Sunday, December 23, 2007

the "true lie"

The more I read and consider, the more I understand how important ontology really is.
I only mean that in the soul, to be false and to be deceived and ignorant about what is real, and to have and keep the falsehood in the soul--no one would ever accept such a thing... But surely this could most rightly be called the true lie, as I called it just now, this ignorance in the soul, the ignorance of one deceived; since the lie in words is an imitation of the state of the soul, and came later, an image, not the pure lie. Is not that so?

The Republic
, 382A-B

Voegelin calls this "true lie" the "'arch-lie', of misconception about the gods." Indeed, Socrates, when speaking these words, is in the midst of an attack on the poets who would speak lies about the gods, bad theology. He then equates it here with the "falsehood in the soul".
Socrates's further-observation of the lie in words as "an imitation of the state of the soul, and came later" brings to mind all sorts of scripture, from the Fall, to "the heart of man reflects the man", to Christ's teachings on sin's actuality in the heart, before it has become physically manifested(Matt 5).

I recall that Wright once complained of Lewis's theology(as expounded in Mere Christianity) having been too Platonic. I will, then, try to be mindful of such a pit-fall--for the Lord Bishop apparently sees it as such--yet I will move forward a bit here, because I am amazed at the conjoints of truth as it is put forth from different quarters. Plato here seems to be confirming many thoughts that I've had in the last several months about truth, sin, and idolatry. [see also my recent post on Charles Williams and Hell]

The "true lie", the lie about the gods, is here described as before and the model for all spoken lies. Now Exodus 20 seems to offer us a definition of sorts for idolatry: bowing down to or serving a carved image, or any likeness, made for yourself, of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Christ seems offer an addendum to this conception when teaching on "serving two masters". While money may not seem, just from the commandment, an obvious idol to avoid, Jesus makes clear that it is indeed, with His talk of "service".
Now in this second commandment there are three actions that the LORD deplores: 1) making the idol; 2) bowing to it; 3) serving it. Why these three? I see one common thread: all three actions offer the idol something that only God should hold: actuality, worship, and service. By making the idol you give being to a 'god' that otherwise has no existence, and you take away from God His place as the only God. Worship and service, likewise, are due only to God, and in offering them to the idol you give to it what rightly belongs only to Him. In other words, consciously or not, you are redefining God's nature to compliment the god you have fashioned. He is no longer the only God; He no longer alone deserves praise and service. Idolatry then can be called, simply, lies about God--the "true lie" that Plato is speaking of, "to be false and to be deceived and ignorant about what is real, and to have and keep the falsehood in the soul".

I see the relationships between all other sins and idolatry as analogous to that Plato sees between the true lie and other lies: "the lie in words is an imitation of the state of the soul, and came later, an image, not the pure lie."
The other sins that are decried throughout scripture seem to be services rendered to something other than God--an imitation of idolatry. Consider the fruit of the Spirit versus the works of the flesh, "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these." The works of the flesh evidence service to the self, as opposed to the fruit of the Spirit as the natural bounty of service to God. The final six commandments in Exodus, those concerning more directly the actions of man, all seem to fit into this idea that sin is 'lies about God', idolatry, with the idol here being the self, the flesh. Considering that God is Truth(John 14:6), this also adds depth to such statements as Revelation's affirmation that outside the City will be "the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood(Rev 22:15).

In my mind this goes hand in hand with the concept that evil is not a creating force, but rather only ever perverts things, i.e. changes them from their true form in relation to God. As Screwtape admitted, "all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one [pleasure]. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden." But all this I explore more thoroughly in the afore-linked post.

We are brought from here back to ontology when we see that this sort of perversion is precisely what the adversary seeks to cultivate in us. It brings to mind St. Bonaventure's description of Adam, "turning away from the true light to a changeable good, he and all his descendants were by his fault bent over by original sin". Bent over, where all of one's attention is directed at oneself, rather than at the "true light" of God. It is this perversion of human nature, our right ontology, that our LORD began to attend to with Noah, and is now rectifying through His new creation, the redemptive work of Christ.
We must be mindful of the psalmist's warning:
Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do no speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and the do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them'
so do all who trust in them.

Psalm 115:4-8

If we continue on in our perverted nature, paying homage to false gods, then we too become beings who "have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see."

Against all of this we must develop right ideas of ourselves and of God.

Know that the LORD, He is God!
It is He who made us, and we are His;
we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
and His courts with praise!
Give thanks to Him; bless His name!

As we come to know God, we can no longer make idols. For the "true lie" about God will be perfectly evident in the light of His presence, and any god we, in our sinfulness, could serve--including ourselves--will be equally well exposed there. As we come to know God, we'll understand that natural relation that we hold to Him, that relation that was lost in Eden and which Christ and the Holy Spirit seek to restore to us all, that we may no longer be "ignorant about what is real" and keeping "the falsehood in the soul".

Friday, December 21, 2007

A nice article on Charles Williams

If one is willing to ride to the White City, wipe away cobwebs and dust to reveal those unknown ancient manuscripts of the highest import, or perhaps just search for Charles Williams on Google, then they'll find this.
It's an older article on Charles Williams from the archives of Touchstone Magazine and it may be a nice intro to the man for those interested.

This Inkling is one of the most fascinating and inspired writers I've ever encountered. Check it out.

Monday, December 17, 2007

recent spotlight on church security

Following the recent shooting at a mega-church in Colorado where four were killed before a security guard shot the gunman dead, there's been a little buzz in the news about church security. [I've heard different information about whether the gunman was killed or shot himself, but I'm writing while assuming the former. Even if this is not the case most of my comments are still pertinent, and, of course, the natural intention in firing at the shooter would be to kill him.]
Christianity Today recently posted an article in this vein.

Here's a quote from the article, from the security head at a Dallas church that draws approximately 8,000 folks to Sunday services:
You can use your hands, you can go tactical, but these days, that's not the way people roll... You have to match force with force.

This chilled me to the bone.

I know that I'll sound crazy here... but the church can't operate this way.
A church security guard killed a man... and Jesus absolutely would not have condoned such a thing. Period.

How can I say this? Pretty simply. Look at the scriptures:
You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matthew 5: 38-39

Everything Christ says of violence in His ministry is in the negative. And when push comes to shove, of course He sticks to it.
Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword."
Matthew 26: 50-52

Now certainly this scenario is different from others that we may imagine: Christ is dying "that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." But can you honestly see Jesus having condoned the violent reaction in any other circumstance? If it had been the arrest of John the Baptist, perhaps, or someone else? No. We also see this reflected in the martyrdoms of the disciples, none of who offer violent resistance.
So, when the Lord Jesus's physical body was being destroyed by the Romans, He in fact did not call down the legions of angels to His aid. He didn't even so much as let Peter use his sword. Instead, Christ responded by calling down the grace of God: "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." Yet when we, the Body of Christ, see our members being harmed, we strike back in force, efficiently.
This is not what Jesus would have done.

Of course it just makes sense for there to be security at events with lots of people, and it's practiced across the board. Sports, political events, malls, Wal-Mart, where ever and whatever occasion. It's ethically justifiable for these security guards to kill, if they're protecting their charge. We have laws to protect those who kill in self-defense. But Christ is not operating this way.
It's almost like the flip-side of the "teleological suspension of the ethical" that Kierkegaard describes in Fear and Trembling. He is explaining how Abraham, as the man of faith, is absolutely justified in his deceptions leading up to the binding of Isaac, and would have been absolutely justified in killing the boy, because the call of faith supersedes the mandates of the ethical. Here however, the example of Christ is not allowing the Christian to supersede the ethical, but rather drawing a line before it is reached, and saying "this far, no farther. You are released from the ethical command to preserve your life."
This seems preposterous on so many levels. We know that the preservation of life is good. We know that you can't just let a man walk into the church and kill people. We seem to forget, however, that the church is not some other worldly organization. We are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. We naturally can not think of this in the same terms that the world does, in the terms that we have been raised to think of it in. Our kingdom is "not of this world."

So what's the alternative? I'm not sure. I'm torn between options.

One the one hand, I'm reminded of a story from Jim Cymbala's Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, where a gunman in the Brooklyn Tabernacle repents shortly after intending to murder the Reverend.

On the other hand I recall Columbine. These gunmen didn't repent, and Christians are murdered because they stand there and allow it--they choose it, even.

But then I'm also not sure as to why I'm unsure here. It does seem like this should be a difficult question to answer, or at least it seems this way so long as I ignore the fact that Christ has already answered it.
You seek the Kingdom of God, and, if need be, you let them kill you.

Now are we supposed to just stand there like sheep, letting the killer walk up to each completely unhindered? I think not. I think that Christians are called to stop the man, I just don't think we can justify whatsoever killing him. We catch bullets for others. We try our damnedest to get his gun away. But we do not kill him. We love him, all the while, as ourselves.

I realize that in the moment, with the man firing rounds nearby, the security guard's natural reaction will be to shoot him. Probably, it would be mine as well. That's just what we would instinctively do, what is ingrained in us. I'm not criticizing the guard for this. But is this what Jesus would naturally have done? No, I think not. And we are to be like Christ. "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ." I don't suppose St. Paul would have shot the man either. For Christ(and for Paul), this wouldn't have been the natural reaction. In the moment, His instinct would not be to kill the man. Thus ours should not either. He would simply have loved God, loved the man, and sought the Kingdom. We as a new creation, filled with the Holy Spirit, are to be cultivating these things are our new nature as well.

So should the guard have been put in this situation in the first place? Should we really carry guns in a church? Well, here we must ask ourselves what the point of the gun is--is it to prevent something? How? By killing? I don't think Jesus would have owned a gun.

Is there a difference between the man killing Christians and the murdering robber or psychopath? To say 'yes' and act accordingly, I think, would be to confirm some sort of spiritual/secular rift in regards to our actions: here killing is a spiritual issue and I will not do it; here, on the other hand... can we say that?

There are a lot of questions and there is nit-picking that can be done, but in the end, I can't help but point to one real question, one that surely, and perhaps only, must matter: how much are we REALLY supposed to be like Jesus? Because I simply do not see the Son of Man killing someone in ANY circumstance whatsoever. Ethical justifications, natural, good inclinations, the realities of the deadly potential of our weapons, whatever--these must go out the window, and the hackneyed but important question remains: what would Jesus really do?

For some more reading on all of this, Ben Witherington III also has a long, interesting post on the recent shooting(s) in the news.

Friday, December 14, 2007

oh, Mr. Hitchens...

Earlier in the semester I was reading in Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great; eventually I threw in the towel because one can only read so much ad hominem until growing tired of it. And honestly, when a man unabashedly shows his disdain for both Mother Teresa and Gandhi, can you really continue to take him seriously?
I had planned on reviewing the book upon finishing, but as you may have surmised by now, that will likely never happen. What I can say of what I read is this: Hitchens has little to say of the dangers of religions qua religions, but has much to say of the evils perpetrated by religious people throughout history. I'm not surprised that he came up with so much the say here, considering the vast majority of people in recorded history have been religious. I also question whether some of the disputes that he focuses on are even religious in nature at all, and may not be instead cultural or rooted in realistic conflict.

Nevertheless, I was struck by one thing in particular early in the book: Hitchens is a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I suppose everyone is, but then Christopher Hitchens must surely be exempt from all "everyone" statements. But no, he praises Bonhoeffer:
Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism, as did, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brave Lutheran pastor hanged by the Nazis for his refusal to collude with them.

Bonhoeffer, the adherent of some "nebulous humanism".
Now that I am actually reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I can't help but wonder if Mr. Hitchens ever actually has.
Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

The pastor mentions Christ over 30 times in the book's 4-page introduction. That's just the first four pages.
Somehow, apparently, religion didn't poison Dietrich Bonhoeffer, just everything else.

Monday, December 10, 2007

a real threat to our children

No, no I'm not talking about The Golden Compass. Not directly, at any rate.
Christianity Today recently gave their readers a sampling of the e-mails that they've received concerning the release of the film adaptation from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.
Most of the letters were similar: this man is malicious, purposefully targeting our children. I don't suppose I expected much else. So what that boycotts are good for publicity(for the film, at least)?

But then, the diamond in the ruff jumped out at me:
Am I worried about this new book infiltrating the brains of my three little ones? Not really. What I am more concerned with is the more subtle, soul crushing attacks of materialism in our culture that leads my kids at the ages of 5 and 3 to already tell me almost daily what possessions they want to acquire. I am more concerned with the ease and comfort that we live in that may anesthetize them to a need for the gospel.

Thank you, Mr. Zach Nielsen.

I'm not really concerned about the effects of Compass on our kids either. Especially not the film--which is particularly what the Christians are getting hot about--considering it has notoriously been wiped cleaned of it's anti-Christian message, settling for an attack on 'the Authority'. Kids aren't going to read to much into that. Nicole Kidman sure didn't.

But what about our lifestyles? The fact that the societal norm of luxury in the U.S. especially does not at all model the lives that Christ or the early church led? That we are teaching our children, by example and by exposure to the media, that things are what is most important in life?
THESE are dangers for the kids. Thank you Mr. Nielsen, again, for bringing up the unhappy truth of our situation.

Friday, December 07, 2007

a quote from Cicero

Anyone whose face is immortalized in a bust like so must be authoritative.
If it were possible to constitute right simply by the commands of the people, by the decrees of princes, by the adjudications of magistrates, then all that would be necessary in order to make robbery, adultery, or the falsification of wills right and just would be a vote of the multitude.

Cicero, De Legibus

He continued to say that "the nature of things" is not thus subject to "the opinions and behests of the foolish."*

The more you think about this, the more relevant you'll find it to be. I am personally reminded immediately of abortion.
The concept of "higher law" that Cicero is here referencing, the measuring stick by which human laws may be called "right" or not, is one of the deepest roots in American legal thought ("endowed by their Creator"), and reflects a particular form of that understood, philosophical "good" that I recently explored in another post.

*the quotations came to me in the form of Edward S. Corwin's essay The "Higher Law" Background of American Constitutional Law, wherein Corwin culls the brilliance of the classical thinkers concerning this "higher law".

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Creation, ID, Evolution, and some thoughts

It seems that Creationism has been a hot topic lately in LSU's campus paper. I didn't discover this until after I decided to tackle this topic on through the wardrobe, so I suppose the timing is Providential, and I'll avail myself of the ruckus in the paper as a nice springboard into the topic.

So let's paint a quick picture of the hot debate.
Apparently the first word was in the form of an opinion column written on why ID(intelligent design) should not be taught in schools. OK, seems like a common topic. Bring on the responses.
One such response caught my eye in a recent paper(my first glimpse of the paper's discussion) wherein the letter was sighting Lee Strobel in their defense of ID. Now, in all fairness, I admit that I've not read Strobel's The Case for a Creator, and I do not intend to. I'm simply assuming that taking this journalist's opinions on science will not behoove you much more than taking another journalist's, namely, Christopher Hitchens's, opinions on religion.

The one thing that's particularly evident in the discourses in our Daily Reveille, though certainly a common occurence, that I must note is this odd amalgam of Creationism and ID that everyone seems to be talking about: the conservative Christians are trying to defend it and the liberal thinkers are attacking it. For my part, I don't know the thing that they're talking about. While Creationism has its roots in the book of Genesis of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, ID is founded in Evolutionary science, building on a sort of "God-of-the-gaps" theory. These two concepts are not the same. At all.

At any rate, I see this discussion forming, and I fear for the worst, i.e., Christians battling for falsehoods and ending up looking pretty dumb.

I am a Christian and I affirm biology's theories on Evolution.

Why? Simple, I understand them to be true, or at least nearly so.
Bigger question: how do I go about reconciling the two things(evolution and Christianity), considering most seem to see this as a sort of either/or, line in the sand sort of issue? This answer is many-faceted.

reconciling worldviews?

How many aspects of these two concepts--broadly, Christianity and Evolutionary theory--actually must be reconciled? Perhaps fewer than one would at first expect. I think that there are a hand-full of major oversights role-playing in the great, divisive debate amongst the Christian community concerning evolution.

C. S. Lewis well deliniated one such point is his probably-most-technical book, Miracles.
Now everyone knows that I am a fan of Jack Lewis, and I could probably trace a lot of my own thinking to roots planted in some work or other of his. Everyone should also know that much of Mr. Lewis's non-fiction work is pretty weak. Fascinating, thought-provoking, but certainly not the end-all that he sometimes felt he was producing. He offers 'absolute' proofs of the existence of God in several of his works. To this, I can best respond in the voice of Austin Farrer(Lewis's confessor, actually): "An ‘inescapable demonstration’ must be a fallacy. For if a proof of this kind could be produced it would have been produced."
That being said, there are several, very good, I think, extraneous points made in Miracles, among which this is numbered.
Among this conjecture or that one in Miracles, one theme in consistently present that we should consider. This is the real divide between "nature" and "supernature"(Lewis's terminology). The essential point for our topic is this: science, biological, physical, natural science, is a systematic study of the natural existence. God is, according to Christian belief at any rate, supernatural, that is, not a part of the natural reality. He is, rather, related to it most basically in two ways, 1, as its Creator, and 2, through the Incarnation. Religion as a schema is talking about all things supernatural, entirely removed from the authority of science. I'm not at all trying to down-play that authority, but, as Voegelin would say, "different objects require different methods", and the supernatural existents of religious value are certainly different objects of study than any physical thing subject to natural being.
In layman's terms, science has no theological implications. It can't say anything about God, simply because it doesn't have the tools to study and thus authority to regard a supernatural existent.
Thus the scientific implications of Evolution say nothing of the supernatural Creator, save perhaps an explication of His methodology. Sadly, I've only ever had one science professor who seemed to understand this.
Some thoughtful Christians have offered different ideas on the theological implications of Evolutionary theory. Lately-blogged-on John Polkinghorne suggests that "from a theological perspective, evolution is simply the way in which creatures are allowed to explore and bring to birth the fruitfulness with which the Creator has endowed creation." This would be an interesting idea to pursue, but for my part I've read little on it and haven't considered the thing enough.

Regardless, I think that obviously the major issues to be taken with Evolutionary thought aren't really a scientific nature at all, but rather are with the supplementary, philosophical aspects of it that have been championed by materialists over the years.

Now some, of course, would hotly disagree with me here, holding that Evolution is still so problematic simply because it is in direct contradiction to scripture. Obviously they'd be primarily referring to the Book of Genesis's creation account(s).
One word on this matter: genre.

Genre is one of the most basic tools in literary criticism, yet it is most often disregarded by conservative Christians in Biblical criticism.
The Bible is a hodgepodge when it comes to the types of works it contains. We have histories, proverbs, poetry(and all sorts of subcategories there), prophecy, epistles, and myths, among other things. What it doesn't contain are scientific treatisies. While "myth" seems to carry a very negative connotation when speaking about the Bible, the account in Genesis does perfectly fit the bill. It has all sorts of mythological elements and is very similar to other creation myths of that area from that time.
That's not to say that Genesis's account lacks truth or meaning, it's just not presuming to carry the sort that literalists demand it have. There's still much to be learned about God and His relationship to man from the tale, but it just wasn't ever intended to convey scientific meaning.


As for why I think it is so important for Christians to affirm the theory of Evolution, I think Dr. Witherington said it well on his blog:
Christians should be leading the search for the truth. Christians should be committed to finding out the truth, however uncomfortable and however much it makes us adjust our political or even religious views.

Our God is Truth, and so naturally we should affirm, fight for, truth of all kinds.
The scholars and researchers of the biological-scientific community are best suited, I think, for identifying what the truths of biology are... and they are almost unanimously affirming Evolution.
There may be a handful of scientists who dissent, but they're certainly in the minority here. If they're researching unbiasedly and everything that they see truly points them towards, say, Intelligent Design, well great. But when the minds are seeking truth through science with intellectual integrity, as we should think they are, and are with one voice saying "Evolution!"... why argue with them?
There's no heresy in agreeing. There's no apparent falshood with agreeing.
Christians should affirm truth.

If, years down the road, some new theory arises from all sorts of evidence and is supported by the majority of the scientific community, I'll probably support that. This is their area of expertise, not mine.

What we as the Church must keep in mind is Truth, and we need to be more critical of what we do and do not--what we should and should not--label as such.

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are noble, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any worthy--meditate on these things.

Saturday, December 01, 2007