Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: May, 2014



It goes without saying that we live in a secular society. Nearly everyone accepts the fact. In the United States our government and our public education system operate without any connection to religion at all. For most people it is an accepted way of life, and few dare to question it.

    We think we are smart, but really we are not. We pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency, on our ingenuity and resourcefulness. We have outgrown the religious superstitions and the myths that satisfied our ancestors. But in all our cleverness and sophistication we are bringing ruin upon ourselves. In a matter of a few decades we have destroyed a civilization that had lasted a thousand years. Our economy is in shambles, our social structures in ruins. And we have done all of this in the name of secularism.


Jeremiah's Lament

Jeremiah’s Lament

 Religious apostasy, of course, is not something new. The prophet Jeremiah had to confront it in ancient Judah. God’s own covenant people had forsaken Him to serve other gods, which were not really gods at all. And with the religious apostasy came moral degradation as well. Every sort of treachery and deceit was practiced. Sadly, even the privileged classes were caught up in the moral and social decline.

    It was in this hour of darkness that God announced, through His prophet, that He was going to punish Judah by means of a foreign invasion. And in the midst of the announcement of impending disaster God delivers this stinging rebuke:

        “Thus says the Lord:

        ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,

         Let not the mighty man glory in his might,

         Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;

         But let him who glories glory in this,

         That he understands and knows Me,

         That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment,

            and righteousness in the earth.

         For in these I delight,’ says the Lord.”

                        (Jeremiah 9:23,24; NKJV)

It was directed at the privileged classes, the educated, the powerful, and the rich – those who were proud and self-confident. And what He tells them is that it is useless to boast in human accomplishments. The most important thing of all is to know God. And knowing God has implications for our behavior, for God is the One who is “exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.” God “delights” in these things, and to know God is to incorporate these same moral qualities in our own character.

    Jeremiah goes on in the next chapter to explain why it is so important to have a working knowledge and personal acquaintance with God. First of all, God is infinitely greater than anything else.

        “Inasmuch as there is none like You, O Lord,

         (You are great, and Your name is great in might),

         Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?

         For this is Your rightful due.

         For among all the wise men of the nations,

         And in all their kingdoms,

         There is none like You.” (10:6,7)

He then goes on to ridicule idolatry.

    We routinely honor lesser things. We heap lavish praise on our heroes and celebrities. But they are all mortal flesh, weak and flawed in character. None of them can even begin to be compared with God, who alone is infinite, eternal and omnipotent. To fail to appreciate God’s greatness and majesty, while cheering on the frail mortals that flit across the stage of life, is to miss the canyon in our preoccupation with the pebbles. We have overlooked the most important Being of all.

    But not only that, but God is the Creator and Sustainer of everything else.

        “He has made the earth by His power,

         He has established the world by His wisdom,

         And has stretched out the heavens at His discretion.

         When He utters His voice,

         There is a multitude of waters in the heavens:

         And He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth.

         He makes lightning for the rain,

         He brings the wind out of His treasuries.” (10:12,13)

Granted, this is a poetic description of nature, and there are scientific explanations for the rain, the wind, and the lightning. But the fact remains that ultimately it was all created by God and the wisdom of His design is everywhere evident. If the forces of nature are awe-inspiring, how much more so the power of the Creator who brought them into being!

    The fact of the matter is that everything we have, including our very existence, we owe to God. It behooves us to acknowledge the fountain of our existence and the source of all our blessings.

    Furthermore, God controls our destinies.

        “But the Lord is the true God;

         He is the living God and the everlasting King.

         At His wrath the earth will tremble,

         And the nations will not be able to endure His indignation.” (v. 10)

Ultimately it is God who controls the events of our lives and determines what will happen to us. He controls the forces of nature and directs the course of human events. Whether we succeed or fail in anything we try is ultimately in the hands of God.

    And then there is the Last Judgment, in which we must all stand before the bar of God’s justice and give an account of what we have done in this life. On that last and dreadful day His opinion will be the only one that counts. Hence it stands to reason that we ought to pay attention to the One in whose hands our future lies.

    Thus by ignoring God we are ignoring the most important fact of all. Professing ourselves to be wise we have become fools instead (Rom. 1:22). Secularism will only lead to ruin. Like the Prodigal Son in the parable let us “come unto ourselves” (Lu. 15:17), return to our Father, and seek restoration.

    When God does not occupy His rightful place in our thinking and in our lives, then everything is out of joint – life doesn’t work the way it was meant to. We have the wrong motives, the wrong goals, and the wrong strategies. But we still have to live in the world God created. The result of ignoring Him is dysfunction. We misinterpret reality and misuse creation. And in the end genuine happiness evades us.


Last week (Tuesday, May 20, to be exact), Judge John E. Jones III of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania handed down his decision in the case of Whitewood v. Wolf, in which the plaintiffs challenged Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. Judge Jones concluded that the ban does, in fact, violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution, which presumably gives every U.S. Citizen the right to marry whomever he / she wants. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is deemed unconstitutional. Gov. Tom Corbett has announced that his administration will not appeal the decision.

    In the part of the decision that most concerns us who oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, Judge Jones held that “the classification imposed by Marriage Laws based on sexual orientation is not substantially related to an important government interest” (Opinion, p. 38). The state had argued that it had just such an important interest in “the promotion of procreation, child-rearing and the well-being of children,” as well as in maintaining tradition. Judge Jones ruled that this argument cannot withstand the heightened scrutiny required to justify discrimination, and so he decided in favor of the plaintiffs.

    The state’s interest in preserving marriage a s a union between a man and a woman should have been obvious. The state has an interest in seeing that children are born into stable, two-parent families, that wherever possible they are raised by their biological parents, and that the parents be healthy role models for them. This means that ideally every boy should have a father and every girl should have a mother. A pair of caretakers who cannot accept their own biological identities is hardly ideal. Significantly a number of the plaintiffs are seeking to raise children together. Where are the missing biological parents? Has the state no interest in protecting their rights?

    Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in his Godkin Lectures delivered at Harvard in 1985, quoted anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski as saying that “one of the very few seemingly universal rules of social behavior” is “the principle of legitimacy, which holds that every child shall have a recognized father.” Human beings could behave like other species: the role of the male is “to impregnate and disappear.” “And yet in all human societies the father is regarded by tradition as indispensable.” And he adds, “this is by no means only a European or Christian prejudice; it is the attitude found amongst most barbarous and savage peoples as well” (Moynihan, Family and Nation, p. 169). It appears that we have embarked upon a social experiment unprecedented in human history.

    All of this raises a pertinent question. If the state does not have an important interest in procreation and child-rearing, what interest does it have in regulating sexual conduct at all? What is the purpose of marriage in the first place? If one does not need to be married in order to engage in sex, and if one may marry any sexual partner he may desire, and if one does not need to stay married once it no longer suits him to do so, what is the point of marriage? Has it not largely become irrelevant – little more than a legal technicality? What Judge Jones has done, in effect, is to trivialize the institution of marriage.

    Ironically Judge Jones is the same federal judge who in 2005 decided the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the infamous decision that declared that it was unconstitutional to mention Intelligent Design in a public school classroom. In the Whitewood case Judge Jones did not reference the earlier Kitzmiller decision, but we cannot help but wonder if there is an indirect connection anyway. If there is no such thing as Intelligent Design, then sex exists for no particular reason or purpose. It is simply there, an accident of nature, and presumably we are free to use it for whatever purpose we please. But in so doing we loosen the bands that hold together society. The results of our sexual liberation so far have not been favorable.

    In the words of The Book of Common Prayer, marriage is “an honourable estate, instituted by God, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church,” and is “not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.” It works best when it works the way God intended it to – as a permanent, binding, exclusive commitment between a man and a woman. Anything else is to invite social chaos.


    In a recent blog post an atheist blogger (Tildeb) complained about “how poorly understood is atheism by those hell-bent on criticizing it.” (  Tildeb went on to say that critics of atheism too often claim “that non-belief inherently possesses immorality while blathering about its association with all kinds of pejorative descriptions and character assassinations for those who do not believe in some meddlesome supernatural deity or deities . . .” To clarify the misconception Tildeb bids us to listen to what atheists have to say about themselves.

    There is no small measure of justice in Tildeb’s complaint. The Ninth Commandment forbids us from misrepresenting someone else’s character or actions. We have no right to put words in other people’s mouths which they themselves would never care to speak. An atheist is as entitled to his fair day in court as anyone else.

    So, according to atheists, what really is atheism? Does it really have all those negative associations? If there is anyone entitle to speak on the matter it is Dan Barker, the former evangelical preacher turned atheist who, along with his wife Annie Laurie Gaylor, is currently cop-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.Dan Barker

    Mr. Barker tells us that atheism is “merely the lack of theism. It is not a philosophy of life and it offers no values. It predicts nothing of morality or motives” (godless, p. 97). He distinguishes between “soft” atheism (not believing that there is a god) and “hard” atheism (believing that there is no god). Strictly speaking, the former is not a belief; it is simply the absence of belief. “In general, atheists claim that god is unproved, not disproved” (p. 104).

    Does atheism necessitate a rejection of moral values? Mr. Barker denies it. He tells us that “most atheists seem to be deeply concerned with human values” (p. 99). “Whatever the moral motivation may be it likely originates in a mind that is deeply concerned with fairness and compassion, love for real human beings and concern for this world . . . ” (p. 100).

    Mr. Barker pointed out that atheism “is not a philosophy of life and it offers no values. It predicts nothing of morality or motives.” In this he is absolutely right, and herein lies the whole problem. While it may be undeniable that many atheists are “deeply concerned with human values,” are they being logically consistent? It is undoubtedly true that many atheists, on a personal level, are kind, humane, and good to others. And it is also true that many atheist thinkers have attempted to find a non-theistic basis for morality. But they have not succeeded. Those that have tried have come up with multiple and varied answers. Perhaps few atheists would dare to tread where Nietzsche boldly forged ahead – to the brink of nihilism. Some, such as Engels and Dewey, frankly confessed that morality is basically sociological in nature. Many prefer to see themselves as “humanists,” and many resort to some form of Utilitarianism – the philosophical doctrine of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. All of these approaches, however, have serious problems.

    In the end the problem with atheism is precisely the fact that “it is not a philosophy of life and it offers no values.” It offers no answers for the deepest questions of human existence – the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of morality, justice and human rights, and all the higher aspirations of human endeavor. It is simply a negation, and it leaves us with nothing but the brute facts of physical existence. Everything else is, well, a matter of faith.

    It is hard to see how any human being could be satisfied with that.


    Can science establish a basis for morality? If it could, we would expect to find it in psychology. For psychology is the branch of science that deals specifically with human behavior, and psychotherapy in particular seeks to cure the maladies of the soul. Does psychology, then, provide us with answers to moral and ethical questions?

    Recently we came across an interesting essay entitled “Authenticity, moral values, and psychotherapy,” by Charles B. Guignon. The essay appears in The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, which was also edited by Prof. Guignon. At the time that the volume was published (1993) Mr. Guignon was Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Vermont.

    Guignon makes the interesting observation that “Many therapists and mental health professionals continue to feel that mainstream ‘scientific’ theories designed to explain and guide psychotherapy fail to capture much of what actually goes on in the practice of therapy” (p. 216). He tells that “a central part of what goes on in helping people in the modern world will consist in addressing questions about what constitutes the good life and how we can be at home in the world” (p. 217). He quotes Morris Eagle as stating that people seek professional help because of feelings of meaninglessness, feeling of emptiness, pervasive depression, lack of sustaining interests, goals, ideals and values, and feelings of unrelatedness.” These conditions, in turn, often result from “the lack of stable ideologies and values . . . or an atmosphere of disillusionment and cynicism in the surrounding society” (p. 217).

    Guignon goes on to say that therapists are poorly trained to handle such a task because psychotherapy is supposed to be based on science, and “scientific endeavor from the outset has aimed at being value-free and objective, basing its findings solely on observation and causal explanation. The result is a deep distrust of authoritarian pronouncements and value judgments” (Ibid.). Moral concerns are treated “as the personal of the client or as reducible to whatever principles of procedural justice are currently accepted as ‘self-evident’ in its own academic and professional community” (p. 218).

    Moreover, modern psychology tends to be based on naturalistic assumptions. “Part of the achievement of the new science of the seventeenth century was to dispel the traditional image of reality as a value-laden, meaningful cosmos in favor of our modern naturalistic view of the ‘universe’ as a vast aggregate of objects in causal interactions” (p. 219). But where does that leave morality? How would psychotherapy, based on naturalistic assumptions, resolve a moral or ethical question?

    One approach is to rely on means-end calculations. Supposedly science can show us how to reengineer our lives to achieve the greatest happiness and fulfillment. But as Guignon points out, “What is most striking about this calculative-instrumentalist approach, of course, is its inability to reflect on the question of which ends are truly worth pursuing” (p. 219). He notes that older views of life made a distinction between “mere living” and “a ‘higher’ or ‘better’ form of existence that we could achieve if we realized our proper aim in life” (Ibid.). But “the modern naturalistic outlook tries to free itself from such a two-tiered view of life.” “Psychotherapy, seen as a technique designed to help people attain their ends, remains indifferent to the ends themselves as long as they are realistic and consistent” (pp. 219-220).

    In an attempt to get around the limitations of naturalistic science when it comes to discerning any meaning and purpose in life, some Existentialist thinkers tried to revive the earlier, 19th Century Romantic view in which self-expression becomes paramount. Guignon cites the work of Rollo May as an example. Yet the radical individualism latent in this approach still leaves unanswered the question of whether or not life itself has any intrinsic meaning and purpose. As Guignon points out, May “seems unable to account for how the autonomous, disengaged chooser of values could ever come to regard any values as genuinely binding in the first place” (p. 222).

    Which brings us to Martin Heidegger. Guignon suggests that perhaps Heidegger can show us a way out of our dilemma.

Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger

    I do not pretend to understand Heidegger. His understanding of Being or “Dasein” is extremely abstruse. But from what we can gather from reading Guignon and other writers who have dealt with his philosophy, Heidegger viewed human existence within the context of human history and society. We have to make choices within the limitations of our circumstances, and it is the flow of human history that gives our actions meaning and significance.

    While that may help the therapist deal with the immediate needs of his patients, it still leaves unanswered the larger question of whether or not life as a whole has any meaning or purpose, and whether or not there are any universally binding norms of right and wrong. We are faced with a particularly unfortunate example of this in Heidegger himself. In one of the other essays in The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger Thomas Sheehan notes that Heidegger made a great show of joining the Nazi Party and actively supported Hitler’s cause. And, as Sheehan points out, this was perfectly consistent with Heidegger’s concept of “historicity.” Heidegger looked to the Fuehrer to lead Germany to its historical destiny.

    The basic question, then, remains unresolved by modern psychology. How can science, or any other secular philosophy for that matter, provide us with clear guidance about right and wrong? The answer is that it cannot. Either we live in a rationally ordered universe created by an Intelligent Being, or we do not. And if we do not, if we are merely so many accidents of a blind, impersonal natural process, there is no “right” or “wrong.” We simply exist, with all of our aggression, all of our prejudices, and all of our inhumanity. What you see is what you get.

    And yet we still seek therapy. There is something inside of us that cannot accept this state of affairs as normal. We are troubled by the actions of others, and even by the actions of our own selves. It is the law of God written on our hearts.

    “For thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart cannot be quieted till it may find repose in thee.” St. Augustine, Confessions, I.i.