Content Muster #1

I will occasionally share here clusters of 3-10 pieces of content I find interesting, helpful to building up believers, or helpful to believers and secularists to help both understand secularism. Sharing content here does not mean I affirm everything being said in each article, but do believe they are helpful for provoking thought. I do take full responsibility for my commentary.

The New York Times: “A Confession of Liberal Intolerance”

Commentary: A progressive reflects on how progressives discriminate against conservatives.

The Gospel Coalition: “Five Principles of the New Sexual Morality

Commentary: many Christians claim that secularism’s approval of homosexual practice will result also in an approval of pedophilia. According to this article, that is a straw man argument. In a contractual view of sexual ethics, which seems to be the view secularism is adopting, homosexual practice between consenting adults is OK whereas pedophilia is wrong.

The Washington Post: “As a psychiatrist, I diagnose mental illness. Also, I help spot demonic possession.”

Commentary: It is possible to be a rational professional inhabiting secularism and believe in demons and the supernatural.

First Things: “A Subjective Definition of ‘Death’ Would Unleash Great Evil

Commentary: Radical self-autonomy denies the objective biological realities of male and female. Will radical self-autonomy go so far as to deny the objective realities of life and death? Could a man self-identify as “dead” so he could collect his own life-insurance policy?

The Federalist:“Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s ‘Rationalia’ Would Be A Terrible Country

Commentary: scientism is a philosophy masquerading as “science.” All science rests on philosophical presuppositions. We are either self-aware, or unaware, of how philosophy and science interact with one another.

A Brief Refutation of the Enlightenment

The Enlightenment project (1685-1815)-that is, the attempt to establish a secular and rational basis for morality-is a failure. As someone who grew up steeped in secularism and Enlightenment philosophy yet was saved by Christ as an adult, I will briefly communicate my change of heart.

Western culture has gone through 3 stages:
1) There is an objective standard of morality that can be rationally justified.
2) The Enlightenment: moral claims are still made; appeal to objective standards and rational justification start to deteriorate.
3) Emotivism: all moral judgments are expressions of personal preference.
 
America and Europe are in Stage 3 emotivism, reflected in statements like “that works for you” or “I would never murder someone, but who am I to deny someone else that right?” We will either repent and return to Jesus and the Christian roots we had in Stage 1 or become just as bad as Nazi Germany. Secular humanism will no longer be humanism, but Nietzschean anti-humanism: the statement “we are descended from apes, so let us love one another,” will turn into the statement “we are descended from apes, so let us dominate and oppress one another.”
 
Nazi Germany was described by Hannah Arendt exactly this way, “…the few rules and standards according to which men used to tell right from wrong, and which were invoked to judge or justify others and themselves, and whose validity were supposed to be self-evident to every sane person either as a part of divine or of natural law.… without much notice… collapsed almost overnight, and then it was as though morality suddenly stood revealed in the original meaning of the word, as a set of mores, customs and manners, which could be exchanged for another set with hardly more trouble than it would take to change the table manners of an individual or a people.”
 
The Holocaust shows us how this type of thinking fleshes itself out, embodying death, destruction, and chaos.
 
In the presence of moral chaos and darkness, the local Church and local community are absolutely essential. Alasdair MacIntyre argues we must construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.”
after-virtue

The Physicists Have Known Sin

Oppenheimer had this to say about the atomic bomb:

“Despite the vision and the far-seeing wisdom of our wartime heads of state, the physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting and, in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons. Nor can we forget that these weapons, as they were in fact used, dramatized so mercilessly the inhumanity and evil of modern war. In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose” (Quoted in John Grant’s Corrupted Science).

The Goodness of Violence?

What is the relationship between secular humanism, the desire for sex, anti-humanism, and the desire for violence?

Consider the typical Enlightenment argument in a nice AAA-1 syllogism:

All sexual desires are natural desires.
All natural desires are good.
Therefore, all sexual desires are good.

Then, consider in an identical AAA-1 syllogism a similar argument of some in the counter-Enlightenment:

All desires for violence are natural desires.
All natural desires are good.
Therefore, all desires for violence are good.

If we take the premise “all natural desires are good” seriously, we are brought to a troubling conclusion, what Charles Taylor calls anti-humanism: “Anti-humanism is not just a black hole, an absence of values, but also a new valorization of death, and sometimes violence” (A Secular Age, p. 638).

To follow Jesus, Christians must say not all of our natural desires are good (Matthew 15:19). We oppose 1) anti-humanism’s valorization of death and violence, and more controversially we oppose 2) secular humanism’s approval of sexual immorality.

Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19, emphasis mine).

How College Has Changed

How has college education changed in the past 200 years?

The short answer is that research universities replaced classical universities.

“And while our universities are under greater pressure than ever to emphasize pragmatic results–technological achievements and career-oriented skills–there are voices calling for a reaffirmation of the classic role of education as a way to articulate private aspirations with common cultural meanings so that individuals simultaneously become more fully developed people and citizens of a free society…When education becomes an instrument for individual careerism, it cannot provide either personal meaning or civic culture.

“[In classic universities], the purpose of education was to produce a ‘man of learning’ who would have ‘an uplifting and unifying influence on society.’ Literature, the arts, and science were regarded as branches of a single culture of learning. It was the task of moral philosophy, a required course in the senior year, usually taught by the college president, not only to integrate the various fields of learning, including science and religion, but even more importantly to draw the implications for the living of a good life individually and socially…It was only late in the nineteenth century that the research university replaced the college as the model for higher education…The prestige of natural science as the model for all disciplined knowing and the belief that the progress of science would inevitably bring social amelioration in its wake partially obscured the fact that they unity and ethical meaning of higher education were being lost…There were great positive achievements in this transformation of higher education. The new educational system prepared vastly larger numbers of people for employment in an industrial society, and it included as students those who, because of class, sex, or race, were almost completely excluded in the early nineteenth century. The authors of this book and, in all probability, most of its readers, are beneficiaries of this great change. Yet we must be aware of the costs. One of the major costs of the rise of the research university and its accompanying professionalism and specialization was the impoverishment of the public sphere. Tocqueville as our example [of man of classical education]…was…intelligible to any educated reader. Today’s specialized academics, with notable exceptions, write with a set of intellectual assumptions and a vocabulary shared only by their colleagues” (Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in America by Robert Bellah, pp. 293, 299).

A Brief History of Love

When I say “love,” what images come to your mind?

Here are just a few images of love I see in my community. A group of friends gathers around a family to help them load their moving truck and move to a new home. A group of young friends offer free childcare so parents can go on a date night. When a young couple loses their newborn child soon after birth, their pastor visits them in the hospital to weep and mourn with them, and their friends buy them a vacation to help them recover. A 10 year-old hugs his 25-year old friend good-bye. Two grown men meet over a cup of coffee to talk honestly about their struggles, fears, work, families, and dreams. A young couple are struggling to take care of their newborn, so their friends bring them dinner every night for two weeks. A family has a leak in their roof, and their friends fix it so the family can save money. A single man needs housing; a family welcomes him in their home and he becomes a part of their family. A family joyfully adopts a child.

The reason I share these verbal images is this: when writing about love, there is a very real danger. The danger is that love would be reduced from a concrete and beautiful part of personal experience to a bland and abstract idea. When I speak about love here, in somewhat abstract terms, it is my sincere hope that love will take concrete expression in your personal experience and in mine.

A Brief History of Love Since the Middle Ages

Augustine (354 A.D. to 430 A.D.), following biblical teaching, asserted that God is love, and love is from God. He believed that man is in need of divine grace in order to love God and love his neighbors as fully as possible. Pelagius (360 A.D. to 418 A.D.) contradicted Augustine, insisting man doesn’t need divine grace in order to live righteously and love others properly. (If you are unfamiliar with the conflict between Augustine and Pelagius, see R.C. Sproul’s piece here.) As the Enlightenment eclipsed the Middle Ages, Rousseau (1712 A.D. to 1778 A.D.), the father of modern secular humanism, insisted that man, not God, is the source of love. Then came the counter-Enlightenment: reductive materialist thinkers like Nietzsche (1844-1900) insist that love is just chemical reactions.

I realize I am painting in broad brushstrokes to the point of oversimplification here, but it is helpful. Charles Taylor connects the Middle Ages and Enlightenment concisely with a key insight: “Rousseau is Pelagian Augustine, the good will is now innate, natural, entirely anthropocentric” (A Secular Age, p. 202). (“Anthropocentric” means “man-centered.”) In other words, contrary to Augustine, Rousseau says that man is the source of love and doesn’t need divine grace in order to love properly.

 The process looks something like this:

Love
The devolution of love

The counter-Enlightenment presents a severe challenge to both Christianity and secular humanism: its cold, cruel logic destroys any beauty in love.

GW433H304
This is the kind of stuff I agonize over as I fall asleep at night.

Applications

1) When someone uses the word “love,” ask them what they mean. Is stealing loving? Is sexual immorality loving? As we have seen here, there are at least three definitions of love. The typical Westerner has a definition of love that is a compromise between Augustine’s and Rousseau’s.

2) In a world where good and evil exist, it is not enough to know that a man loves. We should want to know whether that man loves good or loves evil. Pagan One-ism, in blurring the separation between good and evil encourages a man to love evil.

3) According to Christ, true love is love for God and love for neighbor (Luke 10:27). True love is expressed in obeying God’s commandments (John 14:15), and Christ’s disciples can only love properly when we are enabled by divine grace (John 15:5). The secular humanist definition of love is false, for it ignores God. The reductive materialist definition of love is false, for it minimizes the glory of love. The theological liberal definition of love is false, for it trifles with God’s commandments.

4) The logical and just consequence of rebelling against God and ignoring Him is that reductive materialism destroys love, robbing it of its transcendence, beauty, and glory. Similar arguments can be made for truth, meaning, morality, and beauty. If God is love, we should want to be connected to Him, not ignoring Him!

5) The supreme demonstration of love is not man’s love, but in Jesus acting as the propitiation, the substitutionary sacrifice, for rebels like you and me. When we trust in Jesus, we are reconciled to the God of love. When we delight in God’s forgiveness, God’s love flows through us like a vine nourishing its branches.

6) The world is aching to see love for God and love for neighbor. I have written about love in somewhat abstract terms here, but again, it is my sincere hope that love will saturate your personal experience and not remain an abstract idea. The biblical writer John makes the astounding claim that Christians’ love for one another makes God’s beauty visible in the world (1 John 4:12). Wow! God, help us to love You and our neighbors. Help us to make Your excellence and beauty visible through our love. Amen.