Archive for March, 2017


A thing I’ve noticed about many of the online debates lately is that people who make truth claims are often derided on the basis of their supposed affiliation with a school of thought: “you’re saying that because you’re a liberal, or a conservative or a vegan or lived at this particular point in history” …or whatever.

This approach has been called historicism, which posits that any truth claim must be judged in the context (for instance, the culture or a particular time in history) it was made in. 

Is this wise? The actual truth of the statement is not discussed; its validity is judged on the basis of what group or time the speaker belongs to, and the veracity of a particular claim is accepted or dismissed without rigorous examination.

Another less than beneficial result is that it tends to stereotype people in the discussions and promotes prejudging of motive. If what I say brands me a conservative then there is a tendency to assume all the other supposed evils of that view are are part of me as well. This discourages productive debate, steering the discussion away from issues and tending towards personal attacks. It promotes the sort of fractured discourse we see in modern politics.

This came up in a discussion I was having the other day. We were discussing the origin of moral truth and a pretty forthright statement made in a video I had reposted. The speaker’s statements were impugned on the basis that “he assumed the supremacy of the Judeo-Christian worldview” and were dismissed (if I understood my friend correctly) accordingly. The speaker was derided as narrow, bigoted, and hopelessly behind the times.

Of course the speaker assumed that supremacy. So do I: I could hardly call myself a Christian if I didn’t believe it was actually true. But Historicism assumes all truth claims are equal (by all being merely products of a particular view), a logical impossibility if there is such a thing as actual truth. It fits hand in glove with postmodern thought, and I think it’s quite useless if someone is trying to judge between truth claims.

And we must judge, for even the historicist is making a truth claim. A person with an intellectually rigorous outlook can’t sit on the fence; that many do reflects an uncritical acceptance of a prevailing (and I would suggest dishonest) intellectual climate.

Critical Thinking

Critical thought is usually associated with skeptical viewpoint. I tend to think of it more as reasoning your way through to the bottom of a issue to find out what’s really true.

There’s sort of an irony to the idea that many consider critical thought (they called themselves “rationalists” and “freethinkers” a century ago) as a thing used to debunk religious superstition; but I’ve found it cuts both ways. Many are not willing to look past what passes for our modern, materialist wisdom.

CS Lewis (and others like him) helped me here. He was able to demonstrate the tremendous rational coherence of Christian faith and debunked many of the shallow arguments trotted out against it.

I have found that Christians don’t have to be afraid of the hard questions. In fact, atheists and agnostics have to jump through a lot more mental hoops to justify their belief systems than their believing counterparts do.

But Christians do need to be critical thinkers. We need to examine our own assumptions if we are to have a robust faith; and we can certainly question the assumptions of our critics (and they assume a great deal more than is perhaps fair or reasonable). We don’t have to park our brains at the door when we become Christians.

Read the Bible deeply and on a regular basis; and read history, science and philosophy as well. Know what you believe and why it matters: and then live it out in the world. That is the kind of faith that can change the world.

The Bible in a Year

A few years ago, I decided to read the entire Bible in one year. I was surprised at some of the insights I was able to get out of it.

The advantage was that you get what the Bible is saying in context: not individual texts lifted out like some sort of blessing box verse, but the whole sweep of the Bible’s narrative while it’s fresh in your mind. You get much more of a feel for what it is telling us. It was, and continues to be, a life changing experience.

I’ve slowed down a little, but continue to read it daily: It has been so profitable and encouraging I just can’t stop.

What stuck out after taking big gulps of the Bible? One thing that was striking was my view of God in the Old Testament:

– God is fair, and God is Love. If He’s mad, it’s because people are unfair or unloving.

– That people matter. They really do.

– That the moral law is not something we made up, but is as real and objective as mathematics. That it has a Source. Good really is good, and evil is, well, evil.

– That God is a covenant making God. He makes promises to His people, and that He is faithful.

– That He always has shown grace, even in the Old Testament.

I was also able to see how well the Old Testament meshes in with the New. How many of the promises made to Israel find their consummation in Christ, and how the promises made to the nation of Israel now open up to include anyone – Jew and Gentile – who will trust in Israel’s Redeemer.

– The New Testament, besides the gospel narratives (the actual teachings, work, and resurrection of Christ) shows us, especially in St Paul’s writings, the logic of redemption, and how it all fits together.

– That God is relational: the individual’s decision to trust God is crucial.

– That even Christians are still human and can get it wrong. Much of the New Testament contains letters written to correct imbalances that were showing up in the young churches.

– That there is an end to History. That death really has been defeated, and that we were made for happy endings because there is one.

– That despair is not an option. That there really is hope and meaning for life.

Just a few thoughts. If you haven’t Read the whole Bible, I’d encourage you to do it. Read the New Testament first, and Psalms and Proverbs. Don’t let some parts (the geneologies in Chronicles and some of the more nit picky rules in Exodus and Leviticus come to mind) bog you down. Set aside a little time, every day, and read. It takes a while to develop the habit, but it’s really worth the trip.

Islamophobia

Much has been said lately about attempts to legislate against hate speech.

ISIS and its odious compatriots are pushing a particularly narrow and violet version of fundamentalist Islam. Whether by accident or design, their atrocities tend to associate decent, law abiding Muslims in the west with the horrors we hear of perpetrated in the name of Allah.

The politically correct rush in to tell these people that we don’t blame them, and in that I feel they show a real generosity in spirit. But they overshoot, clamping down on any legitimate criticism of Islam.

Therein lies the real danger: this attempt to silence critics pushes people into corners. It attacks the very heart of what we are, creating a “them vs us” mentality as people with legitimate fears have their voice removed.

There’s a real irony here. Just as some tend to label all Muslims negatively due to the actions of a few, so do others lump the critics of Islam into a single, monolithic group of haters. This is neither fair nor wise.

Hate speech laws don’t change hearts. They just push the discord deeper down, where it can fester. And even those who have a reasonable objection are marginalized as their voice is being legislated away (as an aside, I think this accounts for much of Donald Trump’s recent election as President. A creeping sense of political correctness has inclined many to push back the polls).

This is not what liberal democracy is about. Freedom of speech goes hand in hand with freedom of religion and conscience. Everything must be open to critique, and those examined have the right to response. It is neither unreasonable nor Islamophobic to ask Muslims who have come to live among us to give assurances that they now share our values.

Aristotle told us a city is a unity of unlikes. True diversity must allow for differences of opinion: and that is what I feel is threatened by hate speech laws. They negatively affect other, more fundamental constitutional rights. Yes, some feelings may get hurt; freedom is messy. That’s the price we pay for living in the west.

As a Christian, I believe Jesus is the way to God, but freedom to choose or reject Christ is implicit in that belief. As a citizen, I must support Muslims’ right to practice their faith peacefully, even if I disagree with its view of God. We’re supposed to be civilized about our differences, and ours is an age where common courtesy is in short supply. People need to exercise good manners and do careful investigation before criticizing.

The freedom to critically examine creeds and lifestyles must be maintained, as does the right to respond in civilized discourse. Labelling a critic an Islamophobe, homophobe, Christianophobe or any other label is just name calling and does far more harm than good. It splinters the freedoms we cherish, and in the end nobody wins.