timothy 3:16 to set my course.
'The affections are no other, than the more vigorous and sensible exercise of the inclination and will of the soul.'
God has endued the soul with two principal faculties: The one, that by which it is capable of perception and speculation, or by which it discerns and judges of things; which is called the understanding. The other, that by which the soul is some way incline with respect to the things it views or considers: or it is the faculty by which the soul beholds things -not as an indifferent unaffected spectator, but - either as liking or disliking, pleased or displeased, approving or rejecting. This faculty is called by various names: it is sometimes called the inclination; and, as it respects the actions determined and governed by it, the will: and the mind, with regard to the exercises of this faculty, is often called the heart. (p237)
The doctrine or proposition raised from these words is: TRUE RELIGION, IN GREAT PART, CONSISTS IN HOLY AFFECTIONS.
We see that the apostle, in remarking the operations and exercises of religion in these Christians, when it had its greatest trial by persecution, as gold is tried in the fire - and when it not only proved true, but was most pure from dross and mixtures - and when it appeared in them most in its genuine excellency and native beauty, and was found to praise, and honour , and glory - he singles out the religious affections of love and joy, as those exercises, wherein their religion did thus appear true, pure and glorious. (p236-7)
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
The Normans seemed to possess a positive passion for architecture (both military and ecclesiastical) so in due course lots of castles were built. 12 in Staffordshire alone.
But some of the Saxon positions were not re-fortified after they had fallen into decay, or had suffered demolition in the stormy years of resistance to the Norman invaders. So Wednesbury Castle passed away, while the Saxon fortifications of Dudo, on the dominating eminence of Dudley hill, grew into one of those repressive strongholds.
http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/GBH_match_page.jsp?ons=Sandwell So I immediately went to the statistics on religion to see how things have changed over time and discovered this:
...only two censuses have ever gathered information on religion in England and Wales, and they were 150 years apart!This website simplifies the original data (which counted 35 different religious groups in England and Wales!), with the result of a large 'other' category.
The 1851 Census of Religion was a separate census carried out at the same time as the main Census of Population. It assumed that everyone was Christian, and tried to find out what kind of Christians were most important in each district. It did this by counting how many people attended each church on the census Sunday.
In 2001, a question about religion was included among the questions in the main census for the first time ever. Except in Scotland, where there is separate information on the Church of Scotland, Catholics and 'Other Christian', the results lump all Christians together but also gathered information on Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. People were allowed to write in other religions not included on the census form.Yet in 2001 many people still described themselves as Christian, over 70% nationally, as compared to 16% claiming 'none'.
In Sandwell, in 2001:
The same is true of most individual areas: you have to look hard for the areas where under 50% of the population claim to be Christian, and they are mainly in the large cities. The two lowest percentages are for Tower Hamlets in London (39%) and Leicester (45%), and these figures are explained by concentrations of Muslims and Hindus. The most Christian district in Britain, according to these census figures, was St. Helens in Lancashire (87%).
- just under 70% (68 or 69%) described themselves as Christian
- 4.5% described themselves as Muslim
In 'Sandwell' in 1851:
- around 35% attended CofE [nationally it was around 50%]
- about 7% were Baptists [nationally around 8 or 9%]
- about 23% were Wesleyan Methodists [nationally it was around 15%]
- there are no records of Calvinistic Methodists [nationally around 2.5%]
- approx. 2 or 3% were Catholic [nationally 3 or 4%]
'...Tipton in full was formerly Tibbington, that is, the ton, town, or settlement of the tribe or clan, or descendants of the Saxon leader and warrior, Tib.'
'After this settlement of a Saxon community in the sixth century we have no record of Tipton till we come to Norman times, when the Conqueror ordered the great Domesday Survey of 1085-6.'
The verbs for 'loving' and 'bring up' in Ephesians 5:25 & 6:4 are active verbs. They don't happen by themselves. And Christ loved the church by taking the initiative.
-> Don't wait until the problem gets so bad that your wife comes frazzled and in tears ... forcing you to act.
-> have regular (daily?) discussions AT YOUR INITIATIVE to discuss your children and how your wife is doing. [NB there is a dynamic at work here (often). Dad- at work ... done all his talking for the day and is tired when gets home...retreat to cave is his prefered course of action. Mum, not much if any adult conversation all day, tired, needs to talk with Dad about all kinds of things. May not seem like significant things to the Dad. ... so what do about this? Dad - anticipate it and deal with it]. If you do this, then rather than having to make decisions under pressure of a crisis you are able to plan, deliberate, seek advice, wait, monitor, pray, read etc. before having to act.
-> take regular time once a week with your wife (a walk or coffee out ... doesn't need to cost money ... apart from for babysitter). You initiate this.
NB a good idea with the kids too. So rather than the kids badgering you for attention you are seeking their attention proactively ... go out for a walk, go to the library, go swimming. Not because you have to, but because you want to. Initiate irregular fun too (e.g. pyjama rides to MacD's after they have got ready for bed!). Initiate reading together as a family.
2. You need to respect & honour your wife's weaknesses (1 Peter 3:7)
This is hard for blokes who are inbuilt and trained to hone in on weakness and exploit it.
e.g. often with discipline the kids will respect Dad more than Mum, though she may be a just and persistent and loving disciplinarian. Don't resent this. Don't mock it. Don't point it out in any kind of put down way. For a start it is your problem - because the home will not be a peaceful and happy place if the kids are all over the shop, playing up to Mum. Take responsibility on yourself to see that the kids get it clear that when Mum says something, Dad is saying something! Back up Mum's decisions with the kids (even if you don't agree - you need to discuss that later and in private) and be willing to back her up physically too.
3. You need to honour & utilize your wife's strengths
The Lord has put you two together in covenant for a purpose (Malachi 2:13-16; cf. Gen 1:17-18). Your wife is your helper, fit for you. Sometimes you don't get the situation and your wife does, sometimes you are too harsh and need tempering (sure, sometimes she may be too soft, especially with boys... but not always. Boys do hurt and do need comfort - as well as to be told to be a brave boy and get on with it), sometimes she can do and say and communicate things that you cannot. Accept that, delight in it, don't be threatened by it but encourage her and incorporate it in your leadership of the home.
4. You lead by serving (Mark 9:35)
As Dad you are both Master and Servant. Godly authority is exercised as a servant. Pouring yourself out for you wife and kids. So get used to being tired and all the hard work. That is the deal! And of course God is gracious to give us strength as we need for what he requires.
Monday, 23 February 2009
Warwickshire’s Ambrose will be behind the stumps at the Kensington Oval after first-choice gloveman Prior dashed back home following the birth of his first child.
“At my age and at my stage of my career I think there is some unfinished business with England and I’d like to try and push on with that.”
extract from article on the ECB website.
We must not dismiss such passages as pertaining only to a simple agrarian culture. If life in the latter half of the twentieth century is more complex, it does not follow that we have less need for instruction in the law of God! If God wanted children then to think about everything in the light of His Word, then this practice is certainly necessary now. In a more complex society there is more to think about.
So teaching needs to happen all the time - walking, sitting, driving etc. God wants the children of his people soaked in His instruction, in an environment conditioned by his word.
What can this look like? Well, to begin with here are some ideas:
-hours of bible tapes/CD's as drive or go to sleep
-singing hymns as drive, walk, go to sleep
-conversation at table about all of life in light of God
-DW taught his children words for things by getting them to say the word ('tree') and then answering the question 'and who made (trees)?'
-family times reading / applying and praying in the Scriptures
Parents who want their children to be equipped to face the world that will exist twenty years from now will need to give this kind of comprehensive instruction in God's words.
Natural selection and trial-and-error have given us the vague yet grand conception of human rights and some but not yet all of the means of making these rights coherent and consistent. There is simply no need for the introduction of the extraneous or the supernatural.
If I have to call such people "evil" (and I find I have no alternative), I do not deduce peaceful coexistence from that observation and do not want you being tender to them when it is my or my family's life that is at stake.
You believe that I owe this inner prompting to the divine, and you further assert that a heavenly intervention made in the last two thousand years of human history (a microsecond of evolutionary time) is the seal on the deal. You will have to excuse me when I say that I think such a belief is, as well as incredible, immoral. It makes right action dependent on a highly improbable wager on the supernatural. To state the case in another way, it suggests that without celestial sanction, you yourself would be unrestrained in your appetites and careless of other people. Awful though many of your opinions are to me, I decline to believe that you would, if you lost your faith, become base and self-centered. It is, rather, religion that has made many morally normal people assent to appalling cruelties, including the mutilation of children's genitalia, the institution of slavery, the revulsion from female sexuality, and many other crimes from which an average infidel would, without any heavenly prompting, turn away.
Ask yourself this question. Can you name one moral action, or moral utterance, performed or spoken by a believer that could not have been performed or spoken by an atheist? My email is available to any reader who is willing to accept this challenge.
I was perfectly happy with the "revelation" of my own kinship with other species and quite overwhelmed by the skill and precision of those who allowed me to do it. A lot of wit and beauty and intelligence had to go into the confirmation of my status as an evolved animal, just as a great deal of dullness and stupidity is required for the continuing denial of it.
And so CW concludes asking DW to not resist evidence that may at first sight appear unwelcome or unsettling and to refuse conclusions for which there is no evidence at all.
From: Douglas Wilson To: Christopher Hitchens
DW agrees that we ought not to "resist evidence that may at first sight appear unwelcome or unsettling." But goes on to say:
...this is not really a deep agreement, for we immediately go on to differ over which one of us is failing to honor this quite obvious principle. I have shown that you refuse to consider evidence for the fact that your assumption of what the universe actually is does not allow for valid descriptions of that universe to arise from within it. If one were to spill milk accidentally on the kitchen floor, and someone else came in and wanted to know what had happened, the one thing we can be sure of is that such an inquiring mind wouldn't ask the milk. The milk wouldn't know. It's the accident.
On the matter of the evolved morality that CH advocates DW states what seems to be the obvious point about the future and morality:
If our morality evolved, then that means our morality changes. If evolution isn't done yet (and why should it be?), then that means our morality is involved in this on-going flux as well. And that means that everything we consider to be "moral" is really up for grabs. Our "vague yet grand conception of human rights" might flat disappear just like our gills did. Our current "morals" are therefore just a way station on the road. No sense getting really attached to them, right? When I am traveling, I don't get attached to motel rooms. I don't weep when I have to part from them. So, in the future, after every ferocious moral denunciation you choose to offer your reading public, you really need to add something like, "But this is just a provisional judgment. Our perspective may evolve to an entirely different one some years hence," or "Provisional opinions only. Morality changes over time"—POOMCOT for short.But of course this works backwards too.
When dealing with people whose moral judgments have differed from yours, do you regard them as "immoral" or as "less evolved?" The rhetoric of your book, your tone in these exchanges, and your recent dancing on the grave of the late Jerry Falwell would all seem to indicate the former. In your choice of words, the people you denounce are to be blamed. ......But this is truly an odd thing to do if "morality" is a simple derivative of evolution. Are you filled with fierce indignation that the koala bear hasn't evolved ears that stick flat to the side of his head like they are supposed to? Are you wroth over the fact that clams don't have legs yet? When you notice that the bears at the zoo continue to suck on their paws, do you stop to remonstrate with them?
So that leaves us with accepting what there is as the current 'morality'. But here is a problem, becuase morality as Christians understand it, and really as CH understands it, concerns the 'ought'. And David Hume has shown that we cannot successfully derive ought from is. So DW asks CH:
Have you discovered the error in his reasoning? It is clear from how you defend your ideas of "morality" that you have not done so. You are a gifted writer, and you have a flair for polemical voltage. But strip it all away, and what do you have underneath? You believe yourself to live in a universe where there is no such thing as any fixed ought or ought not. But God has gifted you with a remarkable ability to denounce what ought not to be. And so, because you reject him, you have great sermons but no way of ever coming up with a text. When people start to notice the absence of texts, the absence of warrant, the absence of reasons, you adjust and compensate with rhetorical embellishment and empurpled prose. You are like the minister in the story who wrote in the margin of his notes, "Argument weak. Shout here."
CW's invitation to "name one moral action … that could not have been performed or spoken by an atheist" is not the point DW is making. He is saying less and more. He is saying that atheists who perform such 'good' deeds, will be unable to give an account of why one deed should be seen as good and another as evil. And CW has ably demonstrated the truth of this! DW points this out with regard to one of CW's points:
You say you have no alternative but to call sociopaths and sychopaths "evil." But you surely do have an alternative. Why not just call them "different"?
A fixed standard, grounded in the character of God, allows us to define evil, but this brings with it the possibility of forgiveness. You reject forgiveness, but at the end of the day this means that you don't believe there is anything that needs forgiveness. This means you have destroyed the idea of evil, regardless of what you might "call" behaviors that happen to be inconvenient for you.DW then ends with a lovely exhortation to CH to return to the terms of his baptism, to faith in Christ, and to gospel. He does this, in my view, very beautifully. I expect CW would see it differently.
This debate was originally hosted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/mayweb-only/120-53.0.html
Jesus was not just one more character in history, however important—rather, he was and is the founder of a new history, a new humanity, a new way of being human. He was the last and true Adam. But before this new humanity in Christ could be established and begin its task of filling the earth, the old way of being human had to die. Before the meek could inherit the earth, the proud had to be evicted and sent away empty. That is the meaning of the Cross, the whole point of it. The Cross is God's merciful provision that executes autonomous pride and exalts humility. The first Adam received the fruit of death and disobedience from Eve in a garden of life; the true Adam bestowed the fruit of his life and resurrection on Mary Magdalene in a garden of death, a cemetery. The first Adam was put into the death of deep sleep and his wife was taken from his side; the true Adam died on the cross, a spear was thrust into his side, and his bride came forth in blood and water. The first Adam disobeyed at a tree; the true Adam obeyed on a tree. And everything is necessarily different.Christ told His followers to tell everybody about this—about how the world is being moved from the old humanity to the new way of being human. Not only has the world been born again, so must we be born again. The Lord told us specifically to preach this Good News to every creature. He has established his great but welcoming household, and there is room enough for you. Nothing you have ever said or done will be held against you. Everything will be washed and forgiven. There is simple food—bread and wine—on the table. The door is open, and we'll leave the light on for you.
Saturday, 21 February 2009
Thursday, 19 February 2009
Focussed on Mark 8:29 today - 'Who do you say I am?' - so we enjoyed singing 'He must be God', 'Who do you say I am' and 'Jesus is the King'. We rejoiced that God gives sight to the physically blind and understanding/belief to the spiritually dense! This means that even we can know Jesus is God's forever King.
And we also had some more great Jester Minute jokes:
Q: What do you call a princess dressed in purple who is crying out for help?
A: A damson in distress!
Q: When is a piece of wood like a King?
A: When it's a ruler
Q: How does a frog feel when he has a broken leg?
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
And the second highlight were two classy Jester jokes I got to tell(!?):
Q: What do you call a mosquito in a tin suit?
A: A bite in shining armour.
Q:Why were the early days of history called the dark ages ?
A: Because there were so many knights !
CH thinks that mankind's "innate" predisposition to both good and wicked behavior is exactly what one would expect to find of a recently-evolved species that is (as we now know from the study of DNA) half a chromosome away from chimpanzees. Which incidentally CH believes to be a great thing and no denigration of man:
Primate and elephant and even pig societies show considerable evidence of care for others, parent-child bonding, solidarity in the face of danger, and so on.CH observes that:
As Darwin put it:Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed, or nearly as well-developed, as in man.
'animal and human "altruism" is contradicted by the way in which species are also designed to fight with, kill, dominate, and even consume each other. Humans are capable of even greater cruelty because only they have the imagination to inflict it. I do not think that this indicts the Creator who made them this way, because I long ago dispensed with the assumption that there is any such entity. Thus, it is you and not I who are left with the questions about God's coexistence with evil. See where your talent for needless complexity has left you.
The fluctuations between social and anti-social conduct are fairly consistent across time and space: some societies have licensed cannibalism but they tend to die out, and others have licensed human sacrifice and infanticide (usually under the influence of some priesthood).'
CH objects to DW's previous 'round':
...telling us that we are created sick and then ordered to be well is no help in clarifying this problem. And telling us that the solution to it only became available some two thousand years ago, according to some highly discrepant and self-contradictory accounts, cannot strike me as anything but absurd. What on earth is proven—except your own vulnerability to making tautologous statements—by the claim that "Jesus Christ is good for the world because he came as the life of the world"? You cannot possibly "know" this. Nor can you present any evidence for it. And its corollary—that without Jesus we are abandoned to wickedness in all its forms—has the horrible implication that worthy actions are pointless unless accompanied by your own rather ill-grounded faith. As I say, believe it if it helps you. But do not insult the millions of people who have done the right thing without
requiring any such supernatural authority. And do not tell me that I must be in love with death if I dissent from your view. That's too much. Your Christianity, in case you have not noticed, has actually made you a less compassionate and thoughtful person than, without its exorbitant presumptions, you would otherwise be.
I have been asking you to provide a warrant for morality, given atheism, and you have mostly responded with assertions that atheists can make what some people call moral choices. Well, sure. But what I have been after is what rational warrant they can give for calling one choice "moral" and another choice "not moral."
But we are still stuck. What I want to know (still) is what warrant you have for calling some behaviors "good" and others "wicked." If both are innate, what distinguishes them? What could be wrong with just flipping a coin? With regard
to your retort that my "talent for needless complexity" has simply gotten me God's coexistence with evil," I reply that I would rather have my God and the problem of evil than your no God and "Evil? No problem!"
If you were to take a bottle of Mountain Dew and another of Dr. Pepper, shake them vigorously, and put them on a table, it would not occur to anyone to ask which one is "winning the debate." They aren't debating; they are just fizzing. You refer to "language in which to write this argument," and you do so as though you believed in a universe where argument was a meaningful concept. Argument? Argument? I have no need for your "argument hypothesis." Just matter in motion, man.
You dismiss the idea that the death of Jesus—the "torture and death of a single individual in a backward part of the Middle East" — could possibly be the solution to the sorrows of our brutish existence. When I said that Jesus is good for the world because he is the life of the world, you just tossed this away. You said, "You cannot possibly 'know' this. Nor can you present any evidence for it."
Actually, I believe I can present evidence for what I know. But evidence comes to us like food, and that is why we say grace over it. And we are supposed to eat it, not push it around on the plate—and if we don't give thanks, it never tastes right. But here is some evidence for you, in no particular order. The engineering that went into ankles. The taste of beer. That Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, just like he said. A woman's neck. Bees fooling around in the flower bed. The ability of acorns to manufacture enormous oaks out of stuff they find in the air and dirt. Forgiveness of sin. Storms out of the North, the kind with lightning. Joyous laughter (diaphragm spasms to the atheistic materialist). The ocean at night with a full moon. Delta blues. The peacock that lives in my yard. Sunrise, in color. Baptizing babies. The pleasure of sneezing. Eye contact. Having your feet removed from the miry clay, and established forever on the rock. You may say none of this tastes right to you. But suppose you were to bow your head and say grace over all of it. Try it that way.
You say that you cannot believe that Christ's death on the Cross was salvation for the world because the idea is absurd. I have shown in various ways that absurdity has not been a disqualifier for any number of your current beliefs. You praise reason to the heights, yet will not give reasons for your strident and inflexible moral judgments, or why you have arbitrarily dubbed certain chemical processes "rational argument." That's absurd right now, and yet there you are, holding it. So for you to refuse to accept Christ because it is absurd is like a man at one end of the pool refusing to move to the other end because he might get wet. Given your premises, you will have to come up with a different reason for rejecting Christ as you do. But for you to make this move would reveal the two fundamental tenets of true atheism. One: There is no God. Two: I hate Him.
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
CH still finds that basic ethics 'pre-dates' Christianity: whether in Good Samaritan or Sinai.
The Golden Rule is to be found in the Analects of Confucius and in the motto of the Babylonian Rabbi Hillel, who long predate the Christian era and who sanely state that one should not do to others anything that would be repulsive if done to oneself. (Even this strikes me as either contradictory or tautologous, since surely we agree that sociopaths and psychopaths actually deserve to be treated in ways that would be objectionable to a morally normal person.)
CH repeats that ordinary morality is innate. And he turns on DW's list regarding murder:
Genocide is not condemned by the Old Testament and neither (as you well know and have elsewhere conceded) is slavery. Rather, these two horrors are often positively recommended by holy writ. Abortion is denounced in the Oath of Hippocrates, which long predates Christianity. As for capital punishment and unjust war, the secular and the religious are alike at odds on the very definitions that underpin any condemnation. (When you include "stem-cell research," by the way, I assume that you unintentionally omitted the word "embryonic.")
CH believes DW's questions to be needlessly convoluted. Atheists are not "coy" on the question of evil or on the possibility of non-supernatural derivation of ethics; moreover atheism provides a seperior basis for moral conduct that does not rely on some myth of eternal carrot and stick:
We are simply reluctant to say that, if religious faith falls—as we believe it must and to some extent already has—then the undergirding of decency falls also. And we do not fail to notice that a corollary is in play: The manner in which religion makes people behave worse than they might otherwise have done.There is no need for revelation to enforce morality, and the idea that good conduct needs a heavenly reward, or that bad conduct merits a hellish punishment, is a degradation of our right and duty to choose for ourselves.
Take a look at today's paper if you do not believe me: See what the parties of God are doing in Iraq. Or notice the sordid yet pious tradesmanship of Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff, and the late Jerry Falwell. The latter's bedside is the one at which you should be asking your question—do you dare to say that a follower of Albert Einstein or Bertrand Russell would be gloating in the same way at their last hour? In either case—an atheist boaster and braggart or a hypocritical religious one—I trust that both of us would know enough to be quite "judgmental." I would differ from you only in not requiring any supernatural sanction or in claiming to be smug enough to possess such a power.
From: Douglas Wilson To: Christopher Hitchens
DW wants CH to see that he is arguing that any 'good' person needs to be able, at a minimum, to define what goodness is and tell us what the basis for it is. And merely saying "ordinary morality is innate"—does not even begin to meet the standard.
DW suggests three problems exist for CH here.
a) Innate is not a synonym for authoritative.
Why does anyone have to obey any particular prompting from within? And which internal prompting is in charge of sorting out all the other competing promptings? Why?b)All the 'innate and conflicting moralities found within the billions of humans alive today' then has to be sorted out and systematized.
Why do you get to do it and then come around and tell us how we must behave? Who died and left you king?c)If this innate morality of ours is found in a creature (mankind) that is a distant blood cousin of various bacteria, aquatic mammals, and colorful birds in the jungle, then CH's entire worldview has evolution as a key foundation stone. But evolution means nothing if not change.
You believe that virtually every species has morphed out of another one. And when we change, as we must, all our innate morality changes with us, right? We have distant cousins where the mothers ate their young. Was that innate for them? Did they evolve out of it because it was evil for them to be doing that?How does all this relate to the assigned topic of debate?
We are asking if Christianity is good for the world. As a Christian discussing this with an atheist, I have sought to show in the first place that atheism has nothing whatever to say about this topic—one way or the other. If Christianity is bad for the world, atheists can't consistently point this out, having no fixed way of defining "bad." If Christianity is good for the world, atheists should not be asked about it either because they have no way of defining "good." Think of it as spiking your guns—so that I can talk about Jesus. And I want to do that because he is good for the world.
How is Jesus Christ good for the world? Because he came as the life of the world.
You point out, rightly, that loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is impossible for us, completely out of our reach. But you take this inability as a state of nature (which the commandment offends), while the Christian takes it as a state of death (which life offers to transform). Our complete inability to do what is right does not erase our obligation to do what is right. This is why the Bible describes the unbeliever as a slave to sin or one who is in a state of death. The point of each illustration is the utter and complete inability to do right. We were dead in our transgressions and sins, the apostle Paul tells us. So the death and resurrection of Christ are not presented by the gospel as medicine for everyone in the hospital, but rather as resurrection life in a cemetery.
The way of the world is to abide in an ongoing state of death—when it comes to selfishness, grasping, treachery, lust, hypocrisy, pride, and insolence, we consistently run a surplus. But in the death of Jesus that way of death was gloriously put to death. This is why Jesus said that when he was lifted up on the cross, he would draw all men to himself. In the kindness of God, the Cross is an object of inexorable fascination to us. When men and women look to him in his death, they come to life in his resurrection. And that is good for the world.
Monday, 16 February 2009
Sunday, 15 February 2009
CH believes ethical imperatives derive from innate human solidarity and not from the supernatural. Folk pre-Sinai and pre-Christ knew what was right and wrong on the biggies (murder, theft, perjury etc.). He thinks it is belief in the supernatural that can make otherwise decent people do things that they would otherwise shrink from (mutilating the genitals of children, frightening infants with talk of hellfire, forbidding normal sexual practices, blaming all Jews for "deicide," applauding suicide-murderers, and treating women as Paul or Muhammad thought they should be treated).
CH is not saying that all athiests are wonderfully moral and thinks that an atheist can as easily be a nihilist, a sadist—even a casuist.
From: Douglas Wilson To: Christopher Hitchens
I am quite prepared to cheerfully grant (and not for the sake of the argument) that you are my intellectual superior. But our discussion is not about who has more horsepower under his intellectual hood—the point of discussion is whether your superior car is on the right road. A fast car can be a real detriment on a dark night when the bridge is out. And you insist on continuing to wear the sunglasses of atheism.
But that is not the point. We are not talking about whether your atheism compels you to run downtown this evening to shoot out the street lights. I grant that it does not. And we are not talking about whether atheists can do vile things. You grant that they can. We are talking about (or, more accurately, I am trying to talk about) whether or not atheism provides any rational basis for rational condemnation when others decide to misbehave this way. You keep saying, "I have come to my ethical position." I keep asking, "Yes, quite. But why did you do so?"
Take the vilest atheist you ever heard of. Imagine yourself sitting at his bedside shortly before he passes away. He says, following Sinatra, "I did it my way." And then he adds, chuckling, "Got away with it too." In our thought experiment, the one rule is that you must say something to him, and whatever you say, it must flow directly from your shared atheism—and it must challenge the morality of his choices. What can you possibly say? He did get away with it. There is a great deal of injustice behind him, which he perpetrated, and no justice in front of him. You have no basis for saying anything to him other than to point to your own set of personal prejudices and preferences. You mention this to him, and he shrugs. "Tomayto, tomahto."
I am certainly willing to take the same thought experiment. I can imagine some pretty vile Christians, and if I couldn't, I am sure you could help me. The difference between us is that I have a basis for condemning evil in its Christian guise. You have no basis for confronting evil in its atheist guise, or in its Christian guise, either. When you say that a certain practice is evil, you have to be prepared to tell us why it is evil.
To CH's statement that ethical imperatives are "derived from innate human solidarity." DW asks a load of (difficult) questions that need answering for CH to have provided a rational for his saying that one thing (Christianity) is evil and another is good:
- Derived by whom?
- Is this derivation authoritative?
- Do the rest of us ever get to vote on which derivations represent true, innate human solidarity?
- Do we ever get to vote on the authorized derivers?
- On what basis is innate human solidarity authoritative?
- If someone rejects innate human solidarity, are they being evil, or are they just a mutation in the inevitable changes that the evolutionary process requires?
- What is the precise nature of human solidarity?
- What is easier to read, the book of Romans or innate human solidarity?
- Are there different denominations that read the book of innate human solidarity differently?
- Which one is right?
- Who says?
- And last, does innate human solidarity believe in God?
Saturday, 14 February 2009
DW's acknowledgement that—with regard to public civic life—atheists can behave in a moral manner was not to say that morality has nothing to do with the supernatural, as CH represented, but rather that morality has nothing to do with the supernatural if you want to be an inconsistent atheist.
The Christian faith certainly condemns hypocrisy as such, but because there is a fixed standard, this makes it possible for sinners to fail to meet it or for flaming hypocrites to pretend that they are meeting it when they have no intention of doing so.
When another atheist makes different ethical choices than you do (as Stalin and Mao certainly did), is there an overarching common standard for all atheists that you are obeying and which they are not obeying? If so, what is that standard and what book did it come from? Why is it binding on them if they differ with you? And if there is not a common objective standard which binds all atheists, then would it not appear that the supernatural is necessary in order to have a standard of morality that can be reasonably articulated and defended?
'Given atheism, objective morality follows … how?'
DW concludes this round with a punchy:
The Christian faith is good for the world because it provides the fixed standard which atheism cannot provide and because it provides forgiveness for sins, which atheism cannot provide either. We need the direction of the standard because we are confused sinners. We need the forgiveness because we are guilty sinners. Atheism not only keeps the guilt, but it also keeps the confusion.
Though here I love him but little, may this be my portion at last; in this world you have given me a start, may that one day be perfected in the realm above.
adapted from a prayer on p40 of The Valley of Vision
Friday, 13 February 2009
A: The Scriptures manifest that the Son and the Holy Ghost are God equal with the Father, ascribing unto them such names, attributes, works, and worship, as are proper to God only.
Q12: What are the decrees of God?
A: God's decrees are the wise, free, and holy acts of the counsel of his will, whereby, from all eternity, he has, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained: Whatsoever comes to pass in time, especially concerning angels and men.
Q13: What has God especially decreed concerning angels and men?
A: God, by an eternal and immutable decree, out of his mere love, for the praise of his glorious grace, to be manifested in due time, has elected some angels to glory; and in Christ has chosen some men to eternal life, and the means thereof: and also, according to his sovereign power, and the unsearchable counsel of his own will (whereby he extends or withholds favor as he pleases), has passed by and foreordained the rest to dishonor and wrath, to be for their sin inflicted, to the praise of the glory of his justice.
Q14: How does God execute his decrees?
A: God executes his decrees in the works of creation and providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will.
Q15: What is the work of creation?
A: The work of creation is that wherein God did in the beginning, by the word of his power, make of nothing the world, and all things therein, for himself, within the space of six days, and all very good.
Q16: How did God create angels?
A: God created all the angels spirits, immortal, holy, excelling in knowledge, mighty in power, to execute his commandments, and to praise his name, yet subject to change.
Q17: How did God create man?
A: After God had made all other creatures, he created man male and female; formed the body of the man of the dust of the ground, and the woman of the rib of the man, endued them with living, reasonable, and immortal souls; made them after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness,and holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and dominion over the creatures; yet subject to fall.
Q18: What are God's works of providence?
A: God's works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures; ordering them, and all their actions, to his own glory.
Q19: What is God's providence towards the angels?
A: God by his providence permitted some of the angels, wilfully and irrecoverably, to fall into sin and damnation, limiting and ordering that, and all their sins, to his own glory; and established the rest in holiness and happiness; employing them all, at his pleasure, in the administrations of his power, mercy, and justice.
Q20: What was the providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created?
A: The providence of God toward man in the estate in which he was created, was the placing him in paradise, appointing him to dress it, giving him liberty to eat of the fruit of the earth; putting the creatures under his dominion, and ordaining marriage for his help; affording him communion with himself; instituting the sabbath; entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.
CH argues, as in his book, that religious belief is purely optional and cannot be mandated by anything revealed or anything divine. In other words, it is one among an infinite number of private "faiths," which do not disturb him in the least as long as its adherents agree to leave him alone.
CH asserts that the cause behind the universe should make no difference to morality:
Since Wilson does not even attempt to persuade me that Christ died for my sins (and can yet vicariously forgive them) or that I am the object of a divine design or that any of the events described in the two Testaments actually occurred or that extreme penalties will attend any disagreement with his view, I am happy to leave our disagreement exactly where it is: as one of the decreasingly interesting disputes between those who cling so tentatively to man-made "Holy Writ" and those who have no need to consult such texts in pursuit of truth or beauty or an ethical life.
The existence or otherwise of an indifferent cosmos (the overwhelmingly probable state of the case) would no more reduce our mutual human obligations than would the quite weird theory of a celestial dictatorship,whether Aztec or Muslim or (as you seem to insist) Christian.
Except of course CH believes that atheism gives a morality based in our obligations toward others from mutual interest and sympathy rather than through fear of terrifying punishment or selfish reward. No prizes for guessing that CH does therefore think that atheism gives a superior moral framework.
Thursday, 12 February 2009
CH wants to have it both ways. His first point is that morality is self evident to everybody through history (not unique to Christianity ... so all that 'love your neighbour' stuff shouldn't be trumpeted around) and yet his second point is that the teachings of Christianity are "incredibly immoral."
'So my first question is: Which way do you want to argue this? Do all human societies have a grasp of basic morality, which is the theme of your first point, or has religion poisoned everything, which is the thesis of your book?'
'There have been ethical advances that are due to the propagation of the faith, but that is not where the action is. Christians believe—as C. S. Lewis argued in The Abolition of Man—that nonbelievers do understand the basics of morality. Paul the apostle refers to the Gentiles, who did not have the law but who nevertheless knew by nature some of the tenets of the law (Rom. 2:14).'
'But the world is not made better because people can understand the ways in which they are being bad. It has to be made better by Good News—we must receive the gift of forgiveness and the resultant ability to live more in conformity to a standard we already knew (but were necessarily failing to meet).'
'why should this "damnation by history" matter to any of us reading Bible stories to kids, or, for that matter, to any of the people who did any of these atrocious things, on your principles? These people are all dead now, and we who read the stories are all going to be dead. Why should any of us care about the effeminate judgments of history? Should the propagators of these "horrors" have cared? There is no God, right? Because there is no God, this means that—you know—genocides just happen, like earthquakes and eclipses. It is all matter in motion, and these things happen.'
'If you are on the receiving end, there is only death, and if you are an agent delivering this genocide, the long-term result is brief victory and death at the end. So who cares?'
'Picture an Israelite during the conquest of Canaan, doing every bad thing that you say was occurring back then. During one of his outrages, sword above his head, should he have stopped for a moment to reflect on the possibility that you might be right? "You know, in about three and a half millennia, the consensus among historians will be that I am being bad right now. But if there is no God, this disapproval will certainly not disturb my oblivion. On with the rapine and slaughter!" On your principles, why should he care?'
'If a professor takes credit for the student who mastered the material, aced his finals, and went on to a career that was a benefit to himself and the university he graduated from, the professor must (fairness dictates) be upbraided for the dope-smoking slacker that he kicked out of class in the second week. They were both formally enrolled, is that not correct? They were both students, were they not?
What you are doing is saying that Christianity must be judged not only on the basis of those who believe the gospel in truth and live accordingly but also on the basis of those baptized Christians who cannot listen to the Sermon on the Mount without a horse laugh and a life to match. You are saying that those who excel in the course and those who flunk out of it are all the same. This seems to me to be a curious way of proceeding.'
'Given your atheism, what account are you able to give that would require us to respect the individual? How does this individualism of yours flow from the premises of atheism? Why should anyone in the outside world respect the details of your thought life any more than they respect the internal churnings of any other given chemical reaction? That's all our thoughts are, isn't that right? Or, if there is a distinction, could you show how the premises of your atheism might produce such a distinction?'
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
Christopher Hitchens (CH) says 'No'
1) Christianity is often credited (or credits itself) with spreading moral precepts such as "Love thy neighbor", but do these derive from Christianity?
e.g. 'I cannot believe that the followers of Moses had been indifferent to murder and theft and perjury until they arrived at Sinai' and 'the "Golden Rule" is much older than any monotheism, and that no human society would have been possible or even thinkable without elementary solidarity (which also allows for self-interest) between its members.'
2) Many of the teachings of Christianity are, as well as being incredible and mythical, immoral.
What in particular?:
'vicarious redemption: whereby one's own responsibilities can be flung onto a scapegoat and thereby taken away. In my book, I argue that I can pay your debt or even take your place in prison but I cannot absolve you of whatyou actually did.'
Not even the Old Testament, which speaks hotly in recommending genocide, slavery, genital mutilation, and other horrors, stoops to mention the torture of the dead. Those who tell this evil story to small children are not damned by me, but have been damned by history and should also be condemned by those who shrink
from cruelty to children (a moral essential that underlies all cultures).
3) Christianity must in all honesty accept responsibility for the bad as for the good.
Every Christian church has had to make some apology for its role in the Crusades, slavery, anti-Semitism, and much else. I do not think that such humility discredits faith as such, because I tend to think that faith is a problem to begin with, but I do think that humility will lead to the necessary conclusion that religion is man-made.
CH addresses the creation / Evolution issue:
the fantastic idea that the cosmos was made with man in mind strikes me as the highest form of arrogant self-centeredness. .... We are not without knowledge on these points, and the boundaries are being expanded at a rate which astonishes even those who do not look for a single cause of such vast and diverse phenomena. There is more awe and more reverence to be derived from a study of the heavens or of our DNA than can be found in any book written by a fearful committee in the age of myth
CH admits (with polemic flourish!) 'I cannot, of course, prove that there is no supervising deity who invigilates my every moment and who will pursue me even after I am dead.' going on to compare such an idea as 'a celestial North Korea in which liberty was not just impossible but inconceivable'. But give that no 'theologian ever demonstrated the contrary' he objects to the believer's claim to know a) that God exists and b) that his most detailed wishes are known too.
CH maintains his desire to be left alone by these God botherers!:
Since religion drew its first breath when the species lived in utter ignorance and considerable fear, I hope I may be forgiven for declining to believe that another human being can tell me what to do, in the most intimate details of my life and mind, and to further dictate these terms as if acting as proxy for a supernatural entity.
I heard this last night on the radio... listening to it in a dark, half-full, car park at Great Bridge ASDA, the line highlighted below jumped out at me.
And as is often the case for me listening to this 'type' of music (which I actually like) I can't work out whether Lily Allen is being playful, despairing, ironic, perverse or some combination!
I want to be rich and I want lots of money
I don’t care about clever I don’t care about funny
I want loads of clothes and loads of diamonds
I heard people die while they are trying to find them
I’ll take my clothes off and it will be shameless
‘Cuz everyone knows that’s how you get famous
I’ll look at the sun and I’ll look in the mirror
I’m on the right track yeah I’m on to a winner
[Chorus]I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear?
‘Cuz I’m being taken over by The Fear
Life’s about film stars and less about mothers
It’s all about fast cars and cussing each other
But it doesn’t matter cause I’m packing plastic
and that’s what makes my life so fantastic
And I am a weapon of massive consumption
and its not my fault it’s how I’m programmed to function
I’ll look at the sun and I’ll look in the mirror
I’m on the right track yeah we're on to a winner
ChorusI don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear?
‘Cuz I’m being taken over by The Fear
[Bridge]Forget about guns and forget ammunition
Cause I’m killing them all on my own little mission
Now I’m not a saint but I’m not a sinner
Now everything's cool as long as I’m getting thinner
[Chorus]I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear?
‘Cause I’m being taken over by fear
by Lily Allen
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
It's even got some nifty resources on it as well as the audio.
I am looking forward to singing this with Simeon in the next few months...and to growing in love for Jesus, our servant King.