Monday, June 19, 2006

Thoughts on Adrian's Sermon

Adrian Warnock has invited me to listen to his sermon of last Sunday, "Free because of Jesus". The sermon is based on Romans, chapter 8:

8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [1] 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you [2] free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [3] he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Adrian placed repeated emphasis on the phrase "no condemnation". By accepting Jesus, Adrian declared, one becomes free of any condemnation due to sin. There is no judgment for one in Christ, no weighing of a life's works, good or bad. In Jesus, Adrian repeated, one is not under the Law. The Law makes us sin. In Jesus all laws are waived.

Adrian made other observations on the implications of Romans 8. The idea that we should be judged on our merits, on our life's record of good deeds weighed against our sins is totally discounted. If this were to be the case, noone would be saved, for noone is righteous to God. Adrian used the phrase "if you break one Commandment, you break them all". Apparently God has a zero tolerance policy where sin is concerned. One strike and you're out. It is the proverbial "no win" situation. Except, that is, if you accept Christ, then it becomes a no lose situation.

To me this sounds like the proverbial "gift horse", the one that you shouldn't look in the mouth. Yet I can't help but look it in the mouth, because of that other proverb about gifts: "If something seems too good to be true, it probably is". I would say that this guilt-free promise of salvation is the quintessential "too good to be true" idea. Yet who am I to pooh-pooh such an offer. This isn't a TV ad, it is supposedly coming from God himself. What do I have to lose, right?

I believe that there are good reasons for resisting this kind of spriritual "get out of judgment free" card. For one, it goes against our most basic instincts of morality, of right and wrong. This idea that to commit one sin is to commit all sins makes a mockery of the very notion of right and wrong. It destroys any sense of proportionality, of balance. When a white lie is condemned as heavily as rape and murder, then morality serves no useful purpose to society. I find it hard to see how a person can keep two opposing viewpoints of morality side by side in his mind, one that applies at the human level, and another at the cosmic level. What implications does that hold for how a person will view the mores of the society in which he lives? Doesn't it encourage him to look at himself as one who is above Earthly morality, like Nietzche's Superman? If not, why not?

At one point Adrian repeats the same question that I asked him about the substitutionary atonement in my post last week: "How does that make sense? It is the opposite of what makes sense.", and agrees that it does not make sense. But there it is written in Romans 8, and so we must believe. But I see a big problem in believing in a proposition that does not make sense to oneself. To explain, I'll use a metaphor to something I and many other people are familiar with. Buying stocks. I joined the stock buying craze along with millions of others during the height of the Internet bubble mania in 1999. I foolishly put money into tech stocks that I did not understand because it seemed like everything related to the internet would just continue to grow for years to come. The problem occured when the first major downturn in my stock came. Not knowing what the company represented by my stock was really worth, I had no basis on which to judge whether my stock was at risk to long term declines. I had no basis because I bought into something that I didn't understand.

Now wiser, if a little poorer, I buy stocks based on what I know about them. I understand what they are worth, and I will not be scared out of a position by the panicky selling of speculators. The same should be true when adopting a worldview, or philosophy about the world. Our worldviews are the framework within which we construct our ideas about what is meaningful in life. We are all tested in life, and our commitments to meaning are called into question by crises and setbacks. The worst thing that can befall you during a period of tribulation is to lose faith in your worldview. It would be like the bottom of a market falling out, as your landmarks of meaning are sold in the panic. If you understand what you believe, if it makes sense to you at a deep level, it is unlikely that you'll be shaken out of it when crisis hits.

Another problem that I have with this no guilt, no condemnation outlook on life is that it is unnatural. Feeling guilty is a natural part of living. It is a healthy part of living. It is a necessary part of living. Not unfocused, chronic, pathological guilt. But guilt from the realization that we aren't always as good as we should be. A philosophy that promises to wipe away guilt will only set expectations too high. In that regard it has much in common with the "self esteem" movement. It is very easy to get carried away with the good news of being pardoned for all your sins, past, present and future. It is very tempting. Especially when you are exhorted on by someone as passionate and charismatic as Adrian. Yet guilt will return, and when it does it will be double. Guilt for your imperfections, and guilt for feeling guilty in the face of God's pardon.

One of Woody Allen's lesser known movies was "Broadway Danny Rose", about a small-time New York comic turned small-time agent. He has a heart of gold, but one day he inadvertently causes one of his acquaintances to be mistaken for another man who is secretly seeing a mobster's girlfriend. The man is badly beaten and ends up in the hospital for a long time. Danny feels terrible guilt and remorse for what he has done, and does what he can for the poor man. He confesses his guilt to the mobster's girlfriend, played by Mia Farrow, who tells him to forget about it and not feel so guilty. Things happen. Danny refuses to take this advice. The least he can do for his friend is to feel the guilt for what he has done.

Adrian has also challenged me to comment on whether I think the Bible supports C J Mahaney's original quote. This is a difficult question, because I'd have to say "yes" and "no". The Bible says many, many things, and depending on how you mine it for quotes it can support contradictory positions on almost any theological question. Abraham Lincoln himself lamented this reality when he noted that both the anti-slavery North and the pro-slavery South claimed that God was on their side. But as Lincoln noted "God cannot be both for and against the same thing".

But there certainly is plenty of support for C J's position. There is also support for Peter Kirk's position. My position on the matter is not based on Biblical exegesis.

But if I were to argue against Adrian's position above, derived from Romans 8, that only a turn to Christ in the spirit will bring salvation, from a Biblical standpoint, I would invoke Matthew 31-46:
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' 44Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' 45Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

If good works held no influence on salvation, then this passage makes no sense. Clearly Jesus is telling his followers here to look for him "in the flesh", not in the spirit. Those of his followers who looked to him but not to the opportunities to help their fellow man, even if it means taking their eyes off of him, will not be saved. Jesus is not making a distinction between the spirit and the flesh, but is saying that the two are one.

One other statement from Adrian's sermon that caught my attention was, to paraphrase, that "small errors in understanding the Gospel lead to big problems in your life". I'm not sure exactly how to interpret this, but this makes sense to me in reference to the incredible level to which I've seen evangelicals, among other Christians, look to exploit seemingly small details in interpretation of Scriptures into make or break theological doctrines. How else to explain the seemingly endless variety of theological doctrines and positions that I've noticed browsing the various religious blogs, with each proclaiming to represent the clear, unambiguous truth as laid out in the Gospel? Whatever it might be, it is certainly not clear. In my post that started this whole discussion with Adrian, I also pointed to a discussion thread on Joe Carter's Evangelical Outpost blog, where Joe and Tim Challies were dabating whether to even consider Andrew Sullivan a Christian. Challies responded to Joe Carter in the negative, and a detailed set of criteria which one should meet in order to be considered a Christian. Carter replied, surprisingly, that by Challies' criteria he himself could not call himself a Christian. For a missionary faith, Christianity can certainly seem a very exclusive community. How do you really know when you're 'in'? Even when you think you're in, you might not be. Perhaps this explains the popularity of the doctrine-lite Post-Denominational and Megachurch movement.

But to reiterate the most striking point to me, it has to be this notion that the Law no longer applies. This is an idea that I never encountered in all my days as a Catholic. Here in the US many conservative Christian groups are trying to place the Ten Commandments in public venues such as courtrooms and schools. It thoroughly confuses me to hear from other Christians that the Commandments are no longer in force, and that Christianity is truly about the realization that obeying the Commandments is a futile exercise. We talk about the Judeo-Christian heritage of the West, as a single heritage developed through time. Yet it seems by this definition that Christianity is not a further development of Judaism, but the total antithesis of Judaism. It is the anti-Judaism. I've never looked at Christianity in that way.

Sorry that I only found grounds for disagreement, Adrian. I hope this clarifies some of my own thinking.


Blogger Harry Eagar said...

At first blush, guilt-free Christianity probably sounds like a surefire pleaser in the marketplace, like Milky Way Lite bars.

But then I recall my own time as a Christian and I think not.

Part of the fun was finding trivial things to feel guilty about and to testify about and to be pitied for.

When it comes to actual sins that one ought to feel profound guilt about -- let's say, to take a sin at random, raping little boys -- the rush to purgation is a lot more restrained.

June 19, 2006 9:19 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

"When you break one commandment you break them all" is as nonsensical, meaningless and anti-human as the idea that you should 'love all men equally.'

(And before anyone challenges me on that, I must warn you that I can use a devastating Chesterton quote in support - talk about friendly fire!)

But what I want to know is what it practically means to 'accept Jesus', in order to gain this cosmic Get Out card. Presumably God knows if I'm faking it, so I can't just say "I accept Jesus" just before popping my clogs. I would have to mean it. But what does it mean to mean it?

And how important is the timing? Does it have to be immediately before my death at the very latest? What if I get hit by a bus and don't have time - seems awful unfair, even for a heathen, not to give me the chance to accept Jesus. Especially if I happened to be crossing the road to donate a pint of my blood to the starving children in Africa.

Or is it just AFTER my death that God asks me the question? In which case it's a no-brainer: if I awake up after dying and God is dangling me over the pits of Hell I'm hardly going to reaffirm my disinterest in Him.

June 20, 2006 3:21 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Duck, it is good to hear what people like you have to say in response to good sermons. I admit to not having heard the sermon myself, but I am sure that Adrian preaches well.

You make an interesting analogy about buying high risk stocks. It is indeed a risk to buy a share in something which you don't understand. I wouldn't do it myself - except perhaps on one condition: if my close trusted friend were in charge of the venture, and I knew that they were competent and trustworthy, I might well invest even if I didn't understand the details of what they were doing.

And that is, or should be, the better analogy with our Christian faith. We don't understand the details of what is happening. But as Christians we know and trust God and Jesus who are in charge of the venture. So we can safely invest our lives in it.

Now I accept that that puts you in a difficult position, because you do not yet have this relationship with God and with Jesus and so cannot trust them directly. But you have good advice from Adrian and myself, from other Christians, from the Bible and from what many others have written through the centuries. Nevertheless, I accept that from your point of view there is a risk. You have to consider what the risk is and whether it is worth taking. What do you have to lose? The worst possible outcome is that you die, but as you wrote before you will do that anyway. And, to be honest, in the western world you could have a good life as a Christian even if there were nothing after death and the whole thing were a con, so you don't actually have much to lose. But you have everything to gain, for all of eternity, if the Christian message is true. So why not give it a try? If you do, you will meet God and get a personal relationship with him, and you will immediately know that you have done the right thing - that is the real reason why most Christians seem to enjoy life so much!

June 20, 2006 4:22 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Very interesting thoughts. You're asking good questions that have me going back to the basics.

On the all-sin-is-equally-bad, there is also the concept of rewards in heaven; the mass-murderer who made an eleventh-hour conversion (e.g. Bundy, Dahlmer) gets saved just like the lifelong believer, but the saint's going to get more props in Heaven. There is a reward for good behavior, but it's seperate from the issue of salvation.

That's different from a Catholic take, where (IIRC) good behavior gives you a shorter stop in purgatory.

I've wrote up a response on my blog to the Mathew 25 "least of these" quote; in a nutshell, faith creates a changed heart, which then produces the works. If you read Scripture as a whole, that seems to be what it leans towards

June 20, 2006 6:02 AM  
Blogger Travis said...

Well met! I like how you think, Mister Duck!

As to the "break one, break 'em all" bit, that comes straight out of the Epistle of James, chapter 2:

"If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker."

And while we Christians love to play Scriptural soundbites, doing so usually requires ignoring the context (ironically, Adrian just posted something along these lines). In this particular passage, James is saying that it does no good to say you're righteous because you follow your "pet commandments" if you're ignoring the parts of the Law you don't think are worth your time and effort. (In this particular case, James' audience thought they were pretty tight with God because they were obeying Jesus' command to "love your neighbor as yourself" -- only problem was, they only did that if their neighbor was filthy-stinkin' rich.)

James isn't saying that the same degree of eternal punishment awaits the serial shoplifter and the serial rapist. He's saying that neither one can claim to be a Law-abiding citizen, and neither one respects the Lawgiver.

And that, perhaps, ties into your frustration with the "get-out-of-Hell-free card" mindset. People who have been saved from God's wrath and set free from the power of sin will at times still sin; the difference is that they love the Lawgiver, and the Lawgiver Himself has established an unbreakable covenant that He will purify them of all unlawfullness -- not just as a matter of propitiation (transferring their guilt to Jesus Christ), but He will really and truly conform them into Righteous people.

But the question must be asked, "is righteousness primarily adherence to an external code, or your motive(s) for adhering to that code?" A person can begrudgingly obey when there's no conceivable alternative (much like your postmortem dangling-over-the-pit-of-Hell illustration), but that doesn't mean they find any beauty or delight in who or what they're obeying. The Scriptures draw a distinction between the two, and call one "righteousness" and the other "legalism." The external Law is good, but ineffective on its own. Only when our hearts are rewired to obey the Law because of our love for the Lawgiver will we be considered righteous by Jesus', James' and Paul's standard.

June 20, 2006 7:34 AM  
Blogger Exist~Dissolve said...


You have some great and penetrating insights into Adrian's sermons, some of which cannot be as easily brushed off as Adrian would like...(see his response to your posting here).

I would agree with your objections about the "get out of hell free card" notion, as well as the virtual discounting of the necessity of living moral lives. As you point out, Jesus' criterion for pleasing God was quite simple--helping the poor, the sick, the imprisoned--and did not countenance the metaphysical notion of "accepting Christ into one's heart," whatever that actually means.

The problem with the line of thinking pursued in the sermon is that it wrongly conceives of "sin" as rule breaking. I personally do not believe that we will judged strictly upon adherence to some arbitrary set of rules. Ultimately, as Jesus taught, the only "law" is to love God. But how does one do this? Jesus says that to love God is to love one's neighbor. Therefore, the impetus for determining whether or not something is "sinful" is not based upon how well one can interpret the boundaries of a particular law (or how good one is at skirting the boundary), but rather, and quite simply, do you love others?

If this approach is applied to the Romans 8 passage, the emphasis shifts from that of "no condemnation" in a penal/forensic sense to an realization that to follow Christ is to be transformed by the Spirit of God into people who do what Christ did--love others and lay down their lives for others.

Again, excellent and thought provoking post!

June 20, 2006 9:49 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: With all due respect for your new friend, and I readily admit that I might be losing some subtle English point (I've never yet felt that I really understand any writing that includes the word "whilst"), I have very little patience for this Calvinist nonsense. It is probably the most pernicious doctrine anyone calling themselves Christian has managed to come up with.

Although I have to admit that the idea of evangelical Calvinists is amusing.

June 20, 2006 3:22 PM  
Blogger Adrian said...

Just realised I never pointed to my response to Ducks review. I posted it over on my blog, and can I say how pleased I am to be having these kind of polite discussions....

June 20, 2006 4:02 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

So you consort with a witch burner, but you draw the line at Calvinists? Well, everyone needs standards, I guess.

June 20, 2006 6:33 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Yes, I caught your reply before I left for work in the morning. I'd be interested if you have any comebacks for the rest of my post. I'll post a reply later tonight on your blog.

We put off the second level of the debate, which was why we should invest the scriptures with inerrant authority, or any authority for that matter, to focus on the question of whether the Bible clearly states that God killed Jesus. I'd be interested to see how you would approach that question

June 20, 2006 6:42 PM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: You guys always misstate OJ's position on witch-burning, but I assume that even you will agree that he's never claimed to be an active witch-burner. These people, on the other hand, clam to be active Calvinists.

While the French reaction to discovering Calvinists among them was almost certainly overkill, there are some things that decent people shouldn't tolerate.

June 20, 2006 6:49 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

My understanding is that he's inactive only for lack of opportunity.

June 20, 2006 7:25 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Well of course he wouldn't admit to being an active witch burner! He'd be in jail for life! Is that why he lives in New Hampshire? No death penalty?

It's hard to mis-state Orrin in a way that makes him look worse than how he states himself.

June 20, 2006 8:02 PM  
Blogger Duck said...


Ultimately, as Jesus taught, the only "law" is to love God. But how does one do this? Jesus says that to love God is to love one's neighbor. Therefore, the impetus for determining whether or not something is "sinful" is not based upon how well one can interpret the boundaries of a particular law (or how good one is at skirting the boundary), but rather, and quite simply, do you love others?

Exactly! The way that I read Matthew is that Jesus isn't expecting you to know that loving your neighbor is loving him. You don't even have to "know" Jesus, or know who he is. I think that it is actually a more honest display of your love if you don't know who Jesus is.

Think of ths analogy: there is a company owner who wants to see how his employees really treat their customers. If he were to hover over them while they served a client, he knows that they would just be on their best behavior because he was there watching.

The only way to get a true read on the employees commitment to his customers is to go undercover and play a customer himself. If the employee's service is as thorough and frieldly and helpful when he thinks noone is watching him, then the owner knows that the employee is truly commited to him, the owner. The best owners don't want employees who are suck ups. They know where their interests lie - with the customers. The best way to prove to an owner your commitment and loyalty to him is to show that commitment and loyalty to his customers.

That is why I can't buy into this "spirit" and "flesh" dichotomy. When I hear "turn away from the flesh, and turn towards Jesus", I think of an employee who ignores his customers when the boss is in the room just to dote on the boss.

June 20, 2006 8:23 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Calvinism has always struck me as being the most logically consistent of Christianity's sorry collection of sects.

June 21, 2006 2:29 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Duck, your comments about employees could almost be from the gospels! Jesus knew that he was going away and returning later, and repeatedly urged us to be faithful even when he was away. This is the teaching of various parables, like those of the ten virgins and of the talents, both in Matthew 25. And one might say that one of the Holy Spirit's roles during this time of waiting for Jesus' return is to be Jesus' undercover representative, keeping us on track while Jesus is away (cf John 16:8-11), although fortunately for us he doesn't send Jesus condemning reports about us, but shows them to us to help us to improve our performance.

June 21, 2006 3:53 AM  
Blogger David said...

Brit: Consistency is nothing to write home about, but what's consistent about a religion that denies our fundamental humanity?

June 21, 2006 4:26 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

It's just internally logically consistent: it has nothing to do with the real world, as you say.

I don't claim to be an expert on the finer theological points, but doesn't Calvinism sidestep problems of sin and free will by asserting that we don't have any free will, and if you're a bad person there's nothing whatsoever you can do about it?

June 21, 2006 4:44 AM  
Blogger David said...

Brit: I'm not a Christian theologian, but I play one on the Internet.

doesn't Calvinism sidestep problems of sin and free will by asserting that we don't have any free will,

I don't think they'd put it that way, but yes.

and if you're a bad person there's nothing whatsoever you can do about it?

Not exactly. We're all bad people who deserve, on our own merits, to burn in hell for eternity. This sounds like the doctrine of the fall, but itsn't, quite. The only route to salvation is through the grace of the Calvinist god, who decided back at creation who would be saved and who would not be saved. If you are predestined to be saved, then it doesn't matter what you do in life. Likewise, if you are predestined not to be saved, it doesn't matter what you do in life. The elect and only the elect will be saved, no matter what.

Surprisingly, though, the elect just happen to go to Calvinist churches and conform to Calvinist norms. You would think that we would all dedicate ourselves to lives of unstinting hedonism, as it can't make any different whatsoever -- and since being saved cannot be, by definition, a matter of individual worth because we're all as bad as any of us.

But then, of course, people who consider themselves charismatic Calvinist evangelicals must start out being pretty weak on the theory of the thing.

June 21, 2006 6:05 AM  
Blogger David said...

I should note that the standard response is to assert that worshipping Jesus is even more fun than a life of unstinting hedonism, even if Jesus has long since decided to withhold his grace and let them burn in hell for eternity.


Let's have a show of hands from all the Calvinists who believe that Jesus might have already decided to let them burn in hell for eternity.



June 21, 2006 6:09 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Thankee for the clarification, David.

You've got to admit, it does kind of make sense, if you assume an omnipotent, omniscient God.

But certainly, a puritan Calvinist is rather shooting himself in the foot.

June 21, 2006 6:13 AM  
Blogger Exist~Dissolve said...


You've got to admit, it does kind of make sense, if you assume an omnipotent, omniscient God.

It only makes sense if one's conception of the "omnipotent," omniscient" God is entirely materialist. For those of us who believe that God is really "other" than human (and not just the biggest one), Calvinism makes no sense at all and is the most logically inconsistent theological system possible.

June 21, 2006 6:17 AM  
Blogger David said...

Ach. I shudder at the word "clarification."

It is a logically consistent way of dealing with the tension between an omniscient G-d and free will. It also deals with the salvation through grace or works problem that runs through the history of Christianity. But, as you say, once you get to Calvin you're so far inside the logical bubble that you fail to notice how far you are from Earth and life as it is lived.

This is a nice example of the utility of the Catholic Magisterium, not the least duty of which is to keep a tight rein on reason. "We don't care if it makes sense, we're telling you it's wrong, we don't have to explain ourselves and our teaching is infallible." It really has put paid to any number of tempting but ultimately disastrous heresies.

June 21, 2006 6:23 AM  
Blogger Brit said...


I don't follow you.

If God is omnisicient and is beyond Time, he knows whether he's going to save us from the off.

If 'omniscient' doesn't mean that God knows everything but means something else undefinable because human words can't describe God, then why use the word at all?

Indeed, what is the sense in devoting any time at all to contemplating that which is, by definition, beyond comprehension?

June 21, 2006 6:23 AM  
Blogger David said...

What e~d said. That's excellent. I should have said that, and someday I no doubt will.

June 21, 2006 6:26 AM  
Blogger David said...

Geez, we might as well be in a chat room.

Brit: To G-d, everything is now. All of existence is a single fact, known entirely. Only us prisoners of time struggle with cause and effect. For G-d, there is only one cause.

June 21, 2006 6:29 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Fellas, when it comes down to it, aren't all of us - secular Duckians and religious God-botherers alike - who take an interest in questions of theology, really just a bunch of Dunnoists? Is it possible for a sane man to be anything else?

(Actually, to avoid the danger of taking this thread too many miles from its original course, I shall now endeavour to construct a new post devoted to that very question... oh the excitement!)

June 21, 2006 6:35 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Not me, Brit. Materialism is perfectly self-consistent.

The only antimaterialist viewpoint that comes closes to self-consistency is 'god exists but is evil.'

That gets rid of the problem of evil and presents the much less difficult problem of good.

June 21, 2006 10:01 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

David, as one who is a Christian theologian at least to the extent of having a degree in it, I have to say that you are making a bit of a parody of Calvinism. At least I hope you are. I am not a Calvinist, but I have studied the works of Calvin who started it all, and he did not teach Calvinism in this sense. For example, he did not teach that some are predestined to damnation. I accept that some who call themselves Calvinists have gone off in that direction, and I don't seek to defend them: their position may be logically self-consistent but it is not consistent with the God of the Bible who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son".

As for Harry's suggestion that "Materialism is perfectly self-consistent", how does he explain how the material came into being, and how does he explain that he is conscious and rational? Materialism has no explanation for these things.

I consider my own evangelical but non-Calvinist Christian position to be self-consistent. The basic point is that God is both loving and omni-whatever, but has chosen to limit his omnipotence because he wants people to love him voluntarily, not because they are forced or predestined to do so. If this love is to be voluntary, he must allow some people to choose not to love him and take the consequences. Space is too small in a comment to explain this fully, so maybe I will do so sometime on my own blog.

June 21, 2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger David said...

Peter: As always, I defer to expertise. However...

Isn't it common for people to note that Calvin wasn't a Calvinist?

As for whether these folks are really Calvinists, I'm agnostic. I do note, pessimistically, that on his blog Adrian notes that We believe that Jesus took the punishment for our sin, that God the father chose us from before the world began and that the Holy Spirit causes a new birth which enables us to believe. [Emphasis added] He also confirms belief in "at least a majority" of TULIP.

Does that make one a Calvinist?

Harry: Materialism is internally consistent, once you assume existence.

June 21, 2006 11:50 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Existence is an axiom. No need to explain it.

It would be hard, though, to explain how we do not exist.


David, if god exists outside of time, I have two questions.

1. Is his crime against us Philistines still in commission? I understand that my objection to be among the Unchosen is usually countered (well, not by you) by saying that Jesus offered a new dispensation.

I don't buy that, but if god is outside time, I don't see how even Christians could buy it.

2. This just occurred to me as I was driving to work: if god exists outside time, where does our time come from? How did he know he could create time if he'd never experienced it?

June 21, 2006 1:23 PM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: What crime is that? Why would you want to be chosen?

June 21, 2006 2:03 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

David: that looks suspiciously like turning into Orrin's oft-repeated philosophical gaffe about "reason proving itself a faith, therefore ...(what?)"

You cannot but assume existence.

Peter K:

how does he explain how the material came into being, and how does he explain that he is conscious and rational? Materialism has no explanation for these things.

There is the Big Bang theory for the former. Materialism doesn't need to comment on anything before the existence of matter. Consciousness does have something inherently 'mysterious' about it, but materialists are happy to accept that each 'byte' of consciousness has a corresponding material element in the brain, even if the details of the delivery mechanism remain unknown and weird, and that consciousness is something that exists in degrees from ameoba at one of the scale all the way up to pandas, porpoises and Peter Kirk at the other.

But there is one are where I think even Harry might be a Dunnoist. I certainly am, and it's to do with the essential weirdness of existence. It hinges on whether the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is a meaningful question.

June 21, 2006 2:49 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

What crime? Take your pick. Tenth plague of Egypt, f'rinstance.

I'd want to be chosen for the rewards, I guess, if the price weren't so high.


In general, I don't worry about questions which, when turned inside out, take the form: why is there not nothing?

I'm probably harder core than most materialists.

June 21, 2006 4:33 PM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: I didn't realize that even those from deepwoods Tennesee still thought it was a crime to free a people from chattal slavery. Still mad at Lincoln, too?

In any event, neither the Egyptians nor you are Philistines, literally or figuratively.

Brit: Materialism has to deal with either creation or eternity, neither of which sit easily.

June 21, 2006 5:09 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I'm glad to see the term "Dunnoism" gaining some circulation. So far as I know, I invented it several years ago at BrosJudd (although all traces of it have either been purged, or are invisible to the site search engine).


Materialism has to deal with either creation or eternity ...


Or, perhaps put differently, what possible answer could be better than the Materialist answer of "Dunno." Not now, maybe not ever.

Unsatisfying to many, no doubt. But lack of satisfaction is no disqualifier.

The pivotal question Why is there something rather than nothing? is simultaneously fascinating, forbidding, and utterly inscrutable. Admitting that, though, puts paid to every religion concocted in the material mind of man.

Mr. Kirk:

As for Harry's suggestion that "Materialism is perfectly self-consistent", how does he explain how the material came into being, and how does he explain that he is conscious and rational? Materialism has no explanation for these things.

A materialist disregards only one more explanation for how the material came into being than you do. As for consciousness, the details behind its existence and nature are almost completely obscured.

But given that material causes such as strokes, tumors, etc have such a profound influence on consciousness, you can't disregard out of hand that material causes aren't as responsible for its existence as they are for its demise.

June 21, 2006 7:32 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't recall that Massa Lincoln murdered a bunch of babies to free the slaves.

As a matter of historical fact, there is no evidence that any Hebrews ever lived in Egypt until very late. The story is a myth, but it's your myth.

June 21, 2006 9:06 PM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

There is plenty of evidence of Semites, speakers of a language very similar to Hebrew, living in Egypt for much of the 2nd millennium BCE. They even ruled the country for a century or so, when they were known as the Hyksos. How exactly these Semites related to the Hebrews described in the Bible, and when, in relation to Egyptian chronology, they or some of them left Egypt (i.e. the Exodus event) and invaded Canaan, is debatable. But there is certainly at least a good measure of truth behind this "myth".

June 22, 2006 7:37 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: "First born" is not a synonym for "new born."

June 22, 2006 10:59 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The Hyksos were Philistines, my Unchosen people -- and, notoriously, sailors not shepherds. As you say, they came as conquerors not captives.

Usually, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but in the peculiar archaeological province of Egypt, it's pretty close.

June 22, 2006 11:01 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Harry, I know you are a fan of the Philistines, but it is certainly not orthodox Egyptology to identify them with the Hyksos. On the orthodox chronology of Egypt (which is challenged by some like David Rohl), the Philistines were one of the Sea Peoples (yes, sailors) who came from the Aegean area and attacked Egypt in the reign of Rameses III (1184-1153 BCE), whereas the Hyksos, who were called shepherds, not sailors, by their contemporaries, were expelled from Egypt by Ahmose (1539-1514 BCE), more than 300 years before the Philistines arrived in the general area. Now I know that that is inconsistent with the book of Genesis which has shepherd Philistines around in the time of Isaac, perhaps the 18th century BCE (Genesis 26:1,14), and perhaps these early Philistines were related to the Hyksos. But the Philistines who David fought, c. 1000 BCE, seem to have been a different lot, not the shepherds but the sailors.

June 22, 2006 1:16 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yes, and Isaac was, allegedly, 37 years old when Abraham was about to sacrifice him, despite the pictures in my schoolbook that made him look like a junior high school boy.

I guess that makes it all right then.

But it's not a distinction that gives much comfort to us Unchosen People. You can imagine, I hope, why we might be wary about promises from somebody who did that to us.

June 22, 2006 9:38 PM  
Blogger David said...

Did to "you" (by which you apparently mean "not you", thousands of years ago and fictional) what you want to do to the Muslims?

June 23, 2006 8:27 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Kill their first-born? No. Unless they happen to be imams.

I'm arguing from your premises. If you want to agree that none of it happened, I win.

If we stick with yours, perhaps the question is still open. If you're Chosen by inheritance, I'm Unchosen the same way.

June 23, 2006 11:02 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Isaac was 37? Where did you get that one from? That was his age when his mother Sarah died. Genesis does not tell us his age when he was nearly sacrificed. The order of the stories suggests that it was before Sarah died, and from 22:20 some time before, although also from 21:34 a long time after he was born. Also he is called a "boy" (נַעַר na`ar, 22:5,12) which suggests that he was quite young, and his centenarian father seems to have had no trouble tying him up, with no help, so I would suggest that junior high age was about right. But in the absence of other information we are guessing.

But, as you say, it doesn't really make any difference. For a father to kill his son is wrong, whether the son is Isaac or Jesus. And as far as I can remember the only biblical characters who actually did this were the wicked kings Ahaz and Manasseh, 2 Kings 16:3, 21:6.

June 23, 2006 1:39 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

For a father to kill his son is wrong, whether the son is Isaac or Jesus.

The why is even worse than the what.

June 23, 2006 5:53 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

The why is even worse than the what.

So you would have been less offended if he killed him for good 'ole human jealousy or disobedience than if he didn't kill him because of Divine commandment? I love the way you guys gnash your teeth over this happy-ending story and do everything you can to turn it into a moral scandal

Skipper, you must be big on stiffer sentences for hate crimes.

June 24, 2006 3:19 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


So you would have been less offended if he killed him for good 'ole human jealousy or disobedience than if he didn't kill him because of Divine commandment?

That is pretty close to a non-sequitor. The "what" is bad enough in and of itself -- there is no combination of circumstances that can ameliorate the act.

But to conclude there isn't something inherently evil about directing murder to prove fealty is to completely suspend moral judgment. I choose not to do so. The quid pro quo was loathsome, and indicates a supreme being ironically suffering from an extreme case of short-man syndrome.

Skipper, you must be big on stiffer sentences for hate crimes.

Absolutely not, but your statement is another non-sequitor, because the actor is the same person possessing the motive. Abraham had no inclination to kill his sun before the deus ex machina. More pertinently, you should question my fondness for charging with murder the person who contracts the act, as well as the one who commits it.

June 24, 2006 6:50 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I missed the happy ending part.

Poor kid must have been scarred for life.

June 24, 2006 1:24 PM  
Blogger David said...

Interestingly, Isaac almost dissappears from the story from that point on.

Harry: What benefit do you think there is in being Chosen?

June 24, 2006 1:36 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Poor kid must have been scarred for life.

Not to worry, Harry. Ancient Coptic scripts show that he was put under the care of the local child protection agency and got the counselling he needed. It was rough, but he got a good job clerking for the local wine merchant and loved to tell the customers how he was getting in touch with his inner self.

June 24, 2006 5:08 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Very little benefit, David. It is much less onerous to be Unchosen, but you're always at risk of being skooshed like a bug and not a thing you can do about it. Big Spook doesn't listen to or care about you.

Much more troublesome to be Chosen, but there's at least a chance of arguing with the Big Spook and getting him to move; plus there are those promises, if you believe 'em.

The more serious question, though, is what sort of deity chooses and unchooses among his creatures? We do not necessarily have to understand his motivation -- my understanding is that you guys think we cannot anyway -- but that does not prevent us from asking: What sort of deity is this?

June 24, 2006 5:52 PM  
Blogger David said...

But He doesn't exist and He is not worthy of worship are two different arguments.

June 25, 2006 7:10 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


If I may be so bold, Harry is asking that question within the realm of belief.

It is the same one I asked, and failed to get a good answer to, when I left religion behind.

All the answers on offer were nothing more than variations on the Good German defense.

June 25, 2006 1:34 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yes, they are very much two different arguments.

You notice, I hope, that I never answer an argument about religion by saying, 'Nyah, nyah, there is no god.'

I accept the presentation of the religion as it is, then ask, then what? Why does anybody consider that good?

That is why, to me, the most problematic episode in the OT is Lot (followed closely by Abraham and Isaac) and in the NT, Martha and Mary.

Though it's true that if the goal is to get to heaven, if nobody washes the dishes, we'll get there a lot sooner.

June 25, 2006 5:28 PM  
Blogger David said...

You both have the answers, you just don't like them.

June 26, 2006 7:58 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


You, as usual, are very perceptive.

The answer is the "Good German" defense.

And you are right. I don't like it, to the point of preferring eternity in purgatory.

June 29, 2006 1:14 PM  

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