Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

The Best of the Best

Thursday, March 28th, 2013
In  September, 1976 I sat in Harvard University Chapel and heard Pastor Peter Gomes, the Harvard University Chaplain, tell us that we were the best of the best.  The hope of America and the world.  I and I suppose other Harvard souls were awfully glad to hear that.  We certainly wanted to think we were the best.  Like I enjoyed doing all over Boston, we wanted to flash our Harvard IDs to God and hope that He was impressed.  It turned out He wasn’t but that is another story.
Pastor Gomes told us to look around and see who the next president, governor, great author, and theologian would be.  As one professor quipped, “there are those who go to Harvard, and
those who don’t.”  Why, on that day, should I, a born again, evangelical, be greatly concerned?
British writer Virginia Woolf’s assertion that “on or about December 1910, human character changed” is all so true. About that time, Modernism emerged as the primary social and world view in human history. Modernism aims at that radical transformation of human thought in relation to God, man, the world, and life, and death, which was presaged by humanism and 17th century philosophy (e.g., Immanuel Kant), and violently practiced in the French Revolution.  French philosopher J.J. Rousseau, was the first to use the term but it will not blossom fully until the 20th century.
If the world view deism suggested that God was out to lunch, Modernism, a cousin of naturalism, suggested that God was absent altogether.
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is cultural tendencies originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The world, including America, had rapidly changed from an agrarian to an urban society in one short generation.
Modernism fervently believed in science and technology.  It was an optimistic vision of the future. It was also a revolt against the conservative values of limitation and pragmatism.  The trademark of Modernism was its rejection of tradition. Modernism rejected the lingering certainty of Enlightenment epistemology and also rejected the existence of a compassionate, all-powerful Creator God in favor of human progress. The first casualty of this Quixotic thinking was Judeo-Christian morality.
Modernism was universal in its rejection of everything conventional.  Literature, art, architecture, literature, religious faith, social organization and daily life were all targets of this surprisingly arrogant movement.  Perhaps no social movement has been so confident in its moral ambiguity, as Modernism was.
The poet Ezra Pound‘s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was paradigmatic of the movement’s approach towards the obsolete. And Pound is a good example of the paradoxes inherent in Modernism.  On one hand, Pound embraced a new understanding of human liberty and free expression while embracing nascent totalitarianism and anti-Semitism.  Pound, like so many Modernists, felt he could separate his ethics from his world view.  This delusion would have disastrous consequences. Adolf Eichmann had a similar view in Nazi Germany and designed and implemented the Holocaust.

Going Against the Grain: Rewriting History

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

My adopted, six week old African-American daughter Rachel clung to her new mother as she suspiciously surveyed her new father.  I was uncomfortably Caucasian.

While my wife Karen has several adopted siblings of sundry nationalities and racial mixtures, I had never know anyone who was adopted–of any race.  Now I was the father of a child who looked very much like a group of people whom I had been taught to hate.

I grew up in the segregated South. Racism was an old acquaintance of mine.  A sepulcher from whose shadow I could not escape, whose curse even a love for my new daughter could not seem to extinguish.

As surely as all people have been affected by racism, racial reconciliation is a task for all people. No one in American can escape the consequences of racism. It is about people with hopes and dreams and visions that are never realized.  Racial reconciliation also is a dream and vision that we must all cast.

My friend Thomas was a victim of racism.  He was told that black boys do not go to white colleges.  My friend Dwight dropped his head in shame when an elder blocked his path and told him n—– were not welcome at our church.   My friend, Craig, however, was also a victim of racism.  He threatened to castrate a young black man who vacated the balcony in the Malco Theater and sought a better seat in the back of the white only lower section.  Craig and I were perpetrators and victims, however, Dwight and Thomas were only victims.

But I knew the first time I met Rachel, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, that it was time that part of my history was changed.  It was time that racism in my life died.

Rachel was my promised land.  She was my new time, my new land, my new chance.  She was more than my daughter: she was God’s invitation to me to experience wholeness and new life.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann in his commentary on Genesis argues that Abraham, when he accepted God’s call, entered a new history.   Racial reconciliation calls us all to a new history.  The new history is without link to the old.  The new history begins with a call for all of us to repent and a summons to leave old comfort zones and to go somewhere we are not to become someone who I once was not.   In my life this new call was a second call. A new birth.

Homeschooling is like that.  A call to a new life.  A new history. An alternative track.

Through Rachel God called me to an alternative life, a life that is the antithesis to the cold, barren one based on hatred and mistrust.   My first destination was the wilderness.  The wilderness is a place of diminished resources and manna but it offers greater possibilities than the comforts and the garlic of Egypt.   We who live Ur and seek the Promised Land will–as I have found–experience some obstacles.  We too will have our faith tested, our memory of God’s deeds questioned.

In my case, Rachel was engrafted into my genus, into my family line.  My great-great-great Uncle Howeard was a slaveowning Confederate soldier. His great-great-granddaughter is an ancestor of slaves.  Progress.

When I grasped Rachel in my arms I rewrote history.  I ended a curse too.  From that time, to forever, my family has an African-American in its history.

When I look at my youngest son, a Stobaugh with all his Caucasian tint, I see a better version of myself.  Peter, my son, has three older African-American siblings.  He was homeschooled with, he lived his life with, his siblings are, African-Americans. There is not a hint of racism in my white boy.  The curse is ended. Progress.

Perhaps, saints, that is the best we can do in our home schooling—write a new history for our children.  End those curses.  Give them a new history of hope.

Harvard and Heaven: Prospering in the Secular University – Part I

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

I once heard a home school convention speaker ask, “Do you want Harvard or do you want Heaven?” The implication is that if we chose Harvard we were choosing Hell.  Well, I think that we can have Harvard and Heaven!

Who could imagine that a movement that began so quietly in the 19970s and 1980s would someday generate so vital and an anointed generation that is emerging at the beginning of this century?  It is a time to celebrate and to reflect.

In 2013 it is an uncontested fact:  home schoolers are dominating college admission test scores, and, it is growing more evident each day that they are highly qualified and successful college students when they are admitted.  When I was growing up, eons ago, elite prep schools dominated the college admission classes.  Today, the new “elite” are home schooled graduates.  They are the most highly recruited, most highly valued freshmen at secular and Christian schools alike.  I am privy to a Harvard University online chat room, and recently I saw this statement posted.  “If Harvard wants to be the best, the most relevant institution in the years ahead, it must recruit and admit home schoolers.”  Indeed.

And Harvard has reason to worry.  I spoke to a Yale recruiter and she told me that, while Yale wants home schoolers, home schoolers do not seem to want Yale.  They are not applying to Yale.  Likewise, I have two distance learning students who were heavily recruited by Ivy League schools.  They both chose local alternatives (a state school and a Christian school).

It is not the purpose of this article to lobby for any particular post-graduate choice, although I found my wife at Harvard—and Intervarsity Fellowship on Thursday night in Cambridge is larger than the entire student body at Gordon College (a Christian College) in South Hamilton. Mostly for fiscal reasons, the majority of Christian home schoolers go to secular colleges.  That is an uncontested fact.  We home schoolers, for whatever reason, usually attend secular colleges.

Therefore, this article is about the secular colleges we will attend—how they got to be the way they are and how we can prosper in such a place.

First, to most evangelical Christians, the modern, secular, university is a hostile place.  It was not always so.

In fact, the American university was built solidly on evangelical principles.   There were no so-called “official” “secular” colleges until the rise of the land grant colleges in the middle of the 19th century.  An early brochure, published in 1643, stated that the purpose of Harvard University (the oldest American university) was “To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches.”   Harvard’s motto for 300 years was “Christo et Ecclesiae.” In fact, most of the U. S. universities founded before the 20th century had a strongly religious, usually Protestant Evangelical Christian character.  Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Stanford, Duke, William and Mary, Boston University, Michigan, and the University of California had a decidedly evangelical Christian character in the early years of their existence but abandoned it by the 20th century. By 1920s, the American university had stepped completely back from its evangelical roots.  This was true of almost every American university founded in the first 200 years of our existence.

Readers would be surprised to see how evangelical, Christ-centered early universities were. They had pastors as presidents.  These men closely tied the identity of their university to a strong Christian world view.  The core curriculum included Bible courses and Christian theology.  These were mandatory Bible courses.  All American universities insisted on a doctrinally sound content for sensitive courses and often required that faculty be born again Christians!  Imagine this: the famous historian Frederick Jackson Turner was refused a professorship at Princeton because he was a Unitarian!   Chapel attendance was required at Harvard and Yale!  It is more than coincidental that the architects who designed early universities designed them to look like churches.  At the University of Pittsburgh, for instance, the most prominent building on campus is the Cathedral of Learning.

Universities were founded because early Americans earnestly believed that American society should be governed by evangelical Christian people.  They believed that American industry should be run by evangelical Christian entrepreneurs.  They believed that American culture should be created by evangelical artists.  The early American university was committed to making sure that that happened.

The marriage of spiritual maturity and elite education is a potent combination and to a large degree assured the success of the American experiment.  Its divorce may presage its demise.

Today the university is not even loosely a Christian institution.  Religion in the university and in public life is relegated to the private experience.  So-called “academic freedom” has become a sacrosanct concept and precludes anything that smacks of religiosity–especially orthodoxy that evangelicals so enthusiastically embrace.  Religion is represented on campus in sanitary denominational ministries and token chapel ministries (that were hardly more than counseling centers).

To a large degree, then, the American university abandoned the evangelical and the evangelical abandoned the American university.

This created a crisis in the American university and in the evangelical community.  The secular American university compromised its “soul” for naturalistic; evangelicalism compromised its epistemological hegemony for ontological supremacy.  In other words, the secular university became a sort of an academic hothouse for pompous rationalism.  Evangelicals abandoned the secular university, and, until recently, more or less compromised their academic base.  Evangelicals even founded their own universities but they were poor academic substitutes for secular offerings.  Even as I write article, this is changing.

The Days of Obadiah Are Over

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

I believe that the days of Obadiah are over.  The days of Elijah have come.

Obadiah, pious, Godly has saved thousands of believers.  In order to do that Obadiah had to be anonymous, quiet.  Oh he was privately advancing the cause of YHWH.  And it must be said that he was a pious, Godly effective man in his day, to his people.

But the days of Obadiah are ending. . . the days of Elijah are coming.

Peter Berger, a secular sociologists, reminds us that the social structures we call “culture” are no longer sustaining our society, that, in effect, things are falling apart.  Our problems are much deeper than the economic crisis, there is a crisis of cultural authority. Or, as my old friend Professor Harvey Cox, at Harvard, coyly observed, “Once Americans had dreams and no technology to fulfill those dreams.  Now Americans have tons of technology, but they have no dreams left.”

The first strophe of William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” begins:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre,

The falcon cannot hear the falconer.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

The blood-dimmed tide is tossed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

American in the beginning of the 21st century is spinning out of control.  We are stretching our wings adventurously, but drifting farther away from our God. We are in trouble.

The days of Obadiah are ending and the days of Elijah are coming!

The fact is, and numerous theologians and social annalists echo this, America is in a post- Christian era.  Ergo, for the first time in American history, Evangelical, born-again Christians, are most definitely a minority element in America.  Writers like William Willimon, Thomas Sine, David Wells, Os Guinness, and others echo this theme of “resident aliens” throughout America.  Increasingly we who proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior are finding ourselves in a minority culture.

It seems, at times that Americans are lost.  “The sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless is pervasive in contemporary culture,” Walter Brueggemann writes. “The yearning to belong somewhere, to have a home, to be in a safe place, is a deep and moving pursuit.”  I am a pastor, and in spite of our hedonistic bravado, I generally find most of my congregation members–who generally are not living a life centered on Jesus Christ–are in fact desperately unhappy.  And no wonder.  This world does not provide what we need.  No, it really doesn’t.  It once thought it did.

I can remember being seduced by the august institution that was HarvardUniversity.  In 1976, I really believed my university chaplain who told the incoming Harvard class, “You are the next history makers of America.” I wanted to believe it.  I needed to believe it. My acquaintance and colleague from Harvard Divinity School, Dr. Forrest Church, now pastor in a Unitarian Church in New York City, was fond of saying, “In our faith God is not a given, God is a question . . . God is defined by us.  Our views are shaped and changed by our experiences. We create a faith in which we can live and struggle to live up to it . . . compared to love a distant God had no allure.”  Indeed.  This thinking has gotten us into quite a mess.

Oh, but, my friends, the days of Obadiah are ending and Elijah is coming!

Elijah with his bravado and choleric melancholy.  Elijah with his intrepidness and eccentricity.  Elijah the prophet. Choleric Elijah is coming home—and no one wants him to come home.  He is crossing his Rubicon.  After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”   King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, of course, hate him.  But even, Obadiah, a faithful follower of God and trusted advisor to the king and queen, who had learned so well to survive in this hostile land, who has done so much good for God’s people—Obadiah was not too thrilled to see him either.   In fact, no one welcomed Elijah—not the hostile king and queen nor the pious evangelical Obadiah. Even though Elijah brings good news—it is finally going to rain—no one welcomes him.  Elijah’s fish-or-cut-bait prophetic messages are irritating the life out of the status quo.  That is bad enough.  But what really scares the dickens out of everyone is the fact that Elijah has come home to Zion, to the City of God, to challenge the gods of the age to a duel.

In one sense, like Obadiah, we resist the coming of Elijah.  The anonymity that we evangelicals have so enjoyed over the last few years has caused us to prosper.  But there is no middle ground left to us evangelicals.

On the other hand, as Os Guinness reminds us, there needs to be a great falling away, perhaps a great persecution before there is great revival.  Bring it on, Lord!

Elijah is coming to town!

One of the most disturbing essays I have ever read is an essay by Thomas Merton entitled “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann.”  “One of the most disturbing facts,” Merton begins, “that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane.”  The fact is, given our world, we can no longer assume that because a person is “sane” or “adjusted” that he/she is ok.  Merton reminds us that such people can be well adjusted even in hell itself! “The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless (p. 47).”

Obadiahs, spread forth your grandeur!  Proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord!  For Elijah is coming!

Be the best you can be.  Speak, act, work with excellence!  Ask for no quarter, give no quarter, but go to the Mt.Carmels of our society, tear down the Asherath Poles, and confront the Gods of this age!!!!

1Walter Brueggemann, The Land (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977),  p. 1.

A Creed Outworn

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

A worldview helps us make the critical decisions, which will shape our future.  I want to talk to you about what the vision, mission, and purpose of FSATAT (For Such a Time as This).  The For Such a Time as This (FSATAT) exists to love and  to glorify God, to help fulfill the Great Commission,  to affirm,  to encourage, to equip, and to empower parents and teachers to educate  and to disciple their students with excellence.  We are not merely a home school, or any school support resource—we want to participate, even in a modest way, in the coming revival/renewal we see coming to this nation!

In fall, 2011, I received my alumni magazine Harvard Divinity Today, Vol. 7, Number 3. I must admit reading the Today is not exactly the highest priority to this “alumni” who really reserves his allegiance to Gordon Conwell Seminary, but something caught my eye.  “HDS [Harvard Divinity School] to Expand Program in Buddhist Ministry Studies” caught my eye.  Silly me—I thought John Harvard bequeathed money in 1636 to found Harvard to prepare “men for Christian ministry.”  Can you imagine what John Harvard would say if he knew his endowment spawned a special Buddhist ministry program? Oh my.

But that is only half of it.  Buddhism—a sort of higher consciousness atheism—is no religion at all.  It has no formal priesthood, no serious understanding of soteriology (salvation) or redemption.  Buddhism is pretentious humanism; it has no serious belief in the supernatural.  It is a banana split of human effort but hardly a sugar cone of metaphysical reality.  No really ministry can occur without evoking the presence of a reality outside human existence, so, really, “Buddhism ministry” is an oxymoron.

Well, that is one reason FSATAT (For Such a Time as This) exists.  2013 religious America invests a lot of resources—a generous donor gave $2,500,000–to enable Harvard to do something that cannot be done—equip Buddhists to do ministry. But isn’t that the sign of the times. An erstwhile classmate of mine, 150 years ago, now deceased of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson, hardly a champion of Christian orthodoxy, but very much a vintage Harvard Divinity School man, speaking to the 1838 HDS senior class, in Divinity Hall, down the hall from where I lived, warned “One would rather be `A pagan, suckled in a creed outworn,’ than to be defrauded of his manly right in coming into nature, and finding not names and places, not land and professions, but even virtue and truth foreclosed and monopolized.” Virtue and truth are rarely discussed in 2012 America.

But virtue and truth are very important to For Such a Time as This.

What really matters to FSATAT? What is our vision? What are our core values?

  • The family, whether it is with a single parent, or two, is the God breathed entity that God has ordained to nurture, to equip, to challenge this new generation.
  • We value life and abhor any political or social policy that seeks to take life away.
  • We encourage parents to raise a generation who is not afraid to be overcomers in an increasingly hostile culture.
  • We urge families neither to conform to, nor to run from, secular culture but to transform this culture in the name of Christ.
  • Like Deborah’s generation in Judges 5:11, we seek to share Christ at the watering holes–cultural creating centers of this society.
  • We hope to establish an alternative culture/society of hope to this society of hopelessness so that His Kingdom might come on this earth as it is in Heaven.

 One final note.  Education is the most personal of  human experiences and belongs first to the Creator God, and then to his designated authority. Therefore, FSATAT strongly advocates and encourages parental input into education.  FSATAT passionately encourages full time home education but understands that public and private education, in some cases, is necessary, and even desirable.  We therefore support all education endeavors!

 Finally I need to say one more thing.  FSATAT is not interested in retreated from Post-Modern, secular, Post-Christian American culture. We are afraid of no worldview.  We will not pretend we serve any God but the awesome, omnipotent God we serve!  We are servants; we will die daily for one another.  But we will not participate in the culture of fear that is so pervasive in our nation. We intend to, and we encourage you,  neither to conform to, nor to run from, secular culture, but to transform this culture in the name of Christ. The newsletter encourages parents to raise a generation who are overcomers in an increasingly hostile culture. The newsletter is part of establishing a culture of hope and confidence so that Christ’s Kingdom might come on this earth as it is in heaven.

 In the months and years ahead we appreciate your prayers and support!

The Problem With Camus

Monday, January 28th, 2013

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life,” says Albert Camus (1913-1960). He was one of the earliest members of an artistic movement called “Absurdism.” Absurdism mainly centered on the idea that awareness of the certainty and finality of death makes life meaningless. In his journal Camus wrote: “There is only one case in which despair is true. It is that of a man sentenced to die….” The post-World War II mood of disillusionment and skepticism was expressed in peculiar terms by a number of artists, most of whom lived in France. Camus was a member of this group. Although they did not consider themselves as belonging to a formal movement, they shared a belief that human life was essentially without meaning, purpose, and absolute morality. They felt therefore that valid communication in any form, artistic or otherwise, was no longer possible. They felt the human community had sunk to a state of absurdity (the term was coined by Albert Camus). Camus was also an Existentialist. Absurdism is a literary movement. Existentialism is a philosophical movement. Existentialism rejects epistemology or the attempt to validate human knowledge as a basis for reality—a fundamental change in direction in Western philosophy. To Plato, ethical behavior was very closely tied to knowledge. Plato argued that if one knew the right thing to do, one would do it. Existentialism argued that that was not so. People made decisions based on need and function rather than knowledge. People were quite capable of making an evil decision if it suited their purposes. Human beings were not solely or even primarily people who made decisions from a basis of knowledge; they merely desired, manipulated, and, above all, chose and acted on their own selfish behalf. Thus, Camus regarded objects not primarily as “things” for cognition, a derivative characteristic, but as tools for processing the world. Camus’ characters are not detached observers of the world, but they are “in the world” participating in the chaotic events that we call everyday life. In short, Camus was more concerned with being rather than knowing.

There is a growing fear that Christian Theism has lost the edge, shots its last volley, fought its last skirmish, lost the advantage in the culture war that is raging.   Nathan O. Hatch, in his book Taking the Measure of the Evangelical Resurgence: 1942-1992 asks, “If there is such a huge resurgence of evangelicalism, why is there no more evidence in American society?”  Dr. Hatch offers two theories.  His first is what I call the “culture lag theory.”  He argues that elite culture (i.e., leadership in leading universities and corporations) has been captured by Modernism and Evangelicalism has to catch up.  How can Evangelicals catch up?

We need to stop retreating and take a stand on the seven great hills of our society: education, law, religion, domestic, art, literature, science.  We need to dominate these areas in our society: that is, we need to be the best teachers, best lawyers, best pastors, best homemakers, best artists, best writers, and best scientists in America.  We are starting to do this now!  We do these things with alacrity and courage.  We ask for no quarter and we give no quarter!  Every time we take a lazy short cut in our pedagogy, every time we fight among ourselves over petty issues (e.g., the case surrounding Susan Bauer’s untimely departure from the home school convention world), we weaken our effort and strengthen the forces of the enemy!  We have captured the elite culture of this nation—just like the Puritans—now we need to make hay while the sun is shining!

Where is Dante When we Need Him?

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Where is Dante when we need him? Faust: A Tragedy is indeed a tragedy, but neither Goethe or Faust know it.  The tragedy is that this Romantic tale lacks a tragic ending. We Christians earnestly, fervently hope that it does.  The notion that there is no moral universe with no consequences, no cause and effect, invites inevitable chaos and nihilism that is so much a part of our Post-Modern world. Faust’s yearning for experience and knowledge created a type for the Modern (1900-1990) and Post-Modern (1990-Present) ages still known as the Faustian hero, though in reality Goethe’s Faust is more a villain than a hero; and the purported villain–Mephistopheles–is one of the most likable characters in the play. His yearnings draw him toward the heavens, yet he is also powerfully attracted to the physical world. Ultimately the tragedy of Goethe’s tragedy, is that mankind cannot have his cake and eat it too:  we cannot reject Christ as Savior and suppose that we will spend eternity in his presence.  The fact that Goethe thinks otherwise is remarkable in its presumptuousness.

Faust is a very learned professor, who is dissatisfied with human knowledge, which by its nature is limited. Using magic, he conjures up the Earth Spirit in his darkened study. Regarding himself as more than mortal, he tries to claim the Earth Spirit as a colleague, but the Spirit rejects him scornfully and disappears.  Despairing, Faust contemplates suicide. He is saved by the sound of the bells welcoming Easter morning. He and his research assistant, Wagner, go out into the sunlight and enjoy the greetings of the crowd, which remembers the medical attention given to the people by Faust and his father. Faust is still depressed, denying the value of medicine and feeling torn between the two souls in him, one longing for earthly pleasures, the other seeking the highest spiritual knowledge. A dog follows Faust and Wagner home.  The dog, of course, is Mephistopheles!   The overall theme of this work is the struggle mankind undertakes to overcome evil and to discriminate between good and evil.

Faust Part One is a complex story. It takes place in multiple settings, the first of which is heaven. Mephistopheles makes a bet with God. He says that he can deflect God’s favorite human being (Faust), who is striving to learn everything that can be known, away from righteous pursuits. The next scene takes place in Faust’s study where Faust, despairing at the vanity of scientific, humanitarian and religious learning, turns to magic for the revelation of ultimate knowledge. He suspects, however, that his attempts are failing. Frustrated, he ponders suicide, but rejects it as he hears the echo of nearby Easter celebrations begin. He goes for a walk with his assistant Wagner and is followed home by a stray poodle.  God is only one among equals—epistemology is more important than faith, truth is subjective, not objective. We are no longer enjoying sunsets with William Wordsworth and speculating on their origins—we are looking into Hell itself, the New Age, Modernism, what Nietzsche calls “the vacuum.”

With Goethe, we move forward four hundred years through the Reformation, through the Renaissance, and into the Enlightenment. The period of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, the greatest epoch in German literature, fell within the lifetime of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The age of Goethe went beyond the Enlightenment’s substitution of science for religion, inasmuch as it ascribed to science only a peripheral position in relation to the ultimate questions of life. It insisted upon the value of feeling in face of the limitations of reason. Impulse, instinct, emotion, and intuition acquired a quasi-religious significance as being the links that connected man with divine nature—one way to define Romanticism. The ideal of the classical age was that of the fully developed personality in which intellect and feeling should be harmoniously balanced. We see the enigmatic Doctor Faust representing all three movements. Three phases may be distinguished in the evolution of this new outlook: Sturm und Drang (storm and stress), Classicism, and Romanticism. Goethe belonged to and profoundly affected the Sturm und Drang movement, which aimed at overthrowing rationalism. There is, however, something that is modern: the emphasis on an amoral vision. We see the beginning of a Friedrich Nietzsche’s “survival of the fittest” mentality.   It continues today . . .

More Trouble with Evolution . . .

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

From Aristotle vs. Plato a panoply of world views evolved in four main epochs.

The following are characteristics of each epoch:

Classical Theism:

Ancient Times to Augustine

Pernicious gods involved in human affairs
Christian Theism: Augustine to Goethe


Loving God involved in human affairs
Modernism: Goethe to Camus Faith in science
Post-Modernism: Camus to Present Authors Faith in experience; suspicious of science

Most of you have not heard of this particular world view paradigm.  It is called a cultural world view paradigm (as contrasted to a socio-political paradigm).  Both are useful.  Both are accurate. However, most Americans obtain their world views from culture, not from scholarship and education.

While socio-political descriptions of world views are completely accurate, they are not used by American universities or the media at all.  When have you hear the word “Cosmic Humanist” used on television?  In a movie?  Very few people use this terminology in the real world.  Therefore, if Christians wish to be involved in apologetics they must use a language that the unsaved can understand.  Chesterton once lamented that Evangelical Christians are like Americans who visit France.  Chesterton generalized that Americans, by and large, speak their words slower, articulate their words more carefully, and speak fewer words to complete a thought.  However, what they should do, Chesterton argues, is to speak French in France!  If we believers want the world to hear us we need to speak their language.

The four epochs above manifested seven basic world views. The world view are best discerned through works of art and of literature.  The world view of an artist/writer is a reflection of how the author expresses his views on essential issues like: God, Man, Morality.  The following are seven world views found in art and literature:

Theism: God is personally involved with humankind.  Theism argues that the universe is a purposive, divinely created entity.  It argues that all human life is sacred and all persons are of equal dignity.  They are, in other words, created in the image of God.  History is linear and moves toward a final goal.  Nature is controlled by God and is an orderly system.  Humanity is neither the center of nature nor the universe, but are the steward of creation.  Righteousness will triumph in a decisive conquest of evil.  Earthly life does not exhaust human existence but looks ahead to the resurrection of the dead and to a final, comprehensive judgement of humanity (adapted form Carl F. H. Henry, Toward a Recovery of Christian Belief).  This is the only viable world view until the Renaissance.  Examples: Homer, Virgil, C. S. Lewis, A. J. Cronin, Tolkien.

Deism: God was present, but is no longer present.  The world is like a clock wound up by God many years ago but He is now absent. The clock (i.e., the world) is present; God is absent.  Still, though, Deism embraced a Judeo-Christian morality.  God’s absence, for instance, in no way mitigated His importance to original creation.   He was also omnipotent, but not omniscient.  His absence was His decision.  He was in no way forced to be absent from the world.  He chose to assume that role so that Socratic empiricism and rationalism could reign as sovereign king.  Speculative Theism replaced revelatory biblical Theism.   Once the Living God was abandoned, Jesus Christ and the Bible became cognitive orphans (Carl H. Henry).   Examples: Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson.

Romanticism: Once Americans distanced themselves from the self-revealing God of the Old and New Testaments, they could not resist making further concessions to subjectivity.  Romanticism, and its American version, Transcendentalism,  posited that God was nature and “it” was good.  The more natural things were, the better.   Nature was inherently good.  Nature alone was the ultimate reality.  In other words, nature was the Romantic god.   Man was essentially a complex animal, too complex to be controlled by absolute, codified truth (as one would find in the Bible).  Human intuition replaced the  Holy Spirit.  Depending upon the demands on individual lives, truth and good were relative and changing.  Romanticism, however, like Deism, had not completely abandoned Judeo-Christian morality.  Truth and the good, although changing, were nonetheless relatively durable.    Examples: James Fenimore Cooper, Goethe.

Naturalism: If God exists, He is pretty wimpish. Only the laws of nature have any force. God is either uninterested or downright mean.  All reality was reducible to impersonal processes and energy events (Carl F. H. Henry).  All life, including human life, was transient.  Its final destination was death.  Truth and good, therefore, were also transient.  They were culture-conditioned distinctions that the human race projected upon the cosmos and upon history (Carl F. H. Henry).    This maturation, as it were, of the human race, necessitated a deliberate rejection of all transcendentally final authority.   Examples: Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane.

Realism: Akin to Naturalism is Realism.  Reality is, to a Realist, a world with no purpose, no meaning, no order. Realism insists that personality has no ultimate status in the universe, but is logically inconsistent when it affirms an ethically imperative social agenda congruent with universal human rights and dignity.   Realism, then throws around terms like “dignity” and “human rights” and “power.”  What Realists mean, however, is that these concepts are real when they fulfill a social agenda that enhances human dominance over the universal.  Thus, Realism believes in  a world where bad things happen all the time to good people.  Why not?  There is no God, no ontological controlling force for good.  The world is a place where the only reality is that which we can experience, but it must be experience that we can measure or replicate.  Certainly pain and misery fit that category.   If an experience is a unique occurrence (Example: a miracle) it is not real.  Examples: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald.  

Absurdism: A modern movement where there is neither a god, nor any reason to have one.  Everything is disorganized, anarchy rules.   There is a compete abandonment of explaining the cosmos and therefore an abandonment of being in relationship with the deity.  It is not that Absurdists are unsure about who creates everything, or in control of everything.  Absurdists simply do not care one way or the other.   Examples: John Barth, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Existentialism: The submergence of God in overwhelming data and in experience is the first step toward putting God out to die.  Truth is open to debate.  Everything is relative.  A very pessimistic view. Examples, Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, and Jean Paul Sartre.

Aristotle vs. Plato

Monday, January 21st, 2013

From our study of Greek history we know that there are basically two world view roots: One originates from Aristotle and argues that the empirical world is primary.  Thus, if one wants to advance knowledge one has to learn more about the world.  Another root originates with Plato who argues that the unseen world is primary. In Plato’s case, that meant that if one wished to understand the world one studied the gods.  In our case, we agree with Plato to the extent that we believe that God–who cannot be seen, measured–is in fact more real than the world.

Incidentally, these two world view positions are replicated in American society today.  How important is God’s Word?  Does a person claim allegiance to something and to someone he cannot see?  Or does one bank on science and empiricism?  The truth is in 2013 I think our epistemology has taken us about as far as we can go.  We need our metaphysics to rescue us.

Both Plato and Aristotle were impacted by Socrates.  Socrates was one of the most influential but mysterious figures in Western philosophy.  He wrote nothing, yet he had a profound influence on someone who did: Plato.  Plato carefully recorded most of his dialogues.  Unlike earlier philosophers, Socrates’ main concern was with ethics.  There was nothing remotely pragmatic about Socrates who was the consummate idealist.  Until his day, philosophers invested most of their time explaining the natural world.   In fact, the natural world often intruded into the abstract world of ideas and reality.  Socrates kept both worlds completely separate.  To Socrates, the natural laws governing the rotation of the earth were merely uninteresting speculation of no earthly good.   Socrates was more interested in such meaty concepts as “virtue” and “justice.”  Taking issue with the Sophists, Socrates believed that ethics, specifically virtue, must be learned and practiced like any trade.   One was not born virtuous; one developed virtue as he would a good habit.  It could be practiced only by experts.  There was, then, nothing pragmatic about the pursuit of virtue.  It was systematic; it was intentional.  Virtue was acquired and maintained by open and free dialogue.  For the first time, the importance of human language was advanced by a philosopher (to reappear at the end of the 20th century in Post-modern philosophy).

There was no more important philosopher in Western culture than Socrates’ disciple, Plato.   Plato, like Socrates, regarded ethics as the highest branch of knowledge.   Plato stressed the intellectual basis of virtue, identifying virtue with wisdom.  Plato believed that the world was made of forms (such as, a rock) and ideas (such as, virtue).  The ability of human beings to appreciate forms made a person virtuous.  Knowledge came from the gods; opinion was from man.  Virtuous activity, then, was dependent upon knowledge of the forms.

To Plato, knowledge and virtue were inseparable.  To Aristotle, they were unconnected.  Aristotle was not on a search for absolute truth.  He was not even certain it existed.  Truth, beauty, and goodness were to be observed and quantified from human behavior and the senses but they were not the legal tender of the land.  Goodness in particular was not an absolute and in Aristotle’s opinion it was much abused.  Goodness was an average between two absolutes.   Aristotle said that mankind should strike a balance between passion and temperance, between extremes of all sorts. He said that good people should seek the “Golden Mean” defined as a course of life that was never extreme.  Finally, while Plato argued that reality lay in knowledge of the gods, Aristotle argued that reality lay in empirical, measurable knowledge.   To Aristotle, reality was tied to purpose and to action.  For these reasons, Aristotle, became known as the father of modern science.  Aristotle’s most enduring impact occurred in the area of metaphysics–philosophical speculation about the nature, substance, and structure of reality.  It is not physics–concerned with the visible or natural world.  Metaphysics is concerned with explaining the non-physical world.  Aristotle, then advanced the discussion about God, the human soul, and the nature of space and time. What makes this particularly interesting is Aristotle’s penchant for delving into the metaphysical by talking about the gods in human terms.   Aristotle said, “All men by nature desire to know” and it is by the senses that the gods were known–or not.  Faith had nothing to do with it.   In other words, Aristotle, for the first time, discussed the gods as if they were quantified entities.  He spoke about them as if they were not present.   The Hebrews had done this earlier (Genesis 3) but Aristotle was probably not aware of Moses’ text.   While some Christian thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas employed Aristotelian logic in their discussions about God, they never speculated about His existence as Aristotle did.  They only used Aristotle’s techniques to understand more about Him.

As you consider the decisions that you must make for your children, yourselves, and your nation, make sure that you epistemology (knowledge) doesn’t take you farther than your metaphysics (faith) can rescue you!

When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you (Friedrich Nietzsche). On Looking Into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society by Gertrude Himmelfarb argues  that the “abyss is the abyss of meaninglessness. The interpreter takes precedence over the thing interpreted, and any interpretation goes. The most obvious aim of such a creed is to weaken our hold on reality, chiefly by denying that there is any reality for us to get hold of; its most probable effect, if we were to take it seriously, would be to induce feelings of despair and dread.  This view invites the tyranny of the subjective—anything goes so long as it does not hurt anyone and it is believed sincerely.

Contemporary Americans are dedicated to the pleasure principle. They yearn to be considered creative and imaginative; casting off the chains of mere causal and chronological. They conceive of history as a form of fiction. Postmodernist fiction, to be sure: what one of them has called “a historiographic metafiction.”

Himmelfarb argues that contemporaries play the harlot with words like “freedom” and “liberty.” She makes a startling claim: Absolute liberty is itself a form of power—the power to destroy without having to face the consequences.