“We Have Lost the Vertical.”

“When you think of it, really there are four fundamental questions of life. You’ve asked them, I’ve asked them, every thinking person asks them. They boil down to this: origin, meaning, morality and destiny. ‘How did I come into being? What brings life meaning? How do I know right from wrong? Where am I headed after I die?'”—Ravi Zacharias.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I AGREE WITH RAVI ZACHARIAS: There has been a drastic impact from man’s decision to look within for meaning, purpose, and morality. We have lost our vertical orientation toward God. The battle between theism and atheism is the oldest philosophical  debate known to man. The greatest battles over the course of history have been over control of the heart of mankind, which is the basic currency of politics and culture. Zacharias believes, “Right from the start the question was not the origin of species but the autonomy of the species” (1). We say No one is going to tell me what to believe! Our inner turmoil is rooted in the fact that we are a worshiping people, with an innate desire, an instinct and impulse hardwired into us, to seek and understand God. Yet we debate whether the concepts of origin, purpose, morality, and destiny should rest with us (relative to culture, history, circumstance) or with God based upon ontological truth.

“What has happened? The answer is clear. The discussion in the public square is now reduced to right or left, forgetting there is an up and a down.”—Ravi Zacharias

The remarkable harmony Adam and Eve enjoyed with God and the whole of creation, the peaceful dominion they were given over it, was broken the moment they decided to look within for meaning and purpose; for the definition of right and wrong. Chandler writes, “While the earth was once wonderfully subdued, it now yields grudgingly. Where it was once only fruitful and abundant, it now offers the challenge of thorns and thistles” (2). God’s very first commandment issued in the Garden—Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—does not mean God wants to subdue us and is unwilling to share His “knowledge” with us. To the contrary, He is aware of the insurmountable task of systematically evaluating right and wrong, good and evil, true and false, from a human perspective. We lack the ability to perceive and handle the thousands of nuances involved in determining ethics, justice, judgment, and equality. It’s so easy to become embroiled in arguments relative to these issues. Some of the most infamous broken relationships in history have been over arguments gone wrong.

Most biblical scholars  agree that God gave us free will. What they cannot agree on is how to best define the concept of free willexactly how it operates in our lives. Sadly, our desire to know and control things cost us dearly. Adam and Eve enjoyed a glorious relationship with God: walking with Him in the cool of the day. God provided our First Parents with the freedom to choose. I believe He wants us to choose Him rather than be forced to believe and obey. Accordingly, God said to Adam, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:16-17, NRSV) (emphasis mine).

Essentially, our First Parents staged a mutiny. A tug-of-war began between man and God at the very beginning. Chandler believes this cosmic argument with God has left a “shalom-shaped hole in our hearts, and no matter how much we throw in there, and no matter how long we try filling it, nothing will satisfy but shalom itself” (3)Zacharias believes the moment Adam and Eve chose to look within for purpose, meaning, and knowledge, mankind headed down the slippery slope of secularism, humanism, and moral relativism. Secular and humanistic worldviews say, “We don’t need God!” Moral relativism says, “That might be true for you, but it’s not true for me!” 

“Faith gives the understanding access to these things, unbelief closes the door upon them… A right faith is the beginning of a good life, and to this also eternal life is due. Now it is faith to believe that which you do not yet see; and the reward of this faith is to see that which you believe.”—Augustine of Hippo

The Enlightenment

Skepticism and doubt reign supreme in Western civilization today. When the Enlightenment emerged in Europe in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, emphasis was put on reason and individualism rather than doctrine and tradition. Leaders during this era ( Descartes, Locke, Kant, Goethe, Voltaire, Rousseau) taught that reason was the power by which humans can understand the universe and improve their own condition. Enlightenment involved the use and celebration of reason, the power by which mankind attempts to understand the universe and improve the condition of man here on earth. Immanuel Kant sought truth through “pure reason.”

Enlightenment stressed both reason and independence, and elicited a pronounced distrust of authority. For the Enlightenment thinkers, the most important human attribute was rationality. This sounds like a fairly innocuous term: the quality of being based on or in accordance with reason or logic. The difference between man’s logic and God’s is this: Christian rationalism attempts to strengthen not only the physical body, but the spirit as well; enlightening human beings by means of the spirituality it defends. It focuses on spiritual evolution, without prejudices or dogmas. Specifically, the Christian rationalist believes Scripture is the foundation upon which all good reasoning is built. It is the only reliable foundation for all logic and good judgment; the only trustworthy basis for the beginning of thoughts, ideas, actions and practices. The Word of God is intended to be the mind’s bedrock, its compass. This is an a priori argument: relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience. This is akin to saying we cannot trust what we see.

Brad Inwood said, “The Enlightenment devalues prejudices and customs, which owe their development to historical peculiarities rather than to the exercise of reason. What matters to the Enlightenment is not whether one is French or German, but that one is an individual man, united in brotherhood with all other men by the rationality one shares with them” (4). We can see in this statement that the authority of the church and of Scripture began to be questioned. A period of objective inquiry concerning the world and mankind ensued as a result of this philosophy. Of course, reading between the lines reveals an attitude that subjective inquiry (no matter the subject matter it pursues) is “illogical.” Inwood added, “Beliefs are to be accepted only on the basis of reason, not on the authority of priests, sacred texts, or tradition.” Alas, this was the Age of Reason.

To its credit, Enlightenment believes in some immutable Truth waiting to be discovered by experience, unbiased reason, or the methods of science. The downside of this worldview is its tendency to define such ontological truth through human reason, or on empirical evidence alone. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality. It is part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics. Skeptics of this school of thought believe that “truth” is always relative to cultural, group, or personal perspectives. This is essentially known as moral relativism. Further to this is the concept that we interpret our experienced reality through a pair of conceptual glasses—situation, personal goals, past experiences, values, the body of knowledge we possess, the nature of language, the zeitgeist, and so forth.

Theological determinism is a form of predestination which states that all events that happen are preordained or predestined to happen, typically by a divine will. Some call this “destiny.” Friedrich Nietzsche was against determinism. He said, “Every man is a unique miracle; we are responsible to ourselves for our own existence. Freedom makes us responsible for our characters just as artists are responsible for their creations.” Nietzsche and other Enlightenment thinkers believed if man lives according to the morals or the will of a divine being, then he is a slave. They believed everyone who wishes to be free must become free through his or her own endeavor. In other words, freedom does not fall into anyone’s lap as a miraculous gift.

The Most Important Question

Rationalism, empiricism, agnosticism, idealism, positivism, existentialism, and phenomenology are all part of the discipline of epistemology: the study of how we know. It is certainly helpful to ask “how,” but it is the why that contains the basis for existence. Why are we here in the first place? While science is equipped to answer the how of life, it is not qualified to answer the why. Zacharias believes the points of tension within secular worldviews are not merely peripheral. They are systemic; they are foundational. For example, for the atheist, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, while for the follower of Jesus, joy is central and sorrow peripheral. There is an intellectual side to life, but there is also a side where deep needs are experienced. Sorrow often occurs when we fail to understand why things are happening to us.

More consequences for life and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from any other basic question.—Mortimer Adler

I am most impressed by how succinctly Ravi Zacharias expresses the four fundamental questions of life: Where did I come from? Why am I here? How should I live? Where am I going? These questions fall into four basic categories: origin, meaning, morality, destiny. Regardless of our worldview, each of us longs to answer these fundamental queries. Moreover, how we answer them has a direct impact on our actions! For instance, relativism says, “That might be true for you, but not for me.” Whatever is of significance is reduced to value according to the preferences and biases of this or that person, culture, or point in history. This is actually an offshoot of naturalism. If nature is all there is, then there can be no transcendent or absolute source of moral truth, and we are left to construct our own morality. By definition, morality would be contingent upon the person, situation, or moment in time. Obviously, this makes for a rather murky and ambiguous existence!

According to Thomas Hobbes’s concept of empiricism, “mind” is nothing more than the sum total of a person’s thinking activities. Chemical signals received in the dendrites from the axons that contact them are transformed into electrical signals, which add to or subtract from electrical signals from all the other synapses, thus making a decision about whether to pass on the signal elsewhere. Electrical potentials then travel down axons to synapses on the dendrites of the next neuron and the process repeats. Based on this basic neuroscience, Hobbes denied the existence of a “non-material” mind. Accordingly, he concluded there are no objective moral properties or concepts. Instead, there is only what seems good and pleasing for the individual.

Thinking “Christianly”

Nancy Pearcey introduces the concept of thinking Christianly in her book Total Truth. She addresses this idea under the heading “Divided Minds,” indicating that many Christians today are dual-minded, caught up in the fact/value, public/private dichotomy, restricting their faith to the so-called “religious sphere” while adopting whatever secular views they’re exposed to in their daily lives. Harry Blamires, in his seminal book The Christian Mind, makes a very troubling and profound statement: 

There is no longer a Christian mind!

What does that mean? Blamires believes Christians often lack a proper biblical worldview. Certainly, as spiritual beings most Christians continue to follow a biblical ethic of prayer and worship, studying Scripture, and sharing the gospel with others. But as a thinking being, the modern Christian has fallen prey to secularism. I realize that sounds strange, but it is no less true. Unfortunately, many believers tend to hold a secular point of view in everyday matters. They get sucked into conversations laden with secular or scientific principals and participate mentally as if they are not Christians, espousing concepts and categories typically held by non-believers. Ravi Zacharias says, “Christianity is a belief grounded in freedom. It is also, and here is where it contrasts most sharply with humanism, a belief in an absolute” (3). Secularism and humanism are tied to a relativist viewpoint regarding truth and morality—all value is reduced to value according to the preferences, biases, and circumstances of a particular person, culture, or age.

According to Pearcey, “Thinking Christianly means understanding that Christianity gives the truth about the whole of reality; a perspective for interpreting every subject matter.” Augustine of Hippo said, “Moral character is assessed not by what a man knows but by what he loves.” This puts a new perspective on these words spoken by Jesus: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15, NRSV). Paul said, “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:16-17). Christians like to focus on the latter part of verse 17—the promise of glory. Spiritual growth demands that we do not jump ahead. Growth requires baby steps; increments of progress. Just like academic programs in college, there are prerequisites for each level.

Our sanctification as Christians begins by suffering and dying with Christ. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). There is a specific order to our sanctification: we must first die to this world in order to live with Christ in His resurrection. It is only through dying to self that we can live through Christ. This is how we are able to live our theology and not just learn it. Martin Luther said, “It is through living, indeed through dying, and being damned, that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation.” Pearcey believes it is nearly impossible for non-believers to  accept Christianity solely in the abstract. As believers, we know what the gospel looks like when lived out in practice. Hart says theology, far from being esoteric and inaccessible, must be rooted in basic elements of human existence (4).

True theology must be a lived theology or it is merely a collection of information. Close study of the Pauline epistles reveals a subtle movement from the indicative to the imperative; from theological theories to practical applications. This is at the core of Paul’s remark, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It is only through Scripture that we learn how sin corrupts our very interpretation of reality. John Henry Newman draws a very smart conclusion in this regard: “Christianity is dogmatical, devotional, practical all at once; it is esoteric and exoteric; it is indulgent and strict; it is light and dark; it is love, and it is fear.” Kevin Vanhoozer believes as Christians we must learn doctrine in order to participate more deeply, passionately, and truthfully in the drama of redemption. Intellectual apprehension alone, without the appropriation of heart and hand, leads only to hypocrisy.

Concluding Remarks

I think one of the most profound statements contained in Scripture is “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall” (MSG). There are fewer powerful hindrances to spiritual growth than pride and self-sufficiency. The hardest lesson I learned during four decades of active addiction was thinking I was unique; smarter than the average bear. Every time I tried to manage my addiction, it kicked me to the gutter. Not only did I end up getting drunk or high, I betrayed the very tenet of Christianity: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength… [and] you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NRSV).

It is pride that led to disobedience in the Garden. Adam and Eve decided to look to themselves for meaning, purpose, and morality rather than to God. This is when man lost his vertical orientation and chose to define good and evil from a secular or humanist perspective. The result has been constant posturing and arguing over ethics, justice, judgment, and equality. To the secularist, morality is contingent upon circumstance. However, Scripture is the only reliable foundation upon which all good reasoning is built. It is the basis for logic and good judgment; the only trustworthy basis for the beginning of thoughts, ideas, actions and practices. Scripture is intended to be the bedrock of existence; mankind’s compass. Christianity provides the truth about the whole of reality; a perspective for interpreting every subject and every situation. We can only become grounded in truth by thinking with the mind of Christ. This is what Nancy Pearcey means by thinking Christianly.

Footnotes

(1) Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Secular Gods (New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2017), 15.

(2) Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 112.

(3) Zacharias, 162.

(4) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1995), 79.

 

 

The Christian Worldview, Modern Culture, and Addiction

“The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us… And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma—and he is in the majority—he is becoming more and more de-Christianized by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space.” —T.S. Eliot

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Lift Up Your Hands

I’VE HEARD IT SAID that in days past Christianity had an influence on culture in America; today, however, culture is having an impact on Christianity. One of my mentors at church puts it this way: “There’s too much world in the church and not enough church in the world.” This symptom comes from the relegation of all things religious to the private world, and the banning of all public expression of one’s faith. Nancy Pearcey said, “Not only have we ‘lost the culture,’ but we continue losing even our own children. It’s a familiar but tragic story that devout young people, raised in Christian homes, head off to college and abandon their faith.” (1) How does this happen? Largely because we’re sending our children off to secular education without helping them develop a Christian worldview. They can’t keep what they don’t understand.

Trevor Hart believes Christian theology must be a matter of activity, not just a subject to be studied. Today,  the hallmark of intellectual inquiry in everyday living appeals exclusively to reason and empirically established evidence as the only building block for truth. He said, “This account of things, which is widely subscribed to within our culture, can be traced back some three and a half centuries to the origins of the so-called European Enlightenment.” (2) Hart said one particular manifestation of this factor is the chasm between public and private spheres. Certainly, this view has greatly contributed to Christianity’s ineffective influence in culture. The “public” sector Hart refers to is the realm of universally-owned or agreed knowledge. If something is “public” truth, then it must be something which everyone can know to be true—a truth available to observation or self-evident to human reasoning.

Public and Private Venues

Today, we’re told to the “private” realm belong all statements or propositions which (for whatever reason) do not permit public scrutiny. Hart wrote, “The private sphere is the sphere of values, matters of opinion and beliefs; anything, in fact, the truth or falsity of which cannot in principle be demonstrated on publicly agreed terms.” (3) This phenomenon leads to comments like That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to hold it; but unless you prove it to be true I am compelled to reject it. Admittedly, the deck is stacked against faith and religion and in favor of science and “proven fact.” Hart believes the “passport” for bringing faith into the public realm is “justification by reason.” Christian faith is generally considered by our society to belong to the category of unproven and unprovable. To speak of such private beliefs in public is simply not condoned. Although faith is the usual motivation for theology, those who advocate for investigation solely on empirical evidence believe faith must remain on the sidelines, giving way to the pursuit of truth based upon reason alone.

Hart believes absolutism is born of arrogance. I concur. Many individuals today shout down any explicit expression of faith in public. It is their conclusion that the truth of the Christian story is not, nor will it ever be, demonstrable. Of course, another element of this is the opinion that truth is never something absolute or universal, but always relative to a particular context—cultural, historical, linguistic, religious, or whatever. We call this conclusion moral relativism. Relativism refers to an ethical system in which right and wrong are not absolute and unchanging but relative to one’s culture (cultural relativism) or one’s own personal preferences (moral subjectivism). Of course we see both forms widely embraced in today’s society. These concepts are directly related to the multiculturalism and pluralism rampant in Western civilization.

Worldview with Earth

How we experience and define the world and our place in it is called our worldview. Wilhelm Dilthey said, “The basic role of a worldview is to present the relationship of the human mind to the riddle of the world and life.” (4) Worldviews vary greatly, but they typically share some common elements: the certainty of death; cruelty of the natural process; general transitoriness. Accordingly, a worldview begins as a cosmic concept and then, through a complex interrelation between us and our world, develops into a more sophisticated and detailed sense of who we are and what is the nature of that which surrounds us. Coupled with a growing sense of values, a highest order of our practical behavior (comprehensive plan of life, highest good, highest norms of action, and shaping of our personal life) takes hold of and defines our thought and experience.

We are speaking of a clash of worldviews. Will Durant said, “From barbarism to civilization requires a century; from civilization to barbarism needs but a day.”

A Christian Perspective

Herman Dooyeweerd believes theoretical thought does not necessarily lie at the base of one’s worldview. More fundamental than any worldview delineated by religious faith is the orientation of one’s heart. Referring to Dooyeweerd, James Sire wrote, “All human endeavor stems not from worldview, but from the spiritual commitments of the heart.” (5) Sire believes there are only two basic commitments in Christianity, leading to two basic conditions of life: “man converted to God” and “man averted from God.” C.S. Lewis treated Christian ideas with clarity and creativity, painstakingly dissecting their importance and relation to overall philosophy and individual challenge. Lewis held the belief that we are all philosophers to some extent. It was his goal to reach philosophia perennis—ultimate and permanently true philosophy.

To this end, Lewis posited that a Christian worldview must be a hybrid of philosophy and theology. He thought this would be highly advantageous because both disciplines generate knowledge in their own distinctive ways. Philosophy employs reason, building on commonly available information, to decide the most fundamental queries about life and the world. Theology draws from Scripture, ecclesiastics, established doctrine, and the historical experiences of the community of believers to articulate knowledge about God in a systematic manner. Lewis believed the truths established by philosophy and theology were compatible. I see this as another application of “all truth is God’s truth.”

Christian apologist James Orr (1844-1913) set out to provide a complete, coherent, rationally defensible exposition of Christianity that would stand up to the intellectual and cultural challenges of his day.  Orr supported the belief that the Christian faith is a christocentric, self-authenticating system of biblical truth characterized by inner integrity, rational coherence, empirical verisimilitude, and existential power. Sire says, “Worldviews have their source deep in the constitution of human nature and involve both the intellect and the actions we perform” (italics mine). (6) Martin Luther said, “It is through living, indeed through dying and being damned, that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation.” (7) We must live our theology, without which it is merely a collection of data.

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) believed every worldview has a single conception from which the whole worldview flows. He supported the need for all thought to proceed from a single principle: what he called a fixed point of departure. Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) believed the religious or faith orientation of the heart was more fundamental than any worldview that can be delineated by ideas and propositions. He said, “Theory and practice are a product of the will, not the intellect; of the heart, not the head.” (8) Accordingly, he believed worldviews are pretheoretical commitments that are in direct contact not so much with the mind as the heart—involving experience; the living of life. Soren Kierkegaard said Christian conversion necessarily leads to the formation of a new “life-view.” Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2, NRSV) (italics mine).

Ronald Nash provides a very concise description of worldview: “In its simplest terms, a worldview is a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life… [It] is a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality.” (9) I’d like to present a longer comment from Nash before addressing what I hope to be a unique look at a “negative” or “bad” worldview; one I held while in active addiction. Nash wrote:

A worldview may well be defined as one’s comprehensive framework of basic beliefs about things, but our talk (confessed beliefs or cognitive claims) is one thing, and our walk (operational beliefs) is another and even more important thing. A lived worldview defines one’s basic convictions; it defines what one is ready to live and die for.

Worldview of an Addict

Hung Over

Worldview is how a person views the world. A person’s worldview consists of the values and ideals—the fundamental belief system—that determine his attitudes, beliefs and, ultimately, his behavior. Typically, this includes his view of issues such as the nature of God, man, the meaning of life, nature, death, and right and wrong. It is not difficult to imagine how the worldview of an addict might be skewed away from what most people consider proper attitude, belief, and behavior. We begin developing our worldview as young children, first through interactions within our family, then in social settings such as school and church, and from our companions and life experiences. This is, at least in part, the concept of nature versus nurture.

Here are the basic questions we must answer to determine our worldview, and my responses while in active addiction:

  • Is there a god and what is he like?  Maybe. I think so, but I’m not sure. Besides, who cares if there is? He doesn’t love me or want me. I might not be “God” but I want the job. I want to be in charge of me!
  • What is the nature and origin of the universe? Who knows? Who cares? I doubt something came from nothing, but I’m not interested in finding out.
  • What is the nature and origin of man? I don’t think I came from an ape, but I sure act like one! I’m smart, so I should be able to read about this issue and make up my own mind. Some day. Not today.
  • What happens to man after death? I think the Bible has it right. There is a place for the “good” people and the “bad” people. I’ve always been a piece of crap who cannot love or respect others. Instead, I deceive and manipulate them. There probably is a Hell and I’m headed there. My “sins” are too great. Jesus saved everyone but me! I cannot be redeemed so might as well “live it up,” taking what I want.
  • Where does knowledge come from? Good question! I have an IQ of 127 but it does me absolutely no good. My father said, “If you’re so smart, why are you so dumb?” My “smarts” came from me reading, learning, doing. I make my own rules and definitions.
  • What is the basis of ethics and morality? Ethics is whatever I say it is. Morality? No one is truly moral. It’s all “relative” to the person or circumstance. If cannibalism is okay, then I am free to do whatever I deem fit for the situation. It’s “dog eat dog.” It’s all about getting what you want at any cost. And I love the idea of paybacks!
  • What is the meaning of human history? Maybe Darwin was right! Life seems to be every man for himself. I need to adapt. Be a chameleon. Be whatever it takes to get what I want and need. Our entire history has been about survival of the fittest, even from a social perspective.

What It’s Like Now

God has given me a great gift. It starts with life itself. There are numerous situations which, by odds, should have ended in my death. I overdosed on an opiate one afternoon and needed emergency care. I do not remember the event—going unresponsive; the neighbor coming over to try reviving me; the ambulance ride to the trauma center; yelling horrible obscenities at my mother and begging to go home; pulling my IV out, blood everywhere; being transferred to my hospital room. I became aware of my surroundings the next morning when I woke up in a hospital bed. I’ve driven while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol countless times but never crashed, killed myself, killed others, or ended up in a wheelchair. I’ve been homeless. I’ve put myself in dangerous circumstances just to score drugs. I continued drinking a fifth of vodka a day despite ulcers, elevated liver enzymes, and pancreatitis. I’ve operated a vehicle at speeds in excess of 100 miles-per-hour. Being a “garbage head,” I snorted, swallowed, smoked, and huffed nearly anything that would “do the trick.”

I went from hating myself for 59 years to finally loving myself. Today, I have forgiven myself for the harmful and twisted way I lived for over 40 years, no longer regretting my past or pretending it never happened; instead, I see it now as an asset for helping others. I am motivated today to teach to others the lessons I had to learn the hard way. Loving myself has made it possible to love others. It has also shown me what true unconditional love looks like (1 Cor. 13). I have forgiven all those (whether real or imagined) who treated me badly, no longer using it as an excuse to behave badly. I understand original sin and fully comprehend the “struggle” Paul wrote about in Romans 7. I have forgiven others for their unforgiving attitude toward me, seeing me through their eyes.

I have finally come to accept my powerlessness over drugs and alcohol, as well as pornography, emotional eating, and spending money to “feel good.” Paul put powerlessness into perspective:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Rom. 7:15-20, 24-25).

I used to have a very chaotic and unsettled lifestyle. My “default mode” or my “center” was anxiety. I had no peace; no quite moments. I couldn’t sit still. My mind wandered every time I read a book, and I was prone to daydreaming during a movie. My nights were filled with restless worrying and insomnia. As my health and well being began to suffer, I was wracked with depression, anxiety, and chronic physical pain. My degenerative disc disease made it harder to stay away from opiates and cannabis. The great lie I told myself is that I used oxy and weed to escape pain and anxiety. I was not an addict. I needed drugs. I was so very wrong. Despite attending my first 12-step meeting in 2001, I am only sober from booze since 2008 and free of cannabis and opiates for ten months.

Yes, I am powerless. Over many things. But that’s okay. I don’t need to overcome anything by myself. John wrote, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5). I spent decades doing whatever I wanted. When circumstances got bad, I tried to fix things by myself. Quitting is actually easy for me; the hard part is staying quit! No worries. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13). And so can you. When we admit our faults, confess them to one another and to God, and take the next right step to move away from deliberate sin, we exponentially increase the odds we will keep on moving and growing.

Footnotes

(1) Nancy Pearsey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, LI: Crossway Publishing, 2005), 19.

(2) Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1995), 12.

(3) Hart, 13.

(4) Wilhelm Dilthey, Gesammelte Schriften, in Introduction to the Human Sciences: An Attempt to Lay a Foundation for the Study of Society and History, (Detroit, IL: Wayne State University Press, 1988), 291.

(5) James Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 35.

(6) Sire, 33.

(7) Martin Luther, Operations in Psalmos, quoted by Kelly M. Kapic in A Little Book for New Theologians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 41.

(8) In Naugle, Worldview, 27.

(9) Ronald Nash, Worldviews in Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1922), 12.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Understanding Religious Faith

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

WE HAVE LEARNED SO far that theology is an attempt by faith to understand itself, its object, and its place in today’s world. Trevor Hart (1995) calls this exercise faith thinking. Although theology is typically undertaken as part of a higher education endeavor, the activity known as “Christian Theology” should be an inevitable consequence of life as a thinking Christian. Systematic Theology is defined as “an integrating discipline that studies how the church may bear enduring, timely, and truthful witness to God as revealed in Jesus Christ.”

This week’s lesson focused on understanding religious faith. In Trevor Hart’s Faith Thinking, he expounds on contemporary approaches to theology through examination of objectivism and relativism, saying these are the only available intellectual options a “theologian can use. The Church Covenant at my home church indicates, “We covenant that we will not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but will regularly attend the services of this Church. We will strive for its advance in knowledge, holiness, and fellowship, and sustain its ordinances, discipline and doctrines” (see Hebrews 10:25 for scriptural authority).

Further, the Covenant states that spreading of the Gospel must be built upon the truth, which can only be attained through being reconciled to God and being the very ambassadors through which God may work in the same manner He worked through Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:19-21). In other words our church members are expected to walk carefully in the world, being just in their dealings, faithful in their responsibilities and exemplary in their conduct, as well as understanding [having accurate knowledge of] what the Lord’s will might be. This directive is based upon Ephesians 5:15, 17.

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Clearly, faith evaluated through an objective view must focus on reason, purpose, and the individual self. This stems from the basic approach of objectivism as relating to or being comprised of only that which can be observed, negating the importance (if not existence) of that which cannot be observed. According to Trevor Hart, this is considered “public” versus “private” theology. This is specific to the manner in which we discuss or hold our underlying belief and should not to be interpreted as being double-minded or hypocritical.

Pannenberg believes the theologian’s first responsibility is to aid people in experiencing as reality whatever they are expected to build upon as their true theology or faith. He says this must be accomplished prior to the theologian asking individuals to take an initial step of faith. The basic platform on which such faith is built must be firm, thereby promoting confidence in the platform. Hart indicates some individuals will step out further in faith than others. Regardless, the Christian theologian cannot expect a potential believer (skepticism often hindering absolute conviction) to take that first step without his giving them a “good reason for doing so and pointing to something firm to place their foot on.”

What is this objective approach to faith? It’s been said that in order for faith to operate properly—that is, to provide an adequate window through which we can contemplate truth—we must grasp a meaning in our soul which is intrinsic and built upon knowledge we’ve come to accept as so. If it is based on internal, subjective truth, we may become fearful of investigation, asking What will become of believers if they dare challenge the very doctrine they are invested in as ontological? Under this system of thought, we might feel less of a believer whenever we question any tenet of our faith. Pannenberg says the reasonableness of responding to the Gospel and committing oneself to Jesus must be demonstrable to those who are not yet Christians—those who lack faith from the start. Pannenberg seems to take an apologetics view as he addresses the ruminations of the modern world concerning God and Christology. He believes theology must clearly demonstrate the credibility of its claims. As such, Pennenberg took an objective approach to theology.

Paul Althaus

Paul Althaus says the “truth” of the Christian gospel is not necessarily apparent to those who cannot see it. There’s a sense of predisposition here: The gospel cannot be grasped by those without the “eyes to see” or the “ears to here.” It is, therefore, not objective. Instead, Althaus said the study of systematic theology was relative to what each individual intrinsically believes to be true. There is a troublesome dilemma here: This type of God knowledge is unknowable in any straightforward way by the masses—it is not given in the public arena. Instead, it is merely discerned by the eye of faith specific to the individual.

There is a slight hint of Gnosticism with Althaus in that, as Hart puts it, Althaus argues “the true significance of those facts remains hidden or obscured to unbelief and is only recognized from the particular perspective of faith.” Althaus notes the many outward (public) examples of the signs and miracles performed by Jesus as proof of His claim to be the Messiah. He says, “There is nothing about them which, when viewed by the public at large, compels such recognition.” He thinks faith is not based on progressive accumulation of knowledge or experiences available to all; rather, it amounts to a special dispensation setting some believers apart, revealing truth and demanding an appropriate response, which seems to speak of an internal, relative and subjective belief system. Althaus seems to mix a bit of Calvinism or predestination in with this belief.

Pannenberg disagrees. He says if we accept that the meaning of gospel realities are only knowable based on a “prior decision of faith… then two things seem to follow.” First, we will be forced to embrace relativism, indicating there is no intrinsic truth or value “for its own sake,” only that which we choose to invest in it. Second, Althaus says there is a crude logical gap between public perspective and faith’s perspective. He believes faith to be some “absurd character” lacking any support from the perspective of what is commonly observed. It seems the best point of view for deducing the existence and meaning of God must come from without: As Augustine puts it, knowledge of God must be sought from God. Moreover, Pannenberg says, “Faith is not a blind leap, but a carefully considered and reasoned judgement; not a state of ‘blissful gullibility’ but a venture in which the Christian ‘risks trust, life and future on the fact of God’s having been revealed in the fate of Jesus.”

John Macquarrie

John Macquarrie tended to mix orthodox Christianity and existentialism. He saw faith not as a mechanism or demand as a prerequisite to finding the knowledge of faith and of God—an external, objective approach. Instead, he saw it as “a critical and reflective activity to which faith eventually leads.” Theology for Macquarrie is an activity of faith, but not in the sense that it requires or demands compilation of information through a prerequisite or a priori approach. Instead, he does see theology as a reflective and highly critical undertaking to which faith naturally leads. This writer is not sure how helpful it is to divorce faith from theology, especially when Macquarrie requires that it be set aside during the actual practice of theology. No doubt this is a side-effect of his existential approach to knowing.

Without a firm foundation (faith) on which to build, there remains the chance (with each individual search) to end up down some tangential path that will only serve to confuse and frustrate the search for truth. It is important that believers recognize their individual biases, preconceptions and assumptions about theology (public or private), and, knowing such exist, subject their conclusions to the scrutiny of the community of believers. This permits side-by-side evaluation of prescribed canons of truth, whether rational, historical, experiential, or whatever the focus. Hart says, “Theology, we are given to understand, must play the intellectual game together with everyone else on a level playing-field.”       

Bibliography

Hart, Trevor. Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1995.

 

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part One)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

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CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS SEEKS TO build bridges to unbelievers by presenting reasons and evidence that Christianity is true, rational and worthy of belief. Oxford theologian Alister E. McGrath said, “…Christian apologetics represents the serious and sustained engagement with ‘ultimate questions’ raised by a culture, people, group or individual aiming to show how the Christian faith is able to provide meaningful answers to such questions. Where is God in the suffering of the world? Is faith in God reasonable?” Agnostics and atheists are quick to conclude that either God is all-loving but not powerful enough to stop the evil that exists in the world, or He is all-powerful, but not willing to wipe out evil.

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Apologetics in a Post-Modern World

If everyone already belonged to one religion, apologetics might still be necessary as a way to provide believers with the best possible grounds for their faith. But clearly that is not the culture we live in. Modernism, which became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is rather difficult to pinpoint because it encompasses a variety of specific artistic and philosophic movements including symbolism, futurism, surrealism, dadaism, and others. Its basic tenet involves rejection of all religious and moral principles as the sole means of cultural progress. Consequently, it includes an extreme break with tradition. Specifically, modernism developed out of Romanticism’s revolt against the effects of the Industrial Revolution and bourgeois values.

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When modernism failed to cure the ills of society—war, famine, disease, exploitation, global environmental crises—postmodernism came on the scene. Postmodernists believe there is no such thing as absolute truth; rather, truth is a contrived illusion, misused by people in power to control others. Truth and error are synonymous. Facts are too limiting, changing erratically and often. Traditional logic and objectivity are spurned by postmodernists. Traditional authority is considered to be false and corrupt. Postmodernists wage intellectual battle against traditional truth and reality. They despise the unfulfilled promises of science, technology, government, and religion.

We presently live in a deeply diverse world characterized by pluralism. Pluralism is a word we encounter all the time, but few truly understand what it implies. It has at least three primary definitions. Thoroughly exploring what we mean by pluralism will help us clarify a lot of what we encounter in contemporary society. And getting the definition clear is necessary for any apologist who wants to understand and address his or her audience accurately.

Pluralism as Mere Plurality.

The basic definition of pluralism means the state of being more than one. A rudimentary example would be choices of breakfast cereal in the grocery store. Sociologists suggest that such proliferation of choices in modern society—the characteristic of various goods, services, and ideologies—is a process they call pluralization. Although discussions about pluralism are not new, all the relevant questions need to be carefully considered. What is God like? Is God a personal being or an impersonal force of energy? If Christianity is true, does it necessarily follow that all other religions are wrong? Can so many be wrong, or are all religions at least partially or equally valid? The fact of a pluralistic world has required theologians to adopt positions regarding believers in other religions.

Today’s militant atheists are no longer satisfied with simply choosing to not believe in God. They’ve taken on the “mission” of attacking Christianity and its ardent followers as religious bigots who are elitist, narrow-minded, deluded, and exclusionary in their approach to God and heaven. Granted, worldviews are mutually exclusive of all other beliefs, but it does not mean holding a belief in one true God makes the believer an elitist. Christians do not think they are morally better than people in other religions. Because Christianity does not teach salvation through works but salvation by grace through faith, all boasting is excluded (see Romans 3:27).

Pluralism as Preference.

This second definition goes beyond mere recognition that there is more than one; rather, it affirms that it is good that there is more than one. Here pluralism moves from sociological description to ideological description. Rather than “what is,” there is “what ought to be.” Pluralism can be expressed even about ultimate questions of life and death. Someone might prefer there to be more than one philosophy, more than one ideology, more than one religion in a society because the presence of competing alternatives prevents any individual or any group from asserting unchallenged claims to truth, justice and power. Such pluralism, on this understanding, also can lead to mutual and complementary instruction from each particular point of view.

In this regard, we are all pluralists. But preferring plurality in some instances does not, of course, commit one to preferring it in all instances. Consider that some individuals prefer matrimonial pluralism (polygamy) over monogamy. Someone else might support private ownership of property while others might believe in communal ownership, or the rule of law to anarchy, and so on. We must resist the illusion that pluralism means everyone is right and no one is wrong. Pluralism is often touted on the campuses of our liberal colleges as the only way to believe. In reality, most of us are pluralistic in only some matters and definitely not pluralistic in others.

Pluralism as Relativism.

Someone might recognize a situation as pluralism: “There is more than one.” Someone else might actually prefer a situation to be pluralistic: “It’s good that there is more than one.” But this level of pluralism goes further, declaring that no single option among the available varieties in a pluralistic situation can be judged superior to the others. For example, consider the claim everything is beautiful. To hold the attitude that everything is beautiful is to see every option as good. But is this truly accurate? Even on the basic level of vanilla versus chocolate, we’re talking subjective preference not objective judgment. When it comes to flavors of ice cream, all have their merits and all should be affirmed.

its all relative

This is clearly not applicable to the bewildering variety of religions. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Native religion, Islam, Wicca—all are belief systems considered “good” by their adherents. All can be labeled as “spiritual paths.” This becomes a rather sticky situation, however, when lifelong believers of these various religions are convinced that his or her belief is in fact the best of all. Interestingly, many young college students, when pressed, tend to confess that they feel they shouldn’t think that way. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins believe parents should not be allowed to force-feed their doctrine on their children. In fact, he sees this as a form of child abuse, indicating it takes away the child’s freedom to think for himself or herself.

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Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, complains that most college students today believe that everything is relative. Some are religious, some are atheist; some are to the Left, some to the Right; some intend to be scientists, some humanists or professionals or businessmen; some are poor, some rich. They are unified only in their relativism, and they take comfort in that unity. They believe relativism is vital to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, to which all primary and secondary education in America has dedicated itself for more than fifty years. Therefore, openness is the great insight of modern times. The true believer is the real danger. Interestingly, the obsession that one is right no matter what has led to persecution, slavery, xenophobia, racism, chauvinism, and exploitation—not openness. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right. Instead, it is said that to think you’re right in the first place is wrong. This is precisely what has led to the modern-day concept that there is no way to tell good from evil!

It’s Not About Saying You’re Sorry!

Apologetics has little to do with how we understand the word apology today. Rather, it is derived from the Greek word apologia, which means to make a reasoned defense. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance describes apologetics as “a speech in defense” or “intelligent reasoning.” Etymology indicates apologetics was originally the term for making a legal defense in ancient courts. Accordingly, as used in 1 Peter 3:15, it means “to make a defense to everyone” or “to give an answer to every man.” It is vital that we not ignore the second part of the verse, which admonishes us to defend the faith with gentleness and respect (NIV).

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The question is  How can believers both defend and commend their religion without needlessly offending their neighbors and exacerbating the tensions of their community? After all, apologetics can bless and apologetics can curse. When engaging in defense of the Christian faith, we must always look for the most loving approach. Peterson (2006) says in his translation The Message, “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all His mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump!’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing… no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2, 7). It is vital that we show the ability to critique a position or argument without lambasting the other person.

Effective Apologists are Good Listeners!

Be prepared to actively listen to people with whom you are having a discussion. Seek to understand where they are coming from. Never presume to know their “character” simply because of what they’ve said or written about their religion or cultural beliefs. Let them have their say whenever they wish to speak. It is important to be wary of steamrollers, but be careful of not being one yourself. It’s better to allow them to speak too much than too little or you’ll be accused of cutting them off at the knees. Respond to what they actually said, not what you think they should have said. Try to keep them on point, however, which is not always easy.

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If you’re debating them about Scripture, ask them to stay within one passage and reach a conclusion with you on that passage before moving on to another. You might not realize it, but just because you disagree with someone does not mean there’s nothing you can learn from them! Every individual has unique experiences and ideas, and you never know when their thoughts might compliment yours. Remain teachable, even from those with whom you vehemently disagree. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time. When someone points out an error or mistake on your part, do not try to cover it up. Admit to it, noting it was an honest mistake. If someone insists you’ve made a mistake when you are well-grounded in what you’ve stated, promise to check your sources and get back to them on it. It takes grace and humility to admit when you’re wrong, but people will respect you for it.

Don’t be baited by personal insults. Ad hominem attacks, which are by nature leveled against an individual rather than an argument, have unfortunately become quite common when discussing sensitive subjects such as religion. We should never repay insult with insult. Remember, Christ never retaliated against or mocked those who mocked Him. 

What’s Next?

Next Monday I will present a detailed look at the classical approach to Christian apologetics. What exactly does Christianity believe? Can truth be objectively known? What are the three main arguments for the existence of God? Are miracles possible in a physical universe? Is the New Testament historically accurate? Did Jesus actually rise from the dead? We’ll also look at the hypocrisy of intolerant tolerance. For example, when our public schools shifted their policy from decidedly Christian to “neutral,” it did not take long for them to go from neutral to intolerance. Public schools have become “Christian-free zones” in the name of so-called separation of church and state. We’ve allowed our government leaders to interpret and enforce the First Amendment as freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion.

Please join me next week for Part Two of Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today.

 

An Argument for the Existence of God

Routinely, three tests for truth are applied regarding the existence of God: (1) logical consistency, (2) empirical adequacy, and (3) experiential relevance. When submitted to these tests, the Christian message meets the demand for truth. Belief in a world birthed by accident, a life that has no purpose, morality without a point of reference except for those absolutes that have been smuggled in – well hidden behind the mask of relativism – and death that ends in oblivion makes me prefer the possibility of this oblivion to the sheer weight of the emptiness of a God-less world.

Judging that life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. As we know, everyone has a worldview. A worldview basically offers answers to four necessary questions – questions that relate to origin, meaning, morality, and hope that assures a destiny.

Origin

Big Bang cosmology, along with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, implies that there is indeed an In the Beginning. All the data indicates a universe that is exploding outward from a point of infinite density. Of course, singularity is not really a point; it is the whole of three-dimensional space compressed to zero size. It is the point at which space ceases to exist. What’s important to note is at the point of the universe’s origin, there is something rather than nothing – a mystery that leaves science totally silent.

Nothing Cannot Produce Something

The very starting point for an atheistic universe is based on something that cannot explain its own existence. The scientific laws by which atheists want all certainty established do not even exist as a category at the beginning of the universe because, according to those laws of science by which atheists want to measure all things, matter cannot simply “pop into existence” on its own. In fact, the very mathematics and physics by which atheists define or explain the universe did not exist at the time the universe came together.

The Odds of Random Life

Donald Page of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Science has calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000¹²³ – a number that exceeds all imagination. Astronomers Fred Hoyle and N.C. Wickramasinghe found that the odds of the random formation of a single enzyme from amino acids anywhere on our planet’s surface are 1 in 10 to the 20th power. The trouble is that there are about two thousand enzymes and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is only 1 part in 10 to the 40,000th power, an outrageously small probability that could not be faced even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. Moreover, nothing has been said about DNA and where it came from, or of the transcription of DNA to RNA, which scientists admit cannot even be numerically computed.

If you know enough about a subject, you can confuse anybody by a selective use of the facts. The inescapable fact for the atheist is that life is the random product of time plus matter plus chance. An unfathomable proposition.

MEANING

If life is random, then the inescapable consequence, first and foremost, is that there can be no ultimate meaning and purpose to existence. This consequence is the existential Achilles’ heel of atheistic belief. As individuals and collectively as cultures, we humans long for meaning. But if life is random, we have climbed the evolutionary ladder only to find nothing at the top. Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain, but from being weary of pleasure. Pleasure, not pain, is the death knell of meaning.  We have all come to know that our problem is not that pain has produced emptiness in our lives; the real problem is that even pleasure ultimately leaves us empty and unfulfilled. When the pleasure button is pushed incessantly – especially in the case of a drug addict or sex addict – we are left feeling bewilderingly empty and betrayed.

The greatest disappointment (and resulting pain) you can feel is when you have just experienced that which you thought would bring you the ultimate pleasure – and it has let you down. Pleasure without boundaries produces a life without purpose. That is real pain. No death, no tragedy, no atrocity – nothing really matters. Life is sheer hollowness, with no purpose.

Voltaire and the Fallacies of Religion

Philosophers such as Voltaire, who theorized on the fallacies of religion, had no better answer to give to the masses they had rescued from what they considered religious “tyranny.” Here is what Voltaire wrote:

I am a puny part of the great whole,
Yes; but all animals condemned to live,
All sentient things, born by the same stern law,
Suffer like me, and like me also die.
The vulture fastens on his timid prey,
And stabs with bloody beak the quivering limbs:
All’s well, it seems, for it. But in a while
An eagle is transfixed by shaft of man;
The man, prone in the dust of battlefield,
Mingling his blood with dying fellow-men,
Becomes in turn the food of ravenous birds.

Thus the whole world in every member groans;
All born for torment and for mutual death.
And o’er this ghastly chaos you would say
The ills of each make up the good of all!
What blessedness! And as, with quaking voice,
Mortal and pitiful, ye cry, “All’s well,”
The universe belies you, and your heart
Refutes a hundred times your mind’s conceit…
What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger to his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes.
Tormented atoms in a bed of mud,
Devoured by death, a mockery of fate.

Contemporary atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are so blind to the conceit of their own minds that they try to present this view of life as some sort of triumphal liberation. Sartre, as atheistic intellectual elites know but are embarrassed to acknowledge, denounced atheism on his deathbed as philosophically unlivable. Sartre said, “I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.” And he used to be an atheist.

MORALITY

Not only does atheism’s worldview lead to the death of meaning, it also leads to the death of moral reasoning. Rather than a philosophy or a worldview, atheist Sam Harris says atheism is simply a refusal to deny what a person should see as obvious – that there is no God. Therefore, Harris believes atheism shouldn’t exist, saying “just as no one needs to identify himself as a ‘non-astrologer’ or a ‘non-alchemist.'” Examples of what Harris sees as God’s failure to protect humanity are to be seen everywhere, he says, such as the massive destruction in the city of New Orleans brought about by a hurricane in 2005. What was God doing while Katrina laid waste to New Orleans, he asks? Didn’t he hear the prayers of those who “fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there?” These people, Harris insists, “died talking to an imaginary friend.”

Does the Reality of Evil Mean There is no God?

How conveniently the atheist plays word games. When it is Stalin or Pol Pot who slaughters thousands, it is because they are deranged or irrational ideologues; their atheism has nothing to do with their actions. But when a Holocaust is engendered by an ideologue, it is the culmination of four hundred years of Christian intolerance for the Jew. Atheists can’t have it both ways. If the murder of innocents is wrong, it is wrong not because science tells us it is wrong, but because every life has intrinsic worth – a postulate that atheism simply cannot deduce. There is no way for an atheist to argue for moral preferences except by this own subjective means. It is not okay to make absolute statements based on one’s personal feelings.

The antagonism of atheists toward God ends up proving that they intuitively find some things reprehensible. But they cannot explain this innate sense of right and wrong – the reality of God’s Law written on their hearts – because there is no logical explanation for how that intuition toward morality could develop from sheer matter and chemistry. When you assert that there is such a thing as evil, you must assume there is such a thing as good. When you say there is such a thing as good, you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil. When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver – the source of the moral law. But this moral lawgiver is precisely who atheists are trying to disprove.

Can Morality Exist Apart from a Moral Lawgiver?

Why is a moral lawgiver necessary in order to recognize good and evil? For the simple reason that a moral affirmation cannot remain an abstraction. The person who moralizes assumes intrinsic worth in himself or herself, and transfers intrinsic worth to the life of another; thus he or she considers that life worthy of protection. Transcending value, by definition, must come from a person of transcending worth. But in a world in which matter alone exists there can be no intrinsic worth. Look at it this way: objective moral values exist only if God exists; objective moral values do exist; therefore God exists. Atheists, of course, will not admit that moral values are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful God to create them.

But What About Reason? Can’t It Provide a Moral Framework?

Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and other leading atheists opt for reason as the source for their unbelief while maintaining belief in a moral code. Reason, however, cannot decide for us what is good and what is evil. Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take us to morality. Harris claims that God breaks His own laws and is therefore evil or contradictory. This is to assume that God kills innocent people. When atheists do this, they are actually borrowing from the biblical revelation of justice and retribution while ignoring the big story into which it fits and by which it gains its purpose. In other words, they are taking God out of context.

We Can’t Have Free Will Without Suffering

Any discussion about why things are the way they are must include human autonomy (free will) versus God’s story of why we are the way we are. Though the sacred is offered to us, our will is arrogant and refuses to submit to God’s authority. No one of us is any different from or better than any other. This is true no matter their sin. Intrinsic value is not about behavior. It’s about who God says we are, and what He’s done to make us who we can become.

Could God really have created in us the ability to love without giving us the option to reject that love, the desire to trust and to be trusted without the freedom to doubt, or the privilege of making a choice without the responsibility of accepting the ramifications of that choice? A person may dismissively say that he or she does not see a moral order. The real issue is not an absence of moral order in the world, but the insistence on determining for oneself what is good and what is evil, in spite of what we intuitively know to be true. To believe that there is no moral order, one must assume knowledge of what a moral order would look like if there were one. If there truly is no moral order, any attempt to enforce one is sheer pragmatism, and is open to any challenge for other pragmatic reasons.

The Human Heart is Bent Toward Evil

Do you want empirical evidence that the heart of mankind is naturally bent toward evil? Witness the atrocities we see around us in our world. Today, October 2, 2017, we woke up to the news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas. The worst in U.S. history. As I am writing this blog post, the death toll stands at 59, with 527 people injured. The gunman waited until cover of darkness, then, using an assault rifle modified to operate on full-auto, he fired hundreds of rounds of bullets into a crowd enjoying a country music concert on the square below his hotel room. It would seem this man decided he knew what was an appropriate way to act out his frustrations. We cannot keep blaming this “ism” and that “ism.” The decisions and actions of each individual are determined by what is important to that individual.

The Need for Faith

The worldview of the Christian faith is simple enough. God has put enough into this world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason alone. Many atheists tend to misinterpret Pascal’s wager. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal didn’t say he was wagering his belief. It was not a gamble, or a hedging of his bets. He was essentially saying that there are two tests for belief in God: the empirical test – that which is based on investigation – and the existential test – that which is based on personal experience. By denying the existence of God, atheists leave just one option in their pursuit of happiness and purpose, namely, the existential test of self-fulfillment.

It appears that no matter what evidence was offered, God could never prove Himself to atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins because it’s not proof they’re looking for. The are looking for a God they can cast in their own image. Neither of these men are the first to ask God to stoop to providing proof of Himself according to another person’s agenda. I immediately think of Satan’s temptations of Christ in the desert. (See Matthew 4:3, 6, and 9)

Jesus worked by changing the heart, not by legislating. Legislation can only force compliance. It can never produce the love necessary to change an attitude.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Routinely, three tests for truth are applied to the argument for the existence of God: (1) logical consistency, (2) empirical adequacy, and (3) experiential relevance. When submitted to these tests, the Christian message meets the demand for truth. No physical entity can explain its own existence. Regardless of how physical reality is sectioned out, we end up with a state where the evidence of any physical entity explaining its own existence is zero. Obviously, something does not come from nothing. This violates the very laws of science atheists worship.

A can of alphabet soup dumped onto a table implies that somebody made that soup. You would absolutely deny that those letters fell out of the can in sequence every time; you would never even consider the possibility that it was accidental. In the same manner, the “raw materials” that have resulted in this universe have been brought together simultaneously in the most amazing combinations – combinations too amazing to have just happened by accident. The mathematics alone is unfathomable. This is the basis for the argument of intelligent design.

The one thing that atheists leave unaddressed is how to persuade the human heart to do, and to want to do, that which is true, good, and beautiful. Technological advance without virtue in the technician is like the nuclear button in the hands of a madman. Consider, if you will, the example of Muhammad. Islam is a religion that is academically bankrupt, for it fails to meet the ordinary tests of truth. How can a religion that claims its prophet came to the entire world then restrict its miracle to a language that is not spoken by the vast majority of the people of the world? How can a man whose own passions were so untamed gain the right to speak moral platitudes? An honest Muslim open to considering these things will readily see that the “god” of the Qur’an is not the same God spoken of in the Old and New Testaments, and that the edifice of Islam is built on a geopolitical worldview masquerading as a religion. Islam is a religion of power, willing to destroy for the sake of its ideology; the Christian faith is one of communion and relationship with the One who made us.

The greatest sacrament, compared to which all the others are types and shadows, is the Incarnation in which “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth,” We have beheld His glory as of the only Son from the Father. The word, the logos, combines two notions, one Greek, one Hebrew. For the Greek, the logos was the rational ordering principle of the universe. For the Hebrew, the word of the Lord was God’s activity in the world. In Hebrew, dabar means both word and deed. Science discerns a world of rational order developing through the unfolding of process devoid of a higher power. Theology declares the world in its scientific character to be an expression of the Word of God – literally the words spoken by God. For “all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3, RSV)