The Bane of Subjectivism

As Evangelical Christianity began stressing the motions of the heart and spiritual intuitions, a parallel movement toward Subjectivism in the wider world occurred, from which future generations of Christians would be drawn. As to timelines, it would be difficult to pinpoint. The radical stage of the French Revolution (1792-1794) could provide the seminal event which sparked the realization of the high improbability, even impossibility of acquiring a universal agreement about Truth and the Good through Reason. Consequently, a strain of philosophical thought posited that truth is that which is subjectively appropriated, or indeed personally and self-servingly contrived (existentialism). For Christian and non-Christian alike, that strain flows through the Danish theologian, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), who gives intellectual stamp on a common and resonating innate human understanding, placing the arbiter of that which is true upon the subjective faculties (“the truth is that which is true for me”). Reacting against philosophical pontificators of truth, which fail to affect the personal attitude and behavior of the beholder; Kierkegaard stresses the introspective and experiential without regard to external verities, which he believes are subject to doubt anyhow. In Christian terms, he reacts against the remote philosophical god by swinging to the opposite pendular extreme of an intimate personal and essentially self-made god without firm reference or trust in unmovable externals; such as the Word and its proper understanding. It advocates an inculcation of a ‘spirituality’ of sorts; headless, intrinsic and subject to the doubtful and variable motions of the emotions and heart.

It is a personal and pastoral nightmare; one to which I am personally and excruciatingly intimate. It endows only that which is ‘real’ and gives a psychological ‘buzz’; that is, can be felt to be true; as being that which is true. Spurgeon, as do others, bump up against this sentiment. (“Sadly perplexing is that form of inability which lies in a supposed want of power to believe.”1) For faith, like in Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz”, becomes a feeling, a sixth sense, an intuition and instinct (like penguin sex). It produces a perverse Christian journey; where truths concluded and acted upon (with successful outcomes) in prior points of one’s life, become doubted because of the present dryness of the reality of those truths. It produces James’ admonition that “he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does”2. For, ultimately one is building his faith on the shifting and shiftless sand of a variable personal psychology. It is a most subtle form of idolatry; placing one’s psychological faculties as the true God, arbiter and mediator of reality. And subjectivism is that gateway to relativism, existentialism and the various forms of nihilism, of which Postmodernism is one.

But Truth is external to and outside self. And True Faith requires both the ability to subjectively appropriate objective truth accurately and then rely on (live on the basis of) those properly appropriated truths in our day to day life. The experienced and the mature know how tall an order this is. It may require upholding and living upon such Truth even when all the subjective faculties scream otherwise or when they refuse to give psychic sentiment and support to those truths.

However, the infection of Subjectivism is pandemic in the Evangelical camp. It is not only to be found in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles, whose adherents are often in need of the spiritual equivalent of a multitude of drug-induced ‘high’ in order to maintain that feeling of right relationship with God. One reads of new ‘converts’, who walk the Altar-call aisle, half-a-dozen times or more, because previous comings to faith didn’t seem to take. That is; they do not feel differently or detect significant changes to their psyche. Even of the supposedly mature leaders of churches and parachurch organizations, this constant need for signs and sense confirmations of their relationship with God, can be found.

One can see the dangers of both kinds of ‘faith’. One involves the philosophical Christian; often Calvinist in orientation; largely accurate to Scriptural propositions, thoughtful and brilliant; but who I fear has not that personal and interactive relationship with God. On the other hand are the headless chickens. “They are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.”3 This headless faith leads to such travesties as supposed manifestations of the Spirit, such as acting like wriggling carp on church carpets, barking like dogs and laughing like hyenas. Such are prone to say, as Linus to Charlie Brown, “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” Such is an absurdity, akin to a parental admonition to their children that it doesn’t matter how they get to grandma’s house; whether through gentle hills and valleys or through minefields.

In the end, a true Christian faith requires both the ‘True’ and the ‘Real’; an acquisition, comprehension and reliance on the sometimes dry facts, proofs and counsels of Christianity, external to self; and a practicable appropriation and application by one’s Will of those facts and counsels; with or without the psychological ‘buzz’.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Charles H. Spurgeon, From “All of Grace”, published post-mortem 1894, “Alas! I Can Do Nothing”
  2. James 1:6-8
  3. Romans 10:2

 

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Letter to Robert Fulford Concerning “In Praise of Blasphemy”

Private Transmission: 25 September, 2012

Dear Mr. Robert Fulford:

You are one of the very few columnists with which I anticipate a good and intelligible read. And you have your own entry on my list of memorable lines concerning a piece you did on Nietzsche a couple of years back where you said “Most philosophers write such dense prose that you need considerable training just to misunderstand them.” Having got lost in Kierkegaard’s labyrinthine meanderings and anesthetized by Kant’s definitions, it has special resonance. Who would have known that there was a comedic genre for philosophy; although I cannot imagine that it pays well?

However, I believe that your piece “In Praise of Blasphemy” seriously misses the mark. It is not that I favor the creep of censorship at both a state and corporate level (Thank God for the Internet!). If civilization was going to go down in flames, I would rather that it go down with liberty of expression intact than without it. At least, I might be able to consider other people’s opinions as to cause; or even know that it happened. (The impression from the history books is that the Romans didn’t particularly detect the death of the Western Empire.)

However, in your praise of one facet of the Western political cant, you and others forget another star in that constellation; the consent of the governed; that the virtue of a free press depends, perhaps unfortunately, but ultimately on the by-your-leave of the Sovereign; however that sovereignty is defined.

You state:

Instead we should be praising blasphemy, in fact proclaiming its many virtues, rather than sheepishly apologizing for it as a necessary evil we must reluctantly tolerate because of our belief in the freedom of speech.

That is not an attitude, which ultimately, is a safe or wise for a beneficiary as well as ambassador of the Fifth Estate to take. For, you are advocating the very irresponsibility that abets and gives comfort to those who would like to circumscribe the limits of speech. For, in the world of Realpolitik, Constitutional niceties and legalities do not amount to a hill of beans, if the ambassadors of any particular high position have lost their moral authority.

Some of the most eloquent speeches extolling the virtues of the Roman Republic were spoken by the last generation of advocates for its retention; of whom many of it members had been grossly abusing it for self-serving ends. And before the overthrow of every institution; of the Roman Senate, of Emperors, of nobility, of kings, of ecclesiastics; a loss of moral authority preceded each; provoked by abuse of position. When I studied the rise of the Nazis in Germany; one observation taken away was the total political weakness of potential islands of resistance (judiciary, military, press, unions, church, Wiemar Republic) because all had compromised their moral standing in the eyes of an aroused populace.

I believe that the mass media, amongst other institutions, is currently in that state of disrepute. I have heard from many corners of this disgust with lack of intellectual integrity; of this “I don’t know who to trust?” lament. The general news no longer discloses objective realities to their impartial and competent best; but advocates propaganda from one side or the other of the culture wars; with a few tidbits of selective facts to adorn. I am of conservative bent; but I had to agree with Hillary Clinton that the reporting of the Libyan skirmish last year by Al Jazeera (English) was far and away better than I have seen of anything in the West since perhaps Viet Nam / Watergate.

Instead of allowing the coherent understanding of the world’s actors to be presented, one gets cheap and misdirected pot shots at practices for which second and third-rate journalists have no understanding. I might poke fun at a religion (Islam) or one of its sub-denominations or cultural subgroups, which require women to protect men from their own lustful waywardness, when speaking of the burka. However, I am at least resonating to the real rationales of a deep concern by official Islam for modesty.

The meaning of ‘blasphemy’ has been extended over the centuries to mean religious heresy and public unbelief amongst other stretches. Although, according to the Greek (“abusive or scurrilous language”), it seems to have very wide latitude of meaning. Although not Catholic, I think their definition is probably the best one that I have seen; that being of “gross irreverence towards any person or thing worthy of exalted esteem”. And thus, were I to advise these Muslims in the East, I would advise them to get a trademark in the U.S. to sell toilet paper with the American flag, Constitutional Script or the Gettysburg Address imprinted thereupon. The Charter of Rights, or a comic impression of nude Pierre Trudeau or Tommy Douglas, sucking on a ram’s appendage or Ezra Levant’s wrinkly mother being porked by an elephant, might do the trick in Canada. Do you not think that the local reaction would be any more sedate than that occurring in Arab and Muslim cities and towns? It would be attack on what our people revere.

There is a difference between legitimate critique and the frivolous and blatant provocation of the kind by Ezra Levant, Jyllands-Posten, Charlie Hebdo and company. Mention the verses in the Koran about genies, and most Muslim apologists will take great pains and do great contortionist somersaults of reasoning to inoculate the obvious absurdity. Mention that Mohammed married a six year old and they will speculate, without substantiation, that sexual relations didn’t occur until much later. Take on Islam, truthfully, fairly and on its own terms, and you have both an interlocutor; at least in the West; and a good case on its own. However, cheap, senseless insults for the pre-pubescent pleasure of the rabble, merely demonstrate that toddlers are occupying the ramparts of opinion. And the mind of the sensible will merely conclude that the journalism is too important to be left with the journalists.

For rationales of foot-in-the-door, we might have to tolerate such scurrilous nonsense. But it should never be praised or promoted. It will undermine the good will of those who you and I need to support that liberty.

Euthyphro Dilemma – A False Dichotomy

The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy; or holy because it is beloved of the gods.” [Socrates] 1

 Modern Rendition:

 “What is right and wrong depends on God’s commands such that his commands alone are what make actions right or wrong. There is no reason for what is right and wrong and morality is arbitrary.

   or

God commands us to perform certain actions and refrain from others because certain actions are right and others are wrong and being fully rational he knows what is right and wrong and being completely good he issues commands to humanity that conform to his moral knowledge. Yet morality is autonomous from God’s commands and is something to which God must conform. Thus God is not omnipotent over morality.2

I harbour a well-deserved and abiding skepticism about the integrity and/or competence of philosophers and sophists, an attitude not inconsistent with Scriptural opinion.

It is written:

       I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For, since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.3

It has become a game of ‘Where’s Waldo’ in detecting the flaw of logic or disingenuity that the sophist is playing on the reader or hearer. It often provokes headaches in me. But otherwise, it is a fine idle occupation for one whom has long become bored with Sudoku.

One of the common sophist deceits is to contrive a question with only two equally abhorrent options, suckering the respondent into not thinking outside this box. But, there just might exist alternatives beyond the snare. Even coin flips sometimes can land on its side (1 in 6,000 for the U.S. nickel).

In the case of the Euthyphro dilemma, the other option is that God embodies the Right, the Good, the Virtuous and the Holy. (This is not to deny the existence of others; just that I cannot think of any offhand). That is, that which is Right is because God commands it; while simultaneously, it is Right in the objective, ‘impartial’ sense. This would entail that God had always been good and understood what is the good, defined as being the best of all possible options, through His impartial good will and wisdom. That is, God is good in both the intrinsic and extrinsic sense of that attribute.

Whether this is true, is beside the point. The fact that an alternative option is available discredits the all-encompassing presumption of the question and calls into question the integrity or competence of the poser of that question.

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Invoking God doesn’t actually get you very far in ethics, because ascribing “goodness” to a deity or its laws is meaningless unless there’s some independent criterion for this.4

The idea that some independent criterion could be fashioned by men, in order to judge God’s behavioural (ethics) and attitudinal (ethos) preferences, which would not itself, smack of partiality and the preferences of the fashioner of such criteria, whether conscious or unconscious, is a bit rich. But even were it possible to “take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly5; the limitations of the human mind are easily manifest from the best of their minds.

All too often, philosophical constructs suffer from simplism. Some suggest that through a few axioms, we can deduce a whole comprehensive ethic and ethos (i.e. Ayn Rand). Or with a few reductionist overriding moral principles, we can command a comprehensive ethic that fits the general principle without inadvertent detriment (i.e. utilitarianism – ‘the greatest good (objective criteria) happiness (subjective criteria) for the greatest number’). Even though Christ summarized the Mosaic Law in two great commandments, there was no attempt to eliminate the existing Law; but to explain that all the commandments are the particulars from wisdom, which underlie and support that ethos. (“All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.6)

This desire for reductionist simplism was evident in the naïve and wrongheaded hopes that humanity, as consequence of the Human Genome Project, could ascertain personality traits from single genes or simple combinations thereof. But life reflects the textured, asymmetrical complexity of a willow tree over Lake Ontario than the suffocation of geometric shapes. The invariable evolution of basic law codes and constitutions toward labyrinthine and sclerotic complexity as a society ages; even with the best of intentions; whether exemplified by the Talmud, the Catholic Canon or modern secular constitutional judicial interpretation, confirms the impossibility of containing life to a few moronic mantras.

Or as one thumbs through the pontifications of atheist Sam Harris in his book “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values”, it is a reminder of the superficiality of many human endeavours at ethics. Ethical questions, according to him, can be grounded objectively in empirical facts about what causes people to flourish. As the scientifically minded are generally historical illiterates, denigrating history for lacking the only ‘true’ and ‘approved’ methodology for ascertaining truth, Harris might be ignorant that poor and uncouth peoples often prevail over the rich, organized, civilized and cultivated; let alone account for it. Consider that the rustic and austere Romans conquered the various quadrants of the Hellenist Empire, which even the Romans acknowledged, were far advanced in thought, aesthetics and science. Consider the German barbarian tribes, who were but a fraction in population size in comparison to the Western Roman Empire they overtook. Or even more so, consider the Mongolian herdsmen who conquered China, various Muslim caliphates, much of Russia and even would have invaded Europe except that they didn’t think backward 13th Century Europe was worth the bother. By Sam Harris’ reckoning, being impoverished, uneducated, relatively uncivilized and ethically brutish could constitute the best human values.

There is little hope for an empiricist and physicalist (updated version of materialist) to pry through the psychological complexities that bind a person to his neighbour or to the community; which according to the Greek historian, Polybius, explaining to his own people, constituted a considerable foundation for Roman power. And in one who doesn’t believe in metaphysical free will, it would be curious how Harris reconciles the raison d’être of morality and moral choice, when people will be what they are, determined by genetics and neurochemical reactions, according to the dogma prevailing in neuroscientific circles. The inconsistencies and absurdities abound! I don’t want to get started on this man! Like the Mongols’ attitude toward the 13th Century Europe, there is insufficient in this man’s mind worth invading!

As it is written, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.7 Empirical and external manifestation have very limited value in the comprehension of the human psyche. I recall a sociological survey, probably biased, which associated U.S. states, which still practiced capital punishment, with higher crime rates. As is standard in sociology; typical sociological aspects (i.e. income and wealth) were factored out from distorting the survey. What was not and could not easily be factored for, is the coherent ideology, probably distinct to the U.S., which underlies belief in capital punishment, the stronger convictions in their beliefs, greater skepticism towards political authority and relying on self for protection (instead of authorities); the latter components not infrequently nor unnaturally, leading to higher incidence of transgression of laws. These factors are more difficult to credibly include in any survey. Subjectivity or charges of subjectivity and the problem of external ‘introspection’ of another person’s genuine beliefs undermine the scientific impartiality of the survey.

Then there is the problem of omniscience, or lack thereof on the part of man. The limitedness of human knowledge and understanding may not fully comprehend the impact of a particular behaviour or attitude. How often have we heard of government policies which caused unintended natural consequences? In the gay marriage debate, the proponents of this innovation scorn arguments of its detrimental affect on the Estate of Marriage by citing lack of apparent consequences immediately upon passage in other jurisdictions.

However, contained in the aphorism, “You shall know them by their fruits8, there is inference that a time lag exists between the growth of a new tree and the manifestations of its fruit, which equally applies to ideas. The stresses on the public purse in Canada and Europe, caused by state takeover of health system, took decades to appear and be acknowledged. The logic of Darwinism towards eugenic and euthanasia programs for the mentally deficient or insane (275,000 killed by the Nazi state, starting in the late 1930s), took between 50 – 75 years to full realize. Charles Finney’s Altar Calls are only now being broadly recognized for the travesty that they are, a full century after the innovation.

Those trusting in rational capacities of humanity to appropriate ethical values are often bereft of psychological insight in the nature of man; suffering from a self-serving self-image or naivety. What a far cry is Socrates’  “Does not every man love that which he deems noble and just and good, and hate the opposite of them?”9 from Christ’s “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil”10. William Saletan might claim that gays can practice fidelity, chastity, and continence.11 But the overwhelming historical anecdote and sociological data bears witness that those who deviate from one historical sexual norm are not inclined to abide by the others.

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The issue is not that humans should refrain from acquiring moral reasoning and wisdom. The Scriptures, particularly the book of Proverbs (i.e. Chapter 2), repeatedly enjoins and promises it (“Making wise the simple.12). Julian Sanchez’ scoff that invoking God gestures “at a black box wherein we’re assured the answer lies, and asserting that we needn’t worry our pretty little heads about it13, merely display his ignorance of such matters. Contrary to secular criticism, the Scriptures do not nor could not give a ready-made particular answer for every ethical problem that confronts us. Only broad principles are enumerated; just as the Constitution and the nation laws require judiciaries to apply them. And those Biblical principles often have rationales demonstrated through argument and examples of individual’s lives elsewhere in Scriptures.

The problem with human judgment of the goodness of God and His laws is that it bespeaks of an arrogant lack of circumspection about the limitations of human understanding. If an omniscient God exists, does one honestly think that the more limited human could fully comprehend His wisdom; anymore than little five year old Johnny could understand why his daddy doesn’t buy him an airplane? Even in the absence of a theistic universe, the problem of human lack of omniscience, impartiality and intellectual integrity remains.

Footnotes:

  1. Plato, “Euthyphro”, c. 380 B.C., Transl. Benjamin Jowett
  2. Mark Timmons, “Moral Theory: An Introduction”, 2002, pp 28-29
  3. 1 Corinthians 1:19-21
  4. Julian Sanchez, “All Ethics Are Secular Ethics”, April 23rd, 2012, http://www.juliansanchez.com/2012/04/23/all-ethics-are-secular-ethics/
  5. Matthew 7:4
  6. Matthew 22:40
  7. 1 Samuel 16:7
  8. Matthew 7:16
  9. Plato. Ibid.
  10. John 3:19
  11. William Saletan, “Why can’t gays practice fidelity, chastity, and continence?” Slate, April 18, 2012, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/the_book_club/features/2012/ross_douthat_s_bad_religion/bad_religion_book_gay_rights_and_christian_love_.html
  12. Psalm 19:7. Also James 1:5
  13. Julian Sanchez. Ibid.

Death of Thomas Szasz – Response to Time Magazine ‘The Denial of Mental Illness is Alive and Well’

In response to an article in Time Magazine The Denial of Mental Illness is Alive and Well (or http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/14/the-denial-of-mental-illness-is-alive-and-well/#ixzz26hDtPXO1) , which celebrates the earthly riddance of Thomas Szasz.

As a survivor and overcomer (after 38 years) of what this person deems mental illness without medications, because medications would never work for me (I was amongst the 40% for which they don’t in my class of diagnoses); I will claim the expertise of being at the front lines of psychosis. The writer (Judith Warner) is only an armchair general.

The main thesis of Szasz (The Myth of Mental Illness) was this. There are no physiological markers which identify and correlate to psychological disorders (as opposed to neurological disorders). This is still true, especially once one gets past the B.S. propaganda that the psych pros give to the public and look at what they say to each other (especially outside the U.S.). Therefore, it is unproven that it is a physiological disease. Consequently, a rational logic determines that the lines delineating mental disorder from mental order are capricious and arbitrary; hardly a scientific attribute. In Szasz’s view, mental illness is a cultural construct. Until proven otherwise, reason dictates Szasz far more correct than psychiatry. (I have my own thesis).

This writer (Judith Warner) merely conducts cheap, incidental potshots on the person without confronting his central thesis. Indeed, he sounds like a shill for the discipline.

She writes:

The profession of psychiatry has changed enormously since the time that Szasz began writing, mostly in good ways.

The profession has not changed. It is only under legal restraints that prevent its history of barbarism to continue, much like the financial regulatory system, which was in place (Glass-Steagall Act – 1933) kept the bankers under wraps from repeating behaviours that led to the Great Crash of 1929. That is until after 1999, when the Act was repealed.

My observation of psychiatric professionals is that there is not an inconsiderable level of deceit and bullying. They have amongst the least psychological insight of any set of people I have ever known. I found out after recovering that the reason is in their training.

They have no coherent philosophy or theory of mind which can sustain under rational scrutiny even amongst fellow neuroscientists. (Therefore, trusting in psychiatry is like trusting car mechanics, who have no understanding of an overall system of a car and its schematics.) What we know about the brain and the mind is still very rudimentary, despite bold proclamations on PBS Charlie Rose specials; especially when one compares their knowledge to silicon networks and computer systems to which they themselves utilize for comparison (i.e. Fodor’s modularity of mind). Despite Benjamin Libet’s experiments, there is no proof that physiology precedes psychology. Libet has an extremely flawed and self-serving conceptual understanding of Free Will. The idea of carrying on a face-paced and brisk political debate on the basis of instantaneous physiological neurochemical reactions to one’s interlocutor’s conversation are so absurd, it is surprising that no one brings it up.

To the best of my observation, ‘so-called’ healing is based on shutting down subsystems in the brain,. This is not unlike an AS/400 or Mainframe in which an errant program is spitting out page ejects on system printers. The first thing the operator does is to shut down the print spooler service. (However, this is hardly a long term solution.) This idea about saving a person by destroying him, to paraphrase a Viet Nam reference, has been mentioned within the discipline itself over the years; especially in the early years. See ‘Mad in America’ (Robert Whitaker). However, the dogmatism and political pressures within the profession do their darnedest to prevent any future outbreaks of gadflies like Thomas Szasz

The DSM would give Jon Stewart a year’s worth of comedic material if he were so inclined to use it. To give an example; there is an entry in the DSM IV called Brain Fag or Brain Fog, found only in West Africa. Its main risk factor is the ability to speak English. (Apparently, the people there have genetic mutations and neurotransmitters that respond to words in English ).

I rest my case.

The Problem of Cartesian Certitude

The root of skepticism is neither rational nor intellectual in nature. It ultimately originates not from any philosophical axiom or deduction nor any epistemological approach to ascertain existential realities. Rather, its genesis proceeds forth from two existential realities apart from reason. It is the chasm resulting between the human condition and humanity’s psychological aspirations, perhaps pathological need, for unassailable certainty which provides absolute material and psychological security. In the absence of complete willingness to trust a Deity who is Himself the fount of all knowledge, wisdom and goodness, humanity must seek its material and psychological security elsewhere; in order to trust in its own ability to navigate the caprice of existence.

The human condition is lack of omniscience, an attribute which is self-evident and easily substantiated. It undermines any possibility of attaining unassailable certainty; Cartesian Certitude for short. The sophists of old and the sophist tradition to which the legal profession adheres, exploit this fact. Because we can only know in part, the sophist can organize one set of arguments proving a proposition is true today, while organizing another set of arguments disproving it tomorrow; bringing doubt to any true belief and hope; and discredit to the project that humanity can really know anything at all with full and incontrovertible assurance.

Under the regime of absolute certainty, every “i” must be dotted and every “t” crossed before we can be sure of anything. Under this philosophical regime of proof; since humanity is incapable of knowing all things, he cannot categorically know anything.  For, in the unknown may lay a germ of data which potentially and significantly falsifies an aspect, a paradigm or perhaps everything that he believes he currently knows.

The underlying philosophy girding science is founded on this philosophical standard of proof; suggesting that all facts, truths and laws are, at best, contingent and tentative. Everything is theory and hypothesis. But if the scientific community was actually consistent with this underlying philosophy, science would remain a theoretical hobby with no real practicable application. Scrupulous honesty would suggest that we could not reasonably depend on those truths that undergird our technological creations.

The Cartesian standard of proof is not one by which judiciaries incarcerate and execute criminals. It is, however, a standard which contributes to the creation of criminals. For, it undermines and precludes any rational and moral justification for the concept of law and justice themselves. Law itself becomes hereby a mere artificial contrivance, which has no objective and sound foundation; but is deemed perhaps a self-serving tool of the powers-that-be. A superior mind will not allow itself to be subject to this artificial artifice of and for Lilliputians; these “noble” lies meant for the masses.

The meandering logic of this Cartesian standard of proof invariably leads to total philosophical skepticism and unbelief; as it has in both the Hellenist-Roman past and the Modern present. The psychological ramifications are enervation of true belief and courage, for better or worse, and an undermining of a sound basis for civil society and civilizational survival, as has and is happening also in both the Hellenist-Roman past and the Modern present..

Cartesian certitude is the perfect granddaddy of all sophistries and circularities; rigging the rules of inquiry and setting up humanity for automatic failure in its quest and ascertainment of truth. It guarantees skepticism, an unwillingness to commit or assent to any truth. The problem lies not so much in our inquiry, but in the unreasonableness of this standard of knowledge, which the various strains of Hellenist thought presumed and adopted and the moderns formalized. It is standard of proof for gods and the omniscient; not for the limits of mortal minds. It is a sophistic device, hypocritically promoted by those with a self-serving agenda against dogmatic belief, judgment, social opprobrium and legal sanctions.

Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1)

Can one know in the absence of perfect knowledge? And herein lies where the Biblical standard of proof points to a more sensible and prudent standard of truth for sentient beings, who lack omniscience; a standard of long-standing and one which has sufficed for legal judgments, even judicial executions; even if fallible. It is a more rational approach for the limits of humanity than to eternally suspend belief, assent, commitment and decision on the unattainable capacity to know all things before one can know anything.

When it comes to matters of pivotal significance, one should aspire to acquire hundreds, perhaps thousands of artifacts to justify primary beliefs. We should seek a level of proof in which the artifacts of evidence and reason are of such number and caliber and from different epistemological ‘senses’, failing to assent, to commit, to live on the basis of or to rely upon, is inordinately more irrational than to commit and rely.

Because we, as humans, are not omniscient gods, we cannot consider every jot and tittle of data to reach a conclusion. We cannot guarantee ourselves infallibility. There shall exist a certain leap of faith. However, that ‘leap of faith’ is not of the kind that Søren Kierkegaard preaches; a leap apart from all rationality. Rather, it is the leap of faith between reasonable proof and actionable certainty and commitment. And it becomes more of a step than a leap the more we close the gap between what is evidenced and that which we conclude, by gathering more and disparate forms of proof to buttress our contentions.

The Problem with T.U.L.I.P.

In good Baptist tradition, I share that historical hostility to creeds, confessions and catechisms (“No creed but the Bible”); even as I find modern Evangelical churches slowly tiptoeing the catwalk toward authoritative statements of faith. It is not incomprehensible why creeds and confessions are erected. Legal protection from secularist state intrusions requires paper trails that demonstrate an established tenet of belief and practice. In this age of cafeteria Christianity; (the eclectic selection of those precepts and principles which are sweet to the palate of the ‘believer’); and in the rampage of heresies, it is natural reaction. Christian history attests to periodic rages where creeds, confessions and catechisms proliferate.

Nor can it be denied that creeds and confessions do have a didactic (teaching) utility. They can provide a general shorthand and framework of the Christian faith; informing the believer of those truths (or errors) that may not be readily apparent in studying the haphazard and disorderly narrative, expositions and admonitions of Scriptures.  (Not that we should be complaining about the disorder. Our God is not a philosopher’s god; that can be systemized and contained within the dominion of our minds.) A statement of faith, principles and vision; if they hold true to the honest and actual aspirations and practice of that ecclesia; become an easy means for outsiders to discern the doctrine of that church in this Internet age. And in establishing in discrete, concrete, objective terms how a church body interprets the Bible with regard to doctrines and practices, the church is upholding a principle of justice; scrutability. For, it would be highly unjust to excommunicate an individual on a post facto basis; using made-up-as-you-go hermeneutics.

I would not be so alarmed and ambivalent to the use of creed and confession were the benefits conferred vastly outweighing the perils and propensities that invariably follow in the wake of their usage. For, as I overwhelmingly observe when on web sites and forums that are associated with Lutheran, Reformed and even some Evangelical agencies, there is the propensity of the participants to revere their Tradition; their Protestant/Evangelical formal and informal Magisterium with its Confessions and Articles of Faith; and to subject, subordinate and subjugate Scriptures under the hermeneutics of their Tradition.

It is argued, with some merit, that we don’t reject the use of preacher’s exposition because of the possibility that some will exalt the expounding of his word above the Word. Nor do we argue that exposition is an indication of the inadequacy and insufficiency of the authority of the Bible. For, “if it be argued that a creed reduces the authority of the Bible by implying its inadequacy, then it can be argued with equal force that for a minister to give an exposition of the words of Christ, for instance, likewise carries with it the implication that His words are inadequate as they stand.”1 By that token, this book should not be written. Yet Scriptures commands that the Church should teach.

The issue of creeds deserves an airing on its own.

T.U.L.I.P. is one such creed; perhaps more of a sub-creed. Neither it nor the Canons of Dort (1618-19) were intended to be a comprehensive explanation of the Reformed doctrine. However, as is human nature, creeds invariably become the standard, in the minds of most adherents. And thereby, they become ‘false doctrine’; not so much because any tenet is in error. But in truncating (lopping off) the fullness of the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God, inadvertent or not, it distorts its understanding with real detrimental consequences.

One of those effects is the HyperCalvinist propensity to perceive preaching to the non-Elect as almost sinful. It is not that normative Calvinism subscribes to this notion. They will cite the Great Commission and other New Testament commands that impress upon disciples to witness. However, the inner logic of truncated Five Point Calvinism and the inherent temptations that Calvinist doctrine can generate, lends to such conclusions. “After all, if God is sovereign in salvation why evangelize?”2 Those who God elects will come whether I or anyone preaches to them or not.

Within You Without You

It is not that Christians should derive their theology from the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)). And the meaning of the phrase, within that George Harrison song, differs significantly from the meaning I give it. However, it constitutes for me, a necessary sixth tenet of the T.U.L.I.P. faith; a necessary prescription to the tendencies that existing T.U.L.I.P. promotes.

The Sovereignty of God works within a person and apart (without) from that person. Under Calvinism, if God’s secret Will desires that I receive a long sought after job in a highly specialized field requiring credentials; that Will shall impress upon me that I attain those credentials for which the employer could not otherwise hire me (without its own self-interests imperiled). Similarly, having kept my end of the bargain, God’s Will would move the employer’s heart to hire me. In an evangelizing that leads to an immediate conversion, it requires the necessity of a prepared witness and a prepared heart to receive that witness. (I use these terms for didactic purposes. I find myriad problems in this simplified manner of explanation.) If one of the other is missing, the person in question will not convert.

The Scriptures gives substance to this thesis.

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”3

Either Christ is engaging in polemical hyperbole or He is inferring that Tyre, Sidon and Sodom had ‘prepared hearts’, which would have received the Message had the message been given, even through such miraculous signs. As for me, I consider it unsafe to conclude the former explanation of His rant. And it would be consistent with another passage, amidst chapters well associated with the Sovereignty of God (Romans 9-11).

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”4

Before continuing on about a predestined rejection of the Gospel because of the hardened heart of the recipients, because “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes so that they could not see and ears so that they could not hear, to this very day”5; Paul points out the other half of the formula. In His Sovereign secret Will, to which no man is privy (sorry Pat Robertson), He sends the witnesses.

This presents the following legitimate query: If the witness refuses to go, would those who are Elected be saved by other means? Had Jonah not finally relented from going on vacation to sunny southern Spain (Tarshish), would the Ninevites have repented? Though possible, because the secret Will of God can arrange for Jonah’s rejection and an alternate witness be sent; I would suggest that the eternal fate of the Ninevites ultimately was sealed in Jonah’s reluctant feet and mouth. If God was not successful in real time, it would never have happened. Jonah set out to the ends of the earth. And God matched the extremity of Jonah’s ambition with an ambitious project of His own, including the incredulous story about a big fish swallowing up a man who had resigned to die rather than preach. (“Then they cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord, have done as you pleased.’”6). And having resigned to die, God yet saved Jonah from death in order for the secret Will of God to be accomplished.

You hem me in—behind and before;
    you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.7

In itself, the argument from Jonah is not incontrovertible. However, it correlates consistently with all the other Scriptural comments on the Sovereignty of God. And by including this ‘W’ tenet to the Calvinist acronym, and thereby destroying the ease of remembrance, it would have corrected a perennial detrimental proclivity, brought about by the T.U.L.I.P. truncation of the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God.

From “Sundry Thoughts About the Doctrines of Grace (a.k.a. Calvinism)” from unpublished project “Meanderings of Christian Mind”.

Footnotes:

  1. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., In Defense of Creedalism, http://the-highway.com/creedal.html
  2. Greg Stier, “5 Reasons Why Christians Struggle to Evangelize”, Christian Post, August 28, 2012, http://www.christianpost.com/news/5-reasons-why-christians-struggle-to-evangelize-80702/#VzW4d4kJlfceYUtw.99. Greg is not promoting this view but highlighting it existence and the unresolved paradox between Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility
  3. Matthew 11:20-24. Also, Luke 10:13-15
  4. Romans 10:14-15
  5. Romans 11:8
  6. Jonah 1:14
  7. Psalm 139:5-10

The Approved Christian Sexual Position

It is with ironic amusement that the Roman Church should have subscribed to the notion that the missionary position ought to be THE Christian sexual position; while other positions were deemed as greater venial sins with their appropriate penances.

Thus the sexual act must be performed in only one position, and numerous penalties were prescribed for using variants, the approach “more canino” – which was held to afford the most pleasure being regarded with especial horror and calling for seven years of penance. Confessors were required to ask specifically about these and every other possibility, and the manuals with which they were later supplied contain questions concerning every imaginable variant of the sexual act: in the present condition of the laws against obscenity it would be inadvisable to quote them here.1

However, it has long struck me that as those who are stronger, ought to support those who are weaker; symbolically, they ought to be perceived as foundation, bottom and root of social entities.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.2

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.3

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.4

In contrast to the masculinist Roman concept of husbands and rulers lording over their conquests, with the missionary position having an appropriate historical connotation to that effect; a scrupulous, legalistic Christianity should find woman-on-top, the appropriate sexual expression of the Christian ethos.

The whole point of this exercise is the absurdities in insisting on a seal of approval on sexual positions, techniques and the like, which the God of Scriptures deliberately, in my opinion, neglected to inscribe.

(From upcoming book - In Defense of Christian Marriage)

 

Footnotes:

  1. Gordon Rattray Taylor, “Sex In History”, 1954, Chapter 3 – The Medieval Ideal
  2. Ephesians 2:20
  3. Matthew 20:25-27
  4. Romans 15:1-2