Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Category: Apologetics

“MERE” CHRISTIANITY

cs-lewis-ecrire[1]

C.S. Lewis

Review:

Mere Christianity

C.S. Lewis

Macmillan, 1960

190 pp., pb.

When dealing with a writer like C.S. Lewis one is always confronted with the question of whether the proverbial glass is half-full or half-empty. There is much to commend Lewis as a writer: he is intelligent, thoughtful and articulate. Lewis was Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University and the author of the children’s stories The Chronicles of Narnia. As a former atheist who became a professing Christian, he is especially effective at pointing out all of the flaws in modern secular thinking.   But when he turns his attention to theology his work has serious problems of its own. As it turns out, his strength as an apologist is his weakness as a theologian.

His book Mere Christianity began as a series of radio addresses which were then published as three separate books between 1943 and 1945. The final printed version is divided into four parts: “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe,” “What Christians Believe,” “Christian Behaviour” (we retain Lewis’ British spelling here, even if Spellcheck doesn’t like it!), and “Beyond Personality.”

In the first part (“Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe”) we see Lewis at his best. Here he lays out the apologetical argument for belief in Christianity. He appeals to the innate human sense of right and wrong, and argues from that that there really must be an external, objective standard of morality; and that this, in turn, can be accounted for only if there is a Supreme Being. Lewis demonstrates convincingly that there is no adequate secular alternative. It is either God or nothing.

It is in the second part (“What Christians Believe”) that Lewis gets into trouble, and the chief flaw is contained right within the title of the book. He is seeking to defend “mere” Christianity, which he defines as “what Christians believe.” The problem here is that he is defining Christianity so broadly that it includes the Roman Catholic and Easter Orthodox churches, as well as Protestantism (he himself was a member of the Church of England). This means that instead of going to Scripture and expounding it, he is merely content to state what all the branches of professing Christendom hold in common. Unfortunately this means that he is hopelessly vague on the most important doctrine of all, the nature of salvation.

Lewis tells us that he does not want to commit himself to any particular theory of the atonement, but he is particularly dismissive of the one that is the most biblically orthodox, what is generally called the Penal Satisfaction theory. Biblically orthodox theologians, end even Roman Catholic ones, for that matter, have argues that Christ died as a substitute for those who would believe on Him, and effectively paid the penalty for their sins. All that Lewis will say, however, is that “Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start” (p. 57). “We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself” (p. 58). And that is as far as Lewis is willing to go.

And probably because he is so vague on the nature of the atonement Lewis was also vague on how we receive its benefits. He tells us that there are three means by which we receive the life of Christ: baptism, faith, and Holy Communion, but he will not tell us how the three relate to each other. “. . . I am not saying anything about which of these three things is the most essential” (p. 63). But the Bible itself is quite clear on the matter: we are “justified” (i.e., made righteous in the sight of God) by faith (Rom. 3:28; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:24). Baptism and the Lord’s Table are signs and seals of that faith, the formal, outward means by which we publically express our faith and make a formal commitment to Christ. But what actually saves us (what theologians call “the instrument of justification”) is our personal faith in Christ alone as our Savior. (Note: there is no direct command and no clear example anywhere in the New Testament for baptizing anyone who cannot personally make a public profession of faith in Christ. Infant baptism makes about as much sense as a label on an empty bottle!).

Unfortunately Lewis even goes so far as to suggest that a person could be saved who had never heard of Christ at all. “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him” (p. 65). At this point Lewis has quite taken leave of his senses.

The third part of the book is entitled “Christian Behaviour,” and here again he does not take a strictly biblical approach, but is content simply to lay out “what Christians believe.” Thus at one point he delineates the “seven virtues” – the four “cardinal virtues” (prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude) and the three “theological virtues” (faith, hope and love). These distinctions he borrowed from Roman Catholic teaching, and the Catholic Church, in turn, borrowed the “cardinal virtues” from Greek philosophy. But it is nothing less than astonishing to see Lewis, and the Roman Catholic Church, reaching to non-biblical, and even non-Christian sources, for guidance on morality! Sadly, however, it has to be admitted that modern evangelical Protestantism has tended to avoid the subject of Christian ethics altogether, and Lewis does have some helpful insights on the subject.

The fourth section of the book, “Beyond Personality,” entails a rather abstruse discussion about the nature of the Trinity, and here Lewis is not alone in philosophizing about the metaphysical distinctions within the Godhead. Lewis then concludes that section with a discussion about how to live the Christian life. But here it is hard to discern what role, if any, that the Holy Spirit plays in conversion and sanctification. At points Lewis seems to be saying that God uses natural means to change us – if we let Him – and that it is a slow, gradual process that lasts over a lifetime. Lewis concludes his book with a speculative discussion about what the future evolution of the human race might look like.

Part of the problem with Lewis’ approach to “mere Christianity” may stem from the fact that he was a member of the Church of England, a church which has typically tried to be all things to all men, and has sometimes tried to straddle the fence between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. But if a church is not soundly biblical in its theology, and especially if it is not clear on the issue of salvation, in the end it has nothing to offer a perishing humanity. The most valuable thing that the church can give the world is the truth, the truth about its predicament and salvation. If we genuinely care about our fellow human beings we will give them the gospel, and we will do this both lovingly and faithfully. Anything else is nothing less than criminal – it leaves men and women to perish in their sins.

Lewis has performed a valuable service to the church as an apologist. As a former atheist who converted to Christianity he was forced to think through the issues and arrive at some firm conclusions, and as a result he can present the case for Christianity very convincingly. We can only wish that he had done a better job of explaining Christian doctrine – as it has been revealed to us in Scripture!

IS MONOTHEISM INTOLERANT?

 

Jeffrey Tayler, in his salon.com article, “The left has Islam all wrong,” argues that Islam is inherently repressive and intolerant. But he goes further than that and tries to argue that all monotheistic religion is intolerant. He says that the God of the Israelites was “jealous and vengeful, capricious and megalomaniacal.” He then claims that the First Commandment (“You shall have no other gods before Me”) is “an absolutist order implicitly justifying violence against those who haven’t gotten the memo.” He then blames Christianity for the Medieval crusades, and Jesus for teaching eternal punishment.

Tayler’s argument raises two basic and distinct questions. 1) Is monotheism inherently intolerant? And 2) Does Christianity sanction violence against unbelievers?

On the first question there is a sense in which monotheism is intolerant: it will not countenance the idea of any other gods besides the one, true and living God. But any system that claims to represent truth will oppose contrary systems as not representing truth. The only way around it is for all of us not to claim to know truth at all. We could then all live in blissful ignorance! And in the case of monotheism the denial of other gods is simply a recognition of the fact that God alone is the Creator. The universe was designed by a single, intelligent Supreme Being. It is this fact that gives the universe its rational structure and logical coherence. Thus everything besides God owes its existence to Him, and it is only proper and fitting that we acknowledge our dependence upon Him and pledge Him our allegiance. Anything else would represent a misplaced loyalty.

Psalm 100 in the Bible explains it this way. The whole earth is exhorted to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord’ (v. 1). (Note: not mumble our way through a couple of hymns and then struggle to stay awake during the sermon!) We are to worship the Lord “with gladness” and “with singing” (v. 2). Our worship is not to be a formal, half-hearted performance, but a genuine expression of joy and gladness.

But why?  “Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves” (v. 3). We are to worship only Him because only He is worthy of our worship. He alone is the Creator. We did not bring ourselves into existence, and everything we are, and everything we have, we owe to Him. Hence it is only proper and fitting for us to acknowledge Him as the source of all our blessings. For us not to do so is the height of ingratitude.

But does this mean that God is a “Despot on High” who is “jealous and vengeful, capricious and megalomaniacal,” as Tayler would have us to believe? Not in the slightest. For the psalm goes on to say, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endureth to all generations” (vv. 4,5). Just because God is the all-powerful Creator, it does not follow that He is a cruel tyrant. That is a little bit like saying that President Obama is a cruel tyrant just because he believes that he alone is currently President of the United States! (Of course God doesn’t have to deal with Congress!). Indeed, God’s very position as Creator and source of all of our blessings points to His infinite wisdom, goodness and faithfulness. Verse 5 uses three terms to describe His character. God is “good,” i.e., favorably disposed to do us good; and He has “mercy,” or lovingkindness, as the word is sometimes translated; and He has “truth,” or faithfulness as it might better be translated. If God has blessed us with health and life, with food and clothing, and with human companionship, then those very facts point to the goodness of His character. And if He would send His own Son into the world to redeem a lost and sinful human race, then that speaks even more eloquently of His character. A benevolent Despot, yes; a cruel Tyrant, no.

Does this mean that Christianity is intolerant? Yes, but in the same sense that science is intolerant. Neither one will admit of more than one version of the truth (just ask a secular scientist what he thinks of creationism!). Christianity and science both operate on the premise that there is such a thing as ultimate truth. Does that make Christians, or scientists, bigots? Can we afford to be indifferent to truth?

This, in turn, brings us to the second question, does Christianity sanction violence against non-believers? The answer is most definitely “no.” Christ instructed His disciples to preach the gospel; He did not tell them to cut people’s heads off.

To understand why, it is important to understand the nature of Christ’s kingdom. Jesus did, in fact, claim to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, but what does that entail? To many Jews it meant that the Messiah would restore the kingdom of David – essentially establishing an earthly, political state, complete with civil laws and political structure to enforce them. Thus when Jesus was arrested and brought before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, Pilate was definitely interested in the political implications of Jesus’ message. He asked Jesus flat-out, “Are You the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33; NKJV). What Jesus told him was this: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (v. 36). Pilate pressed Him for clarification: (Are You a king then?” Jesus’ answer was, that He came into the world to bear witness to the truth, and that those who are of the truth will hear His voice (v. 37). In other words, we make disciples through argument and persuasion, not violence. The sword can produce a multitude of hypocrites, but not true believers. Only the Holy Spirit at work in the hearts and souls of individuals can create genuine saving faith.

Yes, Christianity is intolerant – it will admit of no rivals. But it does not follow from this that Christianity is violent. Truth can be discerned only through free inquiry. And ultimately God must reveal Himself to the individual soul. Only then can true faith arise.

SCIENCE AND RACISM

    When Sam Harris published his best-selling book The Moral Landscape in 2010, he subtitled the book “How Science Can Determine Human Values.” His basic argument is that science can define human well-being, and therefore can provide a basis for “human values.” But how well does this claim hold up in actual practice? The record suggests something quite different. Science, it turns out, can be held accountable for some of the most egregious human rights abuses of modern times. Science, in fact, is almost directly responsible for racism.

    The plain fact of the matter is that “race” originated as a scientific concept. The biblical view is that “He [i.e., God] has made from one blood every nation of men . . .” (Acts 17:26; NKJV). In other words, all human beings share a common ancestry, and thus we are all basically alike. We are all sinners and therefore we all need salvation.

    However, as westerners came into contact with different peoples around the world, they could not help but be struck by the differences between peoples, both physical and cultural. And thus some began seriously to question the biblical premise. The physical differences between Europeans, Asians and Africans were so great it was hard to see how they could share a common ancestry. There soon developed a debate among scientists over “monogenism,” the idea that we all descended from the same pair of ancestors, and “polygenism,” the idea that the races each had a different ancestry and thus were not related to each other. Some of the leading figures of the 18th Century “Enlighenment,” such as Voltaire, were convinced polygenists. Soon there were elaborate schemes to classify the different varieties of humans, led by the famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus.

Carolus Linnaeus

Carolus Linnaeus


    However it was the attempt to understand the cultural differences scientifically that led to outright racism. The problem is that science, by its very nature, must understand reality in terms of natural causes. There is no room for such a thing as a human soul, let alone a role for divine providence. The working assumption of science is that there must be an underlying natural cause for human behavior. And the two most common “scientific” explanations for human behavior are biology and economics.

    It is the biological explanation that concerns us here. It was almost inevitable that scientists would try to link cultural differences to biological ones. Linnaeus himself identified five different “varieties” of human beings, and associated each with distinct personality traits. He then ranked the varieties in order. Likewise Georges Cuvier tied culture to race. Before long scientists were taking careful measurements of skull capacity in order to determine relative intelligence. In the U.S. Samuel George Morton amassed a huge collection of skulls upon which he took careful measurements, and rated each race according to intelligence, with Caucasians on the top and Negroes on the bottom. By the 1850’s authors such as Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineau in France and Josiah C. Nott in America were writing books on race that were used to provide a scientific justification for slavery, among other things.

    Charles Darwin added a new twist to the discussion. On the one hand he argued that all human beings share a common ancestry. On the other hand he asserted that the races were all evolving, and he introduced the idea of natural selection. This suggested that some adaptations may have been more successful than others, and that some races might even be doomed to extinction.

    Whatever Darwin’s intentions may have been, his theory soon inspired Social Darwinism and Eugenics. One of the leading proponents of the former was Darwin’s contemporary and admirer, Herbert Spencer; while a leading advocate of the latter was Darwin’s own cousin Francis Galton.

    By the late 19th Century the “social sciences” such as anthropology, sociology and psychology proliferated. It was also the heyday of western imperialism. A growing number of writers in both Europe and America began asserting that even among Europeans there was an “Aryan race” that had a special gift for government and military conquest. In Germany the prominent naturalist Ernst Haeckel was an ardent Social Darwinist, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an Englishman who emigrated to Germany (he married Richard Wagner’s daughter) became an outspoken advocate of Aryan superiority. Thus when the Nazis came to power in 1933 they could look back on a century and a half of “scientific” research to justify their claims to racial superiority.

    Paradoxically it was a U.S. Southern Presbyterian theologian and defender of slavery, James H. Thornwell, who saw through all this scientific pretense. Speaking in 1850 at the dedication of a church building in Charleston, SC for the use of black people, Thornwell declared: “It is a public testimony to our faith, that the Negro is of one blood with ourselves, that he has sinned as we have, and that he has an equal interest with us in the great redemption. Science, falsely so called, may attempt to exclude him from the brotherhood of humanity. Men may be seeking eminence and distinction by arguments which link him with the brute; but the instinctive impulses of nature, combined with the plainest declarations of the Word of God, lead us to recognize in his form and lineaments, in his moral, religious and intellectual nature, the same humanity in which we glory as the image of God. We are not ashamed to call him our brother.” (Collected Writings, Vol. IV, p. 403).

    What this whole affair demonstrates are the limitations of science. Science is based on observation and experiment, and when it comes to the physical sciences, such as chemistry and physics, the scientific method works just fine. We are all indebted to science for the many physical comforts we enjoy. But when it comes to the so-called “historical sciences,” historical geology and historical biology, we run into a problem. The scientist cannot go back in time hundreds of millions of years and directly observe what happened. The best he can do is formulate a hypothesis based on the bare physical evidence that exists today. But even if he can demonstrate that a given scenario is hypothetically possible, he can never prove that that is what actually happened. No one has ever observed evolution take place, nor has anyone reduplicated it in a laboratory. Therefore it is hard to see how evolution can be considered “science” in the truest sense of the word.

    When we come to the “social sciences” we encounter more problems. Here we are dealing with intangibles. One cannot put human thoughts and emotions under the microscope. Has anyone ever observed an “id” or a “superego”? And as noted earlier, science is compelled to look for naturalistic explanations for phenomena. But when it comes to human behavior the scientist is forced to make a critical assumption, viz., that the human personality is a function of brain activity. But if personality is a function of brain activity then it is inevitably tied to race. And since the races are different from each other, then so must also be the human capabilities of each. This is why science fell into the trap of racism.

    Science can only look at what it can see, but it cannot see a human soul. It cannot see the full human potential. It can see what people have been in the past; but it cannot typically see what they might become in the future. Nor can science make moral judgments. Thus the attempt to understand human beings scientifically led to the disastrous results of the 20th Century.Adolf Hitler-Der Fuehrer-34

    The universe is far greater than what the human intellect can comprehend. We are ultimately dependent upon a source outside of ourselves for information about the meaning and purpose of life, the difference between right and wrong, and whether or not there is life after death. Science is helpless in the face of infinity. After many centuries of scientific endeavor we have barely scratched the surface. Our Creator must tell us who we are, how we got here, and where we are ultimately headed. That is why we have the Bible.

THE FOLLY OF SECULARISM

 

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.


THE REAL PROBLEM WITH ATHEISM

    In a recent blog post an atheist blogger (Tildeb) complained about “how poorly understood is atheism by those hell-bent on criticizing it.” (http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/)  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.

PSYCHOTHERAPY AND MORALITY

    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.

THE INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE

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Moses and the Ten Commandments

Perhaps the major question facing mankind today is whether God has communicated His will to us. To be more specific, does the Bible have a legitimate claim to be the written, inspired Word of God? On this single question the claims of Christianity, and indeed the foundation of Western Civilization, depend.

    Atheists and skeptics openly scoff at the idea. The Bible, they say, is a human book, full of mistakes and errors. How can it possibly be the infallible Word of God? The idea, they say, is pure nonsense.

    But both Judaism and Christianity are based on the premise that our Creator has spoken to us through a succession of divinely inspired prophets and apostles. Their collected writings comprise our Bible, and the honest and sincere seeker can go to it for instruction and guidance. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be completer, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Tim., 3:16,17; NKJV).

    How, then, did the process of inspiration work? The ancient Israelites were unique among the nations of their time in that they conceived of the universe as having been created by a single, all-powerful, self-existent Deity. How did they arrive at that notion? God revealed Himself to their forebear Abraham. God is portrayed as speaking to him verbally on several different occasions, at one point even going so far as to make a formal, binding agreement (covenant) with him. The same pattern was repeated with Abraham’s son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob.

    But by far the greatest prophet in the Old Testament was Moses. What we are told about him is that “since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord know face to face . . .” (Dt. 34:10). God is portrayed as speaking directly to Moses on numerous occasions, and Moses would either write down or speak to the people what God had told him. This included, among other things, the “Book of the Covenant,” which included all of Exodus chapters 21-23.

    Other prophets followed, although they did not receive revelation in the same manner as had Moses. Sometimes they would see visions; sometimes they would hear voices; sometimes an angel would speak to them. But in each and every case God communicated with them in verbal propositions, so that what they said and wrote could truly be said to be “the Word of the Lord.”

    But the greatest prophet of all was Jesus Christ. For not only was He a prophet sent from God, He is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, who had dwelt with God the Father in heaven from all eternity. “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:49,50).

    God, then, has made His will known to us. “. . . holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21). God revealed to them things that cannot be known by human reason alone. The prophets themselves did not always fully understand what God had told them. “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (I Pet. 1:10,11). But we have the complete revelation today in the Bible.

    Does this mean that the original autographs were inerrant, as many Evangelicals today maintain? Not necessarily. While the inspired prophets and apostles received a verbal revelation from God, it was still up to them to write it down and communicate it to the rest of mankind. In this their own natural faculties were employed. They wrote in their own native languages, using their own individual styles and diction. In the historical writings the use of underlying source materials is evident. New Testament authors frequently quoted the Greek translation of the Old Testament, even where it differs from the commonly accepted Hebrew text. In some cases an amanuensis (secretary) did the actual writing of the autograph.

    Does this mean that the human author (or amanuensis) got everything down exactly as he received it from God, even down to the smallest detail? Not necessarily. That would require eliminating the human element completely. This is why we occasionally find an apparent discrepancy or contradiction in the text. But we have to assume that the human authors, as honest and sincere men, who were genuinely devoted to the God whom they served, exercised due care and diligence in recording the revelations that they had received. They were, after all, conscious of handling the very words of God Himself. The certifiable problems are few and far between, and only involve matters of slight detail. What is truly remarkable is that such an ancient book, written by so many different authors over such a long period of time, could be so free from human error.

    Charles Hodge, the famous 19th Century Presbyterian theologian (and a staunch conservative), put it this way: “It is enough to impress any mind with awe, when it contemplates the Sacred Scriptures filled with the highest truths, speaking with authority in the name of God, and so miraculously free from the soiling touch of human fingers. The errors in matters of fact which skeptics search out bear no proportion to the whole. No sane person would deny that the Parthenon was built of marble, even if here and there a speck of sandstone should be detected in its structure. Not less unreasonable is it to deny the inspiration of such a book as the Bible, because one sacred writer says that on a given occasion twenty-four thousand, and another says that twenty-three thousand, men were slain. Surely a Christian may be allowed to tread such objections under his feet” (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 170).

    Are the truth claims of Scripture then valid? There are several different possible answers that can be given to that question. But let it suffice to say here that the sheer number of authors involved, the multiplicity of witnesses to the divine revelation, points to the authenticity of the revelation itself. If it were just Mohammed or Joseph Smith, their credibility could be called into question. But in the case of the Bible it is not a matter of just one or two men. It is dozens of men, writing in three different languages over a span of 1,400 years. Their work has stood the test of time. Countless lives have been changed for the better; and multitudes have been led to everlasting joy. What more do we need in the way of a commendation?

    The challenge facing the skeptic is to show how the entire biblical record, from Moses on Mt. Sinai to John on the Isle of Patmos, has been falsified. “. . . by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established” (Dt. 19:15).