Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mind Over Matter

I came across an article (I can’t say that I “happened” or “chanced” upon it because I was purposefully directed there by an intelligent friend) in which the atheist author opined:  

“Worldview” is defined as one’s comprehensive framework for evaluating the world, including theories of why we are here, where we’re going, how to get there, how to behave, and so on. . . . On face [sic], then, atheism cannot be a worldview, because different atheists have different answers to those questions! . . . If atheism does not provide a single answer to these fundamental questions, it cannot be a worldview, by definition! 

According to this line of thought, not only is atheism not a worldview; neither is theism. But how is such pedantry helpful?  

Surely it is self-evident that an atheist’s view of the world—while it may be unique to his own person—is atheistic. To what purpose should we claim: Christianity is not a worldview because of all the Baptists and Lutherans of the world?  

Can we not meaningfully say that devout Baptists and Lutherans have a Christian worldview? I think we can. 

Our persnickety atheist is simply thinking himself into intelligibility. 

Perhaps we can capture the essence or heart of the debate with this one question: What constitutes the ultimate reality of our universe—Mind or matter 

Please understand, dear reader, this isn’t a conflict of science vs. religion but of atheism (naturalism) vs. theism; and these are different matters entirely. 

Quoting Colin Russell, John Lennox writes,

The common belief that . . . the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility . . . is not only historically inaccurate, but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability. (God’s Undertaker, p. 28)

Thus we have a collision of worldviews—atheism/naturalism vs. theism—not a battle of disciplines—science vs. religion—which are contained within those worldviews. Hence two scientists may agree concerning their science but disagree concerning their view of ultimate reality, if one of those scientists is an atheist and the other a theist.  

The brilliant mind of Charles Darwin seemed to believe that the ultimate reality of the universe was Mind and not matter. He writes to a friend, 

Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance. But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind? 

Darwin rightly and honestly concedes that the trustworthiness of our mental faculties is in doubt unless the ultimate reality of the universe is Mind and not matter. (Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, develops this further in his thesis: An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism). 

Atheist, Bertrand Russell asks, 

Is mind subject to matter . . . Has the universe any unity or purpose? Are there really laws of nature, or do we believe in them only because of our innate love of order? Is man what he seems to be to the astronomer, a tiny lump of impure carbon and water impotently crawling on a small and unimportant planet? Or is he what he appears to Hamlet? Is there a way of living that is noble and another that is base, or are all ways of living merely futile? . . . To such questions no answers can be found in the laboratory. (John Lennox, God’s Undertaker, p. 42) 

The theist understands that the universe is truly intelligible and that our mental faculties are indeed reliable because ultimate reality is Mind, not matter. He knows that “in the beginning was the Word” and thus enjoys a sure foundation or basis for rationality.  

Mind over matter makes all the difference in the world. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Idol Questions

A Facebook friend wrote:  

If being moved to worship by an image of Christ is not a violation of the 2nd commandment, what is? . . . This is precisely what idolatry is, being moved to worship by an image of a god. It is not worshipping statues. No one does that. 

His question and answer flooded my mind with thought.

First, "Being moved to worship by an image of Christ" may be a bit broad. For instance, suppose one sees "Christ the Redeemer" in Brazil. One may feel a sense of awe and then one may turn one's attention to the living Christ in worship. I would differentiate this experience from the practice of being "moved to worship" by the knick-knack on one's coffee-table. But many—whether right or wrong—make no such distinction. 

Second, the notion that “no one” worships statues per se: Granted, no one is supposed to do this but sometimes I wonder... 

I had this very discussion with a Roman Catholic priest (a friend of mine) several years ago. He explained his position on the matter of icons and the like and insisted that he doesn’t “worship statues.”  

However, I couldn't help but wonder about his parishioners. You see, in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the families within his church pass from house-to-house a statue of Virgin Mary. (It's a really big deal, especially to the Hispanic families of his parish.)  

I can't help but think that some of them attribute a kind of "power" to the image itself. Do they believe the statue is literally Mary? No. But they do seem to think that there is a power or essence connected to the plaster. 

Also, consider Isaiah’s words: 

And the rest of it he makes into a god,
His carved image.
He falls down before it and worships it,
Prays to it and says,
“Deliver me, for you are my god!” (44:17). 

Is the prophet suggesting that idolaters are, in some sense, attributing deity to the image? It seems so. Or, I suppose we could read this mocking passage as a reductio argument, if you will, not to be taken with “wooden” literalism. (Sorry...couldn't resist.) 

At any rate, it is far from certain that “no one” worships statues. 

Third, while I don't find myself doing this, what should one do who has mental images of God (most likely this would be a mental picture of Jesus)? 

Would such a mental conception be a form of idolatry (idolatry of the mind or imagination)? Is it idolatrous to "see" Jesus walking on water as one reads the story in scripture?  

Should we deem the following lyrics of the hymn "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" to be inappropriate (idolatrous)? 

Beneath the Cross of Jesus
Mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One
Who suffered there for me . . .  

Finally, what of the Apostles? Would they have been guilty of breaking the Second Commandment if they formed mental images of Christ through their faculty of memory? 

These are my idol questions. What say you? 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How Big Is God?

After Sunday morning worship few weeks ago, a father brought his four-year-old son to me with this query: How big is God. At this time I also learned that this tot philosopher refers to me, not as “Pastor Steve,” but “the Captain.” (Yes, “Dead Poet’s Society” immediately sprang to mind.) 

How big is God? This is a good and logical question. 

I asked the child to engage in an experiment with me: “Waive your hand really fast!” He heartily complied. “Did you feel something on your skin as you waived?” I asked. He said he did. I told him that what he felt was air. 

His dad helpfully suggested that he take a deep breath and then informed him that that too was air. I told him that though he couldn’t see it, the air is everywhere.

I then instructed him to look to the ceiling and asked if he could see the light. Yes, He could see the light! I then explained that the bulb, was in the ceiling, but the light was everywhere in the room—if it wasn’t we couldn’t see anything. 

I asked him to look through the window at trees across the road. Could he see them? Yes, he could! He offered, “The light’s out there too!” Indeed. There is no sight without light. 

I then brought the object lesson to a conclusion: “When you think of how ‘big’ God is I don’t want you to think of Him as being ‘big’ like your dad. I want you to think of Him as being ‘big’ like the air and the light. God is everywhere.” 

I suppose I had instinctively “hunkered down” a little as I conversed with the boy; and as I was straightening my posture a thought came to me: I have just conveyed a deep and marvelous truth in such a way that even a child can understand it… 

My sneakily-proud reverie was unceremoniously cut extremely short with three simple words. 

“Is He fat?” 

Move along, kid…you’re starting to bug the Captain. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mind Your Own Business

As states and federal courts have slowly expanded gay rights, groups pushing for increased religious protections have tried to coax momentum in the other direction, through both law and lawsuit. 

The catalyst for the recent flood of religious exemption legislation seems to have been a number of court cases that were decided in favor of LGBT clients who were denied wedding services.

Why are these matters a matter of State? The government must now shield us from the menace of florists and bakers? Pray tell, what or who keeps the chickens from the fox that guards them?  

Imagine the following.  

A baker, using only her capital, skill, blood, sweat and tears, has her own business. She works long hours and to the best of her ability. And she’s a racist; a hardcore racist. That is, Whites are not welcome in her establishment. She believes her great, great, great, great, great grandmother was a slave in colonial America and she has no intention of serving “Crackers” in her store. 

Should the government force this proud Black woman to serve White customers against her will? 

I say no. It’s her business, not the government’s. Let the market decide. Will she stay in business? Maybe, maybe not.  

There’ll be a White person here and there who will say, “You know…she’s a racist piece of garbage but her scones are to die for.” And he’ll send his Black buddy there to order breakfast for everyone. But most will think differently. Will she therefore lose business? It seems likely. But that’s her business not ours—and certainly not the government’s. 

Let’s journey across town to another bakery: “Gold Star Pastries” owned and operated by David Solomon. A gentleman calls in an order for a birthday cake to be ready for delivery on April 20, in honor of Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Naturally, he wants the cake to be German chocolate, in the shape of a Swastika.  

Should the government force Mr. Solomon to bake such a cake?  

I say no. Mr. Solomon should not be forced to bake the cake. It’s his business, not the government’s. Let the market decide.  

“Mind your own business” used to be a matter of common sense but sense grows scarcer by the day it seems. You see, an individual can have common sense but not a government. No government has, or ever has had, common sense. Common sense resides in a mind and nothing is more mindless than a government. Thus a senator, but not a Senate, can have common sense.  

Since we are not self-directed but rather State-manipulated, common sense no longer rules the day. This is why no business anywhere can refuse a customer for any reason—provided of course that said customer isn’t smoking some sort of tobacco. 

There was a time in America when common people ruled and regulated themselves by their own common sense. In other words, there was liberty. That time is now behind us and grows increasingly distant as we become more and more accustomed to our personal business being the government’s concern.  

“Mind your own business” said no nanny-police State ever.