Why Love is not Lust

“…And God separated the light from the darkness.” ~Genesis 1:4

From the very beginning of the Bible, God is a God who makes distinctions and separations. The Bible presents a binary view of reality: there is truth, falsehood; good, evil; righteousness, unrighteousness; light, darkness.

This binary view of reality is not something unique to the Old Testament. God in the New Testament makes distinctions as well:

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality…” (Galatians 5:19).

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Galatians 5:22).

According to the Bible, love is not sexual immorality; love is not lust; and lust is not the deep erotic passion between a husband and wife celebrated in Song of Solomon. Love and red-hot sexual attraction in marriage are good and lovely. Lust and sexual immorality are evil.

As Western culture becomes more influenced by pagan One-ism, we will see these boundaries blurred, melded, and obscured:

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The Brave New World has an orgy-porgy.

According to pagan One-ism, lust is love. The biblical separation between love and lust has been melded and obscured.

The average person objects at this point: lust isn’t a big deal. But let me explain it this way: if adultery is the lie that God cheats on people He loves, lust is the lie that God would even think about it. Lust is something horrifying and evil that strikes at the very heart of God’s character: His love, purity, holiness, covenant faithfulness, and His commitment to keep His promises in thought and in action.

Love is not lust.

 

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Reflections on Charles Taylor: Authority and the Self

Charles Taylor is highly critical of so-called “subtraction stories” told by modern secularism, namely that once God, superstition, theology, and the Church are outgrown, we are left with an uncontaminated, rational reality. One such subtraction story pertains to authority: once we are liberated from the Protestant authority, God speaking through the Bible, or the Roman Catholic authority, the Church, man is free and no longer burdened by these shackles of external authority.

This is false. Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who visited America, observed that Americans did not merely remove the external authority, they set up the Self as the religious and epistemic authority. (I’m not sure if Charles Taylor explicitly takes up de Tocqueville’s argument, but he would probably agree.) According to de Tocqueville, man did not merely remove all authority (the typical subtraction story); he actively established a new one, that of the Self.

Consider Gary Dorien’s extremely helpful definition of theological liberalism:

“Fundamentally it is the idea of a genuine Christianity not based on external authority. Liberal theology seeks to reinterpret the symbols of traditional Christianity…liberal theology is defined by…its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience; its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life; its favoring of moral concepts of atonement; and its commitment to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to modern people” (The Making of American Liberal Theology, p. xxiii, emphasis mine).

In other words, we all have set up an authority to govern our lives. People who say they don’t have an authority are either lying or not yet aware that their Self is the authority. If you are a secular humanist or theological liberal, why is the Self a more legitimate authority than the Bible or the Church? If you are a Protestant, why is God speaking through the Bible the legitimate authority? If you are a Roman Catholic, why is the Church the legitimate authority?

Here is how I would answer the question of authority:

  1. In the Sermon on the Mount, authority is something absolutely attributed to Christ. “He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as one of their scribes” (Matthew 7:29, ESV, emphasis mine). Hating all authority therefore includes hating Christ.
  2. Christ is the God of the Cosmos and the Servant King. When washing His disciples’ feet, He demonstrates His authority through love, service, and humility. Good authority is possible.
  3. Secular humanists are absolutely right to point out when Protestant and Catholic churches are demonstrating poor authority by lacking love, service, and humility.
  4. If a Protestant or Catholic church preaches a false gospel, it disqualifies itself as a spiritual authority (Galatians 1:8).  (Here my Protestant leanings are coming out a little bit.)
  5. Trusting the Self is fraught with peril. Proverbs is brimming with warnings about trusting our own understanding. Jesus thanks the Father that He hides the Gospel from the wise and discerning, yet reveals it to little children (Matthew 11:25). Claiming to be wise, the wise have become fools (Romans 1); God loves us and has mercy on us in our blindness, sin, and folly (Romans 2-11); therefore by the mercies of God (12:1) “never be wise in your own sight” (Romans 12:16).

Reflections on Charles Taylor: the Problem of the Mind

Charles Taylor, in his A Secular Age, points out at least three areas where the Western world is caught in tension:

1. Agency: we are caught between the belief that we are purely determined beings and the belief that we are active, building, creating, shaping agents.

2. Ethics: we are caught between the belief that we have biological instincts and base drives and the belief that we have higher spiritual/ethical motives.

3. Aesthetics: we are caught between the belief that beauty is a mere biological response to stimuli and the belief that beauty moves us because it hints at meaning and transcendence.

There are many more areas of tension, a fourth one being the mind. Many ordinary people, not just professional philosophers, have agonized over whether or not the mind is actually able to connect to the world through knowledge. Is the apple really red, and can my mind have true knowledge that the apple is actually red?

Consider three common explanations of the mind:

Nietzchean anti-humanism: the mind is atoms smashing together and we can’t be sure it works.

Secular humanism: the mind works because true thoughts confer an evolutionary advantage. The mind harbors lies and error because there are evolutionary kinks to be worked out.

Christianity: The human mind works because it is patterned after the Divine mind; humans are the image of God. The human mind works imperfectly, harboring lies and error, because of the contamination of sin. Jesus says worship is loving God with our whole heart, whole soul, and whole mind. The truth sets us free, and we must forsake lies.

This triad is a bit of an oversimplification, but a helpful one: many modern people don’t fit neatly into one category, but are being pulled in at least three different directions. Believers are tempted by unbelief; non-believers are tempted by belief; and skeptics are tempted by certainty. Where are you right now, and where are you being pulled?

 

Uncomfortable Immanence

Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age is a significant work on modern secularism. James K.A. Smith writes a helpful condensation and commentary in How (Not) To Be Secular. Smith reflects on our discomfort with pure materialism:

“There is a fundamental discomfort with materialism and its attendant reductionism that generates a resistance and unwillingness to settle for the closed account of materialism…Taylor identifies three ‘fields’ of cross-pressures to which he will keep returning in chapter 16:

  1. Agency: ‘the sense that we aren’t just determined, that we are active, building, creating, shaping agents’;
  2. Ethics: ‘we have higher spiritual/ethical motives’ that don’t reduce to biological instinct or ‘base’ drives; and
  3. Aesthetics: ‘Art, Nature moves us’ because of a sense of meaning; these are not just differential responses to pleasure.”

~Smith, p. 104

One example I have seen of #3 is John Gray’s The Silence of the Animals. Since we and the world are temporary, susceptible to decay and death, beauty is a shimmering vapor issuing from the pit of entropic death. Is that really all there is to beauty, or does beauty whisper to us that we are haunted by transcendence?

All Muslims are Terrorists?

We spot the error when people say all Muslims are terrorists. We need to spot the same error when some liberals say all business owners are oppressors and when some conservatives say all poor people are lazy.

Review: Democracy in America

Americans boast in democracy, but we are unaware of the ways it has biased and prejudiced our thinking in negative ways. Enter de Tocqueville, the Frenchmen who visited the United States in the 1830s. His reflections contained in Democracy in America give Americans a fresh, piercing perspective about our way of life. The benefits of democracy are obvious, but the dangers are subtle and often work themselves out over many years. De Tocqueville was something of a seer. By looking at the seed of equality, he was able to see the fruits, good and bad, that would develop even hundreds of years later.

What are the dangers of democracy today?

  • The tyranny of the majority. Many people are unaware that America is a democratic republic and not a pure democracy. In other words, a government should pass and enforce just laws. When the majority passes unjust laws and enforces them through a powerful government, like in the French Revolution, the result is ugly: carnage, death, and the debasement of people. Hobbes says, “Man has a right to everything, including [to harm] another person’s body.” Against Hobbes, de Tocqueville says, “I hold it to be an impious and detestable maxim, that, politically speaking, the people have a right to do anything…The rights of every people [ought to be] confined within the limits of what is just.”
  • Choosing comfort over freedom. Since the government is so powerful, Americans will increasingly rely on government to make them happy. But we need to learn the lesson of Greece quickly: while a government can protect everyone’s right to pursue happiness, it cannot make everyone happy. Notice I said cannot, and not should not. A government can try to make everyone happy, but it will always fail. Since human desires are so great, a government, like Greece, that tries to do the impossible—to make everyone happy—will bankrupt itself. A government should enforce justice equally. A government should not artificially enforce equal outcomes.
  • Self as epistemological authority. De Tocqueville wisely points out that every epistemology has an authority. For example, modernists and Enlightenment thinkers choose Reason (capital R) as the authority. Protestants choose God speaking through the Bible as the authority. Catholics choose the Roman Catholic Church as the authority. Americans choose Self as the epistemological authority. This results in narcissism, disrespect for all authority, subjectivity, sometimes a denial of reality, and an antisupernaturalistic bias. Remember Skully from the X-files? She was an unknowing disciple of Descartes—de Tocqueville might have been talking about her: “Americans readily conclude that everything in the world may be explained and that nothing in it transcends the limits of the understanding. Thus they fall to denying what they cannot comprehend; which leaves them but little faith for whatever is extraordinary, and an almost insurmountable distaste for whatever is supernatural.”
  • Pride. In aristocratic ages, pride expresses itself as the desire to be everyone’s superior. In democratic ages, pride expresses itself as the desire to be no one’s inferior.
  • Uniformity of thought. “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America…In America, the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion: within these barriers, an author may write what he pleases; but woe to him if he goes beyond them.”
  • An interest in science not as something true and beautiful and good, but as something useful. When we feel justified murdering children with advanced technology and hiding people in freezers (because science), we know scientific research got off track somewhere. We go off track, because like Nazi Germany, we encourage scientists to pursue what is possible and useful instead of what is true, good, and beautiful.

Here is De Tocqueville’s overall warning: “It is therefore most especially in the present democratic times, that the true friends of the liberty…ought constantly to be on the alert, to prevent the power of government from lightly sacrificing the private rights of individuals to the general execution of its designs.”

Breaking Reality

Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am” and fell into the trap of denying reality. The place to run to escape skepticism is not our own minds…but straight into a tree to remind ourselves that, whatever our fancy to the contrary, the real world outside our minds has been factually solid all along. The proper and natural treatment for those inclined to think themselves into a corner is not to go into a corner and think but to run out into the fields to grasp and be grasped by reality.” Descartes would have been better off to say, “I am, therefore I can think.” Our thinking depends on reality. Reality does not depend on our thinking.

Benjamin Wiker, paraphrashe