Quote of the Year

February 14, 2009 § Leave a comment

2009 is barely a month-and-a-half old and I have already encountered the quote of the year. Ron Wood, member of grumpy old men band The Rolling Stones (he is in his 60s by now) has a new girlfriend of 20 years old. This happens at times with men restlessly looking for something they haven’t yet found. ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’ is what they sang back in the 60s and possibly this is still the case today. In any case, Ron had to ditch the woman who was his wife of 23 years in order to shack up with his new girlfriend.

The girl in question, Ekaterina Ivanova, was asked whether she ever considers the fact that her new friend is so much older. ‘I never think about the consequences of what I do.’ Says she: ‘Life is far too short’. Right! Is this a good example of what Psalm 90:12 means by ‘Teach us to number our days, Lord?’ Apparently Ivanova has been numbering her days. She acknowledges that life is short – a remarkable insight for a 20 year old these days – and therefore concludes that it’s better not to consider the consequences of one’s actions.

This thought was already propagated by the Epicureans. Epicures, a Greek philosopher, had thought about these things too and concluded that, because life is short and because the material is all there is, it is better to enjoy it: Carpe Diem! Modern hedonistic man has added a dimension: since life is meaningless and after life everything is over the only logical thing to do is to go wild, party into the night, enjoy every moment even if need be at the expense of others. Hence Ivanova’s indifference to Ron’s ex-wife I suppose.

The Bible teaches us that this is a tremendously naive way of thinking. It is erring on the basics of life with eternal consequences. It is a road that leads to death. Not merely the end of life, but road to eternal conscious perdition. According to the Bible that is, a book that teaches us that life on earth is not meaningless, that man is to know, worship and serve his Creator. We live in a universe endowed with moral meaning and purpose. ‘Lord teach us to number our days and to realize that we are morally responsible toward You (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:14).

What did I say? Quote of he Year? Maybe we should call it the quote of the month. Life is too short.

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Extinguished desire

February 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Today we find Buddha images just about everywhere in the West. Whether it’s the Grand Café at the corner, the shopping mall or in our neighbor’s home. The head with the curly hair from Thailand seems to be slightly more popular than the fat bellied grinning Chinese Buddha. In any case the Buddha is very popular. He represents wellness, that trend in our societies to combine spirituality with moderate consumerism, simplicity with a kind of selfish detachment. Great ‘spiritual leaders’ like Richard Gere and Steven Seagal teach us to enjoy everything Zen.

How well justified is this passion for Buddha, this desire for an Eastern yet atheistic spirituality? Elsewhere (on my Dutch apologetics blog) I have written on the threefold requirement that any worldview needs to meet in order to qualify for viability:

(a) Inner coherence (the different assumptions of a worldview should not logically conflict with each other).

(b) Correspondence to reality ( a world view should correspond to the reality as we generally know it).

(c) Livability in day-to-day reality (not only does a worldview need to be believed, one needs to be able to practice it too).

Whatever remains of the postmodern and irrational enthusiasm for Buddhism doesn’t amount to much as we shall see.

A worldview needs to have inner coherence. How well is Buddhism faring in this respect? Buddha’s fundamental insight was that all suffering comes from desire. When desire is put to a halt suffering also has stopped. How realistic is it to aim for non-desire as goal of one’s life? Doesn’t a buddhist contradict himself the moment he desires to reach non-desire? The goal has to be pursued with what is the opposite of that goal. The goal ceases to be a goal when that goal is purposelessness. How could the road to the top of the mountain only lead downwards? At this point various elements in Buddhism contradict each other, desire being necessary to reach ‘desirelessness’.

In the second place a worldview needs to correspond with reality. The Eastern religions that developed on Indian soil, buddhism and hinduism, propose a radical interpretation of reality. Hinduism teaches that everything is divine and that the material world is merely an emanation of that divine, whereas buddhism completely ignores the existence of God. Both religions however consider reality to be an illusion. Part of the deliverance that is sought consists of the insight into this truth. Buddhism is the more radical of the two in that it proposes that ultimate reality is nothingness. What we experience as reality is mere appearance. The buddhist has every right of course to believe this, but is it realistic to assume this to be true? The material world is simply there after all as are our feelings such as love, care, compassion etc. On which grounds are these things denied? Buddhism us something that is so radically different from what our intuition and our senses tell us.

The third test is that of viability of a worldview. In practice the followers of the Buddha come into conflict with the radical concepts of buddhism. To stop desire? Striving for the insight that the individual is nothing more than an illusory collection of components? To desire Nirvana, the state of being extinguished? Is the answer to the suffering in our human existence truly to eliminate existence from the suffering in order that the suffering too won’t exist anymore?

It is no surprise that along with Theravada Buddhism, the more radical and ‘orthodox’ form of Buddhism, a much wider movement developed called Mahayana Buddhism in which idols are worshiped en adherents believe in Boddhisatvas (half enlightened spiritual beings that help man on his way to Nirvana). Very often Buddhism has developed into a typical religion of good works.

Buddha was radical in his practice in life as was his take on it. At least, if the legends about him are historically correct. We may admire him for that. In that regard it is not strange that in our affluent and materialistic West there is interest in the simplicity, the emphasis on virtue and transcendental focus of Buddhism. But in his postmodern and eclectic flirt with Buddhism Western man ignores the elementary contradiction of non-desire through desire and the reality that the Buddhistic worldview cannot be lived out, a fact to which countless Buddhists have testified throughout the past centuries.

Buddhist poet, Kobayashi Issa (1762-1827) went to seek comfort from a teacher after loosing two children. The only comfort he got was that all things, including his two children, are an illusion. He wrote a haiku (Japanese poem) in which his doubt shines through:

The world of dew —
A world of dew it is indeed,
And yet, and yet . . .

Everything is illusory, and yet, and yet…

And yet it is impossible to live with that belief and find comfort in it.

The dead-end of the evolution debate

February 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

This year marks the 200th birthday of Darwin. Various publications and a lot of attention in the media remind us of this important fact. Darwin was the one who finally allowed atheists to deal a death blow to the God of Christianity. The evolution theory was to provide an explanation for the existence of life on earth. God’s final straw was taken from him. Bye, bye, God.

The evolution debate is marked by a lot of confusion. Evolution is supposed to be a scientific fact. Evolution and big-bang cosmology are confused with each other as are young earth and old earth creationists and micro and macro-evolution. When you do not believe in a literal six day creation, you reject the divine inspiration of Genesis, etc., etc.

The worst misunderstanding that is popular among proponents as well as opponents of the evolution theory is the implicit idea that where the evolution theory seems to gain ground automatically the existence of God becomes less plausible.

This debate is likely to continue for some time. The evolution-theory is a scientific theory. Scientific theories and conclusions change. They do not provide a good foundation for binding statements about the existence or non-existence of God. Add to that the fact that a large segment of the scientific community passionately beliefs in the sanctity of a naturalistic world-view and you’ll understand that the elimination of God is simply a foregone conclusion.

It is better therefore to resort to classical apologetics which has seen a tremendous revival in the past decades. Classical apologetics is mainly philosophical in nature and thus depends much less on the results of scientific research. Arguments in favor of the existence of God in fact are so strong that even a die-hard atheist like Anthony Flew now acknowledges that God must exist. Listen to the arguments of people like William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga and realize that we find atheism dangling dangerously on the last straw that was reserved for God. Bye, bye, atheism.

Even if it would be proven ten times over that evolution plays a role in the development of the species, it would from a philosophically point of view say nothing about the existence of God. Dutch theologian, biologist and philosopher calls himself a ‘cosmological agnost’. I had come to the same conclusion albeit with a less flattery term. As far as I’m concerned, the evolution debate leads to a dead-end when it comes to the real discussion that needs to take place: Does God exist? I take it He does.

The death of democracy

February 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

I often feel uncomfortable with democracy. The way I’ve seen it in operation it often seems to work against Christianity. Having said that I also admit to feeling a bit uneasy with this uncomfortableness. It’s politically incorrect to have qualms about democracy. But is democracy as desirable as it seems?

There are basically two kinds of democray in the West historically speaking. When democracy was first conceptualized it was embedded in a framework of absolute morals. There was a foundational belief in a transcendental moral good. This democracy operated with fixed moral guidelines that were not to be altered. The subject matter of democracy concerned itself with the practical gouvernance of the state with the means of these moral principles. The application or consequential structuring of society by these principles was what democracy was all about instead of relying on the whims and fancies of a potentially immoral monarch. Democracy had as its aim to bring morality back at the center.  

The other kind of democracy which has developed during the first half of the 20th century has made morality subject to the democratic process. It is a form of democracy which ultimately has its roots in naturalism or a materialistic view of the universe in which morality is relative and situational. In the first one there is no discussion whatsoever about truth, morality, the intrinsic value of the human being andsoforth as they are seen as fixed by a transcedental source. In the second basically everything is up for grabs as soon as the majority of the public is ready for it.

The second form of democracy has become a platform for the naturalistic ideology and thus has transformed itself into a battleground for opposing worldviews: the theistic Judeo-Christian worldview versus a relativistic worldview.

It needs to be said that the reason why the 2nd form of democracy could come into existence lies in the fact that the first one already lived on borrowed capital. I.e. its foundational principles were based on an optimistic epistemology that characterized much of the Enlightenment. The epistemological despair so central to post-modernism has introduced moral relativism in the political arena.

Now given this fundamental change from the first form of democracy to the second, from working within the parameters of a fixed moral framework to an extension of the democratic process to the realm of ethics and morality, one would expect a considerable amount of discussion going on about the difference beween worldviews. That is a discussion between a worldview of moral absolutes and one that holds to moral relativism. What we see instead is a tremendous degree of confusion and hardly any discussion if at all on this all important topic. Rather we find pro lifers pitched against pro choicers, environmentalists against those who oppose environmental measures. Politicians reiterate their points of view in a cloud of unknowing.

What are the consequences of this shift in democracy? First of all politics has become utterly boring if not trivial. Most political statements are merely statements in mid-air and are not part of a thought system built from the ground up. They talk well, these politicians, but they are blind guiding the blind. Moreover most of the political views expounded, however different they may seem to be from each other, are often part and parcel of the same underlying worldview based on moral relativism. I haven’t met a politician willing to think through the consequences of his naturalistic worldview, or consciously basing his political agenda on such a worldview.

Secondly democracy is bound to collapse sooner or later. If not by the insurmountable worldwide threats like terrorism or environmental hazard then by the increased corruption and moral decay in the West. In any case with morality being made subject to the democratic process it is the majority in our nations that will decide on the ethical course that we take. The majority as of old will only want ‘bread and games’. To be entertained is the higest good. Democracy thus becomes descriptive of a civilization’s moral decay. Eventually these democracies will lead to annihilation or turn into dicatorships. Democracy has turned on itself.

Apologetics and reason

February 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

Some people look at apologetics with mistrust as they are under the impression that depravity includes reason. I hold to the position that man’s reason has remained intact after the fall, although its functioning has been hampered by the sinful nature of man. Here are a couple of reasons why I believe reason still functions properly:

I do hold to the utter depravity of man. However to say that reason has become imperfect as a result of the fall is not the same as saying that reason is dominated by sinful nature. Reason functions well, but put in a corner the sinful nature will try to escape, mock, deny or do whatever in order to suppress what reason tells it. This is what I think Paul teaches in Romans 1. Fallen mankind has knowledge of the eternal God, but it is suppressed.

There is I think an interesting analogy with the will. What does the gospel message say? It says: repent and believe, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Now, if the human will is so fallen that it doesn’t function anymore, why preach and call to repentance? Yet, the call is there including the human responsibility to act upon that call. If the evangelist calls on the fallen human will cannot the apologist in the same way call on the mind? In fact the latter makes more sense as I believe that the will is the very center of man’s rebellion toward God whereas the capacity to reason is merely a function of being human and thus subject to the sinful nature. The will is fallen, reason is merely subject to fallenness.

In addition there are a few biblical examples of reason being used in order to persuade men toward God. (A) In the OT God says to his people: Let us reason together. God does reason through the mouth of the prophet with propositions and showing the logical falacies of idolatry. (B) Jesus used logic on his adversaries (his argument on the Messiash being the son of David and named Lord by the same / his argument of paying taxes to Ceasar, etc.). (C) Look at Paul’s use of logic, i.e. apologetics in the various settings where he confronted men with the gospel, esp. Mars Hill.

When you look at Eastern Orthodoxy you will find they have a interesting take on the creation of man. They hold that man made in the image of God is not the same as man made in God’s likeness. One of my relatives wrote to me this on it: ‘Orthodox affirm that Adam was perfect not so much in an actual but in a potential sense. Made in the image (icon) of God means that he possessed rationality, freedom, moral responsibility, etc: everything that marked him out as different from the animals, and he had these from the moment of his creation. Made according to the likeness of God, on the other hand, means that he had the potential to be assimilated to God through virtue, by which, if he had made proper use of this facility for communion with God, he could have become like God, deified.’ When Adam sinned the likeness was affected not the image. If that is true it gives us yet another argument in favor of my position on reason.

Do your own thing?

February 3, 2009 § Leave a comment

A few days ago The Los Angeles Times reported on a court ruling in favour of a Christian school in California that expelled two girls who allegedly had an openly lesbian relationship. The lawyer of the two ladies is considering an appeal. According to him the ruling is very worrying because it will allow schools to discriminate against anybody as long as they do so on religious grounds.

Yes, of course, how is it possible that a Christian school could make such an immoral step? Shame on them! Does not every individual have the unalienable right to be himself and express it too? If it wouldn’t sound too biblical this lawyer might even use the word ‘sin’ to decry this school’s practice. Bu no they wouldn’t want to be associated with these Christians.

But wait. Imagine this is not about a lesbian couple, but a pedophile teacher having a relationship with a 13 year old student in his class? Is discrimination then condemned too? Or suppose – this is getting outrageous – there is a group of hard-core naturists who demand to be allowed to go to school naked (California is warm)? Would our lawyer also want to advocate these people’s rights or has he got ‘grounds’ all of a sudden on which he doesn’t want to do so? Are these also religious grounds or are we suddenly talking about objective moral grounds?

Who is really disciminating? The school that doesn’t want to tolerate a lesbian couple in their school based on its moral convictions or the lesbian girls who, based on their sexual preference, disobey the ethical rules of the school? Isn’t it simply one worldview pitched against another?

Just a few rhetorical questions. This is the chaos that we end up in when we don’t any longer hold to an absolute and unchangeable moral standard that has it’s foundation and origin outside of man. Our secular societies try to find a balance between individual self-expression and the common good, but will not succeed.

Good judge there in California. Not because he favors us Christians, but because he uses some basic common sense.

This column was published in Dutch on Habakuk.nu

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