I had the privilege to be interviewed on the Parker J. Cole Show, a much beloved Christian comment show in Detroit. My apologies about my sloppiness on the subject to you professionals. But I appreciate the opportunity to try to speak exoterically. Thank you, Parker Cole.
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I just saw a film version of HP Lovecraft’s classic tale. HP Lovecraft’s vision of Horror as a feature of the human predicament in the cosmos is a combination of Edgar Allen Poe, Herbert Spencer, and Soren Kierkegaard.
This tale is simply the secularization narrative of the Enlightenment but with special attention given to humanity’s denial of death. The only mercy for Lovecraft is the limits to science that allow us to avoid for awhile putting the various sciences together to yield the conclusion that the laws of the universe will eventually wipe away all of humanity and it’s achievements. The Demi-Alien Cthulhu represents the ad hoc ness of mankind in natural history and it’s meaninglessness.
But Lovecraft is no Russell facing despair in a pretense of virtue, he sees this fact as intolerable to humans drawing them either to reverse the successes of science or using it without sanity, proving that there is no successful coping mechanism for final death. This made his approach to capturing cosmic and existential horror – a worldview of horror and an eschatological kingdom of horror – utterly fascinating compared to other horror takes. Lovecraft is preaching through parables.
Ernest Becker considered this feature – the denial of death (in a study with that as a title) – to be the fundamental psychoanalytic dynamic. Neurotic functioning developed principally in the individual’s degree of success in avoiding reflecting on the significance of his own death. His complement to Christianity was that it’s Gospel made recognition of death a necessary condition for obtaining true happiness.
The Christian worldview does so by agreeing with Lovecraft as much as it disagrees with him. The world does display causes of wonder that seem to transcend mere concatenations of particles that serve as signposts to the divine, humans in particular. But these divine features are at the mercy of the regular mechanisms of the machine of nature which produces storm and quake showing neither malice or pity. Pascal captures this by saying that man, though but a reed crushed by the universe, is still greater than the universe that crushes it because man is a reed which thinks.
But Christianity explains this by saying that while the world is both beautiful and terrible, this is because the world is not mankind’s normal home. The abnormality of man’s relation to the world is further said to be accidental based on events in the archaic past, and reversible, based on events that take place in an eschatological new age. But the plausibility of these inaccessible events are groined in the accessible historical experiences of the original Israel which came into existence by prophetic revelation and miraculous intervention, and which recapitulated the same conditions that led to the distortion of all humanity.
From her history we learn of an original covenant made with the original couple in a privileged place made for them, but which they broke and thus were condemned to this natural world. But also from the specific grants given to the families and rulers of Israel, we learn that God had promised humanity from the beginning that there would be hope based on God’s future provision and thus to live by faith until then. This was also accomplished in accessible history in the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of one Jesus Christ according to the promises made to Israel and attested by eyewitnesses. Because all are invited to join with God in his free promises of mercy in a new covenant we may look forward to a day when the oddness of humanities cosmic location will be overcome.
All this comes to the world like a signal from space from an alien race, but a much different one than the Thule Mythos, announcing the news that redemption is there if you want it. Good news is strange to a Lovecraft-like world. But that may not necessarily make it incredible. After all, even the point of Lovecraft’s fiction is still a surmise but Christianity is reconstructable news from its sources. Even if we must be skeptics about whether Lovecraft or the historic church is right, we may still be confronted with meaningful option to believe and hope in the offered Christ.
In this way, we understand how Christianity makes facing the existential threat a condition of happiness. Christ makes science with sanity possible in a Lovecraftian universe and Cthulhu turns out to be an accidental evangelist.
The Ocean of the Internet
One thing about the history of mankind. Men have always been fascinated with the sea. They have dared to put their small skiffs only to see them capsized by a wave. They have learned to build bigger sturdier ships travel and fish on the ocean. And now ships can take passengers who don’t know how to sail themselves. The ocean calls out to our sense of adventure.
But while the sea is wonderful, it is also terrible. When you set out to sea, you are surrounded by the ocean and land seems far away. For awhile, it seems like the sea is our whole world. The ocean is choppy with waves coming from all directions and crash into each other as well as into you. Storms can suddenly appear, forcing you to batten down the hatches. Or you can become becalmed and slowly eat up your resources not knowing when the winds and waves will help you again.
The sea is beautiful but also dangerous. One can find delicious fish to eat or use for perfume. But you could also run into a great shark or a giant squid and get thrown over and attacked. The sea is not useful generally for survival. You can’t even drink the water. If you are thrown over or sinking, there’s no one else to help you. You can even become mystified by the compelling power of the ocean, even though you know better, and begin to act as if the whole world was covered by the sea since that is all you see and despair of ever finding land and home again.
Not many of us get to sail the sea but today we have a way for everyone to have access to the experience of feeling like you’re at sea – and that’s called the internet. Moreover, in our society, everyone will be forced into the internet to meet basic needs for education and career. But kids will naturally and spontaneously seek out the internet. We might say kids today are born into the internet like fish, just as we were born into the world of television and telephones.
But the internet is an immersive experience, flooding you with more data than you process. A recent figure I read said that the average kid’s daily intake of information from the internet was equal to more than 8,100 song lyrics. But further this data is an incoherent mass of diverse opinions from all over the world without any principled arbitration. If someone had come up with a machine to download data directly into a young mind so that it is irresistibly led to skepticism and relativism, it’s hard to imagine one that could be more effective than the internet. Also, the internet is wild. There is no regulation of it. You will be exposed to dangerous images and ideas and addictive pastimes sooner rather than later. The internet is like the sea.
But one cannot simply forbid the attempt to explore the sea. But if you do, there are some things to keep in mind.
(1) The most important skills for surviving and succeeding on the sea are learned on land. These include nautical skills but the also include deeper habits such as compassion, courage, and especially faith and hope. The sea is lawless and that is why it is especially attractive to people who are lawless. But in lawless places where we cannot appeal to an external law enforcer we can still be the dirt if people whose lives embody the law in our virtue and character. But character must be acquired in the laboratories of character – the home, the neighborhood, the church. Once those graces become second nature, they will serve you well in the great “out there”.
(2) While at sea, no one is guided by the sea. They know there is nothing solid about the sea. Instead, they look to the stars. The stars are fixed in their courses and provide a fixed map such that a sailor steer their course aright. When in the world of the internet, it is also important to have fixed reference points that are other than the internet. Such reference points are the great traditions and thinkers that have proven their reliability over time by already having faced and survived harsh experiences and questions. Many ideas have already proven themselves by this point and can serve to help you navigate the internet and sort the wheat from the chaff.
Just as the sun is supreme among the stars, so is Scripture among the traditions. The Bible was not born yesterday and has survived and thrived even more severe tests than others, and over several fresh rounds, including the present moment, in its claim to be God’s own Word. And even now, it is still speaking afresh into the present as anyone who will look may see. And the situation created by the internet reminds us yet again why there must be a norm of norms. The Bible is the sun around which all the other stars find their orbits. It will be a sure guide on the internet sea.
(3) Finally, when things go wrong on the sea, the sea cannot repair them. Remember, if your boat springs a leak – and it will – the only things that will help you fix the leak are the things you bring on the boat with you. If that fails you can always fix the leak by removing and using another piece of the boat. Thus, your boat can stay afloat by repairing itself with itself. By the same token, if your beliefs are shaken by something on the internet, you can introduce a temporary ad hoc explanation that will serve until you can bring yourself back to shore for a substantial repair. The alternative is to be lost at sea. But as long as your beliefs were originally well founded (and the policy of “innocent until proven guilty” is appropriate here) then to be obstinate in belief in the face of apparent difficulties is a virtue rather than a fault. On the other hand, the policy of abandoning ship at the first sign of leaks is not prudent. This obstinacy is better understood as a mode of humility rather than pride.
And so the internet is like the sea. Don’t forget to pray for those who become lost at sea, more and more every day.
Is “The Big Heat” a Noir?
After see “The Big Heat” on my tour of “All Things By Fritz Lang”, I am curious to see what Thomas Hibbs might have said about it. Ostensibly, the film is a classic post-WWII era noir. It features Glenn Ford as detective and a family man who gets into trouble investigating the mysterious suicide of a syndicate sponsored police officer. Ford takes on the syndicate and the system but loses his wife, who dies in a car bomb explosion meant for him.
On my DVD their were interviews about the film with directors Michael Mann and Martin Scorsese, both famous for their contemporary noir pieces. Mann calls the film a classic noir and explains a little the nature of period noir as emerging from the bleakness of perspective that cane after the war. Mann mentions existentialism as also reflecting this despondency and he calls it a time when people abandoned the belief in moral absolutes – rightly he seems to think. The facade of human values seems to explode at the encroachment of the chaos that is human nature and which wipes away all pretension of the good. This seems depicted in the shocking scene where Ford is reading “The Three Little Kittens” to his daughter when the windows suddenly flash and an explosion is heard, indicating the death of the wife and mother. Our unwillingness to face the absurdity of existence is perhaps depicted by the daughter’s belief through the rest of the film that mommy suddenly went away on a trip. This analysis is especially poignant when you think of Lang who made films on the aftermath of both world wars which highlighted the demoralizing effects of both.
However, Scorsese claims that the film, in spite of all the stark noir tropes, is not a noir. This is because it has a happy ending. Their is a eucatastrophic moment where things turn around for him. His corrupt associate cops repent of their corruption and make a new start by helping him. Strong friends show up to keep his daughter safe. And a woman sacrifices her own life in gratitude and resolves the situation in a way that he could not. Yet these events are not deux ex machinas. They flow from the same facts of human nature as the violence. What comes as a surprise to the main character follows a logical path of events perceivable to the viewer. Thus, the noir message is qualified and contradicted. It’s not darkness all the way down.
The difficulty that both auteurs have in classifying the film can be traced back to the analysis of the genre. It’s true that both world wars had the impact of shattering the sunny view of human nature that the West had prior to that. That sunny optimism was the result of a combination or synthesis between secular humanistic progressivism and Mainline liberal Protestantism. In becoming liberal in both cases, both had abandoned the theistic realism of the Bible and of religious orthodoxy. The Biblical view is not that “God is in His heaven and all is right with the world. Rather, the world was created with boundaries between order and chaos. Man was created with the mission to expand the spheres of order onto chaos. But man failed and was dismissed into the boundary lands of order and chaos. Ever since, humanity has been given a choice to return to God or wander in darkness. But God on His part is patiently waiting and providing sunshine and rain and upholding the stability if natural laws and keeping humanity from ultimate distraction for the time being. But He won’t be patient forever. Rather, there will be a day when God calls all accounts in. On that day, the halfway world will be destroyed and a new world free of chaos will be made for those who in their probation called upon God.
On this picture there is chaos in the world but there are also moral absolutes. There remains reason to live with hope and patience even if the flood waters rise. That also applies to the violence inherent not just the system but also in human nature itself. The realism of the biblical view braces you for war, even world wars. But liberalism became attracted to the sweetness and reduced the value of religion to that removing the rest. But the world wars proved that approach inadequate. However, as a result, the baby got thrown out with the bath water. We were left with existential despair and relativism.
But the biblical view holder need not kowtow to the existential demand for authenticity, since admitting chaos does not entail the denial of absolutes for her. Her view has not been proven false by war. Further, existentialism itself is inadequate because it unnecessarily enlarges the space for violence. People do discover life again. A good piece of evidence for this is that since WWII we’ve passed through a time of goodness so much so that the current culture has shifted back to pre-world war mainline progressivism as if those wars never happened.
As for “The Big Hear”, I suggest we call it “Orthodox Noir”, a film that recognizes and faces the darkness but also the light.
Return of Secularization Theory:
A recent article at the Huffington Post by a neurophysiologist predicted that religion would disappear by around 2040 because of the progress of modern technology. He said that his conclusion was based on the hypothesis that religion was coping strategy to deal with existential threats to existence. Since modern science has successfully removed many such threats and seems likely to remove many more relatively soon, there seems no such remaining motivation to be religious and religion will soon cease. Such a hypothesis is a version of secularization theory – a theory that claims religion declines as material progress advances. Decades ago such theories seemed questionable because of contemporary counter examples like the USA being most modern but still most religious of western nations and the resurgence of faith in former Communist countries. But continuing developments have resuscitated such theories, such as the flight of millennials from churches and the progress of same sex marriage. Even Peter Berger has changed his mind back to re-affirming secularization.
Examining the existential threat theory, it clearly has plausibility. If we think of secularization in terms of William James account of “genuine belief options” from his essay “The Will to Believe”, it seems that modernity has made religious faith no longer a forced belief option. If one has to choose between faith in a promise of heaven over a reasonably long and comfortable life provided by modern technology you may think it reasonable to suspend judgment until you get terminal cancer that they don’t have a cure on the horizon for yet. Another thing that modernity may do is no longer make faith a live option due to prima facie incredibility.
But neither of these really holds up as James might have understood it. For the second, the limits of science are just as apparent as its accomplishments. At these limits, the scientist turns to philosophy, often without owning up to it, such as how to reconcile realism about science with the incompatibility of General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, what existed before the universe existed, what is the relation between physics and Consciousness, etc. These seem not only unanswered but in principle unanswerable by science. Yet there must be facts a out such things that make philosophy the most rational approach available.
As to the first, no intelligent person qua being intelligent for its own sake would or has been content with modernity’s successes (Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Kant). Suppose one day science finally gives us a machine like the Matrix which holds out the promise of downloading the experience of a long pleasurable prosperous seeming life made to our specifications to whoever wants to be inserted into it. What would you think of one who would volunteer? You still wouldn’t necessarily think their lives worthwhile or that they really had it made. You could still wonder if death is really the end or if there will be or should be an ultimate accounting. From the rational point of view, the choice to believe in some future existing Matrix or believe in another life in another perhaps more real world is still a forced option. What makes the option forced is the demand on the self that goes with rigorous commitment. Even without the dread of existential threat there still is the longing for existential meaning and justice and love, the pursuit of which makes the option still forced.
So genuine belief options do not explain the secularizing influence of modernity by existential dread. The actual explanation has more to do with man’s animal nature than his rational nature. Paul Vitz writes in “Faith of the Fatherless” about Freudian accounts of secularization. According to the doctrine of the Oedipal complex and repressed sexuality, the boy child goes through a phase of sexual attraction toward the mother while perceiving his father as a rival to be killed but his father’s superior strength forces him to be resolved to the situation. But the complex is never resolved. When the boy is big enough to be a credible threat to his father, the Oedipal urges return.
It is possible to combine the Oedipal theory with Freud’s projection theory to form a secularization hypothesis, where God is the cosmic father that imposes his sexual restraints on humanity by morally norming the orders of creation. While life is threatening the threat of God’s judgment is compelling. But when life is brought under human control that sense if divine threat seems more and more remote. As science progresses, fear of God diminishes.
Such an effect can and has been created without science. As the Apostle Paul makes clear, mankind had lost its fear of God before by forming the belief in idol magic, that they could manipulate the lesser deities through ritual and sacrifice that had more direct control over the forces of nature, thus giving them something like access to the control knobs of the universe. As a result, God gave them up to indulge the lusts if their flesh and experience the natural consequences of their behavior.
The presence of existential dread has greater impact on the animal for which reason is only of instrumental value for the survival instinct. Such reason makes the dread “existential” but not really intellectual, where as the search for meaning is truly an intellectual passion. Secularization may be evidence that humans are more animal than spiritual.
However, Vitz gives evidence that inadequate fathering vs adequate fathering is a strong predictor of atheism and theism respectively (for the most part). His evidence includes notable and articulate theists all through the early modern and contemporary period, showing that material prosperity need not quench faith. Compare this with Mary Eberstadt’s new research showing the role dysfunctional families have played in facilitating secularization and visa versa. An effective family is also a shelter from existential dread but not one that inclines to unbelief but rather to faith.
Family love and Fatherly bonding encourage humans to rise above instinct and lust to make choices based on either sufficient evidence or by recognizing genuine belief options where evidence fails to decide a question, to live as rational and transcendental beings. As for the future of religion, one could say with certainty that the natural law expectation all other things being equal religion will disappear by 2040. But this just begs the question of the truth of religion. If God exists, he may preserve a people to Himself for all eternity.
Had an interesting talk with a student on comparing short snippets from Sextus Empiricus and Lorraine Code. We suggested that skepticism is to the individual person what relativism is to society, a reversal of Plato’s republic in one respect. Just as in the individual, the cultivation of suspended judgment through personal inquiry leads to the cessation of perplexity, so the cultivation of relativism through public education leads to social tolerance (apathy). There is an important sense in which we have not fallen all that far from pre-modern thought, except Socratic pre-modern thought.
Society is making an existential leap by gambling that inquiry and education based on it will always be able to maintain or recover the indifferent equilibrium of “tolerance”, in as much proportion to the Socratic leap by gambling that absolute truth is out there and can be discovered. It must calculate the balance of value differently between risk of losing ultimate truth and final happiness by ignoring them and the exquisite unpleasantness of indefinitely prolonged perplexity and the humiliation of the surrender of intellectual self-sufficiency.
But tolerance won on these terms and based itself on the gamble for suspended judgment. If someone tries to argue in behalf of the Socratic spirit, the neo-skeptics will argue that the project of classical foundationalism proved a failure, denying any possibility of finding Truth even if it existed, and that since then science has made the prospect of Big T Truth even less likely. Still, would neo-skeptics consider seriously and sympathetically promoting the study of the grounds that call evolution and materialism into question or even the skeptical commitment to indifference itself. It turns out that commitment to indifference is taking a side after all. Consequently one group that cannot be tolerated are Socratic revivalists.
But Socratic revivalists can tolerate skeptics since, for revivalists, tolerance is not contingent on a belief state but a practical virtue to be cultivated, an accepting of folks you disagree with even though you think you are right and they are wrong. The Socratic raw confidence in the intellect that starts with wonder rather than doubt and takes an innocent until proven guilty policy on the intellect is orthoganal to classical foundationalism which was adopted in the first place to oppose the Socratic approach. Also, the value of obtaining even a shadow of the Truth is so high that is able to compensate for the additional riskiness of the pursuit.
The Socratic approach remains a live option for human beings. But the Neo-skeptic cannot tolerate that Socratic for long and must eventually impose his relativism on all. Thus, even contemporary followers of Socrates may share his fate.
Disturbing Parallels between Lincoln and Kennedy:
I was providentially privileged to see Spielberg’s “Lincoln” just a couple of days before the Supreme Court declared DOMA. Keeping in mind Mr. Douthat’s wise words about the misleading impressions one may form from such a necessarily partial and de-contextualized presentation and also the objections by historians that some of the key suppositions of the picture are historically false, still it is quite striking how up front and overt “Lincoln” was to his cabinet about his subversion of Constitutional process and his lies to congress. While we agree about the importance human rights and approve of the 13th Amendment, Lincoln’s approach presumes absolute confidence in his own moral judgment, zero confidence in constitutional law and the democratic process, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get his desired result by any means necessary however moral or even however utilitarianist. Now we may reasonably agree that a person may find themselves to be justifiably in that sort of position. But certainly the prior probability against that being the case should make us marvel, particularly because we can easily imagine anyone putting such a spin on events to rationalize any oppressive measure. It also disturbs in that one could easily imagine the dizzying self-aggrandizing and narcissistic effect of having such a concept of oneself would provide an overpowering motive for artificially and unnecessarily creating such a scenario.
Apparently, Justice Kennedy found himself in a similar situation as his statement for the majority in ruling against the constitutionality of DOMA. This is apparent from the globalizing and simplistic categories he used. More specifically, it seems to be indicated by his disproportionate emphasis on states rights. It was disproportionate as Justice Scalia points out in his read statement for the dissenting minority because most of Kennedy’s argument focuses on a crypto-appeal to constitutional due process with respect to states but then this gets rejected at the end since lack of precedent for same sex marriage in American tradition and history would permit different treatment of it by the federal government according to constitutional due process.
To further his case, then, Kennedy had to attribute to the states the power to impose a sacred dignity where none had been recognized before. This raises the question whether the purpose of law is to recognize or impose duties. It is usually supposed that it does both differentially, recognizing dignities to secure them and imposing certain stipulations in order to facilitate the former. But on Kennedy’s view of state creation of value of gay marriage, it can only be by stipulation and imposition and not by recognition. If impositions could create dignities, then everything could be a dignity and thus nothing would be. But if the states (as in some but not others) are recognizing a dignity, it must by the presumed dignity of doing whatever you want to do – which would include selling yourself into slavery if you wanted and thus proves to be incoherent.
To avoid these extremes, then it must involve nuanced and qualified dignities and thus is not within the provenience of the judicial branch but rather the legislature. But it’s here where we see zero confidence in the institutions of democracy and instead the imposition of a sovereign Justice to take matters into his own hands. This is especially clear in the rejection of a law passed by constitutional provisions. Neither due process nor federalism provides a basis for it.
So Kennedy shows a strong parallel to Spielberg’s Lincoln – not surprising since the film production has sent clear signals that it still regards sections if the country as not entitled to appreciate the person represented in the film, and thus displaying it’s political preferences overtly.
The real crux is that rather than being seen as an extraordinary political case, it is being seen as the very paradigm if normal politics. The logical conclusion of this is in the reduction to meaninglessness of our democratic institutions and their use as a foil for a political Caesarian elitism that alone holds the right to determine what is and isn’t right for the masses. After all such a public has demonstrated it’s unfitness to rule by refusing to grow up to maturity and instead entertaining their infantile selves with such things as “Star Wars”, “Lord of the Rings”, and “ET”. (Oops!)
The end of the debate:
It appears yet again that we are supposed to think that the debates over the great philosophical and moral questions have been settled. This article on Virginia campaigns expresses on behalf of Cato a presumptive commitment to contractual relativism. Without my making any surmised about the real quality of the candidates in question – they really may be bigoted and insane – still the arguments given for this are extremely specious and question begging.
That racists, nationalists, and anti-Semites may appeal to the same language (“intrinsic ends”, “natural law”) as objectors to same sex marriage does not show that there is no legitimate applications for natural law theory. One can mistake (even deliberately culpably mistake) the meaning and application of natural law theory, especially since their is more than one interpretation of it (Aquinas, Hobbes, Grisez). That such disagreements are possible strongly supports the intelligibility and prima facie plausibility of the view. Comparisons with Nazis are not sufficient evidence especially given how natural law was used against state powers to protect the rights of South American native peoples against exploitation in the 18th century.
Also, while those cited may certainly show ignorance in formulating and justifying an etiology of homosexuality on a psychoanalytic approach, that project has been taken up by more learned and competent hands as anyone looking at the history of the debate over including homosexuality in the diagnostic manual and at the credentials of the members of NARTH can testify. The psychoanalytic case is as adequate here as anywhere else.
Even if one dumps etiology for the more empirically attested research and therapy approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, we find that they are indifferent to genetic as well as psychodynamic causes and basically place the decision to be a homosexual well within the clients own choice so there is no practical import to being “born homosexual”. Homosexuality remains a moral choice of identity, and may be questioned on moral grounds.
The question is begged on both moral and psychological areas, but the position is still presented as settled true. But such great questions remain aporetic and everyone necessarily has a right to their own opinion, not just in private but also in public.
Psychologically, convictions are efficiently formed as a basis for action in virtue of the individual’s own set of intuitions and plausibility structure. Even the skeptic of any moral prescription except keeping one’s contract has a set of assumptions that she is making a studied effort to conserve through argument and practical reasoning. But all do this with different plausibility structures. While some fail the test of time and change, strongly alternative accounts remain. As such, anyone of them may be rationally held such that no one ought to be socially condemned for holding them. Rather the hope for progress in views lies in preserving the right to express them, as our enlightened Founders concluded.
And contrary to the counter-bombast here from Cato, the position that marriage and family is an institution of natural intrinsic ends that can be characterized as proper functioning is one those views. The defense of marriage is about preserving marriage in that sense while allowing people who disagree to see marriage as a brute social contract to act accordingly.
But just as human rights do not imply a right to join any group you want, just as no one has a right to serve in the military or be a leader of a Moslem Student Group if you are Jewish, homosexuals do not have a right to enter into bonds of traditional marriage. They may form the kinds of institutions or contracts their own views oblige them to.
This kind of pluralism is founded on the presumption that there is greater resolution in the future, it gambles on the possibility of further enlightenment. This leaves all lines of communication open. But skepticism and relativism is necessarily committed in practice to work to support the claim that their is no ultimate truth whatever evidence may suggest otherwise. Thus, it constantly acts efficiently in the supposition that claims to intrinsic ends and such must need be self-preferential fictions and therefore bigotry. But the real bigotry is in the soft prejudice of moral skepticism as we can see here.
The Consciousness of God as the basis for assurance of salvation.
Several authors report having had a strong sense of God as children or youth – much stronger than what they have now. I believe this is sufficient reason for thinking belief in God is rational as long as it has not been defeated by counter-argument or counter-evidence, based on a principle of charity toward our cognitive faculties of intuition and memory. We can’t move forward accept by a raw prima facie confidence in our abilities.
But we might ask why our sense of deity seems to diminish as we get older. Surely, it has to do with becoming more learned and experienced. But I don’t think that this is necessarily because we discover some truths along the way that force us to reject as false or improbable belief in God.
The Bible gives it’s own suggestion here. When we are young, we are more innocent and naive and we do not yet have the judgment to implicate our own behavior with our own sense of the good. But as that naïveté fades and we see more and more how culpable we are in evil while at the same time establishing a greater track record of evil deeds, then we are not so delighted at the prospect of seeing God and so spend more time in self distraction. We get to the point were we would rather God didn’t exist at all than dwell before His face. So we don’t see God because we don’t want to. Thus is explained by Paul in Romans 1. It is also illustrated by Adam and Eve in Gen, 2.
We do this in part because we are incapable of bringing about an alternative choice besides trying to avoid God. But if there were a way to own our sin before the face of God with no occasion to fear we might take it. I believe that if we were willing to admit out sins to God we would discover the truth of the biblical claim that he has been already seeking us. The outcome of the ordeal of facing God in the plagues, on the Flood, in the Fire depends on weather we oppose God stiff-necked or humble ourselves and be prepared to do what he says.
Of course, according to the history and prophecy in the Bible, God has already been making provision in His rescue plan in Christ to answer the question, “Where can I find a gracious God?”.
According to the Gospel, Jesus has in Baptism taken the condemnation that was due to us so that we by our baptism are saved from condemnation. Because of Jesus death on the cross we who are united to Him by means of faith and baptism have died to sin with Him and were resurrected to new life in Him. Those who heed this news admit and turn from their sins and receive the baptism of Christ are saved. Thus without Shane they may behold God who makes discloses Himself in His revelation and creation with joy.
This suggests that our ability to perceive God in creation as we mature is a confirming feed back of genuine faith. As Jonathan Edwards saw, delighting in the beauty of God’s holiness is proof that we genuinely trust Him.
Can we be assured of our salvation? According to Catholicism the only way to be assured that one us saved is to endure until the end. He who endures to the end will be saved so this us certainly sufficient. But is it necessary to be assured of ones standing before God?
It seems not since the gospel assures us that they are saved who trust in Christ. If I trust in Christ then I’m saved, right? The I just need to know that I am trusting. This suggests to many that assurance is of the essence of faith that saves.
The trouble with this conclusion is that both our experiences and those of saints in the Scriptures make clear both that a saved person can experience doubt of that fact and that one nay boast of confidence in salvation and be lost at the end. This discrepancy may be reconciled to our simple argument from faith to assurance by saying that assurance is of the essence of faith ideally considered. In experience, a person’s faith may be subject to all kinds of difficulties such besetting sins, stress, resistance, and so on, which prevent faith from optimally functioning. Consequently, we are not entitled to think that just because a person has no sense of assurance that he must not really have faith.
This is consistent with the biblical exhortations to examine ourselves to see that we are I’m the faith and to strive to make our calling and election sure. We need to check to see if the complacency of sin has not sapped our energy in devotion and our zeal to obey the Lord. The Bible makes clear that those who our united to Christ will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the flesh. That is, they will put off selfishness and put on faith, hope, and love.
But this may lead us into another trap. The Bible makes clear that there would not be any fruit unless we have the Spirit. So exhibiting some fruit is sufficient to show that we have the Spirit even if there are still works of the flesh to be mortified. But we may fall into obsession with how much fruit and be tempted to make comparisons with others which are misleading and feed either pride or despair. There us no real criterion about what counts as sufficient progress at any time to warrant assurance. So we encourage Christians to keep moving forward. The problem is that self examination can be confused with introspection and lead to a death spiral.
But another evidence if faith can be discerned by a self examination that is focused outward rather than inward. As we grow in faith we become aware more and more of our sinfulness. But we also grow more and more in our delight of God in Christ. As we put our confidence in the sufficiency of the cross we may yet recover our sense of God speaking to us in His Word and in His creation. We may in adulthood recover our sense of deity. Rather than being a complicated comparison of fruits and works, this is a simple judgment with immediate feedback. By focusing on looking for the sense of God again we no longer dissect our conduct and are less tempted to become paralyzed in analysis. This form of seeking assurance involves forgetting ourselves. It also, encourages us to wait patiently for God to appear to us in our awareness.
This leads us to the following conclusion: eternal life is consciousness of God in grace and truth.
SSM and TA
Considering the frustration many defenders of traditional marriage are feeling about the state of play surrounding the debate over same sex marriage, as expressed by the pessimism by Maggie Gallagher for example, it might be useful to brush off an old tool from our cohort’s collective past – namely Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis.
Just a brief non-professional review, Transactional Analysis (TA) was an empirical approach to transactions in a conversational exchange, with the aim of equipping participants with the means to identify and avoid conversations that defeated the aims of one or both participants, which Berne called “games”. It was based on a Humean view of the self and a behaviorist view of conditioning.
For appropriate convenience, TA takes it that each person has at least three states of being, called “ego states”. The first is the ego state which engages with the person’s of what it was like for her development as a child, called the Child ego state (or Child for short). The second is the state that engages with a person’s memories of being raised by parents and other authority figures, called the Parent ego state. Finally, there is the state that engages with the person’s experiences in being a responsible agent, called the Adult ego state. We standardly are in the Adult ego state but may from time to time channel either the Patent or Child states. This can be done from an Adult standpoint that decides or permits it if the occasion is appropriate. But we can also revert to either state because of stress or anxiety or even be in either state chronicly. This indicates a problem in the situation or character of the person. Also, a person could operate in the Adult state to cover for business done in either Parent or Child state. Ego states can either become under-differentiated or blocked out if awareness.
Further, in conversation, one person’s ego states can each individually try to engage with the different ego states of the other person. Which ego states in each person in a single exchange is part of the analysis of the transaction. Standardly, one person’s Adult will try to address the other person’s Adult. “Has the report come in yet?” sometimes though one person’s Child will try to connect with the other person’s Child or Parent. “Let’s go get wasted!” “I can’t remember where I put my file. Can you help me?”. And so on.
On this analysis, there are two types of transactions: Complementary ones engage the same ego states in each person and in each exchange. The Adult to the Adult and back. Crossed transactions however are where one transaction comes from one ego state in one person but the response comes from a different one in another. One example is when the speaker’s Adult asks the listener’s Adult a question but the response comes from the listener’s Child to the speaker’s Parent.
One last bit on this head is that transactions can be ulterior. That is one person can exchange another person using the presentation of an Adult to another Adult while the real purpose is for the Child to speak to the other Child. “I am of the opinion that the Celtics will soundly defeat the Lakers this evening.” this can also happen with other pairings of ego states.
This allows us to characterize the nature of a dysfunctional conversation or “game”. A game is where one person in a conversation is engaging with another in a transaction that is both crossed and ulterior. An example of a game is the one TA users call “Yes But”. Sam approaches Max with a problem. Max offers a suggestion. Sam replies by giving some reason the suggestion is not viable. Max tries again but gets another qualification. Too late does Max realize that Sam really does not want the problem solved but to reaffirm his excuse for not solving the problem. Max thought he was engaging with Sam’s Adult but in reality it was Sam’s Child that was trying to engage with Max’s Parent. It is now up to Max to engage with Sam as a responsible person “Well, what will you do then?” or simply disengage and walk away from the futile game. We can imagine stronger versions of this pattern with higher stakes as well, which brings us back to our topic.
When we listen to the responses given to the arguments against same sex marriage, we discover that a good batch of them really are not arguments but put offs. None of these engage with the debate but instead make unilluminating appeals to relativism and emotionalism or anecdotal evidence. Or they are debate stoppers that make false claims like “the opponent has not shown why we should think he us right” or “has not given evidence for any harmful effect of gay marriage” or “No one understands their gobble-de-gook” and so on. Meanwhile we see the pro-marriage side offering an analysis of the rationality and grounds for the morality of the view, it relation to jurisprudence and the laws of the land and court precedents, evidence from history and social science, as well as biology and medicine. The have also grounded their arguments on humanitarian grounds and even on aesthetic grounds (and even erotic grounds).
When we listen to the debates however it’s clear that the tactic is not to engage with argument but rather to rely on a certain condition that is pervasive in the culture. When critics make appeals to emotion (what does love have to do with reason?) or when they use the tactics of just reading passages from pro-marriage books to highlight their strange sounding nomenclature to turn off listeners, they are counting on a reaction rather than a response.
If we look at a debate as a set of transactions, not just between the debaters but between each debater and the audience, and between factions among the audience, we can see that there is a very large and very intense game of “Yes But”. Call it “Sez You!” or something like that. The game involves emotionally sandbagging the opponent and deflecting his argument.
Of course, this analysis does not fit everything. Many are engaging with the debate with arguments and this included Epicurian, utilitarian, and libertarian arguments. Thus analysis also does not imply that defenders of traditional marriage are above playing games. Nor does this analysis say why this game is being played and why people are counting on crossed transactions to accomplish political purpose in such an undemocratic way.
But having this as a tool of analysis should provide some ready comfort to defenders of traditional marriage. It gives them insight into what’s going on and makes sense of how the situation makes them stressed (and thus decreases that stress). It also helps the audience they are trying to reach. If they also see that what they are doing is an empty game it will tend to make them not want to play along and a real conversation can take place. It will also show how such tactics illegitimately serve one party rather than another and coerce that party to engage more responsibly in order to foster a better image of itself. Finally, it will give proponents of traditional marriage a much brighter and hopeful prospect that comes with the “Aha!” of seeing through the source of their perplexity and how flimsy it is. Is “Sez You” and adequate basis of a social policy?