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Former BUFF driver; self-styled military historian; paid (a lot) to write about beating plowshares into swords; NOT Foamy the Squirrel, contrary to all appearances. Wesleyan Jihadi Name: Sibling Railgun of Reasoned Discourse

Friday, May 06, 2005

Pope Wars, Part VIII -- The Izmud Strikes Back

Izmud, our Secular Humanism Correspondent, posts the latest entry in Vita ab Alto's ongoing debate over the Pope and moral relativism. My own comments follow


[1] Amen to Chefjef's comment.

[2] As to some of Monk's responses, I offer the following. No, the comment concerning the posting of information passively and allowing folks to take it or leave it was NOT a slam vs. blogging, a format that I strongly support and encourage, though find I don't have as much time for it as I'd like. I merely used that example to show that the Church's duty is not passive, but rather active. In fact, a forward thinking Papacy would/should have a Catholic Blog site, manned by one or more few well-spoken leaders who would actively advocate policy and doctrine discussion.

[3] As to the offer of transferring my allegiance to the Methodist, Episcopal, or other faith, I thank you for the offer but politely decline. In fact, I have "fallen" further than that: I do not believe in divinity as the modern Christian faith presents it at all. While I acknowledge that the man known as Jesus probably did walk the earth in Roman territory, I do not acknowledge his divinity, nor that of his father as described by the Hebrews. In fact, my concept of the divine is that, if it exists at all it's as an indifferent creator of all the heavens, with no particular interest or interaction with its recent (in geologic and cosmic terms) offspring, humans.

[4] We humans have a need to define ourselves within our environment, and part of that involves understanding the "why" and "how" of our existence. That led us in early times to assign gods who controlled all the unknowns in our universe. Science has debunked most of these gods, but some remain--faith is a powerful thing as we all know. In time, we shall all pass form this existence into the next (if there is one), and we shall know who was right. In the mean time, it seems to me that if there were a God as the Christians describe, triune, and most recently represented by a God-become-man who preached a scripture of tolerance, understanding, sharing, and righteous personal behavior, then we (humans) ought to do a better job following that teaching, and worry A LOT LESS about the internecine differences of the various Christian sects. Also, if the Christian teaching were truly divinely inspired, why wouldn't it appear more obvious to non-believers like Muslims, Animists, Buddhists, and those others of non-Christian belief? I actually understand how the Jews might fail to accept it--there are always those who can't be convinced without proof (e.g. Thomas the Apostle). But the others, it would seem, would after 2000 years of exposure have "come around" to the "truth" if it were so "evident." But it's not. And so, here we are...driving through the universe at 1000's of miles per hour and wondering when or if we shall see the face of God.


Whew.... A lot to respond to here ... expressed with admirable economy, I might add. Let's handle this a paragraph at a time, shall we? (Hence the numbers in brackets.)

[1] Roger that, as I stated in my post on Chefjef's remarks.

[2] With respect to blogging, good. With respect to the church's duty in the world, I agree, though I'm curious as to why you care, given the sentiments you express in [3]. Is it for sake of the "good" that the church does in the world? If so, we can find common cause, as I often do with secular humanist friends and acquaintances, on purely ethical grounds divorced from the moral context. Of course, from a Christian perspective, the intent of "doing good" is to present Him as well as to ameliorate suffering and injustice.

As to Popish blogging: there’s more out there than I could ever list. Here’s a good overview of Catholic web resources. This and this are favorite Catholic sites of mine. Here is the Vatican’s excellent official site, which I have used for research a time or two.

Yes. PJP was quite a fan of the internet and other new media, it seems.

[3] A relatively minor point in the grand scheme of things, but Methodist, Episcopal, and Catholic are not "other faiths," just different expressions of the same faith. (Of course, a practicing Catholic would be forced to disagree, as would many stricter evangelical Protestants. Flee from all who claim perfect and exclusive understanding of God's will!)

Aside from that, got it: more cosmic muffin than hairy thunderer. "God doesn't exist and if he does, he's irrelevant." I believed that way myself when I was younger and my reason was still conformed to the world. This is a philosophically defensible position that no proofs available to us in the world can refute. Ultimately, however, I believe all true experience of God is subjective (in the philosophical sense—obviously, we can experience God in and in the presence of other people). And it’s more emotional than reasoned—He engages your heart before your head. Although reason is a powerful tool, love is the ultimate center of the universe. In fact, I think the dichotomy between reason and emotion is a false remnant of classical philosophy that Catholicism helped perpetuate.

Okay, I’m starting to get all Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance here. “Like, YEAH, maaann. I can so totally grok that! Groovy!” I’ll stop now.

[4] In response to this, I fall back upon some earlier comments on this worldview:

I don't have a good name (yet) for Christianity's most dangerous rival religion--call it modern relativism, perhaps--but I do know that its adherents and Christ's visible church are natural enemies, even more so than the church and islam are. Relativism is more dangerous by far, having the full engine of secular modernity behind it: fascism and communism directly killed more people in less than a century than islam had adherents in its first five centuries--the period of its greatest glory.

And yes, relativism is a religion. It fills the God hole in people's souls, giving them reasons to live, die ... and kill. Fascism, communism, Bonapartist romanticism, 19th century social darwinism, 20th century existentialism, progressivist "liberalism," and today's nihilistic hedonism are some of its denominations. The first two are essentially no further apart than are Catholicism and Protestantism, or than Sunni and Shia. These are all merely the conscious expressions of the inchoate, unexpressed root philosophy, which holds as its central tenet that nothing is absolute--even "god," if she exists, is maleable and/or "evolving." And the second tenet is like unto this: love thyself as The Self, for thou art the center of the universe.


The "Enlightenment" is dead. And that's a good thing. The Age of Reason and its aftermath is history's most effective treatise on the limits of human reason. It spawned the world's first truly totalitarian impulse: the French Revolution and Napoleon's tyranny. The philisophes reasoned correctly: absent some tie to what's eternal, man's nature is malleable, perhaps infinitely so. In that kernel of insight is the origin of every modern form of totalitarianism and tinfoilhatism, from today's soft-core, armchair Bush hatred to the genocides of Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, and Hitler. The Age of Reason released man from the "burden" of being yoked to God and God's nature, and that gave him the "freedom" to then be anything he set his reason to.

It was precisely when science had “debunked” God that mankind truly became dangerous to himself. This is a practical argument, not a proof (or disproof) of God’s existence, but then God hasn’t spent much of human history providing proofs of His existence. He said that the mere existence of nature and humans was proof enough (Rom 1:20). He simply provided loving guidelines to creatures who are free to follow them or not to, as they choose. The whole of Mosaic Law was created as a practical guide to man’s wellbeing, even the greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and…love your neighbor as yourself.” Deu. 30:6 puts it in context:

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

“…and live.” Here on earth and forever after. Which brings up this point: “in time, we shall pass from this existence into the next (if there is one), and we shall know who is right.” Indeed, but I am a bit perplexed as to why you believe even in the possibility of a later existence. Your stated position is not simple agnosticism:

My concept of the divine is that, if it exists at all it's as an indifferent creator of all the heavens, with no particular interest or interaction with its recent (in geologic and cosmic terms) offspring, humans.

If it doesn’t exist at all, there would be no mechanism to create an afterlife, or are you proposing the existence of one for which there is no physical evidence? If God is Jefferson’s indifferent deity, it seems unlikely that he would create one, since He has no interest in us in the here-and-now. Why would that change when we died? He just built the Great Clockwork and set it in motion. He doesn’t care what time it is. One can posit afterlives existing in an indifferent physical universe, but they would be insupportable hypotheses given the physical evidence around us—every bit as much articles of faith as the tenets of any mystery religion.

As to your last point (if I may paraphrase): “if God existed, He would ensure we complied with His will and deviations would disappear—since, after all, it’s been TWO THOUSAND YEARS, f’rheaven’ssake!—and, if it’s really God, why don’t all those non-Christian folks see Him in Christian teaching and follow?”

Morgan Freeman, playing God, put it well in response to basically the same question in Bruce Almighty “Welcome to my world! If you come up with the answer to that one, you let me know!”

I think the answer is both startlingly simple and infinitely complex. (Okay…starting to go all Zen again…) The simple part: He created us with free will. We may freely choose to follow or not follow the truth. He’s not indifferent to our choice by any means, but he also does not force us to follow. He merely presents the rules and says, “here—you choose. Oh…and I love you and created the rules with that in mind.” He gave us reason and emotion, just like He has, to help us make choices—but He lets them lead us astray too.

As to the second part of your argument: the truth’s been out there a long time; why doesn’t everyone see it as the truth? Airpower has been the dominant form of military power in major combat ops for at least 20 years now, yet how many Army and Marine officers that you know acknowledge this, Izmud, except to fear in their deepest hearts that it’s true? The world and the USAF have provided ample concrete evidence that it’s true, but many very smart people—great Americans all—refuse to acknowledge it because it goes against their ingrained prejudices, their underlying agendas, or their legitimate hopes for institutions they revere. Same-same Christianity. Since when has the popularity of an idea been evidence of its validity? This is the flip side of the argumetum ad populum logical fallacy: “everyone knows that’s not true, so it can’t be.” Sorry. Doesn’t work that way.

Now, having said that, I realize that I can never provide physical, scientifically valid proof (or disproof) of God and His love; He speaks to something larger than my reason and I just believe. That’s it and that’s all of it. And it will always be that way among us’n’s here on earth.

As to a corollary of your argument (to paraphrase again), “if Jesus was God, we ought to do a better job of following his teaching:” couldn’t agree more! Every Christian should agree. (Okay…well, maybe not some Baptists….) Again, this isn’t a logical proof or disproof of Jesus’ divinity or of His love—but it is a compelling indictment of Christians and the practice of Christianity. But that’s how He made us—free to follow or not follow Him. With free will, we are allowed the choice of putting God or something else—ultimately ourselves or some aspect of ourselves—at the center of the universe in our minds. And that’s a pretty heady temptation, isn’t it? The Bible says even the most powerful being ever created—Satan—couldn’t resist that temptation, which is how sin was born (Rev 12). Paul had it right:

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.

I wish this weren’t true, but it is.

Now for the complicated part: why?

Why did God create us with free will or not compel us to follow and/or believe? Beats me. As a creature with free will, I know I would have trouble following any god who did try to compel my belief. Still, why did God create us in a form that would lead to all the mess we have created, knowing all along it would happen and that He would have to subject Himself to unimaginable humiliation and suffering in order to wrest salvation from the inevitable consequences of “I, [Your Name Here], am the center of the universe, not God?” Perhaps it has something to do with wanting us to regard Him the same way He regards us. You love your wife and kids, but that love wasn’t compelled. Compulsion just breeds sullen acquiescence and submerged hatred. (And this, I think, is why islam produces a crop of believers filled with hate and resentment.) Maybe God doesn’t want that kind of relationship with us, and so is willing to endure (and allow us to endure) the consequences of our own inevitable rebellion in order to produce some who do love Him. I know this may seem somewhat capricious from our worldly viewpoint, but perhaps we don’t see the entire picture. Maybe what we suffer or enjoy here is pretty small compared with what comes after. Dunno. I have no evidence, physical, Biblical, or otherwise, to support a definitive conclusion.

Fortunately, I don’t have to. I just know it’s true and there are levels of knowing that are beyond our minds’ apprehension. Since you brought up Thomas, so will I:

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."


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