Patrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint – part deux

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber

I’m sure Rev. Bolz-Weber would be the first to say her book is not meant to be a theology textbook, definitely not a Systematic Theology treatment. I expect she would also be quick to say it does not necessarily reflect or even represent Progressive Christianity. It is her personal faith. Yet, it is about her “faith” and she makes statements of “faith” which represent what she believes to be true about God and Jesus and people and the dynamic of living and believing. She does so as a Pastor with a seminary education and as a “spiritual leader”. She has taken up the position to minister to people with regard to their relationship to God and Jesus, however, she might view it. As confused as she might feel she is about such things and as mysterious as she may think they are, she has set out to speak with some “authority” about them or perhaps some knowledge.

Despite the contention often voiced that God is bigger than our conceptions, that God is ultimately a mystery, that God cannot be contained in propositions, and that faith is not the same as statements of scientific fact or other forms of knowledge, it’s hard to ignore what appear to be “propositions” about Jesus and God. These are made as statements of what is true. They are also made against the backdrop of being raised in the very conservative and fundamentalist Church of Christ. She often interacts with what she was taught and other expressions of the same sort of beliefs to contract them with what she now believes and preaches.

In the book there are recurring ideas and themes. There is the theme, “Where is God in suffering” in which she also touches on the cross and incarnation. There is what she finds as the compelling dynamic of “death and resurrection” by which God makes people whole, over and over and the overarching theme of grace, or perhaps Grace, with a big “G” which she considers the hallmark of Lutheranism and of her perspective on God, Jesus and Christianity. These are the things she seeks to represent in her life, preaching and her ministry to people. This latter touches on the resurrection of Jesus after his death on the cross.

Perhaps she would distance all of this from “theology” or things like “Christology” and “Anthropology” and all the other classic subsets of Theology proper, but nonetheless, that what her statements represent, soft and tentative as they may be in their presentation. No matter how personal they might be. What’s more, she supports these from the Bible. She acknowledges that there are a lot of awful parts of the Bible, parts she heard in the Church of Christ, but also some really “awesome” parts. She acknowledges that it is foolish to believe the Bible was “written by God”, but yet, being written by people, it is still, in some way, revelatory of true knowledge about the divine.

She states she never ceased to believe in God during her sojourn outside the Church. She simply turned her back on what she had been taught for the most part. She seems to have embraced some of it, added to it as with the “goddess” and female side of God, modified it and then brought it back into the realm of the Church and Lutheranism and the Bible, reframed it, recast it and baptized it. She states she never did become an atheist and in response to a conversation while interning as a Hospital Chaplain tells one woman who identifies as an atheist, she could “never pull that off”.

So, I will look at statements she makes about these sort of “theology” type things and see what I can make of them and ask my own questions. My primary question is, “How exactly does that work”? “Can you be a bit more specific, flesh it out a little”?

As I’ve said, it is an engaging, if not for me rather frustrating at time, read. I believe the most troubling and perhaps most telling aspect of her view and perhaps most determinitive of her answer to my “Why”? questions is her “anthropology” or view of “people”. Here is a quote on trying to be Unitarian.

“In the end, as much as I desperately wanted to be Unitarian, I couldn’t, because what I needed was a specific divine source of reconciliation and wholeness, a source that is connected to me in love, bue does not come from inside of me”.

Earlier in the passage she states:

“Unitarians are such smart, good people. They seem so hopeful. They vote Democrat and recycle and love women and they let you believe anything you want to, and I wanted to be one of them badly. But I couldn’t pull it off. Four years of sobriety hadn’t come to me as the result of hopefulness and positive thinking. It wzs grace. Unitarians just don’t talk much about our need for God’s grace. They have a higher opinion of human beings than I have ever felt comfortable claiming, as someone who both reads the paper and knows the condition of my own heart”. …. “I couldn’t be comforted by my own divinity or awesomeness, although I’d love it if I could”.

She sees herself and others as broken or at least not whole, and in desperate need of something entirely outside of themselves and of divine, essentially supernatural, origin to just get by. The need does not seem to admit of much progress. It seems to be a cycle of a few steps forward and some lessor number of steps backward. It is something that requires a cycle of dying and being raised again over and over entirely from something outside yourself by a power you cannot in any way lay claim to. This is a desperate anthropology and not really that different from the traditional Christian view of people.

Is Progressive Christianity the answer? A (sort of) review of Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber

“Pastrix The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint” by Nadia Bolz-Weber

I follow rabbit trails.

Anyone who knows me knows this. I’ll start describing something I am thinking about, some idea I had, something I ran across and those who do not know me with get this “What the Fuck” look on their faces. Those who do know me will simply smile and ask, “How did you end up there”? What follows is a description of a rather torturous trail from one apparently non-sequester to another until the map from A to ZZ has been drawn. Usually it makes some sense.

So it was with this particular “find”. It began with discussions with a young Christian woman who is wrestling with the Church, with what she believes, with what the Bible appears to say and who she knows herself to be. There is the conflict between the “better angels of her nature” as she has come to know them and the devils of her upbringing. Only in this case the devils are in the Church and the angels are outside of it. In an attempt to seek out something which she might be able to embrace, something that would allow her to exorcise the devils but keep the angels as angles, as expressions of her beliefs and faith, I set out to explore Progressive Christianity. I find that it is perhaps different from Liberal Christianity and certainly “hell and gone” from Fundamentalist Christianity, the sort in which she was raised, benign as it was. I thought perhaps she, the young woman, might be able to find a home there in that community of beliefs and experience. The truth is there are aspects of Christianity or perhaps just theism which are important to her, but so much chaff which is unpalatable and rightly so.

That search took me to Patheos and it’s “Progressive Christian” Channel and that introduced me to Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House of All Saints and Sinners in Denver Colorado, a mission work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reading her blog a bit, listening to a snippet of a sermon, seeing pictures of her in various venues speaking lead me to her “best selling” books, one of which is “Pastrix”. Perhaps, I thought, this will explain how one can embrace Christianity, yet retain a scholarly, educated view of the Bible and Christian theology. Perhaps, this auto-biography of a sort, her “conversion” story as it were, would describe what that might be like. So, I bought the digital copy of the book, started to read buy was stuck on the second page…..of the introduction.

“Suddenly, in that moment, all I could think was: What the hell am I doing? Seminary? Seriously? With a universe this vast and unknowable, what are the odds that this story of Jesus is true? Come on, Nadia. It’s a fucking fairy tale.

And in the very next moment I thought this: Except that throughout my life, I’ve experienced it to be true.

Even when my mind protests, I still can’t deny my experiences.”

I would have ended the first sentence with an exclamation point; full stop; end of story! In fact, I did, although for me it was after seminary and after sixteen years in the ministry of a conservative Presbyterian Church. It was after another six years of wondering if I was throwing the baby out with the bath water. As I’ve been fond of saying, I finally realized, there was no baby. I could safely throw out the dirty, tepid water, clean out the bath, and use it for something else.

Here is the crux of the matter. Why Christianity? I can understand having some belief in some “higher power”, some deity, some sense of the divine, but why nestle that within the bosom of Christianity? If Christianity is an “expression” of the divine and that is found in many religions, why not simply cut to the chase, drop the window dressing and go for the unvarnished, raw truth?

What is it about the Bible that appeals to you? After all, while it will have to be and is construed differently (the Bible that is), you can’t have Christianity without the Bible. Even if you are going to go with experience and allow it to trump your intellect, your reason, why frame that experience in terms of Christianity? After all, without the Bible, you wouldn’t know about Jesus. Without the Bible, you wouldn’t know what sort of “god” he talked about, or what ethics he espoused or what experiences he had. Yet, you have to radically rewrite so much of the Bible, even, yes, the New Testament to make even Jesus palatable. At the very least you have to come up with some other “hermeneutics”. I’ve contemplated going through a harmony of the Gospels to paint a picture of the “other” Jesus, the one whose not so likable or loving or patient or kind.

Further, the measure of truth here is “experience”. How can I deny my experience? When it comes to determining what is truth, I have to listen to my experience, not to reason, or intellect! This, I believe, is the cry of those who wish to believe something in spite of evidence or reasons to the contrary. Make no mistake. What Ms. Bolz-Weber says here is a truth claim about the real world. It is not only about HER real world, but about YOUR real world as well. What she has experienced, you too can experience.

It’s not that experience, some kind of experience, cannot be a measure of what is true. I might say, “My experience is that I can change the oil in my car every 8000 miles rather than every 5000 miles as the owner’s manuals says I should”. However, this is still an evidence based claim about the real world. It is based on my observation of the evidence for no difference in wear or longevity between changing my oil at 8000 miles rather than 5000 miles. Even in this case however, it would be good to check my experience. It would be good to ask questions like, is this because I only buy a certain model car or use a certain type of oil,  or drive a certain way, or perhaps have been extraordinarily lucky in the cars I have bought. In this case my own experience is not the sole basis on which to based a truth claim about the real world.

On the other hand, if I am falling asleep at night and see little people standing on my bed, I might rightly question whether they are really there. I might rightly note that people are usually not that small, that they usually weight something so there would be other indications other than visual if they were real. I might note that seeing little people is not a common experience for me or other people. I might rightly conclude this is a case of Lilliputian Hallucinations and not a reason to start believing in fairies or leprechauns in the face of evidence and reasons to the contrary. Some people would make that leap. It’ just that other spiritual claims of “experiencing God” don’t seem so fantastical though they should.

One key difference is that the latter experience is a personal experience, that is a subjective experience upon which it is questionable to base a claim to objective reality or truth. It is not an experience others can share. That is, they cannot validate or verify my personal experience. They may have similar personal experiences and assume theirs and mine are the same, but they cannot verify my particular experience.

This latter sort of argument from experience, it seems to me, is the sort of claim from experience being made here in her book, right at the outset, and in many claims to spiritual truth. It is a claim to objective truth based on subjective personal experience in the face of evidence and reasons to the contrary. It’s not just in absence of evidence and reason, but, as she says her, contrary to them. I suppose this is, she would say, what faith is about. Then again, many people exercise this sort of faith in all other sorts of religions and other matters of belief. This too is not unique to Christianity yet the claims in which these diverse people have faith are so different as to be totally incompatible.

I’ll continue to read and perhaps to write here. I was hoping for something better. Perhaps I’ll find it. I should add, I’ve now read part of the book and it’s well done. She writes well and is funny. Good for her!

More Fear Mongering from the Faith Lobby

godless atheistsThis little video tidbit has caused quite a stir prompting American Atheists to call for an apology, not from the professor at Harvard Business School who made the video, but from the Chancellor of Troy University who disseminated it as a Christmas message.

This is from the WEB site of the Richard Dawkin’s Foundation.

“What started as a holiday message to students and faculty from Troy University Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr., has now turned into a religious debate and the American Atheists demanding a public apology from the school’s leader.

On Dec. 30, Hawkins sent a message out to students and faculty containing a video that he said “speaks to America’s greatness and its vulnerability.

The video, which has nearly a half million views on the video sharing website YouTube, is of Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen recalling a conversation with a Marxist from China who was completing a fellowship at Harvard.

Christensen said the economist told him before leaving that he had no idea how critical religion was to the functioning of democracy.”

Here is the video in question.

I’m not sure what this has to do with “Religious Freedom”, what I do know is that it is more, albeit mildly presented, “Fear Mongering”. Christians and the religious in general frequently engage in this tactic as a means of Apologetics. Without God, they say, the world will go to hell in a hand basket. Compassion, kindness, love, fellow-feeling, charity and all those other wonderful attribute of which only Christianity is the fountainhead will dry up and disappear if you don’t allow Christianity free reign throughout all aspects and institutions in society. Your children will inherit a world full of greed, strife, hatred, misogyny, genocide, punitive justice, intolerance and all manner of other ills. It will be a living hell and you will only have your own godless self to blame. So, goes the argument.

Of course, Christianity HAS had free reign throughout all aspects of society and it’s institution in almost all the countries of Europe for oh, close to 2000 years and nearly 200 in the US. We all know how well that went. It is only been relatively recently that secularism has been gaining ground. Just look at the absolutely hellacious conditions in countries like Norway and Sweden for example and see where rampant secularism and atheism will get you. I believe they are regularly rated among the happiest most beneficent societies in the world….SO THERE!

Christians further argue that the world is getting worse and worse as it gets more and more secular, just look around you, just read some of Stephen Pinker’s book, “The Angles of Our Better Nature” if you want to see how horrible the world has become at the hands of the Enlightenment, Science and growing Secularism.

“Abstract:
We’ve all had the experience of reading about a bloody war or shocking crime and asking, “What is the world coming to?” But we seldom ask, “How bad was the world in the past?” In this startling new book, the bestselling cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. With the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps, Pinker presents some astonishing numbers. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate of Medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then suddenly were targeted for abolition. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the people they did a few decades ago. Rape, battering, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse, cruelty to animals—all substantially down.
How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? What led people to stop sacrificing children, stabbing each other at the dinner table, or burning cats and disemboweling criminals as forms of popular entertainment? The key to explaining the decline of violence, Pinker argues, is to understand the inner demons that incline us toward violence (such as revenge, sadism, and tribalism) and the better angels that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, bargain rather than plunder, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.
With the panache and intellectual zeal that have made his earlier books international bestsellers and literary classics, Pinker will force you to rethink your deepest beliefs about progress, modernity, and human nature. This gripping book is sure to be among the most debated of the century so far.”

http://stevenpinker.com/publications/better-angels-our-nature

The argument in the video and from many a pulpit is clear, as the church disappears from society, Professor Christiansen worries, who will teach our Children morality? Who will teach them the good moral character that would lead them to voluntarily obey the laws of society. “You cannot hire enough police”, he says, to insure a safe, law-abiding society, if there is no religion (that is, Christianity). Immorality and lawlessness will abound, society will crumble and we will return to the barbarism of, well, perhaps the Old Testament?

Notice, however, what the Chinese Marxist actually says. The reason democracy works is because “Most people, most of the time voluntarily choose to obey the law”. He attributes that to religion, to Christianity. Further he contrasts this to the government enforcing that obedience by say, the threat of punishment or constant surveillance. How is any to people voluntarily obeying the law because they fear being punished by say, perhaps, God? Professor Christiansen contends that Society can’t do what God can, follow through with the threat of punishment. How then is that voluntary? Professor Christiansen describes this as though the Marxist friend is marveling at the wonders of democracy and religion. Perhaps he was actually aghast that democracy was so dependent of the delusion of religion, particularly Christianity.

Notice the way this message is conveyed. Notice the subtle black and white pictures that spin by, of surveillance cameras, police and criminals being lead away. You see, IT’S ALREADY BEGUN!!! What’s more he indirectly throws in the “Red Commie Threat” here too. Although he doesn’t explicitly state it he is argueing that Democracy will be shattered and we will all be under enthralled to Atheist Marxism (like that under which his Marxist friend lives). His friend is a foil for all that is to be feared and which he believes is doomed to fail.

Failing to have a rational argument, a reasoned argument, to believe the dogma of Christianity, they appeal to unreasoned and unsupported fear! They accuse all who do not believe in God and indeed all who are of another religion, of being immoral, unprincipled and unwilling, without the “big stick” of judgment and hell, to live in community and society simply for the benefit of themselves and those around them, simply because it is right, full stop! You should fear the expression of your desperately wicked human nature they say, and fear where it will lead! That is the message. You are despicable, immoral and unprincipled without Christianity. If not you, then everyone else, fear them!

On morality without God, here is a wonderful conversation between Dr. Shelly Kagan of Yale and Dr. Willisam Lane Craig.

Who cares about what is true?

One of my recurring themes is the lack of concern about what is true. It doesn’t take long, trawling Facebook for example, to see how true this is. Graphic after graphic make truth claims or tell stories, which, with very little effort, can be determined to be false or at the very least misleading. Yet, if the comments are any indication, few if any of those commenting have taken the time or effort, minimal though it is, to check to see if what was posted it true before piling on with kudos, pats on the back and cheers of assent.

Equally frequent, and predictable, are the reactions to anyone who DOES take the time to question the veracity of the aphorism or story or to post a link or two showing it’s false. Some people deride the debunking by advancing some conspiracy theory regarding suppression of the “truth”, or question the dark and hidden forces that run snopes.com for example and promote the hidden agenda of misinformation of which snopes.com, and most other “hoax” sites, are apparently guilty. More often though, the response is something like, “who cares, I like it”, or “well it COULD be true”, or “who cares, it makes be feel good and is inspirational”. I despair!!

However, inspirational a story may be, if it didn’t happen, then no one did or said or acted in that inspiring and uplifting way. The serendipitous event didn’t actually occur, the incredible irony or confluence of events never actually conspired together. It matters whether it is true or not, at least so it seems to me, but apparently this is just not the case for a vast number of people.They blithely make truth claims and pass on what they have heard or read with little or no regard for whether it is true and make little. They make little or no attempt to determine the facts and reign in their speculation.

Does is not matter what it true? Are people so enthralled by what they want to be true as to not care what IS true? What’s more this carelessness about what is true masquerades as a concern for Truth especially when it involves the BIG questions. In some way I’ve yet to understand, the criteria for “what is true” is even more relaxed when it comes to the BIG questions then it is for the small ones.

Here is a shining example posted to Facebook with approval by Brad Warner.

“I believe that life passes through us, rather than the reverse. We spend our lives becoming what is disposed of in an instant: a match struck over the Atlantic on a dark night. Life is eternal, we aren’t. But that bit of us that is of Life will never perish. It animates whatever comes next. I suspect that when we die, we each receive a print-out of the life we have just finished; and that this in some way determines where our Energies go next. I wonder how Hitler felt when he opened his envelope. It is fairly unlikely that the personality, the memory or the consciousness, survive death; given how much time we spend building and inhabiting them; this is pretty tragic. Although, given the length of eternity, maybe not. The universe (as a fabric of space and time) is probably onion-shaped. There is no more an end or a beginning to it than there is to the horizon, which plays its own part in the myth of the straight line. But we are, as yet, finite creatures, and infinity is as remote from us as Richard Gere is from Cleopatra.” – Robyn Hitchcock

I didn’t know who Robyn Hitchcock was, so I went to Wikipedia.

“Robyn Rowan Hitchcock (born 3 March 1953) is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist. While primarily a vocalist and guitarist, he also plays harmonica, piano and bass guitar.”

That’s basically it although he does seem to also be an artist and cartoonist.

“Hitchcock was born in London, England, son of novelist. He was educated at Winchester College. He writes short stories, paints (often in a whimsical style) and draws in the cartoon-strip mode. Hitchcock’s album covers often make use of his paintings or drawings, and the liner notes sometimes include a short story. His live concerts usually include story-telling, in the form of imaginative and surreal ad-libbed monologues in his lyrical style.”

So, he seems to be imaginative and I suppose one might conclude, thoughtful and reflective about the big question in life. Obviously someone doesn’t have to have a formal education to be intelligent, thoughtful and to give a considered opinion on all sorts of matters.However, to conclude that simply because he is a musician, an artist and creative, he is in some way qualified to make truth claims about BIG questions, I think, is a mistake. Yet, people make that mistake over and over and over.

For some reason because Deepak Chopra has a medical degree he is a “scientist” and must know about Quantum Physics would be another case in point. Just because a minister has a M.Div. degree and has learned theology doesn’t mean she is an expert in Philosophy of MInd would be another example. More close to home, just because Johnny Depp is edgy and quirky and creative and has oodles of money, doesn’t make him an expert on anything in particular or make his pronouncement about anything other than perhaps acting or music significant.

As for Robyn Hitchcock, he makes some significant claims about what is true in this quoted comment. Let’s tease these out.

1. Life passes through us rather than us through life and what we become is disposed of in an instant.

2. On the other hand, though “we” are not eternal, “Life” with a big “L” is and that part of us (whatever that means) IS eternal and somehow is responsible, “animates” what comes next, presumably for the part of us that isn’t really us but yet is us, because is was part of us.

3. Here we get very specific. We, the we that was disposed of, that is not eternal gets a printout of the life we just left, whatever the we is that is still around, at least for the printout and reading part, so must survive after death in some form like that before death at least for a while until the bit that is “Life” or “Energy”, but with capital letters goes on to something else. Yet is it unlikely that the memory and consciousness survive death, so who is reading the printout and how could someone like Hitler care what was in it?

4. If what we were is not eternal, is disposed of, if memory and consciousness don’t survive death what is the “Life” and “Energy” that somehow continue and more one and determine what will happen next? What exactly is it that “happens next”?

5. It’s tragic that memory and consciousness don’t survive death given the actually very brief amount of time we spend “building and inhabiting them”. but then in light of eternity, maybe not. Maybe not what? What does this have to do with eternity and what is the we that “builds and inhabits” memory and consciousness? Is it some homunculous outside of memory and consciousness? Is it the Life and Energy which are really not us, but I guess are us?

6. The universe, the fabric of space and time, is onion shaped and, I presume layered and round and endless and continuous and not linear.

7. We are finite creatures even though part of what we are continues and goes on to what is next, which he never defines.

This is just one example of hopeless pseudo profound drivel that people spout when they address the BIG questions. notice that while he begins with “I believe” which apparently allows him to say virtually ANYTHING without any evidence, argumentation or even an attempt at clarity, he is still making truth claims. In fact any attempt at eliciting any clarity will be met with two gambits.

The first is the “finger pointing at the moon” gambit. Since all of this is so profound and is beyond the realm of reason or discursive thought, clarity is just not possible. Somehow this lack or clarity is considered an further indication of it’s profundity. The second is the shrug and smug gambit. Since he’s not trying to convince anyone and it’s just what he believes, he can make whatever truth claims he likes without any support at all and still smugly smile knowingly implying “one day you just might understand”. In the meantime he’ll continue to spout this sort of drivel as if he is saying something about reality that even attempts to make any sense at all. Like the first gambit, this gambit is also seen as an indication of profound understanding and truth since there is no attempt to convince. “Just go find out for yourself, then you’ll know like I do”.

Small Epiphanes

Image Leaving the Church and more broadly, Christianity, has been a path paved with epiphanies. Realizations would dawn suddenly but  just like the light of day they had grown gradually from dawn to sunrise, from the first defused glow of light gradually increasing until there is a blaze of realization. I would finally see clearly with articulated thought that which had lain below it’s horizon only moments before. After the first blaze of blinding recognition, full daylight would illuminate the landscape of my thinking and that clarity of vision would become the new day.

Such was the case recently when I realized the decree to which I had ceded all the BIG and IMPORTANT questions and questing to religion. There was an un-articulated belief only religion whether traditional, ancient, new age or of other ethnic origin, was the only sort of inquiry that could delve into the depths of life’s most tenaciously held secrets and the deepest desires of the human heart and mind. I had consigned the most significant truths to the a realm beyond evidence and rational argument, essentially to “faith” and subjective personal experience.

It is really a matter of epistemology. How do we know what we know, and can we be comfortable with what we don’t know and perhaps never will be able to know? Can we be comfortable and secure knowing what it is possible to know and declining to force certainty where it is not? Can we live with a partial understanding which, admittedly, may change? In it’s absence do we, like Esau, trade our rational heritage for a mess of pottage just to fill out bellies and quell the haunting hunger of uncertainty.

Every religion of which I am aware relies on “revelation”. If you have been raised in the west in the bosom of Christianity, that revelation takes the form of a book which in turn is the record of the personal revelation given to individuals or groups. That revelation was then supposed written down having been passed from mouth to ear until someone recorded it. So, even in those religions who revelation is enshrined in print, personal revelation based in subjective personal experience is at their heart. Furthermore, even in when the predominant revelation is in print, there is still a significant role for revelation of a more personal, immediate and subjective nature.

For example, there are Pentecostals and other groups that believe God continues to reveal truth to them directly though dreams, visions ad prophecy along with the gift of tongues and “interpretation”. Even among those who eschew these gifts and graces as belonging to the infancy of the Church, there is a recognition of the need for the interpretation and application of texts to the immediate and personal situation and circumstances of the individual and the Church, an interpretation that is supposedly the supernatural, though rather mundane, work of the Holy Spirit. It is believed and taught that without the enlivening power of the Holy Spirit, the text cannot be properly interpreted and applied. Unless one has been “born again”, they are to a great degree blind to the true meaning and interpretation of Scripture. While they are very clear this is not “inspiration” of the same character as that which gave rise to Scripture, it is, nonetheless, a form of revelation. In the evangelical groups of which I was a member in college it was common to say “God showed me” or “God taught me”, when referring to some realization about a Biblical text especially as it applied to someone personal situation. Also, within the Christian tradition there are the mystics who share the epistemology of all forms of mysticism.

In all of these cases, “knowledge of the truth” is ultimately outside the reach of reason, observation and evidence. It lies in a distant land accessible only by personal immediate experience of varying degrees. In this regard Christianity is not alone. This was one of my first epiphanies. Take any religion in the world including those which are often advertised as immune to this sort of bifurcation of truth like Buddhism, especially Zen, and you will they are all the same. To a greater or lesser extent, when it comes to the core truths, knowledge of the truth is a matter of revelation. Simply because such revelation of truth may be open or more open to any individual does not change the fact that it is still a matter of an epistemology of immediate personal, subjective experience.

Buddhism and Daoism are often described as “philosophy” rather than religion. They are described as non-dogmatic with truth being a matter of observation and experience, or experimentation through the methods of the particular practice. This quote from the Kalama Sutta is proudly displayed.

““Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.”

Brad Warner puts it this way in his book, “Hardcore Zen: punk rock, monster movies & the truth about reality”. This is taken from the back cover of the book.

“QUESTION AUTHORITY. QUESTION SOCIETY. QUESTION REALITY. QUESTION YOURSELF.

Question your conclusions, your judgement, your answers. Question this. If you question everything throughly enough, the truth will eventually hit you upside the head and you will know..But here’s a warning: it won’t be what you imagined. It won’t even be close.”

Sadly, as you read Warner’s books, especially his most recent, “There Is No God and He Is Always with You: A Search for God in Odd Places”, he pulls up short when it comes to his core assertions about reality. Much of what he relates in his books is biographical and includes a great deal of personal experience, some described, some only hinted. However, it is from these personal, subjective and immediate experiences, experiences conveying knowledge which is not, indeed cannot be, mediated by reason and discursive thought, knowledge which, in fact, cannot be adequately conveyed in words or descriptions but must simply be experienced, that he derives his “truth about reality”, a source and truth he ultimately refuses to question.

“You may want to ask me how I can know that experience [the experience on the Flower Bridge] was real and not a hallucination. You may want to challenge me to prove how what I’m saying here about this experience is different from some guy saying how when he was gonr again God told him to hate fags. I understand that. But I’m not really interested in pursuing those kinds of questions. I don’t want to prove to anyone that my experience was real. It’s not necessary or even possible. It won’t make what happened any less real if you disbelieve or any more real if you believe it.” [page 59]

In the course of his book he also becomes quite dogmatic about this truth. He recognizes for him to say something is true must necessarily mean something else is false, that’s just the way it is. Throughout the book he repeatedly takes many and varied people and beliefs to task for being wrong, and at times rather obviously so, based on his own personal, subjective experience. Experience which he refuses to questioned and, when criticized, he retreats to the Zen aphorism that his words and descriptions are only a “finger pointing at the moon” and not the moon itself, so, of course, they are not entirely defensible. When I raised this question in response to a post on his Facebook page, he told me to “go sit for five or six years and then you’ll know”, something to that effect. This is not different than the Christian believer, who when pressed regarding the paradoxical or non-scenically nature of their belief, fall back on the assertion, “I just know”. Further, if you accept Jesus, you can know too! Obviously accepting Jesus is not the same as having a sitting meditation practice, but the result is the same, personal subjective certainty of the truth.

Compare Warner’s approach to the question “Can We Communicate With The Dead”. Based on a personal experience which might easily be explained in terms of the operations of our brain. However, apparently “our consciousness” never dies and so we can encounter dead people. All of this he concludes based on a subjective personal experience, the truth of which he relates with great gravity and conviction. Yet, in his above referenced book, Warner blithely dismisses the experiences, probably equally compelling, of those like Eben Alexander and Colton Burpo who recount how they visited heaven or some afterlife dimension from which they draw equally sweeping cosmic conclusions about reality.

I use Warner only as an example of how even the most epistemology punk can still fall into the morass of subjectivism and dogmatism, and poor epistemology, in an effort to assert the truth of things which cannot be proven and to erase uncertainty around the BIG questions. Question Everything apparently doesn’t mean EVERYTHING! Warner relies on revelation no less than the Christians he criticizes.Warner castigates atheists as well, ironically, for fearing the unknown and trying to erase uncertainty, in this case, uncertainty generated by the truth of religious experiences like his own. Speaking in the context of Sam Harris and the New Atheist “movement”, Warner carps below.

“Many in the atheist camp want to deal with their fear of the unknown and the unknowable by believing in what others have said about them in more recent books. If they believe that all spiritual experience is based on hallucinations or imbalanced brain chemistry, then they have nailed it and it is no longer unknown and, therefore, no longer scary.” [page 119]

So, whether you are talking about rather traditional conservative Christianity, Christian mysticism, Buddhism or Daoism, they each rely on a form of revelation of a mystical sort. Mysticism of this stripe, holds that the only means of coming to a knowledge of the “truth” with a big “T”, is by immediate experience which is always personal and subjective experience. It is a personal and subjective experience which cannot be apprehended by anyone else simply because it is subjective and personal. It cannot be observed or measured or validated in any way other than through you own personal, subjective experience. It cannot even be adequately described or conveyed by words or reason. It is entirely and completely outside that realm of operation. However, it is the ONLY way “truth” with a big “T”, can be pursued and known AND it is a reliable way by which it is to be known.

As a result, mystics like Warner take their own personal, subjective experience and draw great sweeping cosmic conclusions. They believe what they experience maps onto and is a reliable guide to reality. So reliable a guide that it countermands observations, experimentation, reason and evidence. They draw conclusions which themselves open an Pandora’s box of other assertions and conclusions which must also be true and are equality fantastic. William of Ockham is spinning in his grave!

Back to my Epiphany! For years, even in the blooming of skepticism, I had taken ideas like Warner’s and other of the religious for granted without question. Science was for the physical world, but there were elements of reality which did not appertain to the method of science. These, these most important questions could only be apprehended through the methods of religion and the more ancient the better. That was an adjunct of the larger idea, that it was a matter of fact that ancient wisdom trumped modern thought every time. Why believe Nietzsche when you have Lao Tzu. Why listen to Bertand Russell when you have Jesus. Certainly THEY must have more and better things to same than anyone modern.

Hoping to see Rick Santorum “throw up”!

I recently read here that Rick Santorum almost threw up when he read JF Kennedy’s 1960 speech on the role of religion in political life. So, I decided I would publish the speech here courtesy of NPR in the hope that Rick Santorum will actually throw up, and not in a good way! (Transcript courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum).

Here is what bothered Santorum.

“Santorum defended his remarks, telling Stephanopoulos that “the first line, first substantive line in the speech, says, ‘I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute.’”

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum said. “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”

He went on to note that the First Amendment “says the free exercise of religion — that means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square.””

December 5, 2007

On Sept. 12, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gave a major speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of Protestant ministers, on the issue of his religion. At the time, many Protestants questioned whether Kennedy’s Roman Catholic faith would allow him to make important national decisions as president independent of the church. Kennedy addressed those concerns before a skeptical audience of Protestant clergy. The following is a transcript of Kennedy’s speech:

Kennedy: Rev. Meza, Rev. Reck, I’m grateful for your generous invitation to speak my views.

While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election: the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida; the humiliating treatment of our president and vice president by those who no longer respect our power; the hungry children I saw in West Virginia; the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills; the families forced to give up their farms; an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.

These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues — for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured — perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in — for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of presidency in which I believe — a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.

I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him; and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in, and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a “divided loyalty,” that we did “not believe in liberty,” or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened the “freedoms for which our forefathers died.”

And in fact ,this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died, when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches; when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom; and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey. But no one knows whether they were Catholic or not, for there was no religious test at the Alamo.

I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition, to judge me on the basis of my record of 14 years in Congress, on my declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I have attended myself)— instead of judging me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and always omitting, of course, the statement of the American Bishops in 1948, which strongly endorsed church-state separation, and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic.

I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts. Why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or persecute the free exercise of any other religion. And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny their presidency to Protestants, and those which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as Ireland and France, and the independence of such statesmen as Adenauer and De Gaulle.

But let me stress again that these are my views. For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.

Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith, nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.

If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I had tried my best and was fairly judged. But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser — in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

But if, on the other hand, I should win the election, then I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the presidency — practically identical, I might add, to the oath I have taken for 14 years in the Congress. For without reservation, I can “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, so help me God.

Transcript courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Innoculating against Reason

The issue in discussions with believers is not simply the rationlity of any faith claim. Even though believers may appear to argue as though that is the issue, that if you can simply produce a convincing rational argument that would be sufficient to convince them the real issue is much deeper and more fundamental. Although they may mount what appear to be attempts at rational and evidence based arguments it is really, to a greater or lessor extent a ruse. Take a moment and watch this video of an interview with Dr. Willisam Lane Craig who is arguably the most prominent, if perhaps not the most capable, modern apologist for the Christian faith.

The Relationship of Faith to Reason

Dealing with significant doubt in the process of your university education

Both videos, especially the second video, show that evidence is really NOT important. Evidence is not how you KNOW or are strongly convinced that what you believe is true or what you think might be true is indeed true. The real determining factor is an internal, self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit in your heart. Notice of course, that this is a genuinely circular argument. It is at it’s foundation an appeal to subjective experience which is defined by the very faith to which it is supposed to witness and of which it is supposed to be the confirmation. The issue in dealing with Christianity or any faith based religion is that is is a FAITH BASED religion and NOT based on reason in any sense of the word. They may seen to find REASONABLE arguments to support what they ALREADY BELIEVE, but they are NOT basing what they believe ON REASON OR RATIONAL ARGUMENT. In a sense the presentation by believers of what appear to be and what they represent as rational argument is a dance, it is a feign or a ruse. It is an attempt to manipulate by presenting probablistic arguments to attempt to predispose you to accept what they believe as plausible hoping you will then make the jump from plausibility to conviction.

By relegating reason to be the “handmaiden” of faith and thus to only an ancillary role in belief they are also attempting to innoculate the faithful against the logical and rational objections which can and are raised against what they believe. By so doing it is hoped they will, against all odds, continue to believe. Having Faith IN THE VERY FACE of reason is elevated to the status of a cardinal virtue. Any attempts at rational argument and discourse will, in this climate, most likely result in a hung jury. More often than not, when backed into a corner, Christians will resort to the “faith card” saying, “well, I just believe” or “you just have to have faith”. The best you can really hope for is to begin to weaken the foundation by appeals to reason and hope their rational faculties will be awakened in spite of having been innoculated against them. It is also necessary to confront this irrrationality directly to expose the ruse for what it is.

This sort of vaccination has Biblical precedent. These verses are often presented from the pulpit to buttress the walls of believers faith against the reason they use to decide nearly every other important decision they make in the real world. Here are a few.

John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In this passage Jesus is responding to the proclamation of faith by Thomas. Thomas must have been from Missouri. When presented with the witness of the other apostles to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, Thomas basically says, “show me”, ““Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Shortly after when the disciples are togethers Jesus appears and invites Thomas to put his hands on or in the wounds Jesus suffered on the cross. After doing so Thomas proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” It is in response to this proclamation of faith that Jesus utters the benediction above. Notice Thomas is asking for evidence that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. He is exercising skepticism at the testimony of the disciples that Jesus has actually risen from the dead. I would say that is a pretty healthy and rational thing to do in the face of such an extraordinary claim. Yet, Thomas is nicknamed “Doubting Thomas” and has by that moniker been elevated as an example of one who lacks faith and who requires evidence to believe. Jesus takes him to task rather backhandedly in his statement. Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who will have faith without evidence, even in the face of the extraordinary claims of Jesus, perhaps even dispite evidence to the contrary.

Romans 4:18 18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”[d] 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

In this passage Paul is speaking about justification by grace through faith. That is, Paul is argueing that a person is forgiven and therefore made “just” before God in spite of their sin, not by the good things they do in obeying the Law of God but rather simply by faith. In extolling faith Paul elevates Abraham as the father of all the faithful, the father f all who have faith in Jesus’s atoning sacrifice and therefore are may vicariously righteous and just before God the Judge. Notice Abraham is extolled as the paragon and paradign for Christian faith. That faith is defined as being “fully persuaded” that God would do as he had said he would do IN SPITE OF THE CONTRARY EVIDENCE, that being that both he and his wife should by all rights be infertile and unable to have children. Notice this faith is directly compared to unbelief as Abraham is said not to “waver thorugh unbelief” but rather was “strengthened in his faith”. This faith is “against all hope”.

Hebrews 11:1 1 Now faith is the [a]assurance of things [b]hoped for, the [c]conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old [d]gained approval.

This is perhaps the preeminent chapter on faith in the Bible. No one really knows who wrote this document known as the Book of Hebrews. It was thought that Paul was the author during the time of the early church. Scholars today argue this is not the case and propose a number of other possibilities but ultimately, no one knows. Notice faith is described in terms of “assurance” and “conviction” of things hoped for (but not yet possessed, that is things promised but not a reality) and “things not seen”. Faith is once again defined as knowleged in the face of or even contrary to evidence as in that which is now a reality and is “measurable” or seen. The chapter goes on to extol various examples of this kind of faith, Abrahm being the most prominent but also including Enoch, Moses and Joshua. They are all praised because ” 39 And all these, having [y]gained approval through their faith, did not receive [z]what was promised” yet still believed God would do it and acted as if it were true. The author further states that faith is crucial “6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Believing and acting on that belief even in the face of all reason not too is absolutely critical to pleasing God.

I Corinthians 1:18 18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who [m]are perishing, but to us who [n]are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written,

“I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE,
AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.”

This is the last passage I’ll deal with here. This passage illustrates how, particularly in the category of knowledge, wisdom and reason, faith is elevated to the point that even that which appears to be foolishness is actually wisdom and true knowledge. This is the direct innoculation against all the arguments and reasoning of you could possibly offer a believer. If what you say is an argument AGAINST what the Bible says, especically the cross and the resurrection, it can be summarly dismissed without any consideration. The quotation is from Isaish 29:14 where God promises to deal “wonderfully marvelously” with his people to awken them from their rote religion. The reference seems to be to the wise within the nation Israel and indeed Paul includes not only Gentile but also Jew in his defamation of wisdom and knowledge.

In verses 20 through 25 Paul contrast the “wisdom of the world” as represented by the “wise man”, the “scribe”, the “debater of this age” and declares that God has “made foolish the wisdom of the world”. He later refers to Greeks searching for wisdom. God has confounded this wisdeom by the “foolishness” of the message of the cross, or the crucified messiah because it is through faith in that foolishness that people come to know God and are delivered from their sins. To the Greek the cross is foolishness. But it is really, according to Paul, “the wisdom of God”. Paul also parallels the contrast of the “wisdom of the world” and the “foolishness” of the cross  with a contrast aims at the Jews who seek signs (acts of power) but are stymied by the apparent “weakness” of the crose which is actually a manisfestation of the power of God. He concludes this double contrast this way in verse 25, “25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. ” By so doing Paul takes aim at his two major critics, the unbelieving Gentiles with their “wisdom” and the unbelieving Jews who find the “weakness” of the cross a “stumbling block”.

Paul reiterates this argument in 1 Corinthians 3,” 18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is THE ONE WHO CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS”; 20 and again, “THE LORD KNOWS THE REASONINGS of the wise, THAT THEY ARE USELESS.”” Note that the “reasoning of the wise are useless”. In 11 Corinthians 10:5 the author encourages believers to bring every though captive and subject it to the Lordship of Jesus,” 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, ..” Notice he is refering not simply to ideas but to speculation or reasoning. The presuppostions and idea content of the Bible forms a “governor” as it were on the activity of rational thought and any resulting ideas. Only those ideas and whatever reasoning that may have given them birth which is consistent with the Bible is acceptable, all else can be eliminated without “due process”.

It’s not difficult to see how this would be used to disparage reason, philosophy and any other manner of human thinking or reasoning in favor of the standard of the gospel and the “wisdom of God”. Any manner of thinking that might conflict, find fault with or criticize what is seen as the truth of the Bible, not just the crucifixion and the resurrection, would be immediately thrown out of court by virtue of the fact that is was critical. There is no need to evaluate or interact with the arguments against the resurrection or the existence of Jesus or the historicity of the crucifixion as a salvific event, they are by their very nature thrown into the trachbin of “worldly wisdom”. Dr. Douglas Wilson is a case in point. Dr. Wilson, a Presuppositional Apologist and pastor states that what constitutes rational or logical proof is what the Bible says is adequate, rational or logical proof. An argument which is considered circular according to the rules of logic is not really circular according to the logic accepted by the Bible.

So, for example, the argument of Paul for the existence of God in Romans 1 is the basis for both the Teleological argument later advanced by Christian apologists. It is also one of the most tired argument advanced by believers. On Dr. Wilsons criteria it represents a sound logical argument regardless of it’s failure to meet the test of logic and philosophical scrutiny because the Bible advances it as a sound argument. Therefore ANY criticism of it from a logical or philosophical perspective represents “the wisdom of the world” and can be dismissed. Admittedly the Christian apolgist may attempt to throw water on the criticism by what appear to be rational attempts to interact with it but in the end these are just ways of trying to appeal to the heart through the word. The best approach of this particular type of apologetics is to suggest ways in which the argument might not be valid, especially quoting the Bible, but then to change tacts if the person continues to bring rational criticism. It is clear from this sort of tactic that the strategy has little or nothing to do with actually seeking to determine what is true by logic, reason and evidence. It is openly admitted that these rational arguments cannot be effectively combated by reason, only by the Bible and the “rational feign” I’ve previously described.

This perspective on reason, logic and evidence with it’s contract between the “wisdom of God” and the “wisdom of the world” is one aspect of a black and white line of demarcation made in the Bible and informing the thinking of consistent believers. The Bible makes a hard and fast distinction between Christ and Belial (the devil), the flesh and the spirit (sinful nature and the Holy Spirity), the old man and the new man (sinful Adam and the sanctified nature), and being in the “world” but not “of” the world where the “world” or “age” is this that which is characterized by sin and disobedience to God. In consistent Christian theology the “noetic” effect of sin is taken seriously and the thinking and reasoning of those not “redeemed” by Christ have throught processes that are taineted and corrupted by sinful rebellion and therefore by “foolishness”. These thought processes cannot be trusted as a means of arriving at the truth. Only thinking which begins with the “knowledge of God” and proceeds subject to the presuppositions of a Biblican worldview is to be allowed and only it’s conclusions are to be accepted.

Dr. John Frame, a former professor of mine at Westminster Theological Seminary, makes several significant statements along this line in his book, “Apologetics to the Glory of God”. He defines one of the aspects of Apologetics as, “…attacking the foolishness (Ps. 14:1; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16) of unbelieving thought”. He goes on to reiterate, “Non-Christian thinking is “foolishness,” according to the Scripture …. and one of he functions of apologetics is to expose that foolishness for what it is”. He does on to say, “…the unbeliever intentionally distorts the truth, exchanging it for a lie…”. This is the case not only for the conclusions reached but also for the process of reasoning itself. In discussing the apparently circularity of some arguments used by Apologists he states, “The fact is that the Christian here is presupposing a Christian epistomology — a view of knowledge, testimony, witness, appearance, and fact that is subject to Scripture. In other words, he is using scriptural standards to prove scriptural conclusions”. So while an history using accepted historical methods for attestation would not accept the Biblical testimony that the resurrected Jesus was see by more than 500 people as evidence for the resurrection, the Bible declares that it is valid evidence, therefore the standards of historical inquiry can be damned. Ultimately the believer and unbeliever cannot even agree on the METHOD for inquiry and proof much less the conclusions. He argues that the empiricism of Hume is based on “presuppositions” which the Christian cannot accept, therefore Hume empiricism is not an acceptable method or standard fr argueing the truth of a claim. This is true NOT because he has confronted Hume’s arguments and proven, philosophically, by generally accepted methods that Hume is wrong but rather because the Bible allows for evidence and methods of argument Hume would consider circular and therefore unacceaptable.

So, it would be tempting to think when you are discussing religion with a believer that you are agreed on the method of reaching the truth and it is only the conclusion on which you differ. This creates the delusion that you are both on the same page and if you can provide sound logical arguments you might have a chance. For many, if not most, this is not the case. It is not only the conclusions that difffer it is the very method itself. They have been innoculated against reason as a means of pursueing truth. It is that which needs to also be addressed in any discussion or argument.