Heresy – “Dems fightin’ words!”

I always detested substitute teachers. Such disdain does not derive from some OCD-obsessed anxiety about disturbed routine. Such teachers were simply, for the most part, such a waste of time and added to the general ennui, I felt at school.

I think that I am developing a similar aversion for itinerant preachers. I am usually able to tame the theological flyswatter in me to the state of a lethargic, somnolent male lion. But the last few times when the local pastor skedaddles on holidays, the replacements always seem to bring a disturbance to my universe. The last time, I felt a need to fire off a missive to correct comments the pastoral temp made about Justification; an endeavour that I do not repent of, because of the import of the subject. On this occasion, no single item deserved all-out disputation. However, the accumulation of irritants rattled the soul and I made mention of it to my mother. She suggested that I raise my disagreements with the preacher. I deferred; prudently in retrospect.

I have heard this elderly preacher preach before and preach well; including at my eldest son’s wedding. And I am comfortable that he remains orthodox in all that matters; good-willed and gentle, perhaps too much the latter; a true servant. However, he has fallen for or has always believed in this Christendom fiction that Western principalities were ever Christian nations. That whole issue deserves it own dedicated series of essays.

Furthermore, he has become enamored by one of those really bad ‘Christian’ pulp fictions, called “The Harbinger” (2012). In it, the Messianic Rabbi Jonathan Cahn suggests that the 9/11 Twin Tower attack and the near-collapse of the global economy in 2008/9 were “ancient harbingers of judgment are now manifesting in America”. “God is sending America a prophetic message of what is yet to come”. 1 Written in fictional form, giving this pseudo-prophet deniability; verses from Isaiah are cited to apply to the current American situation.

‘The bricks have fallen down,
     but we will rebuild with dressed stone;
     the fig trees have been felled,
     but we will replace them with cedars.’
But the Lord has strengthened Rezin’s foes against them
   and has spurred their enemies on.2

Apparently, what must be one of the most hilarious and classic cases of Scriptural proof texting, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, seeking an encouraging word on the day following the Twin Tower attack, selected the above verse; not noticing that it was spoken in derision by the prophet in the context of unfaithful ancient Israelites, exhibiting national hubris, boasting of their nation’s resilience.

I know that there is only the smallest measure of inspiration that can be taken from this devastation. But there is a passage in the Bible from Isaiah that I think speaks to us all at times like this. ‘The bricks have fallen down but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled but we will replace them with cedars.’ That is what we will do. We will rebuild and we will recover…

Do I believe that Western nations are in decline? Yes. Though, I speculate that all the nations of the world have entered this Grand Prix Race to the bottom. And I can rationally correlate the relative decline of the Western nations to particular deviations from ethical conduct and the Christian outlook. The Twin Tower attack might very much to do with arrogant imperialist myopia and insularity, resulting in blowback. I am no credentialed specialist on Islam. But I knew that continuing to station American ‘infidel’ troops in Saudi Arabia after the 1st Gulf War was tantamount to holy war and anathema to Muslims; giving spur to zealot backlash. It would not differ from Antiochus IV, Pompey the Great, Emperor Caligula’s attempts to profane the Temple or Emperor Hadrian’s forbidding of circumcision. Apparently, the boys at Foggy Bottom were clueless or too timid to raise proper hackles. Perhaps, they were all graduates of Harvard!

The problem with such pulp fiction, disguising as valid prophetic commentary, is that it purports to have insight into the Sovereign Mind of God. On the day of the book’s release (January 3rd, 2012), Jonathan Cahn was interviewed by Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, with Robertson evidently endorsing the book. Obtaining an endorsement from a certifiable false prophet, (who purported to know the day of the Lord’s coming (October or November of 1982), a knowledge, even the Christ is denied4), should be a red flag. From the CBN web site (The 700 Club), America as chosen Christian nation is reiterated:

Israel and America are the only two nations that God sovereignly planted as a light to the nations.  “Those who laid America’s foundations saw it as a new Israel, an Israel of the New World.  And as with ancient Israel, they saw it as a covenant with God,” the Prophet says. To whom much is given, much is required.5

Applying verses, geared specifically to the Northern Hebrew Kingdom, as applicable to the United States nowadays, violates Paul’s admonition to Timothy concerning careful instruction.5 Such stretching of prophetic vagaries belong to Nostradamus. It discredits Biblical prophecy and prepares the day when real prophecy will understandably be ignored because false prophets were allowed free rein to blather without sharp rebuke by the timid and undiscerning Church leadership.

There were several other comments made in that sermon that I could shoot basketballs through. However, after spouting a strange set of ideas and endorsement of a book, which upon studious reflection should prove disingenuous and silly, there was odd irony to complete the discomfort.

Well acquainted with Israel, having conducted several tours there; this preacher has become a bit of a Judeophile. It is not something that I am not personally acquainted with. But he made comment about Amillennialists, who deny the application of latter day prophecies as relating to the Jewish nation. It was nothing less than heresy!

As Yosemite Sam would say, “Dems fightin’ words!”

It is not that I don’t concur with a Premillennialist eschatology (except a pre-tribulation rapture) or that there is distinction between the Church and Israel. The problem lies in flinging charges of ‘heresy’ about matters of “mint, dill and cumin” and straining at gnats.6 In the context of that sermon, it was supreme irony. But, it is unnecessarily schismatic, fractious and counterproductive. It engenders bad blood. When theologues behave in such fashion, especially over picayune points of theology; it discredits Biblical and theological study and love of God with the mind in those who observe such disputes, lending to loss of discernment and acceptance of all manner of true heresy. It violates numerable passages in Scriptures concerning liberty of conscience (i.e. Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8-10). “If on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you7, Paul wrote to the Philippians.

Being a student of history, I can always envision some great future travesty and atrocity emanating out from the pathways of minor deviations from Biblical purity. I am quite expert at it. Such an exercise could easily become a preoccupation, as addictive as online gaming. However, I am aware from own my life, it is the Spirit which protects us from falling; not scrupulous theological purity.

I can remember an period in my youth, when as a waiter in a Chicken restaurant, I would be internally confronted with difficult questions of doctrine of a substantive nature just before the supper rush. For foolish reasons, I found it incumbent to resolve such issues during the height of the dinner to relieve spiritual anxiety. I didn’t ever succeed until in the cool of the night when the answers would come to me. Day after day, this would go on for a month or so, before this sharp tool of a mind, started to notice a pattern. John Bunyan, in his autobiography, acknowledged a similar experience. So I am not singularly mad.

From my childhood, I knew that a typical man might be lucky to have 30,000 days. And I am quite certain that there are many multiples of Scriptural issues, however trivial and nuanced, that could need resolving. It would not seem profitable to expend a limited lifespan in the pursuit of resolving every theological point of order. And it would seem that with tens or hundreds of thousands of potential issues, chances are nil that we are going to get them all right. I have come across ancient and medieval Christian apologetics. And I am befuddled over what and why particular contentions had to be responded to. In summary, there will always be differences of opinion.

If we must label every difference of opinion heretical without distinction, we are bound to erecting churches, the size of johnny-on-the-spots, to serve each individual Christian. In my outhouse, of which I will be singular member, I should still think that schism will rack the pew.

It is written “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father.8 Considering that in the scheme of things, these ideological deviations do not pose a grave and immediate threat to any, it might be best to take Solomon’s advice and overlook an ‘offense’. In an age of so great a theological and ethical corruption in the Evangelical churches, we don’t need to harass and distract those who remain faithful with minor disputations.

Footnotes:

  1. From the advertisement for the book from the web site http://www.theharbinger-jonathancahn.com/Book/
  2. Isaiah 9:10-11
  3. Matthew 24:36-39 – v36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, ut only the Father.” Apparently, Pat Robertson outranks the Christ; reiterating a declaration made in 1976 in  a May 1980 “700 Club’ broadcast “I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world.
  4. The 700 Club, “Guest BIO – Jonathan Cahn: The Harbinger – Light to the Nations”, January 3, 2012,  http://www.cbn.com/700club/guests/bios/jonathan_Cahn_010312.aspx The latter part belongs to page 19 of “The Harbinger”
  5. 2 Timothy 4:2
  6. Matthew 23:23-24
  7. Philippians 3:15
  8. 1 Timothy 5:1
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The Right to Bear Arms

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (Second Amendment – U.S. Bill of Rights)

In my backpacking days through Europe, I would pick up travelling companions, usually of European descent themselves. In many ways, one uncovered more about the Continent and its attitudes through these fellow pilgrims than through the sights and sounds, we would share. But, I often had to forebear the residue of Old World arrogance towards us rubes from the colonies. On one such occasion, a German university graduate decided to lampoon the Americans to me. As he knew very little about Canada, I suspected that he figured me to be a lamentable victim of a vast vassal territory of that great power to the south. And though citizen of that vassal state; the European disdain aroused in me, an unnecessary compulsion to defend my Masters.

In this game of petty nationalist one-upmanship, to which I found the Europeans well-practiced and adept, the rub against the U.S. took the stereotypical path; Native Indians, black civil rights and of course U.S. crime and murder rates, including gun control. European perplexity at the Second Amendment, as a pathological innovation of uncivilized rednecks also made the rounds. I neither enjoyed playing apologist nor at the time performed well. It really isn’t worthwhile when one’s interlocutor is speaking in pontiff mode.

I didn’t know that even then, the most liberal of Europeans states, Sweden, had worse per capita crime rates (excluding murder) than the U.S. I have witnessed the phenomena of rapidly rising crime throughout all of Europe in the next 30 years since this conversation, while the U.S. crime rate, having topped out in the early 1990s, has retreated to early 1960s levels. Indeed, except for murder, most of Western, Northern and Eastern Europe have crime rates comparable or well exceeding (i.e. Sweden, U.K.) the U.S. The Muslim influx, upon close inspection, cannot reasonably explain the larger part of this development

Whenever one views comparable international homicide rates in relation to levels of gun ownership, one is struck by the lack of strong correlation. There are too many confounding factors which cripple the effort to scrupulously isolate the relationship. Israel and Switzerland have comparable gun ownership to the United States. However, their homicide rates can coincide with countries of low gun ownership. Israel compares to Scotland, who only has a 5% ownership rate (1994). Switzerland compares to England/Wales with a 5% ownership rate (1994). Italy has a 16% rate (1992) and 74% of all homicides are gun related. New Zealand has a 22% rate (1993) and yet only 12% of all homicides are gun related.1These examples are not meant to entirely disabuse the gun control argument. However, what is worthy of disabuse is the simplism that reduces life to singularities.

The one argument, I made then, however lamely, and which is pivotal to the discourse here, is that when looking at criminality over any given point of time, one must include the more organized and efficient forms, conducted by states and their officials. State sponsored crime rarely figures in this type of debate; probably because there is naïve belief that state crime cannot occur locally to any great degree. But when the state becomes itself the agent of criminality, it becomes virtually impossible to statistically enumerate the pandemic or bring to justice all those who participated. A general amnesty, except for worse offenders, is often granted after the ordeal to arrest the continuance of social unrest, going forward.

The irritation that I have with this fruitless debate is the lack of intelligibility in the discourse. For, even if the issue remains an idle occupation of the mind in this land of my birth, the ideas behind the Second Amendment remain a stroke of political wisdom. Perhaps, in its present incarnation, the Second Amendment fails. But that failure is due to the particulars; not in the theoretical understandings and principles of the American Founding Fathers.

Unfortunately, the discourse has debased into infantile political squabbling about self-defense and gun-related murder rates. But although these social aims have merit in themselves and figure in the larger scheme of things, the Second Amendment was not instituted for these reasons. The Constitution largely sought to avoid social policy aims. Its intent was to practicably manipulate the existing sociopolitical structures, with an adult appreciation for the realities of human nature, in order to construct a durable, peaceable, cohesive and free society. However, as exhibited by the experience of German Kaiser Wilhelm II after Bismarck, constructing complex political structures, devices and machinations might prove imprudent if people of similar caliber as the originators are required to maintain them.

The premise behind the ‘right to bear arms’ amendment was that political structures, dependent only upon legal paper, were not worth the price of the script they were scribbled on, unless backed by force of arms and a militant consent of the governed. The American Constitution is unique in constructing political dynamics within its constitution in order to achieve a goal; rather than proposing a set of ideals to which the body aspires to attain and maintain.

A tyrant with a standing army or a person/oligarchy/faction with a private army can circumvent all the fashioned and forged political and legal devices that maintain liberty and security. If an autocratically-inclined general, with either Napoleonic-like zealots or well-funded soldiers, takes it into his head to cross the ‘Rubicon’, the wide distribution of private arms might give him pause and deterrence.

Might does not make right. Nor can right guarantee might or even its own survival. There is no strict correlation between the Good and the power to implement the Good. God must be both Good and Omnipotent in order for a virtuous cosmos to exist. Good is a pipe dream without Power. Power is a horror without Good. In ‘normative’ times, virtue might produce that elusive moral authority and consent of the governed which gives military weight to virtue. However, scrupulous rendering of history finds ‘normative’ times less than the norm.

Thus, the Second Amendment’s purpose was primarily to exploit Realpolitick realities in order to secure and maintain a society with free civic institutions. These arguments might appear esoteric and become lost upon the vast majority of citizenry within America; and certainly with foreigners abroad. There is astonishing lack of historical literacy and a pollyannish perspective on human nature. But in considering long-term consequences instead of next-quarter bottom-line results, the prudence of these underlying ideas have been validated by the atrocities of state-sponsored crime in Europe’s 20th Century. Almost six times as many Jewish civilians were killed in central Europe during a six year World War than all homicides committed in America during the whole of the 20th Century.2 And that is just a blip in Europe’s long 20th Century civil discord (Niall Ferguson).

All other considerations being equal; a political culture more skeptical of authority and with wide distribution of armaments ought to, in normal times, produce more crime and tilt toward anarchy. However, the probabilities for widespread tyranny, oppression, persecution, state-sponsored atrocity and genocide are greatly diminished. The cost/benefit seems far more favorable to the American experiment; both theoretically and empirically.

A secondary premise, also (small-r) republican in nature, historically validated by the Roman Republic/Empire experience, is that the health of a society/civilization requires the continued active and responsible participation of its individual citizens for its maintenance. When the citizenry abdicate their civic duties, the state feels it incumbent to fill the void. As this process of abdication proceeds, the ensuing, increased burden on state resources eventually overwhelms the state. Society will become overtaxed and over-regulated in order to maintain this state-provided civil liberty, peace, stability and welfare. Eventually the state begins to eat society’s seed money, which is required for future prosperity and state revenues. A spiral of diminished wealth produced by the society, which is further predated by the state out of necessity, ensues. The ancient Roman experience matches this dynamic faithfully, as has the modern American. The well-regulated citizen-soldier militia gives way to professional standing armies (more compulsory at first) and then to private mercenaries. The abdication of military duty by the wealthy in the 19th Century extends to the middle class by the mid-1960s, leaving only the poor and the blacks to maintain the ranks.

Specific to 2nd Amendment considerations, self-defense offloads the burden on state resources by providing Realpolitick deterrence to criminality. Granted that households that self-arm might invite criminal invasions with greater arms and intent to use, there is a law of diminishing returns to that upward armament spiral for the criminal. Calculations of risk to life and limb still factor if the household arms even with minimal effectual weaponry. Of course, this only relates to premeditated and semi-premeditated offenses. Upfront, widespread gun ownership invites more violent confrontations between home owner and invader. Hidden is the value of deterrence. (How does one honestly and accurately measure opportunity cost?)

The alternative is the wide-scale ramping up of policing forces in order to accomplish the same effect. Otherwise, being swamped like medical emergency staff, certain categories of crimes get attended while offenses, deemed of lesser import, become ineffectually or never enforced. There will be lack of timely response. As seen in corporations and governments (i.e. Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans), the further away the problem is from the decision-makers, the more layers of approvals required, the less intimate knowledge of and stake in the situation, the longer and costlier the resolution.

The cost to such ramping up of policing forces; besides material cost to state and society, is an increased sense and reality of oppression; decreased sense of individual control over one’s fate. The political balance between public power and private power becomes tilted and skewered toward the former; lending to increased peril of tyranny and autocracy. The upside is theoretically there are fewer technologically effective weapons floating about, available and accessible, particularly dangerous in unpremeditated situations. However, lack of individual household ‘fortifications’ simply invites the unscrupulous to greater frequency of house invasions.

Esoteric arguments for the overall, long-term common good of a society to which all benefit, will be lost on a mother, with dead son lying across arms; a bystander casualty of crossfire between rival gangs. The immediacy of a protracted period of unpredictable randomness of violence and ensuing climate of fear and anxiety will weigh more heavily on the psyche of civilians than theoretical and obscure considerations of potential mass and state-sponsored violence. A bird in hand… Besides, in up-and-coming generations of illiterates of history, civics, culture and critical thinking, along with the superficial and simple-minded arrogance of the moderns, the worldly wisdom and nuanced subtleties of 18th Century sages are easily dismissed.

However, the Second Amendment, even if prudent in its underlying philosophy, is deeply flawed in its design implementation. Part of the reason was the understandable inability for the Founding Fathers to foresee such unprecedented, rapid technological advancements in weaponry, which would disturb and disrupt the balances they were attempting to achieve. It exposed the folly of formulating a somewhat impregnable and static legal statute at the mercy of technological change.

A clean rendering of the Amendment, without impartiality, without an agenda, without concern about the potential horrible ramifications of faithful interpretation; must lead to the prospect that a citizen ought to have the Constitutional right to own a nuclear missile or other weapons of mass destruction. A faithful, literal definition of the term Arms must include anything by which a person defends oneself and attacks another.

Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American… The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state government, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”3

In the face of repeater rifles (20 rounds per minute) and Gatling guns (de facto 400 rounds per minute – 1976), the awful ramifications of a literal rendition of the Amendment engendered dishonest rendering of the Constitutional Amendment by consequent Supreme Court jurists. Early court decisions reserved the right to individual state militias, not individuals. Or alternatively, the right could not be infringed by Federal Law. But state laws were permitted to restrict, although the 14th Amendment (incorporation) had been passed by the time of these first court decisions.4 The National Firearms Act (1934) was passed, in response to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, attempting to regulate and restrict allowable firearms in the name of revenue-collecting measures. The ensuing Supreme Court decision5 sought, through sophistry, to limit the arms publicly available by tying it to those currently used in militias. An honest application of that understanding would see that that which is publicly available would advance in lockstep with whatever essentially non-existent state militias (now National Guards) were using.

The Second Amendment is simply bad constitutional law which Supreme Courts, in genuine and honourable regard for the public good, attempted to mitigate through various disingenuous interpretations. Indeed, there really doesn’t exist any intellectually honest relationship between current jurisprudence over the issue and the Constitution. The current state of affairs is really a political compromise between opposing factions, under the cover and guise of Constitutional niceties.

Perhaps, a constitutional revamping has never been politically feasible. But, if the courts had faithfully rendered the Constitutional Amendment as written; in light of the horrible practicable ramifications that it presently poses; would the nature of the debate be as idiotic as it is today? Would not necessity have forced a change in public attitudes towards the Amendment? (In union circles, it is called work-to-rule; showing the stupidity and unworkability of existing company rules and regulations by following them.)

The intelligibility of the public discourse is just too dumbed down and degenerate; too beholden to extremist factional dogmatism and mantra-like mottos. ‘Guns don’t kill, people do.’ Absolutely true! That is; until some robotics technician fabricates machines that start shooting on a randomizer algorithm. The truth of that slogan might become less evident. Even so; the critical issue becomes less motive and intent, than the extent of potential damage possible, through greater technological efficiency, in the hands of those so motivated. The greater concern for gun control opponents ought to be the consent of the governed; the continued support in future generations for principles which are less apparent in the face of immediate and emotional tragedies.

Likewise, those, who simple-mindedly assume a close correlation between availability of firearms and homicide, without giving due considerations to the potential and inclusion of state-sponsored crimes or all the other legitimate political and empirically substantiated concerns; deny their own cause of credibility. No doubt, the relationship between firearms and homicides exist; even if loose. It is simply intuitive and rational. Power-potential multiplied by intent roughly equals effectual-outcome. Increase the power potential, effectual outcome increases accordingly. It might not be scientific law. And certainly those major elements should be drilled down to get at basic roots of the problems. Nevertheless, sophomoric arguments that gun bans/control = safer society flies in the face of international comparisons. Other factors, without even giving consideration to unreported state-sponsored crime, often impose greater influences.

Those lobbies, which rely on constitutional scripts of paper, without addressing legitimate considerations of their adversaries, while protecting the spirit of their own concerns, are, in the light of the current technological environment, merely biding their time before some domestic atrocity of Twin Tower dimensions, jeopardizes the moral authority of their position.

What might a Solomaic or Solonic solution look like? If the concern is a last resort protection against tyranny in government; to what extent nowadays could a people with private arms deter a potential autocrat or oligarchy, who has the full hyper-power of a military-industrial complex at their disposal? This poses a complex and difficult calculation; since any potential tyrant would also have to factor in military opposition. Considering how sheepishly the Americans acquiesced on the TSA scans, it is credible to doubt whether the citizenry have the stomach for private insurrection against tyrannical government. (Besides, civil discord due to extreme sociopolitical polarization might be the greater peril to the U.S. body politic at this moment in time.)

However, the equation should theoretically be roughly determined by the minimum amount of potential military power that is required by the people to deter a would-be tyrannical autocrat/oligarchy/faction; if not from grabbing power, at least from sitting comfortably on the throne with relative peace and peace of mind. That equation should roughly determine the level of firepower the citizenry should be legally able to retain. Anything above that doesn’t really add much to the political deterrence. Increased firepower in the hands of private citizenship also poses the opposite threat of anarchic atrocity, which tends to engender desires for strong men to keep the peace (i.e. French Revolution –> Napoleon, Roman Republic civil wars –> Caesar Augustus). Also for consideration, is it preferable, in view of the current ‘moral’ state of the people, for individuals to provide their own deterrence to criminals or to have a strong, and potentially dangerous, policing force? To these considerations must be included the important, but not only effect on public safety, of firearm availability. To address a political and socioeconomic system which serves only a subset of the population, resulting in loss of faith, consent and participation by the alienated, might provide better public safety than gun control. To this, because of technological change, forced revisitation of the issue every quarter or half century would be prudent.

Because of the decline in crime rates since the early 1990s in the U.S., the gun control controversy has become somnolent. This essay has little immediate practicability or resonance. The exercise hopes to demonstrate a more intelligible and balanced, less partisan approach to these types of conundrums than the puerile level of thought that can be encapsulated on placards.

Footnotes:

  1. Gun City, “International Homicide Comparisons”, Updated 5/20/2006,http://www.guncite.com/gun_control_gcgvinco.html
  2. Between 1900-59 – 390,136 murders (Watenburg, The Statistical History of the United States, 1976) Between 1960-96 – 666,160 murders and non-negligent manslaughters (Statistical Abstract of the United States, http://www.census.gov/statab/freq/98s0335.txt
  3. Tench Coxe, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788. (Delegate for Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress.)
  4. United States v Cruikshank (1875), Presser v. Illinois (1886)
  5. United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939)

Philosophical Sectarianism

In order to inoculate and neutralize religious sectarianism, strife and tyranny from overflowing onto the public sphere; with consequential travesty, atrocity and devastation; a political formula was adopted seeking to ensure pluralism of religious worldviews, ethics and ethos. Although a good in itself, from an individual standpoint; the motivations behind this proposition were primarily meant to neuter the ability of one form of factionalism from undermining the survival and welfare of free civil societies. The concern of the American Founding Fathers about the insidious and deleterious effects of faction upon civil government was profoundly expressed throughout their writings; from the Federalist Papers to Washington’s Farewell Address.

Classical education informs us of the recurring civic convulsions of Greek city states between aristocratic and democratic factions; of the Roman Republic’s implosion, resulting from class warfare and the culture wars between the old Republican guard and upstart Hellenized Romans; or of the enervating effects of national division between orthodox and Hellenized Jewish factions, as they contested against Greek and Roman imperialists from the Maccabeans to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The specter of the 16th and 17th Century religious wars, culminating in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), whereby one third of Germany’s (Holy Roman Empire’s) population lost their lives and its landscape was devastated, still haunted. America was initially populated by Europe’s oppressed religious ‘losers’ in the religiopolitical squabbles of those preceding centuries.

The American constitution attempted to ameliorate the effects of the faction of self-interests; the First Amendment to nullify the effects of the faction of ideology.

The Founding Fathers adopted the formula: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”:  as the legal device by which this ideological pluralism would be achieved. It was not that the concept of “separation of state and church” was unknown before Jefferson’s famous letter to the Danbury Baptists. A variation on that same theme was expressed as far back as 1644 by Baptist theologian and Rhode Island statesman, Roger Williams. “[A] hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world” was an iconic expression of the political sentiments that emanated from the 16th Century Anabaptist tradition.

However, the Founding Fathers rejected that formulation. The formula that was adopted may have been a compromise between the Federalist (i.e. Washington and Adams) and Democratic-Republican (i.e. Jefferson and Madison) wings; going by other artifacts and writings of the times. The Federalist conception of the limits of religious establishment differed from the Jeffersonian-Madisonian; the former seeking only to restrict proper church institutions. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which governed the mid-west territories until their statehood; explicitly permitted religious instruction in the public schools. The latter, demonstrated by Jefferson’s and Madison’s advocacies in Virginia, sought to adopt a form of European laïcité; whereby religious worldviews would be effectually eliminated from the public domain including the schools.

Separation of church and state, which has increasingly become the guiding interpretation the world over governing such relations, is a flawed concept. The more “high and impregnable” and “absolute” that wall is, the more irrational and absurd. For instance: unless the state intends to leave the Catholic Church to judge its own sexual pedophile predators, in accordance with an absolute divorce of jurisdictions, those who advocate such laïcité cannot but be inconsistent with their principle. The effectual consequence of this laïcité denies the influence of the religious in the public domain, while at the same time; ‘pragmatism’ demands public oversight of religious institutions and individuals. Logically, laïcité means not separation of church and state; but subordination of church under state in a slow meandering eventuality to reach what existed in the French Revolution (The Civil Constitution of the Clergy) or in Communist states.

So long as the scope of powers of government is circumscribed; so long as there is a common moral ethic, although underlying secularist metanarratives do not support a Christian ethic; the principle of separation of church and state doesn’t cause undue hardship. What wasn’t conceivable in the minds of the progenitors of this precept of separation of church and state was the prospect that large swaths of the population could ever entertain an agnostic / atheistic / antitheistic stance. North America might be nominally Christian (CINO). However, the conventional wisdoms that prevail, particularly at the official and elite level, are significantly secularist and materialist in nature. It was a failure of imagination, especially in light of known historical fact that the Hellenist and Roman ruling elite were religious in name only. “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful” (Seneca).

Western liberal judiciaries have exploited the concept of separation of church and state to preclude and exclude even rationally argued spiritually-derived values and the concerns of theists from the public domain. Thus, what was intended to inoculate Western societies from sectarianism of a theological nature has ironically opened up a much greater and graver sectarianism of a philosophical nature; between sacralists who subscribe to a theistic universe and secularists who subscribe to a materialist and naturalist universe. The application and misapplication of the separation of church and state interpretation is producing the very sociopolitical conditions it was meant to avoid.

It is not the fine points of philosophical debate that drives the cultural and civilizational acrimony and wars. Rather, it is the implementation and coercion of these ideas. It is the social opprobrium that translates into the punishment of the consciences of ideological adversaries, including the incurring of economic loss and disadvantage (i.e. candidate inadmissibility in public related jobs). It is judicial, bureaucratic and political officials attempt to compel, by threat of fines and incarcerations, those individuals and groups who belong to a different ethic and ethos and who find the official ethic distasteful, stupid, foolish and even wicked. Philosophical sectarianism, no less than religious sectarianism, produces a resentful class of second-class citizens; a dangerously acrimonious social and political environment well described by George Washington over two centuries ago.

However, the secularist, cosmopolitan elite are as deaf as the Tsar. Believing or disingenuously propagating the self-serving deception that their beliefs are incontrovertibly verified in reason, fact and science; their intellectual arrogance attempts to impose an ethic and ethos upon all. However, the premises of the secularist, naturalist, rationalist, nihilist and materialist are unproven, irrational and cannot stand up to critical scrutiny. They constitute a constellation of tenets of an ancient Ionian metanarrative, a cosmological viewpoint, which is as complex as the religious systems they scorn. Their belief system is as untenable to the sacralist as the various sacralist worldviews are to these secularists. As Madison stated in his discourse on faction (Federalist Papers); “As long as the reason of man continues to be fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.” However, the complexity of these overarching theories make incontrovertible proof or disproof improbable; even if the adjudicator is honest and not looking for an intellectual cover for his own preferred manner of living.

In a previous age, when various Christian theologies held the Commanding Heights of society and government in their various jurisdictions; the Bible, the Catholic Magisterium and various Protestant Magisteriums (though they won’t admit to it) were believed to be so true, that common sense demanded that they be imposed onto all.

A theological discourse to demonstrate the invalidity of this proposition would bore most readers. Nevertheless, there has been a historical Evangelical understanding, though not faithfully and consistently practiced, that Christianity has no obligated duty to impose a Theonomist regime. “Let the blind lead the blind” (Matthew 15:14). It is not merely that different Christians (or other sacralists) will interpret the rather complicated and nuanced Scriptures differently (or the same Christian differently at different junctures of his same life). It is that even if one had perfect understanding of the Full Counsel of God, one had no more authority to impose his perfect understanding than God generally allows Himself to impose, except when He deems the moral rot of any given person or society to be too intolerable for the general welfare of humanity. The natural consequence of our actions ought to be our tutor. This has been the general gist of historical Evangelical thinking.

To what extent Christianity ought to be brought into the public square, poses deep conundrums. There are no hard and fast rules that New Testament Scriptures provides. However, one would not know this if one considered the history of Christendom. Wariness about a Christian commonwealth or conservative authoritarianism is as understandable and shared even by Francis Schaeffer as that of a liberal statist social totalitarianism.

Modern secularists, or most forms of them, have merely become a different form of fundamentalist; transferring the basis to impose and coerce their values from the Word of God or some derivative thereof, to the tyranny of reason; their reason; or an epistemological approach to truth (science) which suffers from many of the same fallibilities and shortcomings as are found in other epistemological approaches to truth. How useful is peer review in a discipline and among practitioners, governed more by philosophical dogma than by established and incontrovertible proof; or one that is susceptible to internal and/or external political and economic pressures and interference?

The absurdity of the reign of Reason becomes quickly apparent if one gives consideration to the largely secular philosophical battles between the different schools of the ancient Greek academies. Whose ‘reason’ should rule? The absurdity also manifests itself in the philosophical winds and scientific theories that have come and gone through the revolving door of history

Even the nihilists and cultural and moral relativists are guilty of secular fundamentalism in their Cult of Tolerance; with a hilarious dose of hypocritical inconsistency to boot. Perfect tolerance logically demands the tolerance of the intolerant; not to impose your non-committal to truth upon those who are committed to some version of truth. However, it is not reason and science that really governs most souls of men. They want what they want. Reason and ideology generally serve as intellectual and moral cover for self-interest.

The secularist, cosmopolitan elite are as deaf as the Tsar. Some still believe in the myth of a liberating Secularist Triumphalism over the theocrats and sacred texts; as simple-minded and sophomoric a conception of history as those constructed by Adolph Hitler and Ayn Rand. Others believe that their current hold over almost all the organs of societal and political power, they can withstand and contain the fury of their ideological adversaries. In this, they are historical illiterates.

The two broad sweeps of philosophical thought, between naturalist and theist, are contending for the Commanding Heights of society; perhaps everywhere; but most acutely and evidently in the U.S. These broad metanarratives provide the waters that perennially nourish and refresh all the acrimonious socioeconomic and political issues in contention. But, it is not the ideas themselves that threaten social cohesion and peace. Rather, it is in the foolhardy arrogance of one side or the other, coercing the other through soft and hard totalitarian measures. It is the unwillingness to bend backwards to accommodate the both sides to live their affairs largely free of external interference and without direct and indirect economic detriment. It is the preclusion from the public square, the opinions of the other on the basis of some self-serving criteria. The American Founding Fathers had given due warning to the consequences of faction. We have been obliviously sleepwalking to the scenarios they described and feared.

 

Preliminary Comments on Political Thought and Analysis

From the outset, I do not wish to give the impression that I hold to strong commitments to any current political theology, current or party. I have had party memberships in the Reform/Conservative Party in times past. However, my ideological relationship with them and with the various variants of conservatism has been one of unease and not infrequent disgust. My aversion to parties on the Left stems from my fierce love of liberty from statism and their unjust laïcité preclusion and marginalization of spiritually-inspired values and rational thought from the public square. Should they continue to fail to systematically accommodate their ideological adversaries, there will be future social and political conflict of a hotter kind.

I have spent much of my life contemplating political theory, dynamics and systems. I even entertained forlorn hopes in entering that realm. However, I am much too intellectually honest for the times; too much the purist to stomach necessary compromises; and I am simply without the necessary social graces and charisma. I didn’t have a chance.

However, after many decades entertaining political dynamics etc., I have determined, consistent with a seminal theme of Biblical Scriptures, that political structures, devices and machinations, hold little ultimate power against the ideological and ethical movements, dynamics and decadence of society. There is no fool proof system, devised by men, which the genius of other men cannot subvert and circumvent. There exists no Christian political theory, on this side of the Second Coming. Political and politicized Christianity is a bastard child. In light of the Scriptural persuasion, exemplified by ultimate failure of the ancient Hebrew state; by various passages which discounted external regulations and political ploys from saving the soul and person of man (i.e. Hebrews); I repudiate any enduring political theology. And the trepidation, I fear for the future of humanity, is too great to be resolved by political machination.

As the pompous showboat General Douglas MacArthur, nevertheless accurately portrayed on the state of humanity in the Radio Address, following the Surrender of Japan ceremony (September 2, 1945):

The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural development of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.”

If I speak on affairs political and social, it is from one crying in the wilderness, happily outside of mainstream, probably in the radical middle, making observations and analysis, which no doubt satisfy neither the pundits and profits of the Right or Left. My immediate concern is the intractable and increasing socioeconomic and political polarization which is overtaking every country in the West, prominently in the United States; evident also in Europe. My home country, Canada, is lagging in this disquieting development; simply because this boring nation, from the vantage point of intellectual and ideological interest; one lacking of ideological commitments; this most latitudinal and Anglican (Episcopalian) of nations; is probably in the best shape, in terms of social / political / ideological divide, for these very reasons.

I believe in the common good; but best arranged and provided for, through the voluntary conduct of private actors. I only see depredation and oppression in state-sponsored initiatives, often arrogant and misguided and with many so-called detrimental unintended consequences. However, as a student of history, I am not unaware of the historical social dynamic that as any people become less ethical, the consequential social harms and costs induce the state to mitigate the situation, invariably aggrandizing state power to the detriment of all other. I am also aware that minimalist government, without breaking up and reducing concentrated corporate power, furnishes just as evil a social environment as one of statism.

I have long, as conservative and Evangelical, been concerned with increasing economic disparity since the Fall of the Soviet Union, with resulting social, political and legal inequality; at a time when one mysteriously, barely heard a peep from the Left on such matters. I anticipate an era, not unlike the social agitations of 19th and early 20th Century Europe in the coming decades. The world will adjust leftward in order to forestall civil discord and revolution. It might also be an era when all the chickens come to roost.

If I harbour any socioeconomic and political aspirations for the present world, it would be in being able to arrange a social peace between all the increasingly polarized tensions in the various societies; between the secular and the sacral; the wealthy and the poor; the moralist and the libertine, the nihilist and the absolutist; the feminist and the upcoming masculinist.

I do despair.

With that, I proceed

Johnny Hutchinson
as of Wednesday, August 29, 2012

“Deep Character Change Through Deep Friendship” – Tim Keller’s Mission for Marriage

Among the rationales for marriage, usually by those with this overzealous ‘give glory to God’ sentiment, is for personal sanctification (pursuit of virtue or righteousness). “God’s primary purpose for marriage is to use it to help shape us into the image of His Son”. Tim Keller (“The Meaning of Marriage”), who has a more intelligible grip on marriage and speaks and writes in the vernacular rather than Christianese, would suggest a primary mission is “deep character change through deep friendship”.

Marriage as conduit for righteousness emits of a Stoic odour, whereby virtue primarily exists for its own sake and as ultimate goal. With spouse and relationship becoming vehicles to exploit for personal ends, even noble ends; that very dynamic becomes unethical in a ‘noble’ cause.

The onus is wrongly reversed. That which ought to be esteemed is denigrated under that which is esteemed. Although optimally, regardless of which element is stressed, character change or friendship, the same level of virtue should theoretically be produced; in prizing character change over relationship and spouse, in altering ultimate telos (purpose), the latter suffer from lacking primacy of regard, concern and love. The spouse will sense that denigration as consequence, even if virtue is of the highest caliber. In placing the ‘god’ of virtue over the ‘god’ of love, the spouse will duly suffer neglect, especially as humanity falls short of attaining the highest caliber.

Christ’s preaching concentrated upon the Kingdom; whereby virtues are means to accomplishing those ends and outcomes. The good society ultimately is one populated with self-governing, virtuous people, who even Karl Marx noted, might not even have need of an external governance. The outsider will be prone to first observe the quality of the outcome and only later inquire as to the means by which it was brought about.

Marriage is the end mission and purpose. A good marriage always brings glory to God because it requires the practicing of His principles in order to achieve it. Deep character change is conducive to the quality of deep friendship. The desire for deep friendship ought to motivate deep character change. Those who stress ‘glory to God’ in its various manifestations, have proclivity to short circuit His counsel for their own manufactured ‘traditions of men’.

Marriage’s main mission and telos ought to be to foster deep friendship through deep character change.

Faith and Good Works – Part 1

By works a man is justified and not only by faith.

The interminable debate, between a ‘justification by faith alone’ and those insistent upon adding deeds to faith in order to acquit ourselves before God, continues apace. Of recent, its embers reignited in the 1980s between Evangelicals themselves; John MacArthur leading the charge against the travesty of supposedly born again, walk-up-the-aisle Christians whose continued scandalous conduct differed little from the non-Christian. Dubbed ‘Lord Salvation’ by their ‘Free Grace’ adversaries, the theological adversaries felt it incumbent to protect the sufficiency of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice to justify sinners, from all encroachments. It was perceived that if following Christ as Lord (obeying His injunctions) was necessary, justification ultimately reduces to a salvation by works.

‘Faith alone’ or ‘faith plus works’; this defining controversy from the Reformation era, breaching Protestants from Catholics, has never been resolved. The Pauline theology of Romans and Galatians and that of James has never been satisfactorily reconciled. Some speculate that those two apostolic age giants represented rival Christianities; with the ideological camp of James succumbing to external events; the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 A.D; the reduction of the Jewish homeland to a Roman province; thereafter, a scattering and dissipating of the James camp, which had been centered around Jerusalem.

It is claimed, that Martin Luther desired a delisting of the book of James from the Biblical Canon for its apparent confusing contradiction to sola fide theology. “It is well known that Luther deemed it impossible to harmonize the two apostles in this article, and characterized the Epistle of James as an “epistle of straw,” because it had no evangelical character (‘keine evangelische Art’).1

Catholic and Orthodox traditions, based on passages like James, conceive of justification and salvation as one of Christ acting as the initial gate onto a path leading to God, where good works and a process of sanctification (process toward moral perfection) act as necessary prerequisites to advancement on that route to final salvation. Paul’s disparaging of a justification that combines the gracious forgiveness of God through faith in Christ with obedience to the Mosaic Law, they dispose of by replacing Mosaic Law as the object of necessary obedience with a revised and somewhat inscrutable and mutable criteria of their own.

Such beliefs have tendency to instill an uneasy insecurity in one’s salvation and a performance driven Christian walk, with a natural logic which degenerates into extreme feats of spiritual athleticism (i.e. ascetic desert hermits, self-flagellation) in order to prove oneself worthy of the gracious mercy of God.

The Reformers begin with the premise that perfect righteousness is the default and necessary expectation of humanity by God; this same James that puts Reformers’ knickers in a twist, substantiating. This is an impossible task, before and after conversion. Therefore, a legally satisfying punishment is demanded for crimes against God and all creation for the harms done. To accept anything less; to acquit the guilty without due recompense; would indict God as evildoer Himself and hypocrite, since He condemns such adjudication. As One who declares that His Kingdom shall be governed by Righteousness and Justice, his moral authority to reign would be lost. God might remain God. But without Righteous judgment and consistency with His own declarations, His reign rests on pure power alone. Christ, as substitutionary punishment and imputer of perfect righteousness to men, serves as legitimate alternative, allowing God to remain just, yet the justifier of such criminals. This is the heart of the Gospel.

Manifold rational and ethical/legal problems ensue in melding good deeds with faith in Christ’s substitutionary death. It denigrates the infinite personal worth of Christ. If Christ’s sacrifice must be supplemented by some divine or humanly devised criteria of works and/or sanctification, it suggests that His worth is insufficient to bear all the sins of humanity and provide the Righteousness of God in men.

Logic demands that if justification requires both faith and good works, then both conditions must be perfectly met in order for the justification equation to be satisfied. If even the slightest streak of shortcoming and evil exist in any and all acts that we do, whether in the particulars of the act or in the motivations behind it, that deed does not meet the divine standard of righteous conduct. In our ignorance, we do not even know how short of the glory of God we are; whether in ethical specifics or ethos. And those with deep insight into the motions of their own heart can attest to some untoward motivation infecting every deed that we do. “All we assign to man is that, by his impurity he pollutes and contaminates the very works which were good. The most perfect thing which proceeds from man is always polluted by some stain.  Should the Lords therefore bring to judgment the best of human works, he would indeed behold his own righteousness in them; but he would also behold man’s dishonour and disgrace.2

This is an impossible and futile task. Therefore, we cannot meet the second condition of a justification by faith and good works.

However, in positing a justification by grace of God through faith in Christ, Protestant theology is prone, in pendular and opposite reaction to Catholicism, to produce lawlessness (antinomianism) in its adherents. A faith, which many define as merely acceding to the truth of certain cosmological views, theological assertions and ethical principles, it often produces a cold, formalistic and passionless adherent. The exception might be those purists who become schismatically impassioned over picayune points of theology. Such lawlessness and frigidity gives strength and sustenance to the credibility of the Catholic/Orthodox position. It provokes even despairing theologians in the Protestant camp to decry about cheap grace, the get-out-of-jail-free-card-salvation that their congregations often devolve into. Such despair consequently moves such theologians dangerously close to a works salvation.

Having laid out the background for the dispute, herein lays the full expression of the James passage in question:

“What does it profit, my brothers, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? can faith save him?   If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,  And one of you say to them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled; notwithstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body; what does it profit? Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.  Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?   Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar?  See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?  And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.  You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.  Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”3

How does the Reformed/Evangelical camp generally deal with this impossible to harmonize passage from James? The common refrain is to suggest that good works will inevitably and mysteriously show up in those who have been regenerated / converted. Good works will become the “inevitable manifestation of a true saving faith and justification” or “good works and love necessarily flow from real justifying faith4. Faith in Christ is the root; good works are the fruit. Fruits do not appear before the root.

There is much dissatisfaction with this interpretation. As true is the assertion (Matthew 7:16-20), this eventual fruit dynamic is not being expressed here. Under this interpretation of the passage, a Reformer who encountered a brother or sister in want would declare, I will warm and fill you myself when the process of my sanctification permits me to do so. From the perspective of brother, the sister or James, this would hardly pose much improvement. The good work, associated with faith in this passage, is immediate, direct and deliberate.

The Protestant Evangelical explanation has always lacked credibility to my perfectionist soul. We dance and prance around its understanding; even while practicing in accordance to it. Yet, we cannot seem to capture and enunciate the definitive essence of its meaning. I have yet encountered an exposition that rationally squares the apparent contradiction between Paul’s ‘faith’ and James ‘works’ to my satisfaction. This does not deny that Scriptures repudiates a faith which lacks works.5 It is the inability to rationally reconcile the conundrum, which remains unsettling. (However, faith in God requires trust in His counsel, despite the inability to fully understand it.) Thus, like a father who is so peeved with how the existing Little League baseball coach is teaching his boys and decides to give it a go the next year; I’ll try my hand at this.

In my case, I am a little advantaged by an understanding acquired through a psychosis that has bedeviled me, to varying degrees, in excess of three decades. I faced an interminable onslaught of horrid blasphemies6 and had been mindlessly labeled with OCD7. Those, with personalities to which such afflictions are prone, try to place square pegs into round holes by every variant way possible, before eventually moving onto the next impossible method. Having tried at least a couple of dozen ways to overcome the affliction, I had settled for a futile routine of “praying away the thoughts” (i.e. that God would take them and snuff into their proper destination, whatever that means and wherever that is). The underlying heart motive is psychic relief against the guilt for the presence of such thoughts; to deny culpability.

In one of those epiphanies (March 31/April 1, 2005); like the day JFK was shot or the Twin Towers attacked, where one remembers all particulars of where one was and what one was doing, it struck me that if one believes that God in Christ will deal with such mental flak, praying for Him to do so again and again amounts to a prayer of unbelief. In order to truly believe that God in Christ deals with the flak, one needs to let go and ignore the flak; contrary to the lousy counsel I was receiving. I had kept asserting (to myself) that I believed that God would understand and would deal with it. But until I acted on the assertion, acted as one who believed that God will deal with it, I did not have genuine faith in the matter. Temporal relief from the onslaught ensued. (Other lessons were needed to be learnt before final victory.)

An assertion of belief is not true trust. True faith demands a behaviour that corresponds with and is predicated upon the belief. The above passage, which passed through the mind at the time, personally took on a different and revolutionary personality.

This James passage has very little to do with good works. What it delineates is the definitional nature and quality of faith or trust. It speaks not merely of Biblical faith, but faith as a general philosophical concept; one which transcends faith in God and can be applied universally to any form of faith. The object of true faith is that upon which we directly, deliberately and in the immediate, base our lives, decisions and actions. Our emotional and psychological responses will react in accordance with these perceptions and conceptions of truth. Our rational conclusions will deduce from these basic beliefs of truth and/or other conclusions deduced from such basic beliefs.

Like gravity, faith is an intangible influence, implied and indirectly evidenced by phenomena under its sway. Faith can only be demonstrated by empirical observable acts; whether subjectively pietist, observable only to the subject; or objectively and material, observable to all, to the ability that all can reliably observe. But faith itself, in order for it to be faith, is a psychologically active dynamic which acts to route the propelling of the will. Faith, by definition, must be directive. To have faith in any object or entity, the object or entity of that faith must sway our practicable lives.

One cannot be said to genuinely believe in the integrity of a motor vehicle, in the integrity of the traffic system, in the integrity of the operational manual, in the competence and goodwill of the driver(s) and in the virtue of one’s own life, etc.; unless one becomes a passenger or is genuinely willing to confidently do so. Prior to that willingness or participation, it is mere expressed assertion or opinion. Faith puts pedal to the metal to those truths and counsels that one subscribes to.

One can declare incessantly that he trusts wife or children to bring back the car at such and such a time so that one can get to work. But if a taxi is phoned well beforehand to arrive at that time, it betrays such declarations of trust. Politicians cannot credibly declare that they believe one policy as the best while pursuing something radically different. If unbelief is not being attested, one must conclude that the politician doesn’t believe in seeking the best welfare of the society or in giving precedence to his own personal (partisan) interests over the best welfare of the society. If actions differ from what one purports to believe, is it not indicative that the hearts of hearts is motivated by some other belief or precedence of belief?

A multitude of scenarios could be conjured to elucidate this faith dynamic.

Faith is an active ingredient (though not the only one) which permeates all our endeavours and actions. All people have faith. The issue becomes upon what is our faith dependent. It is not that what we believe automatically generates and propels our actions or will (contra David Hume). It is that our will draws upon, perhaps obscurely to us; that which we truly believe. The person, who trusts the contents of one’s belief, directs his actions according to those contents and their ramifications. Faith, by its very definition, must involve such reliance on the truth of those contents to direct the will.

And it is to this that James alludes. Faith without works is dead. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. To be dead is to be inert, inactive, without internally-generated animation. The contents of dead faith remain divorced and alienated from our actions. The contents of living and real faith are animated by our will to direct toward or away from particular courses of action. James’ allusions to Abraham or Rahab are set as examples of faith as active psychological ingredients which direct decisions and behaviour.

A creedal-like assertion is not faith, even in the generic sense, if it doesn’t have active influence, a living part to play in our conduct. A belief assertion, orphaned from practicable bearing on our lives, remains just an assertion. One does not trust it; does not rely on it. I would contend that dead faith is not faith at all; just as a corpse or skeleton doesn’t genuinely qualify as a human being.

The Just shall live by [his] faith.8 That declaration, made famous and pivotal by Martin Luther, does not define the Just as those who inculcate and express an opinion of that which they believe. Rather, the Just are defined as those who live in accordance to what they believe; whose course of their lives are determined by what they subscribe, to the extent that they are able to effect it. Perhaps this take on the verse deviates from historical understanding (i.e. to live being understood as eternal and abundant life). However, this altered interpretation is not inconsistent. Indeed, the Old Testament source from which it derives adds [his] to its understanding; giving it a flavor, consistent with the James understanding of faith. The verse stresses the attributes of being Just. That is; the quality of a Just person is one who lives in reliance on what he/she believes in relation to God’s self-revelation.

Conceiving of the definitional nature of faith in this manner completely, at least to my mind, reconciles the differing emphasis of Paul and James. Paul declares that justification and salvation are begotten by and through faith. James delineates what manner of being, faith is. I hope, as Spurgeon explicitly and often expressed, I haven’t confounded it.

Footnotes:

  1. Philip Schaff, “History of the Christian Church”, 1882, Chapter 4, Section 63, “The Protestant Spirit of Luther’s  Version”
  2. John Calvin, “Institutes of Christian Religion”, III.15.3
  3. James 2:14-16
  4. John Piper, “Does James Contradict Paul?” August 8, 1999
  5. Romans 3:8, Romans 6.1
  6. Something shared in common with John Bunyan and CharlesSpurgeon among countless others.
  7. OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – A label is not an explanation, indicating an understanding. Such labels, largely formulated by armchair generals, are based on the ‘medical model of mind’ dogma (or physiological basis of the psyche) which, having been at and survived the battlefront, I have complete and utter contempt towards. One’s psychology is akin to software logic; one’s physiology to hardware components. The psychiatric approach to all thing’s psyche is to fix a bug in the software by replacing the memory sticks.
  8. Romans 1:17 (AKJV), Habakkuk 2:4

The Apologetics of Pascal’s Wager

Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (Pascal, Pensee)

A regurgitated rationale for belief in God and His Christ seems to be making the rounds in the form of Pascal’s Wager.  Were it merely that this argument keeps cropping up on atheist web sites, one could simply dismiss the issue.  It would be just one of those numinous, flawed to the point of dumb, assertions, which Christendom throughout the ages has posited. Atheists/agnostics have capitalized upon it with the full scorn that it deserves.  However, as this argument manifested itself in one very close to me, obviously heard from some Christian ‘witness’; as I have Ravi Zacharias utilize it; it appears that this rationale still has significant play in Christian apologetics.

When I heard this argument as a basis for belief, for the first time in 2009, I certainly felt discomforted by it.  Considering the horrid spiritual gauntlet and psychic hell underwent in my life, this justification must be the lamest foundation to draw strength from, as one perseveres through ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’

The atheist critique of this argument is unequivocally valid.  If we ought to believe in and pledge fealty to the Christian God because we have nothing to lose by doing so; then by the same logic, in order to cover all our bases, we ought to believe in and pledge fealty to every other entity that is claimed as a deity.  That would include Bobby Henderson’s ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ or ‘The One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater.’  One must include the innumerable Hindu deities that one has been, tongue-in-cheek, estimated at hitting 330 million.  Of course, in order for one to believe in them all, one must, at least, know all their names.  In order to pledge fealty to them all, one is probably required to offer at least one oblation to each on a daily, or at least, weekly basis.  Busy, busy, busy!  One could hardly find time to labour for one’s (or one’s family’s) meat, for all that oblating.

However, this commentary’s purpose is not to outline all the atheistic criticisms. It is from a Biblical perspective, that all who trust in Christ and witness to others, that this specious argument should be abused.

One would wish to completely demolish, disembowel and stomp on its head to ensure that it is good and dead.  However, as history attests, dumb ideas that were once thought totally decimated make habits of reincarnating.

Pledging allegiance to all deities, and thereby covering all bases, violates the exclusionist demands of many a Faith, particularly the Judeo-Christian variety.  “You shall have no other gods besides me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Salvation is found in no one else [than Christ Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These declarations ought to logically demolish all prospects of permitting a Christ-believer to spiritually philander with other gods.

Many a pagan religion exalts coitus and other erotic expressions as ultimate acts of spiritual temple worship.  How does fealty to those gods square with the more circumscribed use of sexuality and rejection of sexual modes of worship in Christianity? Does one worship Ishtar with the left testicle and honour Jehovah with the right? How does one square the four-wife polygamy under Allah with the restriction to one spouse in the New Testament? Even within the Christian faith, regardless of the ecumenical urges of the times, there are innumerable doctrines, between Catholicism and historical Protestantism/Evangelicism that are logically mutually exclusive. One cannot logically uphold both sides of a foundational doctrinal dispute in order to cover all bases.

Christ does not permit a costless faith.  It is patently false that “you lose nothing” in believing in Christ. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35) History attests that the cost of discipleship involves loss of reputation and alienation and often loss of livelihood, property, liberty, loved ones and even one’s very life. One may gain infinitely more by surrendering one’s self-interests for Christ’s cause in this life, if the Gospel is true. But if false, the little that one has in this life will have been sacrificed for a fabrication.

The definition of Biblical faith or trust corresponds to an expectationthat God will fulfill His stated promises. That definition screams a far cry from the calculated bet that Pascal enjoins. Indeed the level of belief that Pascal deems sufficient unto salvation suffers under the scorn and condemnation of James. (James 2:19)

Pascal’s Wager extends the shallowest of roots into the soil of faith. In isolation, it supplies little nourishment to the fledgling plant and provides insufficient entanglement with the soil to prevent that plant from being easily uprooted by the test of time, the storms of life and brutal spiritual warfare. Used as a foundation stone of Christian apologetics and basis for faith, it is but a marshmallow.

If Pascal inscribed the passage merely as rhetorical device in order to galvanize the beginnings of a spiritual search, he ought not to suggest that unsubstantiated belief in God should be a given, merely because of self-interest. Demonstrating a need for God doesn’t even begin to establish that God is.  Neither ought Pascal to misdirect his interlocutors about the exclusivity of Christ’s claims, the extent of the cost nor the criteria of saving faith.  Christ certainly didn’t keep such assertions under wraps. Indeed, Christ’s bold proclamations and demands often act as provocateurs to investigate Him further. For, what chutzpah has a man who should claim His divinity and demand our all!

Pascal’s Wager is somewhat dishonest and dissembling.  It is akin to a politician, demanding of constituents, their presumption of his integrity, virtue and acumen and vote accordingly. It is a lazy witness; insulting the intelligence of the interlocutor; disrespecting the person to whom one wishes to woo to Christ.