Tag Archive: reason


Fanatics

Much has been written, and continues to be written about the negative effects of fanaticism, especially in a religious context. The recent shootings in Paris again bring the issue to the front of our minds. How can we define fanatics?

Perhaps a good definition – at least at one level – would be an unquestioning belief in a certain worldview, held to the point of being willing to perpetrate violence in support of the cause.

But there’s nothing wrong with asking questions, provided we do so with integrity: it’s easy to stop looking as soon as we find a spot that suits us. If God is real, His truth won’t be shaken, and you can’t be either a good Christian or a good atheist until you’ve faced the big issues.

Fanatics don’t laugh. Everything is serious. But the one who knows God possesses joy, laughter and happiness that can be there even in the midst of trial. Trust in a sovereign God – and not taking ourselves that seriously – gives the emotional space to kick back and enjoy a good belly laugh, especially if the joke’s on ourselves.

Fanatics have a “us versus them” mentality. There can be fanatic atheists (several come to mind) and liberals as well as fanatic religious types; extremism is not necessarily confined to those who identify with a particular religion.

“Fanatical” and “devout” are not the same thing. You can be devoted but have a reasoned, well thought out faith that sustains the heart and makes the world a better place. Ask Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa or William Wilberforce who worked for the abolition of slavery. These people were neither fools nor fanatics.

In modern society, we face a spiritual vacuum left by a largely materialistic, valueless society. Our pluralistic world is relativistic, “tolerant” to the point that it can’t offer anything real. Some become fanatics. Others – at least those who stop long enough to think about it – realize this, and begin to search, even while others mock those who have a faith. This is as unfair as it is unwise, because it lumps all religious views together, including the twisted version that led to the shootings in Paris.

The Bible does not call us to blind faith. It asks us to to consider history and reason when we examine the claims it makes. God wants our hearts, but not before we’ve thought, and thought hard, about it; we are to “count the cost”. A reasoned faith is deeply committed to the gospel, and is both peaceable and loving. And this is key: it is a love that is a choice, a reasoned, rational choice, even in spite of the emotions that may assail us.

Pat Answers

Pat answers
It’s fashionable to say that nobody knows for sure what the truth is, and that we’re all seekers. People who claim that they have the truth are accused of having pat answers, of pushing a neatly packaged worldview that insists on blind faith and discourages thinking.

But that’s the most pat answer of all. It sounds very humble to say we’re all seekers trying to find our own truth; but if it’s all relative as many assert, we don’t have to make a decision. We can still say we’re seekers but can continue to live any way we want.

The resurrection tells us the search is over; that the Answer has arrived, and it’s time to decide. The work at hand is to honestly investigate Christianity to first to find out not if it’s comfortable but if it’s true.

A Reasonable Faith, Part 2

Can we take what the New Testament says at face value? The gospels record some pretty remarkable events. What do we see that can supports the integrity of the narrative? Here’s a few thoughts.

The first thing to consider is the length of time between the reported events and the writing of the gospel accounts. We have a pretty good idea of when these things happened because of the historical context: Tiberius was Caesar, and Pilate was representing Rome in Judea, and numerous other historical figures come up as well. The record of the Gospels record events in history at a very specific time and place. The oldest gospel – Mark’s gospel – was written mere decades after the events it reports, and the letters of Paul the Apostle come even earlier. These all display a consistent understanding of the life, death, and literal resurrection of Christ. We must bear in mind that legend takes a long time to develop and mutate. There wasn’t enough time for the material to be distorted in this way.

Then there ‘s the record of the gospels. There’s too much in there that would – if it weren’t actually true – actually be detrimental to a young religion. The first witnesses of the resurrection were women – in a patristic society this would diminish the authority of the report; the fact that it is so mentioned gives some assurance that the writers are telling us just how it happened – even if in their cultural moment it worked against their cause. This is the mark of an honest witness.

Jesus’ cry of dereliction is likewise reported: He cries, “My God, why have You forsaken me?”. If you were trying to come up with a new religion would you put such words in the mouth of its Founder? I don’t think so.

The apostles don’t come off looking that bright. The future leaders of the church are constantly rebuked for their lack of faith, and Peter’s denial of The Lord is faithfully reported. What motive could anyone have for reporting these things unless they – again, as honest witnesses – are just reporting the facts?

Finally, we often forget that all the apostles except for John died for their faith in Christ. These people were actual witnesses of the Resurrection, and nobody dies for what they KNOW is a lie.

It becomes clear that whatever we may think about the possibility of a God who works in time, the New Testament records, warts and all, what the early church believed and what they did. When we view the Gospels as straightforward eyewitness accounts they tell us something remarkable – and life changing.

One reason I am a Christian is because Christianity is a historical religion. It makes some pretty big claims, but they are claims we can investigate and consider for ourselves.

Before we start we have to understand that the idea of a real God who acts in the physical world is a philosophical position, not a scientific one. Many people dismiss the miraculous – the Virgin Birth, Christ’s miracles, the resurrection – on the basis that we modern people know better, that these are just legend.

But the people of Jesus’ time understood just as well as we do that women don’t get pregnant without a man; that’s why Joseph’s first reaction was to divorce Mary when he learned of her pregnancy. The disciples initially thought they were seeing a ghost the first time they saw the risen Lord; they knew as well as we that dead people don’t come back to life. But there He was, eating a piece of fish in front of them and (I imagine) grinning.

The Scottish philosopher David Hume stated that since these things didn’t happen from time to time they were improbable and that the Bible was therefore unreliable; that any reports of the so-called miraculous must be only legend. But scripture itself reminds us these happenings were one-off events. There was only one time that God incarnated in the womb of the virgin; only once did this same Man die and resurrect to never die again. Thus the claim that “these things just don’t happen” misses the point. I suspect rather that Hume’s mind was already closed to the possibility of a God who actually does things in this world.

Science depends on repeatability of experiments; if water boils at 100 degrees Celsius I expect it will the next time I try as well. But we’ve got to keep in mind that history is a record of one-off events. Napoleon only had one Waterloo; there was only one Battle of Britain.

And when we investigate Christianity, we must remember that its claims are historical, a record of singular events. We can’t perform an experiment on a historical event, but we can investigate the culture and times of Christ, what He taught and did, the reliability of those who recorded the events, the history of the primitive church, and so on. In fact, if we are to be solid Christians we need to do so – and then decide for ourselves if those claims hold water.

If they do, then they matter to us here and now.

Let’s Get Creative

A few years back, I was at an investing seminar. The speaker pointed out that we are creatures of habit; and that if you don’t deliberately form good habits, you will unconsciously form bad ones. This came as a bit of an epiphany, for it holds some real spiritual truth.

 

I’ve noticed two things about nature. First, that its basically reactive: something happens because something else caused it: cause and effect. In society, people react with hate when abused, they jump when startled. Secondly, there is a tendency towards a running down, a wearing out. A deck of cards won’t deal itself, a house won’t build itself, and my lawn (regrettably) will not mow itself. Untended, it will soon be a mass of weeds.  Disease and age take their toll, things wear out, decay, and fall apart. The universe itself is in fact running down.

 

Like the weeds in my lawn, bad habits form all by themselves. They are part of nature and don’t really take any effort on my part. They just happen.

 

Good habits are different. Every time you do something against your natural inclinations, you rebel against the natural way of things. You have become proactive, rather than reactive. When we don’t clean our house, mow the grass, or even brush our teeth, the natural course is one of decline, decay, and disorder; we have to be constantly adding energy to the system to maintain it.

 

In a very real sense, the spiritual disciplines – like all good habits – are creative acts, the invasion of a supernatural, rational, and moral reality on nature. They are a demonstration of our being more than just biological machines. They are a demonstration of will and choice entering the universe.

 

I think this is one of the ways we are “made in God’s image”. We are to be sons and daughters of God, something of the same type of being – that is, spirits in essence. We have biological life because we live in the natural world; but we have a supernatural life contained in these bodies, because we also inhabit the realm of spirit. I think that is what Jesus meant when He told us to be “perfect”, even as our Father in Heaven is; in effect saying, “You are the same sort of being as your Father in Heaven (i.e., a spirit, and therefore moral and rational): now act like it”. A spiritual being reasons and makes moral choices; in fact, the Author of morality is a Spirit.

 

Christians, especially those of the more charismatic type, are often accused of being emotional. Mature faith involves putting our emotions in their place and determining to trust – and obey – regardless of our emotional state. It’s the most natural thing in the world to love those who love us. It is the path of least resistance – the easy path, the natural, reactive way. Hating those who hate us also comes pretty easy. God calls us to something higher; he tells us to love the unlovely, to bless and not curse, to pray for those who persecute us, to share with the world the same grace He has shown us. He wants us to help Him maintain His world by inputting love and grace into it, even as He Himself does. This is a long, long way from being “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good”.  It’s immensely practical and (no pun intended) down to earth.

 

He wants us to develop good habits of the heart. The deeds of the body in its natural state are primarily emotional and therefore reactive. The disciple is one who rises above these through faith. He chooses to trust – often in spite of his feelings. Romans 12:13 talks about putting to death the deeds of the body by faith. Discipline is an indicator of our faith: do we trust, do we think it’s worth doing? If we take the trouble to put down our natural inclinations, it must be because we expect a benefit, a better knowing of God. The  word disciple derives from the word discipline; the disciple submits to the discipline of seeking God through developing these good habits of the heart, habits of trust, learning what pleases God, and obedience. The undisciplined one lacks faith, or at least isn’t putting it into action; he is an “un-disciple”.

 

Jesus was the first example of a new kind of Man: spiritually alive and in fellowship with the Father, yet inhabiting a human body. Through Him we can come alive to God again, and possess a reflection of that same sort of life in our human bodies. In fact, it stands to reason that we need to be thus connected if we are to really show God’s sort of grace, God’s sort of life to the world. We are to be conduits; “Out of your bellies shall flow rivers of living water”. Jesus meant it when He said, “Without Me you can do nothing”. Without that vital connection to Christ what flows out of us is more reaction; and in the scale of eternity, of no value.

Being Yourself

Who are you?

What determines how you live your life? Many just sort of let life happen, taking things as they come, a series of reactions to what life deals them. But is that the best way to live? I think we can determine our life’s path by the choices we make.

Reason and Morality are siblings; or perhaps it might be better illustrated by saying that morality is a reasoned response, and therefore you can’t be moral without being a reasoning being. They hint at something uncreated, not a result of chaotic, senseless processes, but of a higher, rational and moral source, because they are not an effect of some cause. In fact moral choice (for instance, to love an enemy or forgive someone who has hurt us) often run exactly opposite to our natural reactions.

Some Christian apologists have written strong arguments supporting the existence of God based on these realities, and it really does make sense – the best kind of sense. I am a believer largely because the concept of a rational, moral God simply scratches the most itches. The universe makes sense. And of course these are things that set us apart from the animal kingdom. Whereas animals simply react, people can reason and make moral choices. We can be proactive; nature is exclusively reactive.

If we do away with reason and moral truth, we are left with our emotions.  Emotions are something we share with the animal kingdom, and are reactive rather than proactive in essence. We don’t make feelings; they happen to us.  We feel a certain way because of what is happening around us; but as a motivator, emotions are dangerous: they are variable, unpredictable, and can be manipulated.

In a democracy, the direction of government is determined by the will of the people. But what happens when those people are ill-informed (and it’s impossible to be adequately informed about all the issues we face these days) or worse yet, are subjected to the spin doctors? Politicians and their hirelings play on our fears and hopes to get us to vote them into power. Advertising agencies spend millions of dollars trying to make us feel we must have the latest toy. We become more the product of our environment and influences than ourselves; what I consider my “tastes” are often the result of somebody else telling me what is cool and fashionable.

The best defense against such ploys is to have a solid belief in a moral framework that determines how all these other inputs are evaluated.  When you hold high values, you can’t be spun or manipulated as easily. And this moral construct has an Author, One who yearns for relationship with us. As we give ourselves to Him, we become more truly ourselves.

We live in the world of Enron, of the Subprime crisis and banking scandals, of spin doctors and opinion polls. If more folks approached politics and finance on the basis of ethics instead of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the present day, I think we’d be in a lot better shape.

Who are you?

What determines how you live your life? Many just sort of let life happen, taking things as they come, a series of reactions to what life deals them. But is that the best way to live? I think we determine our life’s path by the choices we make.

Reason and Morality are siblings; or perhaps it might be better illustrated by saying that morality is a reasoned response, and therefore you can’t be moral without being a reasoning being. Reason and moral truth hint at something uncreated: not a result of chaotic, senseless processes, but of a higher, rational and moral source, because they are not an result of some cause but exist all by themselves. These reasoned moral choices (for instance, to love an enemy or forgive someone who has hurt us) often run exactly opposite to our natural reactions.

Some Christian apologists have based arguments supporting the existence of God on these realities, and it really does make sense – the best kind of sense. I am a believer largely because the concept of a rational, moral God simply scratches the most itches. The universe makes sense. And of course these are things that set us apart from the animal kingdom. Whereas animals simply react, people can reason and make moral choices. We can be proactive; nature is exclusively reactive.

If we do away with reason and moral truth, we are left alone with our emotions. Emotions are something we share with the animal kingdom, and are reactive rather than proactive in essence. We don’t make feelings; they happen to us. We feel a certain way because of what is happening around us or within our own bodies.

But as a motivator, emotions are dangerous: they are variable, unpredictable, and can be manipulated.
In a democracy, the direction of government is determined by the will of the people. But what happens when those people are ill-informed (and it’s impossible to be adequately informed about all the issues we face these days) or worse yet, are subjected to the spin doctors? Politicians and their hirelings play on our fears and hopes to get us to vote them into power. Advertising agencies spend millions of dollars trying to make us feel we must have the latest toy. We become more the product of our environment and influences than ourselves; what I consider my “tastes” are often the result of somebody else telling me what is cool and fashionable.

The best defense against such ploys is to have a solid belief in a moral framework that determines how all these other inputs are evaluated. When you hold high values, you can’t be spun or manipulated as easily. And if this moral construct is really true – absolute reality- it must have an Author, One whi cares about right actions and who yearns for relationship with us. As we give ourselves to Him, we become more truly ourselves.

We live in the world of Enron, of the Subprime crisis and banking scandals, of spin doctors and opinion polls. If more folks approached politics and finance on the basis of a transcendent ethical truth instead of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the present day, I think we’d be in a lot better shape.

And that’s just for starters.