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.

The Problem of Gay Marriage

The current cause célèbre du jour of gay marriage will become yet another item on a long and accumulating list of permanent acrimonies separating the theistic and conservative factions from the secularist and progressive.

Twenty years from now will they flush with the shame that most surviving segregationists now feel when they reflect on their actions and thoughts in the 1950s and 60s?

Every rights movement goes through the final spasms of a rearguard action of those foolish enough to think they still wear the breastplate of righteousness. As they are sucked into the undertow of changing public opinion they squeal about freedom of expression and conscience. What they so bitterly resent is that as the tide of mainstream opinion pulls away from them they find themselves stranded with opinions completely lacking in any legitimate moral or intellectual justification.
(John Moore, “Mike Huckabee promotes chicken with a side order of bigotry”, National Post, July 31, 2012)

But contrary to the naive fantasy of the secularist liberal, this common refrain that the gay cause will trace that spearheaded by the black civil rights movement, will prove silly. My older sister and I fought the elder generation over the black civil rights issue; in particular the willingness for us to intermarry. The arguments about being unequally yoked, we soon found to be a knavish ruse when we looked at the verse in full context. A reason, why Martin Luther King championed in “Christian” America, was because Scriptures, as well as the Constitution, was on his side.

The same cannot be said for gay rights. Scriptures, clearly and thoroughly, denigrates same-sex relations amongst other sexual deviations. A considerable contortionist effort at distorting Scriptures and dissembling original Greek and Hebrew text is required in order to try to make it say what it doesn’t say. The history of the Christian Church, until very recent, stands incontrovertibly and steadfastly against same-sex relations. For, a revolution from such attitudes to occur amongst the orthodox, it would require an existential collapse of the Faith. The gay issue has become a line in the sand between he/she who is a Christian or social conservative, from one who is not. According to the first chapter of Romans, the prevalence of homosexual relations in a society becomes that final barrier of moral and societal decay, after which all hell breaks loose.

Like the abortion issue, it is likely that public opinion polls will continue to rise in support of gay marriage for a few years yet until a plateau is formed. The issue shall continue to split churches as it has for decades. At that future point, with a fuller and more honest exposure to gay culture; with a more intelligible response by Christianity to the issue, its public support shall probably abate a shade. As with almost everything else in this mendacious and nasty age; gay culture is its own worse enemy; its enemies, its best friend. And in the end, gay marriage will become yet another finger and toe manifestation of an ideological war which to date, remains largely cold. Of course, this prognosis depends on religion or irreligion not experiencing a complete collapse in vitality and numbers.

But here is the rub. By allowing judiciaries in particular, civic leaders and democratic majorities to arrogate any definition of an organic social reality, which has more psychological import than material, upon the whole community, it produces an unnecessary set of losers. Which ever definition prevails, whether “marriage is the union between one man and one woman” or opposing variations; one faction faces serious economic, social, and possibly legal, disadvantage and depredation, when they publicly uphold and advertize their beliefs, consciences and interests. A person, in this day, who publicly shows disfavor on interracial marriages, will likely bear a material and social consequence.

LGBT, secularist and liberal factions might find such a future reality palatable to their tastes, in the foolish confidence of a triumphalist secularist future; as delusional as those who think we are still a Christian nation. We cannot divine the future and history has produced some starkly extreme cultural shifts. Respective LGBT or social conservative boycotts of businesses that hold a particular or even a neutral political stand could theoretically lead to a society of two solitudes, as each corporate actor must decide which faction butters their bread the more. Those who insist on a public declaration of viewpoint will not only further alienate the members of the other faction but those who yet uphold freedom of belief, conscience, expression, assembly and conduct as a primary value. The danger inherent in state definitions of matters which pose no immediate existential threat to the society, is that it is in imposing a definition that poses a threat to the cohesion of that society; poses an existential threat to the society

In light of Europeans studies “Divorce-Risk Patterns in Same-Sex Marriages in Norway and Sweden” (Andersson et al 2004), which states “If we only compare levels in union dissolution, divorce risks are considerably higher in same-sex than in opposite-sex marriages. The divorce risk in female partnerships is practically double that of the risk in partnerships of men”, the social conservative position is not that irrational. One cannot quickly discard such studies when they involve comprehensive government statistics in a sociopolitical milieu that is exceedingly liberal and tolerant. And the argument that “registered partnerships”, which are not labeled marriages, should make substantive differences in the stability of those relationships should challenge the credulity of even the credulous. Notwithstanding these empirical artifacts, there exists neither New Testament sanction nor political wisdom in compelling a particular conduct or lifestyle, at the risk of social fragmentation and conflagration.

The current culture war, that in varying degrees infects all Western nations, does not substantively differ from the dynamics of religious sectarianism; even if the content differs. We have simply upgraded from the minutiae of theological controversy to broad sweeps of philosophical sectarianism. And the warnings of the American Founding Fathers (James Madison in the Federalist Paper #10 and Washington’s Farewell Address) concerning factions (party) have become as apt as at any other time since their expression.

The fault lies in the ceding of regulatory oversight of marriage to the civic authorities in the 16th century, which was advocated by Martin Luther and John Calvin in response to the Catholic ‘seizure’ of the institution in the Council of Florence (1438-45) and Trent (1545-64). Prior to that, marriage had been largely a private affair, without mandate of civil or ecclesiastical sanction. And if one studies the history of the travesties imposed by both state and church since those changes in its communal governance, it would justify a return of the Estate of Marriage to private contract / covenant, scrupulously enforced by civic courts in this day, when one’s word is no longer one’s bond. The civil discord over a matter not immediately fundamental to the welfare of the state and society adds to this argument. In this way, the gay community can have their marriages without having to bear societal and legal pressure to conform on others whose consciences profoundly disagree.

However, the prudence this proposal may not have yet become apparent; may not yet had its day.

Equal Justice for All

Many moons ago, I had the good misfortune of obtaining good tickets to a court appearance. Not my own. The main protagonist involved an adolescent who participated in a house break-in with a couple of accomplices, making off with goods amounting to no greater than $500. Unfortunately, the nature of the plunder selected for nicking would have not  likely have commanded a quarter of the list price on the black market. A quick calculation would determine that suffering through a mere shift in Tim Horton’s would yield a far better take.

But rumor has it that most criminals are stupid. I am more prone to believe that those who get caught are merely insufficiently practiced in the art. The intellectual capacities and credentials of the average felon are likely to be merely representative of the general populace. It is just that the more gifted are shrewder or have accountants and lawyers on their payroll who are; staying within the letter of the law while finding all manner of loopholes to circumvent the spirit of it.

The fascinating anomaly, in the rather tedious proceeding of the turnstiles of justice, was the earnest insistence by the lawyer representing the youth that the parents be in full attendance. Apparently, this custom has great bearing on a youth’s probabilities of conviction and nature of sentence. Intuition and sociological studies probably confirm that the presence of sufficiently involved parents influences recidivist rates.

But, pity the poor sod without interested parents. Be it true that many a child becomes too unruly for parents to contain and maintain social order within the household. However, I have encountered without trying, a bevy of youths, rejected by their self-indulgent parents; some kicked out and disassociated by their single mothers because the new boyfriend doesn’t wish to contend with a in-house rival who yet retains some loyalties for his father. I have heard baptismal testimony of a (prior) homeless youth in which the ratio of common sense between child and parent was similar to that parodied on Absolutely Fabulous.

This rumination set off the entrepreneurial spirit alight in me, as I considered the business opportunities to be had in establishing a rent-a-parents service. However, in that youths without family support will not likely afford such a service; as judges would soon cop onto the scheme and we would have to forge identity documents; as I am not even certain that the presence of parents bears much influence on jurist deliberations; the business idea was soon shelved.

As valuable as the expedient of calculating recidivist outcomes in the administration of justice appears, the principle of impartiality is lost. And I cannot help but believe that a greater, though amorphous and indeterminable, harm to public safety results if the disadvantaged, as symbolized in this minor practice, perceive law and justice stacked against them. Although no lawyer, I have read sufficient court cases to notice that an inordinate number of foolish and incompetent court decisions catch the ragged people and social undesirables in their headlights. This must inseminate cynicism about the moral authority of the State and its organs. And will not that cynicism beget greater contempt for the laws and a greater incidence of crime?

Compliance, which cannot be obtained by consent and belief, requires significantly more resources to secure by coercion.