Category: Theology

The Alter Call of Cthulhu

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.

Film Reference: “The Call of Cthulhu

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.



Is “The Big Heat” a Noir?

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.

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.

Polyamory and Happiness

The Love that calls for marriage.

I read a piece recently that argued polyamory as being superior to traditional marriage because it tended to result in better character in those participating in it. Traditional marriage breads jealousy and thus hostility and violence. This happens when a spouse has relations outside of marriage. But if this happens in polyamory, this doesn’t happen since the point of polyamory is complete openness to experience sexually with others. In fact, instead of jealousy, the partner feels happiness in the other’s success sexually. Rather than tending to violence, sex with other people tends to happiness in the case of the partner.

The problem with this view is that it overlooks the case where the partner does not have relations with anyone else. In the case of the polyamorous partner, she must be required to be sad for her dedicated partner for not succeeding with others but not only that she must at all times realize that she has no special claim to any of her partners’ affections nor they to hers. Polyamory instills an imperative to be open to providing “benefits” with many partners. She’s not even to be dedicated to certain sets of partners. Polyamory tends to a kind of ubiquity of relations to the point where e en friendship is irrelevant. But a traditional marriage understands that partners are partners because they have been chosen. Not only that but chosen with lifelong dedication. Marriage traditionally conceived is an exclusive covenant and promise. When one says “I do”, one sets a precedent against predictable future discounting and this assures the partner that right now when and while one is right minded and whole hearted one dedicates to their partner for all of life. This is a kind of precious love. Conjugal family creation specifically calls for covenantal love and thus traditional marriage.

Polyamorous arrangements assume no effort will be made to prevent discounting the future and that everyone involved will simply follow the mood at the time. The aim is to avoid sabotaging the heat of the moment and to mitigate the need to sublimate the libido. In polyamorous agreements, persons volunteer to be mere means. This is not as readily seen as it is in the case of slavery or Old Mormon style polygamy where the man is a kind of king and his wives are like his retainers. In polyamory however you have a kind of original position where several people contract to exchange sexual benefits with each other in the future. This is to grant each other property in the other’s bodies but only, though not necessarily exclusively, for pleasure.

So polyamory is only finding a happiness in another’s increased utility, like when a friend wins at Lotto. It’s not violent but also not much since the ends obtained come and go. But the anger that goes with infidelity is righteous indignation and need not be brute violence. On the other hand, there is no sense of dedicated love in polyamory and polyamory would resist and discourage such love by requiring infidelity to justify the lifestyle. Further, polyamory includes no provision for children. It would have to make special provisions if children are had or desired that would either compromise polyamory or compromise children. This could include sterilization or abortion, so polyamory is not necessarily without it’s violence.

The oceanic pleasure of the experience machine of polyamory that constitutes it’s “spirituality” is certainly spiritual in the original paganism of the human race. But in the spirituality of western theism the model of religion is marriage. God’s people are a “chosen people”, his prized possession, the apple of his eye. And he is a “jealous God”. In paganism the people find useful deities, but God says, “You did not choose me. I chose you.” God makes a covenant with his people and they are thus identified with each other. God’s love is unconditional but still exclusive. This is the difference between Eros and Agape.

Does Jesus need to be forgiven?

Morrisey, lead singer of the alternative group “the Smiths” and outspoken homosexual and gay activist, sings to Jesus that he has forgiven Jesus, no doubt for being a moral monster fir making the unreasonable and thus malicious claim that there is something worthy of damnation about the homosexual lifestyle. This shows that Morrisey is the better person. But one could understand if one should rather tell Jesus to go to Hell himself for such an inhuman and arbitrary opinion. Morrisey is thus being more gracious than need be and more than perhaps most of us would care to be, the true embodiment of grace in thus conversation. Meanwhile, Jesus has proven to be a failure as a moral teacher and psychologically unstable for his homophobia. At best, Jesus is a figure that failed to perfectly rise above his own time and place in the ancient past and thus his life is best unregarded by us today. The same could be said of Jesus’ book, the Bible, to which Jesus gladly submits as authoritatively teaching right and wrong, including on issues like the condemnation of homosexuality and approval of ritual blood sacrifice. It’s fine as a quaint artifact but it’s continued use in public ceremonies such as swearing an oath of presidential office can no longer by tolerated as a custom but rejected lest we imply any condoning if it as a moral guide to justice.

Even the presuppositions of Jesus and the Bible are positively obstructive. Even in the recent past we may have had tolerate religious customs and bizarre comments about science and public policy by yahoos claiming only the authority of the Bible on their side, just from their numbers and previous status as citizens. But we are now at the point where we can simply push all this nonsense away and build more sound culture based on proper science and pragmatic policy. We should not be ashamed to openly legislate against this but rather be ashamed that we let the moral monsters of the Judeo-Christian tradition survive another day.

This speech characterizes the point of view of our society and our mission field in the West as Christians. We no longer live in the early 20th century where there was still a residual tissue in the language and customs of society – and thus in the conceptual schemes of most citizens – that made sense of the Christian faith even for those who didn’t hold it. Even while many did not believe the gospel of Christ, one could briefly explain the Gospel in it’s traditioned terms and it would still get across. A program like Billy Graham’s crusade ministry was possible and appreciable.

But this us no longer true. Today our society is highly educated. College study is widely distributed and includes acquiring the skills of critical thinking and the hermeneutic of suspicion. What it does not include is an appreciation of classical liberal learning and the western tradition but rather the deconstruction of all traditions to a scheme of competing interests.

As the opening paragraphs show this has had the two-fold result of losing all touch with Christian literacy and with it a commensurability with the conceptual scheme of the gospel. Critical ideas such “God”, “sin”, “reconciliation”, “repentance”, etc. no longer hold the sane meaning for Christians and today’s non-Christians. On top of this, there is in the non-Christian point of view a prima facie case that becoming acquainted with the Christian conceptual scheme is foolish and immoral. The program is now to eliminate the Christian view once and for all with confident belief that at any point we can ourselves create our own conceptual scheme whenever we need to through quilting a new one.

The situation of the church today has gone back to that of the apostle Paul in the Hellenistic world having to start from scratch and using concepts available from the culture of Athens to make his points and help the gospel make sense to the Greek world. Francis Schaeffer wrote concerning apologetics that while it had the negative function of defending the faith, it also had the positive function of communicating the faith. This us all the more true today. Even if one were to argue that argument and evidence could never be the sort to demonstrate or compel assent to Christ and his truth claims, it would still be necessary to give a reasonable account of faith if only to communicate it in a way that makes lucid the meaning and plausibility of the gospel. Our approach must reckon with both the analytic acumen and sense of justified resistance to the gospel of today’s non-Christian.

I don’t intend to answer the question about whether Jesus should be forgiven but rather point to a way to find the answer and motivate taking that way.

Starting with the later, while the emphasis on the present and the alleged ability to construct a conceptual scheme de novo blocks any argument for becoming literate in the Judeo-Christian tradition from the obvious fact that the Christian scheme has influenced Western thought until recently, one still has to confront the false claim self-sufficiency in evaluating such a product. Like doctors, writers who edit themselves have fools for clients.

To really appreciate the value of your scheme construction, you cannot keep bootstrapping on your own perspective alone. You need to be able to get a view of your thinking from a point of view outside of your thinking. But since the new technology is bringing about a global scheme building operation, there is no “other” point of view to be found contemporary to yours that is other in a sufficiently radical sense. The only alternative is to revisit the past and enter sympathetically into what were once the viable traditions and try to understand them as moral points of view, thus appreciating the moral shock they would have about the modern world. This would be necessary to avoid self-deception through self-absorption.

This would open the prospect of reconsidering the Christian worldview on spite of it’s features that offend modern moral sensibilities. The fact is that Christians like any other holders of great traditions gave gone through the exercise of setting up a dialogue between traditional and then contemporary thought as well as between western and eastern thought and thus have continued until and including now, avoiding the extremes of isolated fundamentalism and capitulating “liberalism”. They are following the example set by Paul in Athens.

Some reply that one of the features of modern global conceptual scheme formation is that diversity of points of view is not denied but radically emphasized. We are all other to each other and to ourselves moment by moment. Now either thus claim is genuine in which case the Christian tradition should be considered seriously and appreciatively just like any other point of view or this is just a protocol statement that uniformly defines and applies to the global contemporary scheme and still requires a genuinely outside stance to critique it. Conclusion: while not necessarily imposing a personal obligation on the individual reader to consider the Christian way of thinking, it does argue that the project of considering the Christian worldview should be taken up by some in behalf of all, and that anyone of good will ought to agree that rejecting the consideration of Christianity by eliminating it is wrong whether it’s Dennett’s way or Barzum’s.

But I have another reason that non-Christians should not refuse to consider the Christian worldview and learn to appreciate it as a conceptual scheme with it’s own moral point of view, and that is the case for Christ and the Bible as original sources of authority. If Jesus is God, then obedience is the only reasonable response and we need to reconstruct our views accordingly. Of course, it must be God as morally perfect in himself alone that could make us change our moral views with reasonable contentedness and so this claim that Jesus is God must be explained and defended. but this is what apologetics does – which is what I attempt to do in this book:

I won’t develop the point further here but I expect that anyone who takes up my project seriously will discover that it’s Morrisey that needs forgiveness and not Jesus

Apologetics ministry has become necessary in the 21st century. Apologetics and evangelism have become one in a West where Christianity has become a second language.

Subsidiarity & Religious Psychology

William James in his work on the psychology of religion, characterizes two types of religious psychology that he observes in the religious experience of humanity. One he calls the healthy minded, morally strong type. A good example is Zen Buddhism which emphasizes self-help and the sufficiency of reason and practice in religious formation. Charismatic leaders play only an ancillary role in facilitating religious development in followers which is neither necessary mor sufficient to their success. Eventually, religious followed should be able to reconstruct the path to religious success for themselves.

The other type is what Janes calls the sick-souled spiritually dependent type. A good example is the Shin schools of Buddhism where the supplicant admits that he is unable to make sufficient progress on his own and must rely on surrogate labors of others. Religious figured are indispensable for their objective work on behalf of others. Fruits of such labor cannot be discovered by reason alone but require proclamation and tradition in the form of legends technique will not obtain this help which can only be acknowledged, requested, and relied on.

In Christianity, the same is observed. Focusing on Western Christianity, believers struggle to avoid two extremes, Pelagianism or autosoterism, in which God’s role is only to acknowledge moral perfection when it is achieved by the striving of the saint and Christ’s work on the cross is only an example of morality to us. The other extreme is theologism the view that God is the sole cause of all that happens in creation and redemption such that secondary causes are mere illusions.

Within those boundaries, the church in the west has been divided into the Roman Catholic and the Protestant branches. The first seems to emphasize moral strength more. Salvation as justification depends on your works being sufficiently worthy to justly earn heaven. Both the work of Christ and other forms of grace are necessary for success but they are all ancillary to this result. The tradition also gives greater scope to natural reason for moral guidance as well as institutional support through the catholic church hierarchy.

The Augustinian-Jansenist-Protestant branch of western theology reflects the spiritual dependence theme. Salvation is all of grace even to the point of being chosen before time for salvation independently of our own existence. The believer is absolutely dependent on God for salvation. He is not just sick but dead in his guilt and sin and cannot save or seek salvation of himself. In Protestantism, Christ is not merely an example nor even just ancillary to salvation but rather is the complete and sufficient achievement of that salvation for believers. This is known by special revelation only which while compatible with objective morality relies on it primarily to expose the absolute need for grace. This has tended to make the believer immediately present in her own subjectivity before God and has deemphasized the institutional church.

It seems that healthy minded religion and sick souled religion are supposed to be incompatible. Yet either one if not taken to extremes us something that is prima facie good in it’s own right. Also each is supported by it’s own primary intuition: health mindedness by the intuition of personal moral responsibility and the sick-souled by the intuition of absolute dependence. Both of which is a part of out intuition of God as sovereign and as mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

In spite of these differences, Protestants and Catholics have discovered a very important area if common ground emerging from their respective traditions. From the Protestant side it’s called “sphere sovereignty”. From the Catholic side, it’s called “Subsidiarity”. Both terms highlight that there are different spheres of responsibility that a person may act it. The first highlights them as distinct jurisdictions and the second their ordering relations.

An example is the relation between the family and the state. According to Subsidiarity, the two spheres are distinct in that they have specific responsibilities that are primarily theirs. Yet each has on obligation to assure the ends of the other. So for example, the mission of the family is to see to the being and well-being of it’s members. This includes their health but also the development of their potential and character. However, the state sees to the security of it’s citizens and their prosperity and posterity. It thus recognizes that developing character in it’s citizen’s is a public good. But it also sees that developing character is principally the purpose of the family. So the state sees to it’s proper public good by facilitating the family in it’s own pursuit in it’s own mission and not by doing the family’s job for it (unless the family has become so broken down that it cannot do it’s job). Citizens with good character are a public good but the role of the state is subsidiary to the role of the family.

Now I suggest that Subsidiarity may help us to reconcile the the healthy minded and sick souled sides of western Christianity and thus may shed s useful light on some of the plights of Western Christianity today.

One if the great concerns of Protestantism is it’s apparent co-belligerency with early modern thought in taking the subjective turn. But a better way of thinking about this is to recognize that it’s good for theism to see that there are many ways something could be, one if which is to be subjectively. What the early modern period discovered or re-discovered is the sphere of the individual, that alongside the social spheres of responsibility there is also for each person the sphere of the self that she is accountable for. So if we see that we can see that the priorities of religion of the sick souled are the priorities of religion in the sphere of the individual sphere. On the other hand, the priorities of the religion of the healthy minded are the priorities of religion in the social spheres, beginning with the family. Finally, the priorities of religion per se or per the religious object are the priorities of the sphere of the religious institution, the church, temple, shrine, or mosque.

The western church’s primary responsibility is orthodoxology, the right speaking of God in proclamation and worship. But this also includes holding the spiritual and moral well-being of it’s members as individuals and as a community since repentance is the appropriate response to the evangel. But the church’s role is secondary to the family in cultivating the pedagogy of moral and compassionate becoming that makes for community. The real know-how and direct supervision for that belongs to parents and peers. But such wisdom will be a natural wisdom common to all families with a presumption of virtue and prudence. All this is wholly appropriate to cultivating moral strength. Here is the grist that helps us understand the theology of sanctification, mortification, and divine chastening.

But it also is an aim of the church to see to the salvation of souls. This takes up the soul’s own responsibility for her own happiness and her intimate knowledge of fallenness, sinfulness, and irreconciliation with God. The church guides with Christian direction but this is ancillary to the soul’s own response to grace. This can only be appropriate to the soul based on self-awareness even though this is sabotaged by self-deception. The awareness of one’s own helplessness appropriately calls for dependence. The soul may balk at this because of uncertainty created by worries that melancholia is misleading them but that is yet another feature that makes total dependence rational. But the church seeks to direct the individual to the word of God as to the truth apart from all self-deception. But the soul must choose to apply that truth to itself. And here we have the whole forensic and relational theology of graces like substitution, justification, assurance of salvation and so on.

So the consistency of healthy mindedness and sick souledness is consistent because these modes of the psychology of religion are true relative to a sphere. The fact that individuals are placed immediately before the presence of God in the individual sphere of concern for salvation is consistent with the fact that communities as communities are directly present to God according to the other social spheres and their specific economies, including the church.

Of course, this solution does not automatically dictate how specific doctrinal conflicts between branches of the church should be worked out. But it should take off the table objections to doctrines that are based on consequentialist arguments such as that this or that doctrine leads to either rugged individualism or group think.

Imminent Supernaturalism

Two types of scientists:

Suppose some astronomers are looking at Jupiter through a telescope. Call this Group A. While they do this, another group of material engineering researches confiscate the telescope and analyze it’s material properties. They look at it’s shape and the shapes and situations of it’s components. They examine each piece for it’s physical properties and interactions and for it’s chemical properties. Finally, they publish a complete physical chemical description of the telescope and insist that this is all there is to it. Call this second group of scientists, Group B. It is quite likely that Group A will say wryly to Group B, “No that’s not all there is to the telescope. One thing that is a fact about the telescope that is not in your description is that you can see Jupiter through it”.

Group A might be amused by the selective approach of Group B, saying that they looked at only what they wanted to and prejudiced themselves against the most important feature of the telescope. And then after a laugh, Group A returns to their study of Jupiter.

But Group A turns out to be trying to determine a physical and chemical description of the Jovian planet. They also want to determine it’s physical, mechanical, and chemical (including possible biochemical) features, with the belief that when they have this they will have a true and complete description of Jupiter.

And here Group B may justly fault Group A for it’s own selectivity. There is the same difference between what we see when we look at Jupiter and the alleged final description of Jupiter. Just like Group B, Group A has neglected the most important fact about Jupiter, namely that Jupiter is itself a certain kind of “scope”, showing us an object distinct from the true description of it’s extended and extrinsic interaction. Whatever may be found in this description, Jupiter is also and on top of that an intentional object and an embodied artificial substance.

We cannot really separate the idea of the supernatural from the natural into air tight zone. How “ordinary nature” presents itself to our minds is more that the instrumental conditions that are correlated with that presentation. So even the ordinary objects of the world are signs of supernatural realities.

Missing the Founders

A recent book argues that many of the key Founding Fathers were neither Deists – if Deism is the ad hoc view that God exists just to start up the universe – nor Christian – rejecting as incoherent the defining doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and substitutionary atonement. Rather, they embraced classical theism including the dependence of the world on God’s concurrence and even prayed.

This is probably true, and useful in clarifying current debates over homosexuality, abortion, and religious liberty, by bearing an intellectual witness to the possibility of such a position. In part this position was encouraged from within the heart of the church itself by distinguishing natural theology (what can be known of God by our natural lights apart from special revelation, which served as the perambulatory articles to sacred theology) and sacred, specially revealed theology. According to the church, the world prior to Christianity had this knowledge exhibited substantially in many philosophers apart from the church.

Such knowledge included knowledge of God, of man, and of morality. It served to reveal or need of extraordinary mercy and thus at best prepared the heart and mind to receive revelation if God should provide it. At least, the awareness of it acted as a curb on the selfish tendencies of humans and kept many of them from being as bad as possible. It also informed public judgements and made possible states and governments to oversee the public peace.

The rational theism and Unitarian faith of the Fathers is simply a taking on the natural theology of the church and the ancients and foregoing the sacred doctrines. Such a position is tolerant of religion in the classical form precisely because of so much common ground with it. Also, the Church recognized the existence of natural theology, would certainly appreciate that if one could not freely accept Christianity that they be encouraged to live by natural law. The church is distinct from the state but both recognize the same God, albeit from their own respective spheres.

This was illustrated in the debate between Ryan and Biden. Ryan is coherent in affirming the inseparability of his religious life from his political life since the both have an ultimate goal in common, service to God while also affirming that the rationale for his support for pro-life is separable from his Church beliefs such that a non-churched rational person can hold them and a public person can advocate them as laws. Biden on the other hand is incoherent in claiming that abortion is an exclusively church based belief that he doesn’t want to impose on others who are not in his church. His Church holds that his pro-life view is that a pro-life stance is only a Christian belief because it is true prior to Christian belief. And thus justice for the unborn is an obligation to all. (One notes in passing that Catholics like Biden often argue that they must advocate left leaning policies because that’s what Jesus would do.)

Natural or philosophical theism is thus a public position. There are arguments that metaphorically demonstrate theism that depend on premises that are not obviously false. Further, theism is arguably a necessary practical postulate for statesmanship. If God exists, then that man has a specific nature that makes humans ends as such, then there us nothing puzzling about all humans all the time having a right to life or that there is a purpose to humans being make and female, that stands true apart from church doctrine. Just as the Church appreciates the natural theistic politician, that politician can appreciate the church which treats the dictates of natural theology as God’s moral law for life, since such dispositions also make for good citizens by the natural theist’s point of view.

Thus the preponderance of both Rational and Christian theists in America created an excellent state of affairs for the institution of the separation of Church and State.

It is also the idea of rational autonomy that encourages free market thought while the idea of the social nature of humanity encourages the formation and protection of free institutions of civil society. Conservativism, whether economic or social finds it’s roots in the tradition of rational theology, by finding them in the American Founding.

But the triumph of empiricism and it’s inevitable consequences of phenomenalism, behaviorism, emotivism, and prescriptive relativism has cut people off from the sources of rational theism. When given the choice between living passively in the world of images or living actively in the world of intelligible substances and persons, people have chosen the former. Based on that choice both the church and the state make no sense as institutions governed by objectively based principles and can only be the result of successful power manipulation — not that there could be anything wrong with that.

Hence we get statements like “The Tea Party has been taken over by wackos” and meaning by that that there is a preponderance of social conservatives in an ostensively fiscally conservative movement. Whatever the current character of the Tea Party is it’s inception was characterized as a spontaneous people movement unified explicitly around two things: de jure, fiscally responsible government and the reservation of the foundational document, the Constitution. The point was to keep the American experiment going. The second thing, de facto, of those who came out to rally for this cause, from the becoming there was a significantly large percentage of them that were regular church attendees. In that sense, the “wackos” were there all along. Even when they were careful to only use the TP microphone for certain fiscal issues they would still advocate for social issues on the side. This is not surprising since with the triumph of empiricism in public thought, the church has been the last safe ground natural theism of the non-Christian Founders.

Empiricists choose to view the world exclusively from a third person perspective rather than a first person perspective, even though there is no incoherence in viewing the world both ways. Consequently, they don’t “see” any philosophical basis for marriage rights, free exercise of religion as a life-system rather than a privatized “spirituality”, or pro-life arguments. That is, they don’t see because the don’t look. As a result, they don’t even “see” that their own posture is self-reverentially incoherent. The commitment to empiricism must be a priori, if it is rational at all.

This is also why it’s so hard for us to get the Founders right. The only groups that defend their secular philosophy are religious groups.