Conservative Christianity vs. Superstitious Secularism

Mollie Z. Hemingway has a fascinating piece in the Wall Street Journal:

“What Americans Really Believe,” a comprehensive new study released by Baylor University yesterday, shows that traditional Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology. It also shows that the irreligious and the members of more liberal Protestant denominations, far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.

Also, she shows that higher education contributes to belief in superstition! You have got to read the whole article, which includes the fact that comedian Bill Maher, for all of his mockery of Christianity as irrational, himself disbelieves in medicine, vaccination, and the existence of germs.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Ken

    So it turns out that for Mr. Maher nonsense is not nonsense if it’s HIS sense.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer TK

    That was a very interesting piece! Mollie does confessional Lutherans proud, of course, but I think her unique insight and writing ability has found a place in our general culture as well. I was intrigued by this statement: “Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn’t.” It reminded me of a recent conversation with my first-year college student, regarding continued church attendance in college.

  • Ruthie

    Bill Maher is a loon and an opportunist, for sure.

    However, on the vaccine issue, there is much debate as to whether or not vaccines really are SAFE.

    Also, maybe many of your prolife readers do not realize that many vaccines are grown from tissues of aborted babies, which I find unconscionable. Included in the list are two versions of the polio vaccine as well as chicken pox, mmr, and hep A. To learn more: http://cogforlife.org/fetalvaccines.htm

  • Susan aka organshoes

    An open mind, in some matters, is merely a garbage receptacle.

  • CRB

    Susan,
    I don’t know if that line originated with you, but if it’s not copyrighted, may I copy and paste to my files?
    I think it’s a “keeper”!

  • fw

    #4 susan

    what matters is Jesus. orientation. with that all error will slowly slip away, and what dross is left will be consumed by fire at the end.

  • Ken

    Ruthie: If not for vaccines, then what? Would you have unrestrained measles, diphtheria, and polio revisit the land?

    Do you know how many people died worldwide during the great influenza pandemic of 1918-1920?

    Do you have any idea how much of a scourge on mankind smallpox was before the WHO eradication program was implemented?

    I’m all for improving a good thing and making vaccines safer. But the debate over vaccine safety should not be couched in any misapprehensions about what life was like without them.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    CRB: It seemed to have just come to me, but I can’t vow I never heard it before. My ‘narrow’ mind has been a receptacle for much, useful and useless!
    So, for what that’s worth, have at it.

  • fw

    “where god´s word leaves, superstition enters” martin luther.

    simple.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Interesting that the members of the more liberal Protestant organizations, “far from being resistant to superstition, tend to be much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians;” also, that 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ [Congregational] expressed belief in the paranormal compared to only 14% among those belonging to the Assemblis of God, Sarah Palin’s former denomination. Wonderful irony, this.

    This, also, fits with the author, Rodney Stark’s view that Christianity helped bring reason to the West that was instrumental in developing universities, advanced agriculture, and capitalism, making sure that the West became the most prosperous and advanced of the major civilizations.

  • Don S

    Ruthie @ 3 and Ken @ 7: The topic of vaccines is a fascinating one. Obviously, the historic vaccines, such as polio, smallpox, rubella, DPT, saved millions of lives and the good health of millions of others. But what about all of the others that are now “required” by our governments, like chicken pox, hpv, etc.? When I was a kid growing up in the early 60′s, we got, I believe, something like 7 vaccinations. Now, it’s in the twenties. We opted out of a lot of them for our kids, because it is out of control. Chicken pox vaccine was the most stupid one ever invented. It only lasts for about 10 years, thus exposing adults to chicken pox if they don’t get re-vaccinated repeatedly as adults. And chicken pox for healthy children is not big deal.

  • Ken

    In the first place, I dislike the government requiring certain health measures. I understand the need to attend to the public health where epidemic diseases are concerned. Where certain diseases can be eradicated through conscientious vaccination programs (smallpox, polio) there is tremendous benefit for all. But I am unhappy with government officials dictating to parents and pediatricians about the myriad of other vaccines that are available, may be useful on an individual basis, but are hardly necessary for everyone. The problem is, it takes more thought and efffort to direct vaccines to where they are needed than it does simply to decree that everyone must comply.

  • The Jones

    Sort of on the same subject, but not really: I just joined a “Freethought Club” on my college campus, mostly at the request of a friend. I thought it was going to be lame, but then I realize that with pointed questions and an insistence on following things to their logical conclusions, I can take this atheist venting ground (I quickly found out that that’s what it is) and test it to see exactly how “free” this thought really is.

    But back to the subject: Anti-religious people hold themselves to be scholars, but they are fools. They do not realize that all “religion” means is “a position on God and spirituality.” That seems overly vague, but it’s true. A word that encompasses things so broad as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Bhuddism, Christian Science, and Paganism has to be that vague. What “Anti-religious” people don’t realize is that THEY TOO have a position on religion, and they believe it rather strongly, strong enough to say… …make a movie documentary about it? They are blind to their souls. This blindness leads to foolishness very quickly.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    By the way, Maher calling his movie a documentary is pretty pretentious.
    Just because something is non-fiction and a movie doesn’t make it a bona fide documentary.
    Otherwise, Nazi propaganda films were documentaries. Candidate bios shown at political conventions are documentaries.
    What’s next? A Saturday Night Live sketch?

  • Jacob

    This article reminded me of a G.K. Chesterton quote – “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”

  • http://www.gethsemanelutheranchurch.org Greg DeVore

    Off and on over the last few years there have been stories about unitarian churches and quaker churches being taken over by neopagans and wiccans. I suppose this could be another example of theological liberalism leading to gross superstition.
    I think the same thing happened in Germany. The liberal church embraced Darwinism and the historical-critical approach to Scripture and this prepared the way for their acceptance of Nazi mythology and paganism.

  • Michael the little boot

    Okay, I don’t think I’m going to give you guys a free pass to say whatever you want, just because it’s your opinion most people here are religious. I know the majority are, but I have a feeling (unsubstantiated, I’ll admit) there are other lurkers here who are not religious and have yet to speak up. So here I go.

    Laying aside the irony of people who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible talking about the superstitious beliefs of others, I take issue with something The Jones said @ 13: “Anti-religious people hold themselves to be scholars, but they are fools. They do not realize that all ‘religion’ means is ‘a position on God and spirituality.’ That seems overly vague, but it’s true. A word that encompasses things so broad as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Bhuddism, Christian Science, and Paganism has to be that vague.” Okay. I agree with you as to your loose definition of the word “religion,” and that it must be vague if it is to encompass so many wide-ranging beliefs. I do not consider myself “anti-religious,” so I assume you mean only those people who wish all religion to be abolished when you speak of “fools.” (Of course, one wonders what you do with the Biblical idea that you shouldn’t call others fools, if you believe the Bible literally.) I DO NOT believe in God, or gods, or anything divine, so I have a sneaking suspicion I might be included in this list of “fools” you’ve so carelessly drawn up. Since it’s THE TRUTH you’re discussing, no need to be nice about it, I guess. I’ve said this before, though, and basically been told that THE TRUTH isn’t nice, it’s THE TRUTH.

    I’d like you all to look at the comments above and TRY to read them from a nonreligious perspective. How about I try one of your tactics? “What if you’re wrong? Could you just TRY to look at it as though that might be true?” Just try it. If God is really real then you’re safe to do so. Right? Try to look at it from an outsider’s perspective. You may find that, to the rest of us, you sound more than a little arrogant. And with nothing other than faith to back that arrogance up.

    The Jones again: “What ‘Anti-religious’ people don’t realize is that THEY TOO have a position on religion, and they believe it rather strongly, strong enough to say… …make a movie documentary about it? They are blind to their souls. This blindness leads to foolishness very quickly.” I think people who are not religious and have no interest in it DO realize they have strong feelings about religion. I don’t even know what you’re trying to say here. The safety of this Mutual Admiration Society makes people say the darnedest things…

    I’m not saying Maher doesn’t have some goofy positions. Don’t we all? But he’s not trying to say his goofy positions are the ONLY TRUTH FOR ALL HUMANKIND. He’s just saying there’s a lot of superstition around. Of course, he is remiss in not including himself and those positions he takes which are unsupported by evidence on the list of superstitions and the superstitious people who believe them.

    The things he says about modern medicine are not actually totally kooky. He says that we over-medicate. We do! He says pills aren’t the only answer. They’re not! I have NEVER heard him say he doesn’t believe in the existence of germs. If he did say that, he’s ignorant. But modern medicine, while it is an improvement over the past, isn’t perfect. It’s largely controlled by corporations who have MONEY as their goal, not health.

    But he also believes in reincarnation, out of the blue, with no explanation as to how it is supported by evidence. Not to say that we should throw out everything he says based on that, but it gives us a context into which we can place his remarks, so as to have a slightly clearer picture of him.

    All that to say, his fanboys (and girls) will defend him to no end. Without question. Suddenly I’m reminded of how often the anti-semite Martin Luther is quoted and defended on this very blog. If you don’t throw out everything he said simply because he held some very wrong opinions based on his historical context, one wonders why you do not treat others this way.

  • WebMonk

    Michael, “The safety of this Mutual Admiration Society makes people say the darnedest things…”

    Nah. They say them in public and anti-religious message boards too.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    For reference, the cells used for most vaccines come from a single victim of prenatal infanticide, who was killed in 1965. No more victims are, to my knowledge, being murdered for vaccines.

    Repulsive, yes. So is the pioneering work on hypothermia of, I believe, Dr. Mengele.

    But to the point; yes, I’ve noticed that, yes, the highly educated are often highly superstitious. Maher?

    I’m reluctant to tar the highly educated, or the superstitious, by connecting them with Bill Maher.

  • Joe

    “And with nothing other than faith to back that arrogance up.”

    I would dispute that – certainly faith is the corner stone of Christianity but there is plenty of historical and archeological evidence to substantiate the much of the Bible. Of course, there is not yet any (and most likely never will be) hard “proof” of the miracles, but we do have historical records that prove that Jesus’ resurrection was not something created years after the fact. It was recorded by non-Christian contemporary historians that Christ’s followers preached Christ Crucified. We know that the Jews, instead of disputing it happened, created explanations as to why the tomb was empty on the first Easter.

    On the flip-side, I used to be a “God-used-evolution-to-create” Christian until I lost my faith in evolution. There certainly is evidence to support micro, intra species changes overtime. The “evidence” of macro, inter species evolution is simply flimsy, if not non-existent. It requires as much, if not more, faith to believe it.

  • Joe

    If you take faith out of the equation – then the only explination one can give as to the creation of the universe is, “I don’t know.”

  • Peter Leavitt

    Michael the little boot, your comments ignore the findings of the Baylor/Gallup study that are rather convincing regarding the tendency of superstition among secularists. You, without of scintilla of evidence, merely express your view that Christians are apparently ignorant “fundamentalists,” a false effusion that devout Christians have found risible for millennia.

    Should you have any hard evidence that most Christians are superstitious souls, do let us Know.

  • Michael the little boot

    WebMonk @ 18,

    “They say them in public and anti-religious message boards too.”

    Well put. Although, anti-religious message boards count as Mutual Admiration Societies as well. Don’t they? People are MUCH more reluctant to say these things in public when they are not surrounded by a number of like-thinkers.

  • Pingback: Christianity — protection against superstition and the paranormal « The GeoChristian

  • Michael the little boot

    Joe @ 21,

    “If you take faith out of the equation – then the only explination one can give as to the creation of the universe is, ‘I don’t know.’”

    Pretty much. No one knows how the universe was created. We’re all here after the fact. We have some interesting speculation, some of it grounded in a lot of research. But those of us who are honest admit we don’t know. How ’bout you, Joe?

  • Michael the little boot

    Joe @ 20,

    “…we do have historical records that prove that Jesus’ resurrection was not something created years after the fact. It was recorded by non-Christian contemporary historians that Christ’s followers preached Christ Crucified. We know that the Jews, instead of disputing it happened, created explanations as to why the tomb was empty on the first Easter.” Really? And here I studied theology at the college level and learned none of this. Would you be willing to cite any sources?

    “On the flip-side, I used to be a ‘God-used-evolution-to-create’ Christian until I lost my faith in evolution. There certainly is evidence to support micro, intra species changes overtime. The ‘evidence’ of macro, inter species evolution is simply flimsy, if not non-existent. It requires as much, if not more, faith to believe it.” Ah, the party line. If you look at the flimsy evidence used by evolution-deniers to show evolution is not tenable, then of course you will find the evidence to be weak. What is the weak evidence, in your opinion? Not the tired “How could the eye evolve?” stuff. Or the bacterial flagellum nonsense. Or maybe carbon dating is wrong? Just trying to shoot the easy one’s down. If you’d like the actual arguments, I have no problem providing them. In fact, the eye argument is so old, Darwin himself had a response to it. So it’s been debunked for 150 years or so.

    But I do find it interesting you bring up evolution. I do not posit evolution – nor do any people who believe evolutionary theory – as the beginning of life. So I’m in the “I don’t know” category as far as that goes. I find abiogenesis compelling, but that’s not evolution. I didn’t bring up evolution. How interesting you did…

  • Michael the little boot

    Peter @ 22,

    “Michael the little boot, your comments ignore the findings of the Baylor/Gallup study that are rather convincing regarding the tendency of superstition among secularists. You, without of scintilla of evidence, merely express your view that Christians are apparently ignorant ‘fundamentalists,’ a false effusion that devout Christians have found risible for millennia.” Um, okay. Where are you getting that from what I said? I never said anything like that, unless you mean the thinly-veiled comment about the irony in a Christian talking about someone ELSE being superstitious. I never said anyone was ignorant. You obviously have some anger here, and I didn’t have to do much to bring it out. Apparently, all I had to do was express an opinion in complete opposition to your own.

    “Should you have any hard evidence that most Christians are superstitious souls, do let us Know.” I wrote a different response to this, then thought better of it. I know I believe differently than most people here, and that my views are not always welcomed (although, to be fair, I know that I am not unwelcome here, just my inconvenient thoughts). But, come on. I agree with you people are superstitious across the board, regardless of whether they are religious. I even agreed Maher holds some superstitious beliefs of his own, and said as much. That last comment was totally unnecessary. PEOPLE are superstitious in general, unless they do a lot to keep themselves aware of that. People who believe so many things they can’t prove – many of which go AGAINST things we know to be more accurate descritions of reality – shouldn’t be so quick to say others believe things they can’t prove.

  • Michael the little boot

    Oops. Descriptions of reality. Ah, the wonders of imperfection…

  • Michael the little boot

    Greg @ 16,

    “The liberal church embraced Darwinism and the historical-critical approach to Scripture and this prepared the way for their acceptance of Nazi mythology and paganism.” That’s a gross oversimplification. The Nazi takeover of Germany wasn’t a bait-and-switch. It was much more complex than that.

    Must we continually remind you Hitler was a Catholic? There is no evidence – other than harmonization, which isn’t evidence so much as a slight-of-hand – to suggest otherwise. He never renounced his faith. In fact, he promoted his anti-semitic agenda as in keeping with Catholic tradition.

    Eugenics is based on “survival of the fittest,” which is a perversion of “Darwinism,” not “Darwinism” itself. Darwin never said it. It’s not in his books. I agree it’s a bad way to look at things. And it’s not the theory of evolution.

  • Gulliver

    It would be interesting to see a survey on the radio program “Coast to Coast” with Norris and Art Bell. They have many guests who have written books about the paranormal. Many have either experienced these phenomena or have written books about it. This radio program also has a few shows featuring people who talk about end-times senarios.
    One has to be careful to define exactly what is “para-normal.” Should it include ExtraSensory Perception (ESP) or not?
    For those who trust the Bible to be God’s Word, God has already dealt with many paranormal practices when he forbids divination, witchcraft and necromancy, since believers are to trust God for their help and their future. Christians need not fear ghosts, since the Bible teaches that souls return to God at death.
    There certainly are unexplained events in people’s that seem to defy what is scientific or normal. However, one does not have to posit para-normal answers to explain them.

  • Carl Vehse

    Michael wrote: I take issue with something The Jones said @ 13: “Anti-religious people hold themselves to be scholars, but they are fools….

    I DO NOT believe in God, or gods, or anything divine, so I have a sneaking suspicion I might be included in this list of “fools” you’ve so carelessly drawn up.

    Michael, your “sneaking suspicion” is confirmed. And it’s hardly carelessly drawn up, as least from a Christian viewpoint. Whether you believe it or not, Scripture states: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.

    Michael, you appear to have added yourself to the list.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Um, no, Schicklgruber was NOT Catholic. He went to Mass under the understanding that if he wasn’t allowed to participate, the bishop and priests would be sweeping floors at Dachau the next day. His actual writings were pretty much neo-pagan (much like Rousseau’s), and his offenses against Rome were such that an actual treaty had to be concluded to prevent the Roman church from actively rebelling against the NSDAP in 1934. In a few years, 7000 pastors of the Evangelische (Lutheran) church formed the Confessing church as a response to Schicklgruber’s attempt to replace the Scriptures with a “Horst Wessel” version.

    So NO, Hitler was NOT a Christian. His attacks on churches are too well documented for any serious student of history to believe that. Sorry.

    Moreover, eugenics DOES, ahem, have its roots in Darwin, who actually wrote fairly extensively on the subject of favored and inferior races. It’s a logical extension of the concept of natural selection, which is, again, ahem, pretty much “survival of fit races,” or “survival of the fittest.” Back around 1900, that much was not in debate among those who adhered to his theory.

  • Michael the little boot

    Carl @ 31,

    Your superstitions are getting in the way of your seeing clearly. I am not anti-religious. I don’t believe in God etc., but I’m not anti-religious. So I was trying to say that, although I am not anti-religous, I would still be included in the list of fools. You wanted to jump on me so much you missed the point of my comment.

    I know I’m basically doing this to myself by commenting. The closest to being a part of your community I’ll get will be “red-headed step-child,” apparently. No matter how nice I may try to be, the nature of this blog is exclusivist. Yeah, it’s very open and it fosters civil dialogue, but don’t expect to be given a full hearing if you’re not a Christian.

    I’m just saying: I’m trying here. But if you talk like this is your little corner and there are no non-Christians here…well, I’m stubborn. But don’t expect a lot of other nonreligious types to show up.

    Although that may be what you want. And here I was starting to feel like a part of things…

  • Michael the little boot

    Bike @ 32,

    I’m not even going to get into the first portion of your comment. You make a lot of emotive statements about Hitler, someone of whom you have no personal knowledge, like “He went to Mass under the understanding that if he wasn’t allowed to participate, the bishop and priests would be sweeping floors at Dachau the next day.” Where’s your evidence for that? I’m not trying to defend Hitler here – though his “sins” are no worse in the eyes of your view of God than anyone else’s (and this is coming from a Jew, mind you – not that I’m trying to “play a card”) – but you seem to be making things up. Apologies if you’re not.

    But I do have to say some things about THIS: “Moreover, eugenics DOES, ahem, have its roots in Darwin, who actually wrote fairly extensively on the subject of favored and inferior races.” Okay, once again: so did Martin Luther. Of course Darwin was an imperfect human, and a product of his day. But it is a HUGE leap from the inane racial theories of the past to eugenics, and it is a leap he did not make. In fact, he didn’t even KNOW ABOUT GENES, so how could he have said anything about eugenics? You are extrapolating from his ideas, and you make it obvious you’ve never read what he wrote. You’re just spitting words you’ve heard from other “debunkers.” Once again, if I’m wrong, correct me and I’ll apologize.

    “It’s a logical extension of the concept of natural selection, which is, again, ahem, pretty much ‘survival of fit races,’ or ‘survival of the fittest.’ Back around 1900, that much was not in debate among those who adhered to his theory.” Okay. So you’re in the “if a person has bad fans, the person himself is also bad” camp, which is fallacious to say the least. Just because people immediately took his ideas and ran in a COMPLETELY WRONG direction, does not mean his ideas AS HE CONCEIVED THEM are wrong. It simply means those who came after him were incorrect. Modern theorists completely reject the idea of eugenics. They’ve seen the error in this interpretation.

    Evolution by natural selection is NOT survival of the fittest. It is much more complex than that. Of course it has to do with surviving, because if one does not survive one does not procreate; but it is not simply being “fit” that allows an organism to survive. You can make the theory a caricature or straw man if you want, but unless you have something to say about the actual theory, you should probably stick to areas where you’ve read at least a little on both sides.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Steven Ozment, the Harvard historian of Germany, remarked in a recent book that ” Although Judaism held chronological and material priority over Christianity in Hitler’s reading of history, Christianity enacted its sociopolitical fury. Modern Jewry was the “ferment that caused a people to decay” but modern Christianity “systematically cultivated… human failure,” threatening much worse: “Pure Christianity… leads quite simply to the the anihalation of mankind; it is… wholehearted Bolshevism under a tinsel of metaphysics.” [quotes within are directly from Hitler].

    It is well known that after dealing with the Jews and Russians Hitler intended to eliminate the Christian authority that he at best tolerated for political reasons.

    On the subject of Darwinism Hitler based his brutal policy of eugenics directly on social Darwinism. In fact to extent that he had a carefully thought out world view it was based on a combination of Darwin’s supposed naturalism or materialism and Nietzsche’s nihilism. Hitler in fact is a classic case of rootless modern nihilism

    Michael has a bit of history to catch up with before he pontificates about Hitler being a Christian Catholic.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bike (@32), if you’re going to champion accuracy, then it’s best not to peddle the Adolf Schicklgruber meme.

  • Michael the little boot

    Peter @ 35,

    Okay. Well, if those quotes are from Hitler, I admit I was wrong. You neglected to list the books Steven Ozment was quoting, so I will have a hard time verifying what you’re saying.

    On the other hand, I CAN speak to this: “On the subject of Darwinism Hitler based his brutal policy of eugenics directly on social Darwinism. ” Exactly. Thank you. Social Darwinism is NOT Darwinism, and is, in fact, rejected by Darwinists. It is a perversion of Darwinian theory. Darwin himself never espoused it. The closest he came was in talking about the difference in races, but even here I’m not sure it was in the way Bike Bubba puts it above. He was a product of his time. He did NOT talk about eugenics. His theorizing is actually pretty puzzling in some areas because he can’t seem to follow his theories to their natural conclusions. That is, he still sees things in levels – as in a hierarchy – rather than everything just being different. Remember, there has been a lot of advancement in the theory since the time of its inception. The man who conceived it cannot be considered its’ brightest intellect. He didn’t have the tools to see the broad implications of his theory. Social Darwinism is just a perversion of the theory by elites who want to run everything.

    Perhaps you should read a new book on Darwin before you go pontificating yourself, there, Pete.

  • Carl Vehse

    I don’t believe in God etc., but I’m not anti-religious.

    According to Christ, you are anti-Christian. Our Lord says, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” (Mt. 12:30)

    The closest to being a part of your community I’ll get will be “red-headed step-child,” apparently.

    Not “a red-headed step-child”, but rather the description provided in John 8:44. That you disagree is not surprising since you reject the Person who said it.

    Yeah, it’s very open and it fosters civil dialogue, but don’t expect to be given a full hearing if you’re not a Christian.

    If your idea of a “full hearing” is that we accept with no objection and as equally valid your anti-Christian views, then you are advocating another version of the Liberal Lie: “All beliefs are to be tolerated except those that are not tolerant.”

  • Peter Leavitt

    Michael, Ozment was quoting from Hitler’s Table Talk10/1041, p. 51; 12/14/41,p. 146.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Michael in the Descent of Man Darwin gave the social Darwinist’s ample reason to base their ideas on, as indicated by the following from p, 181.

    Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
    The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden himself whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. … We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Michael, excuse me, Ozment’s book is A Mighty Fortress; A New History of the German People published by Harpers Perennial in 2004.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Michael, excuse me, Ozment’s book is A Mighty Fortress; A New History of the German People published by Harpers Perennial in 2004.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@33), your comments are certainly welcome here, even if they will meet with vigorous disagreement. But I’m pretty certain Veith has made clear in the past that this is not, and is not supposed to be, a Lutheran-only blog. So comment away (but be prepared to defend yourself). That said, those who feel their secret clubhouse is being violated tend to lash out the most.

    As for Carl (@38), he’s pretty good at condemning people, but I don’t remember him ever mentioning the Gospel part of Christianity here, so forgive him if his outreach/evangelical techniques are a bit, well, rusty.

  • Anon

    The Gospel is for those who are horrified at their sins and are repentant, not for those who arrogantly exalt their sins. Those need the Law. That is why God’s law is cited here as much as it is. It is what is needed for your (pl) well-being.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Anon (@44), I agree with what you say about the Gospel, and yet from what you have written here and elsewhere, one could conclude that you think all you need to do to fulfill the Great Commission is to tell a sinner, “Thou art condemned.” Then, on the off-chance they repent, you can tell them about Jesus’ love. But not a word about it until then!

    I don’t remember Jesus or the disciples going about it that way all the time. They was frank with people about their sins, true. But they didn’t seem to think that condemnation was their only or main job. Indeed, it was the Pharisees who seemed content to pass judgment on sinners and do little else. Jesus dared to show concern for the sinners and love them, even while they were still sinners — could you be accused of doing the same?

    Your choice of pronouns in your last sentence (@44) seems telling. The Law is needed for our (you know, we sinners — Michael, FW, and me) well-being. The people who disagree with you, whether on matters of faith or mere politics. Tell me, Anon, do you need to hear the Law?

    Indeed you do, given how easily you tell people — people you do not know — they do not believe or have saving faith. Have you apologized for such arrogance? If so, I’ve missed it. Or are you still exalting in your sin of slandering your brothers in Christ?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Michael, yes, I do happen to know a little about the guy, and yes, what I say about Hitler’s treaties with the Vatican, attempt to impose a Nazi Bible, and so on is absolutely true. You can look it up. Hitler’s opposition to Christianity was a huge factor in the Confessing Church, in that treaty, and for that matter in the decision of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to try and kill him. It’s not exactly a subtle historical point, though it is one that liberal historians tend to miss.

    So is the fact about “Descent of Man.” I’m sorry; reality is that most people in the late 1800s clearly understood Darwin’s logic and applied it to sociology. As Peter notes, it’s a natural conclusion. If we are just by chance, and some are better suited to reproduce and survive, what problem is it if those less well suited to life do not?

    It is not an accident that the world’s greatest purveyors of genocide, the Communists and National Socialists, relied heavily on Darwin. Again, not one of those subtle points of history, even if liberal/secular historians fail to clue in to it.

    And tODD, please. A guy kills tens of millions of people, we can address him by the silly sounding name he should have had.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Bike Bubba If we are just by chance, and some are better suited to reproduce and survive, what problem is it if those less well suited to life do not?

    Yes, this is the crux of the matter. Also, if we are just by by chance, why not anyting? Much of modern decadence can be explained by the Darwinian view that human beings are merely some sort of advanced animals lacking spiritual being and moral law.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Peter (@47), if “modern decadence” is explained by “Darwinian views”, then what explained the decadence found in all but the last century?

    I daresay human beings of prior centuries were sinning very similarly to those of modern times, and it had little to do with an understanding of our origins, and very much to do, simply, with sinful attitudes (of which, certainly, there is the denial of Creation, God, and morality).

    Bike (@46), you can call anyone anything you want, I suppose. But don’t pretend that you care about educating people or accuracy, then. It’s just glorified name-calling, really.

  • Michael the little boot

    Carl @ 38,

    No, my idea of a fair hearing is being able to express opposing views without being called a FOOL. I know I wasn’t called one outright, but I’ve had interactions with The Jones before, so he/she (sorry, Jones, I’m in the dark on that) should know I am here and not a Christian. But if FW has to endure being called things like “homosexualist” or tODD must constantly defend why he is a “Demonrat,” I should expect to be called worse. I mean, they’re in the fold, after all.

    I’m not saying “All views must be tolerated but those that are intolerant.” I’m saying it doesn’t further discussion to use emotive language which expresses this ferocious negativity. But I give as good as I get in this regard, so I must apologize as well. I stop short of calling everyone here fools, but that is because I don’t consider anyone here a fool simply because they believe differently than I do.

    If you take offense that a nonbeliever will think some of your views are superstitious, I can understand that. I do think many of the views re: a literal interpretation of the Bible are superstitious, and I’ve said so on numerous occasions. But I think that’s much different than saying someone is a fool. I’m sure I have some superstitions as well. It is not foolish to have these, just human.

    Now, as far as non-Christians being regarded as anti-Christian, I must call out your proof-texting. I’m sorry to say, but, while Jesus is quoted as saying “He who is not with Me is against Me…” he is ALSO quoted as saying “He who is not against us is for us.” (In fact, the last quotation comes from TWO sources, Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50.) The passage you quote and the one I quote are in direct opposition to each other. How fitting you chose the one that goes along with what you believe! So the Jesus YOU quote agrees with you, the Jesus I quote agrees with me. What do we do here?

    I get treated like a red-headed step-child (no offense to red heads and step-children!) because you are not humble enough to acknowledge the trouble we have being certain. You, apparently, have no trouble BELIEVING you’re certain, but that’s all you’ve got: belief. You are no more certain about things than I am, but you’re CONVINCED what you believe is The Truth. That’s cool. I’m just saying, you are only convinced. You have no more proof you are right than any other religious person. You have no more proof than does Bill Maher when he acknowledges the superstitions of others while failing to recognize his own.

  • Michael the little boot

    Peter @ 39-42,

    Thank you for listing the sources. Once again, I stand corrected. Hitler was a nominal Catholic.

    Now, I must ask: have you read The Descent of Man? Or are you just quote-mining? It’s dangerous not to read things in context. I think it’s actually one of the biggest reasons people read Social Darwinism INTO Darwin, even though it’s not really there. They look for paragraphs wherein he seems to be saying these things. I read the portion you quoted in a completely different way; but, then, I like Darwin, find his ideas compelling (though far from perfect!), and don’t see things in such stark black-and-white terms.

    Because Darwin held some of the erroneous views of his time, he said things such as what you quote. Now, I find it to be a bit more vague than you seem to do. But I don’t defend it, other than to say he was a product of his historical period. Just as Martin Luther was when he wrote On the Jews and their Lies. We can’t throw out everything a person said because they said some wrong things. I find it sad that Darwin was not able to see the implications of his own theory: that we are all – plants, animals, and fungi – part of a whole, and no one part is “higher” than another. This is what evolution has come to in the last 150 years. It is not that humans are the pinnacle of a pyramid; rather, we are just another twig on another branch of the Tree of Life. I like that, but that’s me. I can’t look at another animal without seeing myself.

    The crux of the matter is this: even though people went in this wrong direction with Darwin’s theories for a while, they didn’t stay that way. Most biologists DO NOT subscribe to Social Darwinism. It is a very 19th century way of looking at things, and did not persist much past the middle of the 20th. It is the racism and classism and speciesism of the 19th century coupled with a hierarchical reading of Darwin’s ideas which brought this about. Add a dash of nihilism and you get the problems of the early- to mid-20th century. Probably a little over-simplified for lack of space (and in the interest of keeping this as short as possible).

    Richard Dawkins, a man who’s given you all more than a little reason to dislike him, puts it this way (and I’m paraphrasing): while he is a Darwinist when it comes to evolution, biology, and things of that nature, he is most definitely NOT a Darwinist when it comes to society. So, the Darwinists have actually out-Darwined the man himself. There are nuances to the theory that were not present at its inception. That’s what I like about science: when new info comes to light, rather than defend the old ideas against the new findings, science CHANGES to reflect the more recent and accurate research. I find religion, when one of its’ ideas is challenged by new findings, tends to circle the wagons and defend the old idea rather than give the new one a full hearing.

    Like tODD said: the people who feel their personal clubhouse is being attacked tend to lash out.

  • Michael the little boot

    tODD @ 43,

    Thanks. I have no problem with vigorous disagreement, nor with defending my positions. I just don’t like being called a fool. My beliefs would give me cause to call some people here names as well, but I refrain. I know The Jones was not specifically saying it to me, but The Jones knows I’m here. I don’t expect special treatment, though, and since you and FW get called names, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if I am on the receiving end of a few epithets.

    So, when people call nonbelievers fools, they can expect me to speak up. :)

  • Michael the little boot

    Bike Bubba @ 46,

    Most people in the late 1800′s? You can’t just make blanket statements like that. They’re not helpful. There were a lot of people in the late 1800′s all over the world, and it’s difficult to surmise what most of them thought. Some people DID take Darwin’s ideas in the direction of Social Darwinism and Eugenics. I still have not gotten an answer to my question: why must we throw out a theory if a) it was not perfect to begin with and b) it was taken in wrong directions by others? I mean, there are a TON of other denominations that interpret the Bible differently than you do. You don’t throw the whole Bible out as a result. Do you?

    Social Darwinism is NOT a natural conclusion of Darwinism as it is understood now. As I stated above, the theory actually says we’re ALL THE SAME. We even share a pretty large percentage of our dna with bacteria. If we can’t say we’re better than bacteria, who can we say we ARE better than? No one, in my view. We are not chosen by God, nor are we more “highly evolved” than any other animal or plant or fungus. We just are what we are, and about the matter we can say no more. There is no better or worse in evolution, only that which survives and that which does not. You, like many others, are making a straw man of Darwinism. Set it ablaze, knock it down, whatever. It’s not the actual theory, so you’re doing no harm anyway.

    This is what I find most intriguing in your comment: “If we are just by chance, and some are better suited to reproduce and survive, what problem is it if those less well suited to life do not?” Indeed. There isn’t an INCUMBENT responsibility here. If we wanted to, we could, without natural consequences, do anything to survive. I find it funny that I, who have no reason to hold my beliefs other than that I DO hold them, do not see this as an option anymore. Not for us. We have invented morality, and now we can use it. But, no, for those of you who say you are the MOST MORAL, it’s not this way. It is not a personal responsibility as you see it, but an obligation to God. Well, Bike, I’ll tell ya: I don’t need God to tell me not to abuse animals or other people. I do it because I CHOOSE to do it. As I read your statement, you would NOT choose this if you didn’t believe in God. And that’s just sad, really, because it’s a very immature attitude.

    “It is not an accident that the world’s greatest purveyors of genocide, the Communists and National Socialists, relied heavily on Darwin. Again, not one of those subtle points of history, even if liberal/secular historians fail to clue in to it.” Dude, this is a tactic, just like atheists bringing up the Inquisition and the Crusades. Number one, you can’t talk about number of people, you have to talk percentages, since the populations of the world varies from then to now. Two, I don’t hold any Christian alive today responsible for the attrocities of the aforementioned time periods. I hold the people who committed the acts responsible. I do the same for those who committed the horrible acts of genocide in the 20th century. Funny enough, there’s a lot of genocide going on all over Muslim AND Christian Africa. Do I hold those religions responsible? No. That would be a cop-out. I hold the people responsible, regardless of their beliefs.

  • Michael the little boot

    Peter,

    “Also, if we are just by by chance, why not anyting [sic]? Much of modern decadence can be explained by the Darwinian view that human beings are merely some sort of advanced animals lacking spiritual being and moral law.” Darwin never said we were advanced animals lacking spiritual being and moral law. Where do you get that? Some people have said those things and CALLED them Darwinian. But if we’re going to start calling ANYTHING about evolution – even the extremist crackpots and their wacky hypothesizing – Darwinism, the word loses all its meaning. It becomes a catch-all for anti-evolution sentiments.

    How can much of modern decadence be explained by this view if most people don’t accept Darwinism or evolution? It is well below half of the population in the US. It varies throughout Europe. Many African and Arab countries have a lower acceptance of it than in the US. I submit that much of the decadence throughout history can be explained by two things (and this is only an hypothesis): 1) humans believe themselves to be the most important living things on this planet; and 2) religions have played into this by saying, in various ways, that we ARE the pinnacle of creation and deserve to do whatever we want (outside of remembering that we are lower than God, and that God is in charge). If you combine those ideas with the fact that we just aren’t perfect, and are basically ruled – at least in part – by our appetites, you get a more common sense version of why the past hundred years or so have been such self-centered times.

  • Carl Vehse

    Michael, in Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23 our Savior was speaking to that group who rejected Him as the Christ. In Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50, Christ was addressing his believing apostles, who were being prideful against other believers who were not in their group. You have previously established your membership in the first group.

    In any case, Michael, Christ’s words in Mark 9:40 and Luke 9:50 are not in direct opposition to His words in Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23. Instead, they are the valid logical contrapositive:

    “He who is not with Me is against Me.” (If not W, then A)

    “He who is not against us is for us.” (If not A, then W)

    As for being convinced of the Truth that Jesus is the Christ, I am certain through faith.

    As for you, Michael, being convinced that Jesus is not the Christ, what is the basis of your certainty? The same logic you, as an atheist, used to claim Christ’s words were in direct opposition to each other? You have some bad mojo, Michael.

  • Michael the little boot

    Carl 2 54,

    “As for being convinced of the Truth that Jesus is the Christ, I am certain through faith.” That, my friend, is a contradiction, plain and simple. You can’t be certain through faith. You can either be certain, or have faith. It’s not a both/and question.

    I’m not CERTAIN Jesus is not “the Christ,” it just seems implausible to me. Improbable. There is no certainty, Carl, sorry to say. I’m not even certain of that! :)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@49), I certainly understand the emotional reaction to being called a fool, and I agree that tossing that term out certainly isn’t helpful (for reasons I’ll get to), but it seems to me that, at the heart of this, is that we disagree. And that involves issues of being right and wrong, of comparison of ideas and, it would seem by extension, of people and value.

    Perhaps it would help to consider a wholly different example: what if we asked a set of people to calculate 5 x 10. There would probably be a few different answers, but we agree that, using math as our guide, there is only one right one. So what about the others? They are wrong. Some (such as “510″ or “.5″) might seem a bit more understandable — you can see how someone arrived, wrongly, at that conclusion — but they are all wrong. Now some people might say that only a completely baffling answer (say, 489 or pi) would be truly foolish, the other answers like 510 and 0.5 being merely wrong but showing some value. I would disagree. I’d say that all the wrong answers are foolish, if perhaps in different ways.

    That said, I’d also agree that it would probably not help the people giving the wrong answers very much if all you did was call them a fool (even if they have shown that, in this case at least, they are). Far better would be to explain what the correct answer is and, where possible, show the people where they might have gone wrong in their calculation. Calling someone a fool likely only serves to stir up negative emotions (which can be useful if the person answering incorrectly is arrogantly convinced of his being correct) and does nothing to educate him.

    Anyhow, no doubt the comparison falls apart here and there, but I think you see my point. I disagree that your position is wise, just as (I suspect) you feel the same about me. I try not to take it personally if you say (or think) that my beliefs are superstitious, ignorant, or so on — this is just what happens given the different beliefs we hold.

    But there is something else that may enter in, as well: the question of comparing not just ideas, but people and, by extension, people’s value. It would be easy to conclude that Christians think they are better than non-Christians, given how these discussions have gone. That is not — or at least should not be — true. A Christian knows that he, like everyone else, is a sinner, and only by the grace of God does he come to have saving faith in Jesus’ atoning for his (and everyone’s) sins. As such, if non-believers are fools, Christians are fools except but for the grace of God. The Christian isn’t guaranteed to be smarter, a better arguer, better at memorizing, etc. The only difference is that he knows (and does not reject) what Jesus has done for him.

    So when Christians read that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7), they know that, but for God’s grace, that would include them, too.

    All that to simply say that we do not agree. But, as I said before, if that’s all there was for either of us to say, it would have been over a long time ago. We can still say what we think about particular circumstances, correct each other, and challenge each other’s arguments, even respecting the skill involved, if ultimately not the argument being made. And, of course, I can pray for God to grant you the understanding that, in spite of my foolishness, he granted me. And I hope we can be nice about it, while still acknowledging the fundamental differences we have.

    And if you feel I or anyone else here is playing the fool, call us on it. For my part, I’ll try not to take it personally.

    Did that clear anything up?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@49), as for your reading of Jesus’s statements about being for/against him, I have to agree with Carl’s argument (@54), though it may annoy him greatly to be on the same side as me.

    You perceive a contradiction in those two statements (“He who is not with Me is against Me” and “He who is not against us is for us”) because, I’d guess, you think there’s a middle ground. Jesus is clear there is no middle ground (read some of the parables in Matthew 13, among other passages). As such, those two statements are exactly the same. The problem is that many of those who are against Jesus believe they are not against him — but sadly, it’s not so (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). Hopefully, I will not be accused of “proof-texting”!

    As for your claim (@55) that “You can’t be certain through faith,” on what basis do you say this? Of course one can be certain through faith. Perhaps you can’t, since you have decided to ignore all evidence that does not come about via the scientific method. It is a question of what one puts one’s faith in. I have the Bible, and the faith and reason God gave me to understand it. You have the scientific method. (Although I’d guess that you’d reserve the right to reject any particular conclusion-of-the-moment by that method, used as it is by those who err. That said, I gather that you do believe for the most part in what the scientific method has led us to — for that matter, so do I. It’s just a question of what we think has been marred by man’s limited reason or other problems.)

    As for “certainty”, this is going to sound like the rambling of a college freshman, no doubt, and I’m sure I’m trodding philosophical ground that has been trod before (no doubt by someone wiser and more eloquent than I), but …

    If (A) we are certain there is no certainty, then there is certainty, at least in that one thing. If (B) we are not certain that there is no certainty, then again there can be certainty. Either way, I don’t see how you can rule out certainty — it seems like there’s room for it in either case. It’s just a question of what we can be certain of.

  • http://www.gethsemanelutheranchurch.org Greg DeVore

    As Lutherans certainty is bound up with our concept of faith. Faith is (in its mature, healthy fullness) the certainty that our sins have been forgiven for Christ sake. This is at the heart of our disagrement with Rome. The Council of Trent asserted that no one could be certain that they are forgiven, justified, reconciled to God. While I agree with those who argue that there are strong arguments and evidences to bolster Christian truth claims our certainty does not derive from those ‘proofs.’ Our certainty is the gift of the Holy Spirit given through the hearing of the Word. Romans 10:17. In otherwords Michael your statement that we cannot be certain is one we could never agree with while remaining Lutheran. If you are arguing are proofs and evidences do not reach the level of say geometric certainty I would agree with you. When we talk about certainty we are not discussing are confidence in a geometric proof but our confidence in the Word of God. Our certainty in God’s Word is itself a miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Michael, the clear implication of evolution by random process of selection is that humans are advanced animals of physical being without the special qualities of spiritual being living in a cosmos that includes moral law. If we are just, as Bike Bubba remarks, just from chance anything goes, which again explains much of the extraordinary level of modern decadence and corruption compared to other Christian times.

    The truth is that most Darwinians, though averse to admitting it, take a metaphysical view of naturalism or materialism that allows only empirical or positive truth that can be observed and measured.

    I am afraid that you have sold your Christian heritage for a mess of Darwinian and perhaps other modern pattage.

  • Carl Vehse

    Michael, earlier you announced in no uncertain terms: “I DO NOT believe in God, or gods, or anything divine” (Caps in the original). To be sure, you repeat, “I don’t believe in God etc., but I’m not anti-religious.”

    Now, most recently you say: “I’m not CERTAIN Jesus is not ‘the Christ,’ it just seems implausible to me. Improbable. There is no certainty, Carl, sorry to say. I’m not even certain of that!”

    So if you are not even certain about there being no certainty, you would have to admit that your statements, “I DO NOT believe in God, or gods, or anything divine” or “I’m not CERTAIN Jesus is not ‘the Christ’,” are uncertain statements. And though you admit you are uncertain whether there is no certainty, you make the claim that I cannot be certain because all I have is belief (through faith).

    On what basis or proof can you claim I cannot have certainty through faith, just because you are uncertain about whether there is certainty?

    In the meantime I would be a fool to abandon the certainty, through faith, of my belief to join you in the uncertainty of yours?

  • Don S

    tODD, @ 56 and 57, beautifully done. The time you put into making those posts so clear reflects well your love for the Lord and your desire to see all come to know Him as you do. Michael, please consider these things carefully. God bless you both.

  • Michael the little boot

    tODD @ 56,

    Thank you for your characteristically measured and civil response. It is difficult for people who disagree to remain so, yet you seem to have little trouble. A good example of the kind of moral action many Christians talk about, but few back up.

    I wonder what exactly you mean by this: “[I]t seems to me that, at the heart of this, is that we disagree. And that involves issues of being right and wrong, of comparison of ideas and, it would seem by extension, of people and value.” I’m only lost because you go from here to a math example, and I do not see the connection. I see the connection I think you’re trying to make, but I disagree with your interpretation of reality at this level as well. So the real disagreement I think we’re having is about whether the question of faith or certainty etc. is like math or unlike it. I find it to be unlike it, where you (obviously, as you use the example) believe the opposite. I find that math is like a bull in a china shop. It’s answers, generally, are unquestionable. It throws its weight around. Is the answer to 5 x 10 the number 50? Of course. (I’m no mathematician, so I will leave aside my math major friends who used to talk about abstract algebra throwing a lot these concrete answers out the window…) But the question of faith, like most things in life, does not, in my opinion, fall into this category. You’re not comparing apples and oranges, but apples and horses.

    A person coming to one of the erroneous conclusions you listed as an answer to the equation would easily be shown they were wrong. Any number of people would be able to go over their work and show them where they made their mistake. This is not the case with faith in God. Where is there anything quite as concrete as a number to associate with God? You may accept some things as certain where God is concerned, but where is your ability to show to OTHERS that it is as concrete as a number? It doesn’t communicate the same way. As they say, math is – at least, the closest thing to – the universal language. It doesn’t change based on interpretation as most things do.

    A person coming to an erroneous “metaphysical” conclusion would have any number of answers to choose from as to what is actually correct. He/she would have Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, Psychics, etc., telling her/him what the actual answer is, but none would have the kind of work to show proof of this that mathematics produces. That person would still have to determine these things on their own by weighing the evidence in their own mind. They will still ultimately make the choice that makes sense to them, and no one can rightly call them a fool for this. On the flip side, those people who do not believe 5 x 10 = 50 even after being shown multiple times the equation and the work done behind to prove it, ARE fools. They are willfully ignorant.

    That being said, I understand you DO believe these questions to be, if not exactly the same (you do acknowledge it breaks down “here and there”), then similar, or you wouldn’t have used the example. But you didn’t give enough information as to how these examples mirror each other. The question remains open. I think it’s telling, though, that interpretations of God vary wildly, whereas interpretations of the equation 5 x 10 do not.

    “Calling someone a fool likely only serves to stir up negative emotions (which can be useful if the person answering incorrectly is arrogantly convinced of his being correct) and does nothing to educate him.” Exactly. I must ask, though: do you find me arrogantly convinced of my opinions? I go out of my way to say the reason I DON’T hold the things you hold to be so certain is that I’m NOT certain. Is that arrogant? I’m really asking, because I am trying pretty hard to be as open as I can to what people say here. As I said before, I am not CONVINCED everyone here is wrong about the question of God etc., I just find it to be improbable. Is that arrogant?

    Once again, if I’m taking this too personally, just kick me in the teeth. I may not seem like I can take it, but I can. And, if I can’t, I need to learn.

    “I disagree that your position is wise, just as (I suspect) you feel the same about me.” I disagree with your position, yes. I don’t get into talking about wisdom. I don’t find doing that to be very wise. :)

    “I try not to take it personally if you say (or think) that my beliefs are superstitious, ignorant, or so on — this is just what happens given the different beliefs we hold.” Agreed. I actually like it when people rip me open about things I say here, because it forces me to be really honest and evaluate (and reevaluate) my positions. I don’t hold them in my closed fist, but in my open palm. Sometimes when a good wind kicks up, it blows my fanciful thoughts away. To that I say “And so it goes…” I’m aware that way of looking at things will find little appeal here.

    I don’t find all Christians to be in the “we think we’re more right than everyone else” camp. I try as hard as I can to talk to people as individuals, and to pre-judge them based on things like religion as little as is possible for me. (Being able to engage with people on this blog has been a huge help in that department.) But I find it interesting that so many “people of faith” would abandon their morals if they either were shown proof God doesn’t exist (this is totally a hypothetical, as I don’t believe absolute proof exists one way or the other), or if they simply stopped believing. I think you’d be surprised. I have internal morality – that is, I treat others as I do because I choose to, and for no other reason (at least, none of which I’m aware…). It seems people of religious faith have abdicated this responsibility to God. I only say this because many people here have said if there is no God, there’s no reason to be moral. And I’m saying, YES THERE IS: the reason is the choice. You don’t HAVE to choose one or the other. But you CAN choose to be moral. Is there a benefit to making this choice in the affirmative? Couldn’t say for sure. I’d like to think so, but it doesn’t seem so cut-and-dried to me.

    “All that to simply say that we do not agree. But, as I said before, if that’s all there was for either of us to say, it would have been over a long time ago. We can still say what we think about particular circumstances, correct each other, and challenge each other’s arguments, even respecting the skill involved, if ultimately not the argument being made.” Yes. I totally agree with you on this. And, yes, we can be nice about it. Though we can still be snarky. Ain’t that half the fun?

    “And if you feel I or anyone else here is playing the fool, call us on it. For my part, I’ll try not to take it personally.” I won’t be calling anyone fools, but I’ll continue calling people on things I think they should be called on. And I won’t take it personally when you call me on things. My place on calling people fools, though, stands. I don’t see how it adds to anything.

  • Michael the little boot

    tODD @ 57,

    How could you be in the same camp as Carl? :) Carl, if you’re reading this, I hope your head is not exploding!

    “You perceive a contradiction in those two statements…because, I’d guess, you think there’s a middle ground.” No, I don’t see a middle ground. I see these two being in stark contrast. Once again, they can be harmonized, but I find harmonization to be a putting together of unlike things in such a way as to make them appear alike. I know this is not how many people here view it, since I have been told the Bible’s harmonious nature is one piece of evidence in favor of its’ veracity.

    “Jesus is clear there is no middle ground.” Really? You keep citing parables and allegories. Are you taking those literally, or as metaphorical descriptions? It’s an important distinction, in my opinion. I read the parable of the sheep and the goats much differently than you do. I don’t find Jesus being clear here, or we wouldn’t see it differently. Unless I’m just being a fool… :)

    I see Jesus saying to the very CERTAIN RELIGIOUS folks that they may find themselves cast out after all. You notice those he casts out are very surprised to be cast out, while those who are not are just as surprised to find themselves honored guests at the Last Party. Well, let me ask you, tODD: wouldn’t you be surprised, as a Christian, to find yourself cast out at the end? I would find myself surprised – in this context – NOT to be cast out. So, in this light, what do you think the story is really saying?

    “As such, those two statements are exactly the same. The problem is that many of those who are against Jesus believe they are not against him — but sadly, it’s not so (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).” EXACTLY!! I’m saying I think this parable is about CHRISTIANS. Those people who are SO SURE they’re on Jesus’ side find themselves to be on the opposite one. Those who thought they were NOT

    Hopefully, I will not be accused of “proof-texting”!

    As for your claim (@55) that “You can’t be certain through faith,” on what basis do you say this? Of course one can be certain through faith. Perhaps you can’t, since you have decided to ignore all evidence that does not come about via the scientific method. It is a question of what one puts one’s faith in. I have the Bible, and the faith and reason God gave me to understand it. You have the scientific method. (Although I’d guess that you’d reserve the right to reject any particular conclusion-of-the-moment by that method, used as it is by those who err. That said, I gather that you do believe for the most part in what the scientific method has led us to — for that matter, so do I. It’s just a question of what we think has been marred by man’s limited reason or other problems.)

    As for “certainty”, this is going to sound like the rambling of a college freshman, no doubt, and I’m sure I’m trodding philosophical ground that has been trod before (no doubt by someone wiser and more eloquent than I), but …

    If (A) we are certain there is no certainty, then there is certainty, at least in that one thing. If (B) we are not certain that there is no certainty, then again there can be certainty. Either way, I don’t see how you can rule out certainty — it seems like there’s room for it in either case. It’s just a question of what we can be certain of.

  • Michael the little boot

    Sorry about that again. I hit a quick-key I didn’t know was a quick-key. The above is me, up until “Those who thought they were NOT” and the rest is tODD. Really, really sorry. I will finish and post the rest soon…

  • Michael the little boot

    Here we go with the rest of the response to tODD:

    Those who thought they were NOT on Jesus’ side find themselves to be, and they are unclear as to why or how. They should be happy to get this reward, but instead they question Jesus. “Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” They don’t even KNOW they’ve been doing the work! Jesus tells them they have been doing it, and doing it unknowingly. tODD, it doesn’t sound like ANY CHRISTIAN on this blog feels they are NOT doing Jesus’ work. I think this parable is one against having a false sense of security. It is against being too CERTAIN you are righteous.

    “As for your claim (@55) that ‘You can’t be certain through faith,’ on what basis do you say this?” On the basis of the definitions of the words.

    Faith: 1. confidence or trust in a person or thing; 2. belief that is not based on proof; 3. belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion; 4. belief in anything, as a code of ethics, standards of merit, etc.

    Certain: 1. free from doubt or reservation, confident, sure; 2. destined, sure to happen; 3. inevitable, bound to come; 4. established as true or sure, unquestionable, indisputable.

    and Belief (just for context): 1. something believed, an opinion or conviction; 2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof.

    “Perhaps you can’t, since you have decided to ignore all evidence that does not come about via the scientific method.” This is not totally true. What I’ve come to believe through my study of science is how difficult it is to be certain. I’m not saying I throw out everything not gathered by the scientific method. I’m saying I don’t find it as easy to be certain as you apparently do. I find it to be irresponsible to talk about certainty without adhering strictly to the definition. If not, why do we even define words? If they can be meant to mean anything we want, of what value are they?

    “It is a question of what one puts one’s faith in.” Yes, exactly. I don’t put faith in much. I am very patient, and like to learn as much as I can before acting. I do have faith in some things, though I don’t know I could put them into words without really giving it a lot more thought. I like to be much more certain (measured, mind you – not certain, but “more certain”) before I commit to something. But I don’t have faith only in the scientific method. It might seem like that since I talk about proof a lot. That’s really just in this context. I don’t always need proof, because I don’t need certainty. I’m fine not knowing. Although I am a huge nerd and like to learn things. :)

    As for your last statement: I agree there’s ROOM for certainty, I just think it’s really difficult to arrive at certainty, so it’s not really worth acting like you’re certain in most cases. I already answered that, really, when I said to Carl “There is no certainty, Carl, sorry to say. I’m not even certain of that!” It may have sounded like a dodge, but that’s what most people don’t like about philosophy: it’s much more interested in the cracks between things than the things themselves. I’m not CERTAIN there’s no certainty, I just think it’s hard to capture. So what’s the use in saying you’re certain if you can’t prove it? Isn’t it enough to BELIEVE you’re certain? You’re going to have a hard time convincing me you’re not just confusing belief with certainty. Not that it’s impossible!

  • Michael the little boot

    Greg @ 58,

    “As Lutherans certainty is bound up with our concept of faith. Faith is (in its mature, healthy fullness) the certainty that our sins have been forgiven for Christ sake.” See, this is what I was talking about in my response to tODD above. Faith is NOT certainty, unless you’re redefining it, in which case I must ask: why not make up a completely new word? I mean, you’re basically doing that by redefining things in this way. If we’re free to use words as we wish, they cease to have concrete meaning. So the word faith, used as such, is meaningless. Could you explain more what you mean, and possibly use a different word?

    You almost do that here: “Our certainty is the gift of the Holy Spirit given through the hearing of the Word.” Okay. So let me ask: are you saying you’re certain without proof? I need clarification if you’re just going to define words however you please. As it stands, I’d have to agree with Rome on this one.

    “In otherwords Michael your statement that we cannot be certain is one we could never agree with while remaining Lutheran.” A-HA! The real admission. So you are bound by your belief to define a word as no one else would define it in any other context. This is dogma. It doesn’t allow you to deviate at all, even if common sense or agreed upon definitions get in the way.

    “If you are arguing are proofs and evidences do not reach the level of say geometric certainty I would agree with you.” Cool. That’s all I’m saying. And I’m not disputing that your faith gives you a BELIEF that you’re certain. I just don’t find it valuable to use words to mean things they don’t mean.

    “When we talk about certainty we are not discussing are confidence in a geometric proof but our confidence in the Word of God.” This is the closest you come to using the word as it is defined. I am not comfortable with saying “confidence” and “certainty” are the same. They do use that as a definition, so I just have to accept that. But as confidence is defined (full trust), it just doesn’t hold water for me. But I admit that is me.

    It also includes this definition: “certitude; assurance.” This would seem to agree with you. But the example given (“He described the situation with such confidence that the audience believed him completely.”) basically describes a used-car salesman or other such hucksters. Confidence can be false. Certainty is not – although you can THINK you’re certain and be wrong, if you are actually certain, you won’t be wrong.

    “Our certainty in God’s Word is itself a miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds.” I think I see where you’re going with this. So you can define words however you want because it’s a miracle. Gotcha.

  • http://www.gethsemanelutheranchurch.org Greg DeVore

    Michael- Lexicographical disputes are inescapable.
    Faith is a technical term in Lutheran theology and may not have the same meaning in our theology that it does in the dictionaries you consulted. You seem to be using certainty as implying proof of some sort. The certainty of faith does not rest on proof but on the external Word and the power of the Spirit at work in that Word. This does not mean that evidences and proofs can’t be presented that support faith. All I am saying is that faith does not ultimately rest on such evidences and proof. At one point you define certainty as free from doubt or reservation. Faith as we use the term in Lutheranism is free from doubt and reservation. That does not mean that we don’t struggel against doubts, only that our doubts do not belong to our faith but are alian to faith,

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@62), the point of the math example wasn’t that faith is brought about by or based on a similar manner, but rather merely that there is the correct answer (or truth), and then there’s everything else (which is wrong). Those other answers may come about through processes that are more or less reasoned, but in the end, they are all wrong (and thus, unreasonable).

    This is easy to accept with simple math, difficult to accept with faith, perhaps because people do not put a lot of effort into constructing their wrong answers in math — if they don’t know, they likely don’t care, so just put down an answer. Not so with faith. People spend an awful lot of time constructing wrong answers, building their world around them and defending them. It is tempting for a person who is told their answer is wrong to feel that they, by extension, are wrong — bad, less valuable, and so on. I was trying to avoid the emotional reaction (either “good” or “bad”) that so often comes with issues of right and wrong.

    I understand that you think faith is not simple as math, and to a point I agree. But the mere fact that you are uncertain about faith — or, as you posit, that we are all uncertain about it — does not mean there is no truth to be had. At worst, it just means that none of us knows that truth. I, of course, would argue differently.

    Anyhow, I agree that faith is not given to proofs (I said the metaphor falls apart here and there) — that is because proof is the realm of science (and math, though that feels like a slightly different use of the word). Actually, at a very deep level (which is certainly over my head), I think this may not be true. For instance, the scientific method takes it on faith that there are rules to the universe, that they do not change, such that a control in an experiment is meaningful and a process can be repeated. This (and maybe other things I can’t think of) is the faith on which science rests. The faith of Christianity rests on the Bible, God’s Word. Proceeding from that, there is actually a good amount of reasoning that goes into being a Christian (you wouldn’t always know it, but …).

    (I’m not really responding point-by-point to what you’ve written, though it was thoughtful. I just don’t have the mental capacity — or a big enough monitor — to be able to do so. Sorry.)

    Now to a different point you made: “that so many ‘people of faith’ would abandon their morals if they either were shown proof God doesn’t exist, or if they simply stopped believing.” I know some people here have said something to that effect, and I can’t speak for them. But as for myself, this is only partly true. I understand that unbelievers have morals — most of my (unbelieving) friends are quite nice and do not try to cheat me at every turn.

    And yet, I know that there are times as a believer where I am tempted to do something wrong (either by common or Christian morality) and am only stopped because I know God doesn’t want me to do it. No one else would ever find out, it wouldn’t hurt anyone else, but I stop. Obviously, without my faith, this wouldn’t happen (and even with it, I sometimes go ahead and sin anyhow, fool that I am — thank God he forgives our sins!).

    This common morality and Christian morality are, on the surface, similar. But I would argue that they are fundamentally very different. Common morality is, at its heart, selfish: You don’t do something because you wouldn’t want someone to do it to you. You do something because either good will come back to you or because it makes you a good person. Keep in mind, I am implicated fully in this description! All humans play by the rules of common morality, at least sometimes.

    But Christian morality is not like that, though it may have similar “rules”. It is selfless — not because it makes the person super-holy or something, but rather because it isn’t about the effect or the person at all. In Christianity, the effect has already occurred: we are declared forgiven. God has done this for us. We do not need to do good to win his favor, we have it. We do not need to do good to have good done to us — God has blessed us with forgiveness, and blesses us with many more things.

    I doubt that’s going to fully make sense, either because I’ve explained it poorly, or perhaps because I explained it well. Let me know.

  • Michael the little boot

    Greg @ 67,

    “Faith is a technical term in Lutheran theology and may not have the same meaning in our theology that it does in the dictionaries you consulted.”

    Right. So why use the same word in your context if the definition changes so drastically? I’m just saying it’s NOT the same thing if the definitions are not the same. It seems things might become clearer if people would use a different word in one of these instances.

    “That does not mean that we don’t struggel against doubts, only that our doubts do not belong to our faith but are alian to faith.” So you have doubts, but you put them in a little box and say they have nothing to do with your faith, even though they are DOUBTS ABOUT YOUR FAITH? And you guys call ME confused…

  • Michael the little boot

    tODD,

    I just wanted to respond to a sticking point in your last comment before I give a full response.

    “I understand that you think faith is not simple as math, and to a point I agree. But the mere fact that you are uncertain about faith — or, as you posit, that we are all uncertain about it — does not mean there is no truth to be had. At worst, it just means that none of us knows that truth.” I agree with you. It’s hard to find in amongst all the rambling things I’ve said, but I do agree with this statement. My problem is not with whether there is Truth – I believe there is, and that is a matter of faith. My problem is that pinning Truth down is SO difficult as to be nearly meaningless in some contexts.

    If we’re talking the Truth of whether a levee is structurally sound, THAT’S important to discuss; it’s also an easier Truth at which to arrive. But if we’re talking about the Truth of God, I think we can agree that’s not so simply figured out. But I do believe there are things which could rightly be described as absolutes. I just don’t think they’re apparent enough to warrant calling oneself “certain” about them.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    ‘So you have doubts, but you put them in a little box and say they have nothing to do with your faith, even though they are DOUBTS ABOUT YOUR FAITH? And you guys call ME confused…’
    You misunderstand the statement, and thus carry it to a false conclusion.
    Faith does no doubting.
    The recipient of the faith, however, continues in doubt.
    (Faith is Christ, btw.)
    We’re just vessels. We don’t manufacture the faith; we just receive it.
    So, yes, we have both faith and doubt. But faith remains what it is–certain–even when we have doubt.
    Faith comes pre-packaged, if you will; completely defined for us, whether or not we completely comprehend the definition. It is what it is.
    Think of any object that’s not you. Whether or not you see it, want it, pick it up, let it go or want to it let go, the object is there, nonetheless, and remains what it is and what it was, no matter what we try to do to it or with it.
    Belief wavers; faith does not.
    Or: belief wavers; Christ does not.

  • Michael the little boot

    tODD @ 68,

    Okay. Now to the rest of it.

    “And yet, I know that there are times as a believer where I am tempted to do something wrong (either by common or Christian morality) and am only stopped because I know God doesn’t want me to do it.” Right. We’ll come back to this.

    Moving on. “Common morality is, at its heart, selfish: You don’t do something because you wouldn’t want someone to do it to you. You do something because either good will come back to you or because it makes you a good person.” Really? Interesting. You apparently know me better than I do! :)

    I really do want to speak to this, but I need to quote a little more first. “But Christian morality is not like that, though it may have similar ‘rules’. It is selfless — not because it makes the person super-holy or something, but rather because it isn’t about the effect or the person at all.”

    Okay. So you are saying the difference is common morality is selfish, whereas Christian morality is selfless. You define this by saying a secular person is moral (or “does good”) because of what they will receive. Where is your evidence for that? Are you talking about the mushy liberal “people are basically good” hogwash? I’ve made an effort not to say those things, because I don’t believe them. In my mind and experience, people are not basically good or bad. They do a lot of things, some of which couldn’t even fit into those two narrow categories. I think you can’t boil things down in the simplistic way you do. I will talk more about why I do what I do in a bit.

    I also think you can’t say Christians do good things for the reason you give. You may be able to say it about Lutheran Christians; but you are saying Christians, so I will break it down along those lines. The Christians I grew up with did good things for exactly the opposite of the reasons you give. They DID do good things because God expected it of them. In their minds, if they didn’t do what God commanded them to do, they would have had any number of bad effects as a result. So they did it – and do it – for selfish reasons. Even worse reasons, in my opinion, than those you give for secular people being moral.

    I realize you do not put yourself in this category. I am beginning to understand that Lutheran Christianity is a very different thing – at least in certain ways – than the version I grew up with. I’m just saying, most Christians aren’t Lutherans. But, I also don’t think you do things for completely selfless reasons.

    You say there are times you are only able to resist something you want to do because God doesn’t want you to do it. So, you are in essence saying you would not do the “moral” thing here, were it not for God’s rules. How are you even being moral in this context? You are being a slave. Plain and simple. You have no internal morality to drive your actions, only God’s rules.

    What of a secular person who resists these same things? Why do they do it? Well, for any number of reasons. Once you are liberated from doing things simply for “good” or “bad” reasons, you can actually be moral. Morality is based on CHOICE. I am being moral when I make my choice precisely BECAUSE there is no real reason beyond that which compells me. You are compelled from an outside source. You do not fully make your own choice – you rely on God to make the choice as to what is “right” and “wrong,” so your only real choice is whether to do what God says or not – so you can take no responsibility for it. You can only take responsibility for following the rules.

    When you say that I am moral (I’m not taking it personally, I just fit into the secular category) because I “wouldn’t want someone to do it to [me]…or because it makes you a good person,” that’s simply you putting words in my mouth (or the collective secular mouth, which, let’s face it, is big enough to take WHATEVER words you want to place there ;) ). I take much more into account than that. I actually THINK about the OTHER PERSON and how it would affect them. This is called being considerate. It is not something I HAVE to do – although you are correct in pointing out it works better for a greater number of people – but something I choose to do of my own volition. So, how am I not moral?

    Sometimes I DO hurt myself (not physically necessarily, but cause myself harm or, at the very least, keep myself from what I would want) in order to do for others. And I have no compelling reason other than that I choose to from the inside. Not because it’s the “right” thing to do, but because I feel it is best in whatever circumstances I find myself. I endeavor not to make up arbitrary rules as to what I will do in a situation; rather, I judge each individually.

    Am I selfish? Of course. I am a self, I have needs, and I am frequently the only person who will attend to those needs. I also have wants, and do put them first sometimes – but not as a rule. Why? Because I don’t feel I am more valuable than others. I know that I can’t always have the things I want, or do the things I want to do, without taking things away from others. Is that selfish? I don’t care if they view me as a good person. I don’t care if they do the thing back to me in the future. In other words, I don’t see life as a version of the television show Survivor. I’m not trying to make alliances. I’m not “here to win.” I’m here, and being that I’m a part of things, I should try to be responsible. Why? Couldn’t say. Because I think it works better than other things. I don’t know how you can define that as selfish, but go ahead and try if you’d like! :)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@63-65), I’m having a hard time seeing the “starK contrast” that

    you do in the statements ”He who is not with Me is against Me” and “He who

    is not against us is for us”. I’m not trying to “harmonize” here by using

    clever reasoning or other passages, I’m just telling you how it reads. The

    only way these two passages could not be equal was if there were a

    middle ground — a category for people who are neither for nor against

    Jesus. You’ve said you “don’t see a middle ground”, so I’m confused.

    In response to my saying “Jesus is clear there is no middle ground,” you

    said, “Really? You keep citing parables and allegories. Are you taking

    those literally, or as metaphorical descriptions?” Um … both? We’ll

    probably need to define “literally”. For instance, the parables I pointed

    you to (@57) in Matthew 13 are not literally true, and the text makes this

    clear. Jesus is not talking about a literal field with literal weeds and

    literal wheat. He makes plain it’s a metaphor. But! When Jesus says “the

    kingdom of heaven is like” such things, I believe that’s literally true —

    there is a point being made about heaven, or about believers and

    unbelievers, that is factual.

    So again I’ll point you to those parables. But more specifically, read the

    parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-29) and its explanation (Matthew

    13:36-43), as well as the parable of the net (Matthew 13:47-50). Are there

    any other plants mentioned besides “wheat” and “weeds”? Are there any other

    categories for fish besides “good” and “bad”? Following from that, are

    there any other categories besides “with/not against” and “against/not

    for”?

    I cited Matthew 25:31-46 not as evidence for this strict dichotomy (though

    it’s clearly in there as well), but to explain that some people who think

    they are “with” Jesus are in fact “not with” him. (Although, to be honest,

    I was probably thinking more of Matthew 7:21-23 — can you tell I’ve been

    leading a Bible study on Matthew? :) ) After all, there are probably not

    too many people who would agree that they are “against” Jesus — and yet

    many of those people are not “with” him.

    You see in Matt. 25 “religious folks” who are “surprised to be cast out”.

    Certainly, they are surprised, but it’s because they don’t know what Jesus

    is talking about — if they had seen Jesus begging on the street, they

    would have cared and taken him in, because they claimed to know and love

    him. If they had seen Jesus thirsty, they would have served him water from

    their finest glass, because they want to impress him and honor him. But

    they didn’t care about the homeless, the hungry, the poor. They claimed to

    have faith, but it was dead, and their actions proved it. They thought they

    loved God, but they despised those whom he loved enough to die for. Thus,

    they are shocked (or so we infer) — they thought they had done enough good

    to get into heaven, that they had fooled God into thinking they loved him.

    As for the righteous people, they are surprised because Jesus attributes

    their love for people as love for him. They didn’t actually feed or clothe

    Jesus himself, but he says they did. They didn’t do these things because it

    would get them into heaven, but because they were filled with God’s love

    for these people, and it just came naturally to them to share that love. I

    can’t see anything that says the righteous are actually surprised to get

    into heaven.

    I think this “shock” that we’re inferring in Matt. 25 is seen even better

    in Matt. 7:21-23. Jesus says a person “will enter the kingdom” only if he

    “does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” And then turns around and

    says that on Judgment Day, he will condemn people who call on him, prophesy

    in his name, and even do miracles in his name! The problem is clearly that

    they don’t know what God’s will is — doing fancy-pants religious stuff

    clearly won’t cut it! (Hint: read John 6:25 and following)

    So yes, some “religious” people will be shocked, because they haven’t

    believed in Jesus to save them from their sins, but rather believed that

    they are good, or that their good works will save them, or something.

    Clearly, the point of Jesus’ saying these things is to urge those hearing

    him not to be among those “shocked” people. Do you really think the point

    of Matt. 25 was for Jesus to say, “You could go to heaven, you could go to

    hell. You never know. I’m not telling.”?

    You said that “You can’t be certain through faith” and backed that up “on the basis of the definitions of the words”, but I have to giggle at the definitions you posted. Let’s just look at the first definitions: “Faith: 1. confidence or trust in a person or thing” (that person or thing being God in my case) and “Certain: 1. free from doubt or reservation, confident, sure”. Now, do you still claim you can’t be certain through faith, based on definitions? :)

    You said you “don’t put faith in much,” but I just don’t believe that. You’re not cowering in a corner, afraid of the great capriciousness of the universe, are you? It seems to me you’re fairly certain about a subset of things, and uncertain about spiritual issues. But even those things outside of the strict spiritual realm involve faith: faith in universal laws, faith in your ability to understand things (even if it’s not 100%), faith that the scientific method will ultimately lead to truth, and has lead to much that is true already. I share much of this faith with you. But you don’t seem to think it’s faith at all.

    You also asked, “What’s the use in saying you’re certain if you can’t prove it?” I like metaphors, so I’ll put it this way: you’re a firefighter trapped on the fourth floor of a burning building. The door is blocked by a heavy, burning beam, and there’s no way out. Below are other firefighters holding one of those things they use to catch people. You know someone can survive a fall into one of those things. You’ve seen it done before, even helped hold one while someone jumped into it. You’re certain you will survive the fall. But it’s scary all the same to jump from that high. What’s the use in being certain you can survive the jump if you can’t prove it? I think it’s obvious in this case. But you have to have faith before that faith, in action, can save you. If you lack the faith, you will hesititate and die of smoke inhalation or burns.

    You also asked, “Isn’t it enough to BELIEVE you’re certain?” I don’t know the difference between being certain and believing I’m certain.

    Anyhow, this has gotten too long and I can see there are other responses below, so it’ll have to do for now.

    Thanks, as always, for your contribution to this discussion. I enjoy it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Okay, I have got to stop using Notepad as a text editor for these responses. I’m really sorry about that formatting @73.

  • Michael the little boot

    Susan,

    I see where I missed the point. But while your faith may not doubt, YOU do, and cannot therefore accurately call yourself certain. So, I agree that, if we take your definition, your FAITH is certain; but that’s not what we’re talking about. It has been said here that, as a Christian, one is “certain through faith,” and this is not correct using your own definition. Your faith is certain, but YOU are not – therefore, you cannot say you are certain through faith.

    If, however, you say you are certain through faith because, as you put it, “belief wavers; Christ does not,” I can understand why you say it. I just think you are not CERTAIN YOU ARE CERTAIN, so I find it not to be valuable to talk about certainty in this context.

  • Michael the little boot

    Peter @ 59,

    “[T]he clear implication of evolution by random process of selection is that humans are advanced animals of physical being without the special qualities of spiritual being living in a cosmos that includes moral law.” Advanced animals? You mean, beyond single-celled organisms, or over ALL other animals? That’s not the implication, really. You should try to read a book that was written about it in the last twenty years. I agree there is no “lawgiver” other than humanity itself implied here. Well, humans made laws up. You have no proof God did it, and, since here we are with rules, logic dictates we came up with these ourselves. Occam’s Razor, dude. The universe is morally neutral, in other words. I don’t have to superimpose anything on life or nature to say this, whereas you do.

    “If we are just, as Bike Bubba remarks, just from chance anything goes, which again explains much of the extraordinary level of modern decadence and corruption compared to other Christian times.” So are you completely ignoring what tODD said (@ 48) about decadence being pervasive throughout human history? I would say there were many other periods of history with as much – if not more – decadence (I’m sure we define this term differently) as we are witnessing now. People here like to keep saying humans are sinful, but then run to SECULARISM to explain the recent stuff. So what was happening in the past to cause the same things? Not secularism, and definitely NOT Darwinism, unless you’re only talking about the last 150 years, which I don’t think you can do. Humans have done a lot of “bad” stuff over the centuries, after all.

    “The truth is that most Darwinians, though averse to admitting it, take a metaphysical view of naturalism or materialism that allows only empirical or positive truth that can be observed and measured.” Okay. So they don’t take God on faith. Is that what you’re saying? I agree some of them are very “religious” about materialism (not the buying-stuff kind), but what does this have to do with anything we’re talking about here? God is not the only lawgiver. Humans are, too. Besides, if you choose to follow God’s laws, that means you, ultimately, make the choice. So put it on God if you want, but you’re really The Decider when it comes to your own morality.

    “I am afraid that you have sold your Christian heritage for a mess of Darwinian and perhaps other modern pattage.” Awesome. You appear to have checked your brain at the door.

  • http://www.gethsemanelutheranchurch.org Greg DeVore

    Mic hael, the reason we use the term faith the way we do is we believe that this is the biblical meaning of the term. I suspect you see human being as basically unified.Lutherans, such as you meet on this board do not. We believe that in our soul there is a war between what the bible calls spirit and flesh. Part of that warfare is the warfare between faith and unbelief in our soul. In otherwords the spirit possess faith and does not doubt while the flesh doubts and does not believe. The Christian is both spirit and flesh, the battleground between faith and doubt.

  • http://www.gethsemanelutheranchurch.org Greg DeVore

    It might be helpful for establishing some sort of common ground if I discussed what I believe Michael is your concept of certainty. It is my understanding that you think that for you certainty is what can be proven and established by reason and evidence.
    In that sense of the term I am n ot certain of Christianities truth, though, I see it as probable. To use the language of the courtroom I see Christianity passing with flying colors the preponderance of evidence standard. We fail at the beyond the reasonable doubt standard. I do not believe it is unreasonable to doubt Christianity. And of course we fail the geometric certainty standard. I do not see Christianity as certain in that sense.
    As I said earlier, I do possess a certainty that is quite independant of rational analysis or evidential argument. I am certain, simply because God in His Word has given me certainty.

  • Michael the little boot

    Carl @ 60,

    “So if you are not even certain about there being no certainty, you would have to admit that your statements, “I DO NOT believe in God, or gods, or anything divine” or “I’m not CERTAIN Jesus is not ‘the Christ’,” are uncertain statements.” Yes. I’ve said this numerous times on this thread, and on this blog. Since I find certainty not to be something easily arrived at, I do not have any problem saying these statements are uncertain.

    “And though you admit you are uncertain whether there is no certainty, you make the claim that I cannot be certain because all I have is belief (through faith).” Okay, Carl, I’ll give you this. Just because I’m nice. And because, since I don’t believe in certainty, it doesn’t phase me for you to believe in it. What I really meant was I would be surprised if you are certain because certainty is so difficult to arrive at that you might not even know you were certain if you were, or not if you weren’t. It’s definitely confusing for people who see things in contrasts (i.e., in black-and-white terms) rather than just trying to see things as they are, without making value judgements.

    “On what basis or proof can you claim I cannot have certainty through faith, just because you are uncertain about whether there is certainty?” Well, not on the basis of the complete definitions I provided in a response to tODD, because (even though I alluded to the fact that I didn’t like these definitions completely) there is wiggle room there. The problem with that, in my opinion, is you can’t nail down a meaning if the very definition of the word is vague. But I can say that, since YOU can’t prove it (and, once again, as a believer making a substantially radical claim – that you are certain through faith – the burden of proof is on you here, not me), my job is done for me. You can’t prove certainty, which is the crux of the matter. You can claim it, Carl, but what is your proof? Is it the Bible? If that’s the case, then I’ll just drop it. The Bible’s not proof in my opinion; but I realize it is not an opinion shared by most people here.

    “In the meantime I would be a fool to abandon the certainty, through faith, of my belief to join you in the uncertainty of yours?” Don’t know how to answer a statement phrased in the form of a question, Carl. But I don’t make it a practice to call people fools. I think it’s good to acknowledge we are not certain in an uncertain world; but I can’t prove it. Besides, I don’t have any problem with your faith. I just find it immature to say you’re certain. Why do you need to be? Can’t you trust God without certainty?

  • Michael the little boot

    Greg @ 77,

    (I’m answering out of order here. tODD’s response is long, and I’m working on one of my own…)

    “[T]he reason we use the term faith the way we do is we believe that this is the biblical meaning of the term. I suspect you see human being as basically unified.Lutherans, such as you meet on this board do not. We believe that in our soul there is a war between what the bible calls spirit and flesh. Part of that warfare is the warfare between faith and unbelief in our soul. In otherwords the spirit possess faith and does not doubt while the flesh doubts and does not believe. The Christian is both spirit and flesh, the battleground between faith and doubt.” This, my friend, is not the traditional Christian view. It is Platonic dualism. If you want to say you believe this way, I don’t have any problem with it. But it’s not strictly a Christian reading.

    I see people as unified in the sense that I do not believe we have an immaterial soul. I do not, however, believe humans are of only one mind, if that makes sense. We are definitely conflicted “inside.” We sometimes “do what we do not want to do, and do not do what we want to do.” We are like passengers in a car, even though we’re the car! But this is just a feeling. We have no proof that there literally are two natures at war.

    But the battleground between faith and doubt is from Plato, dude, not the Bible. That was superimposed on it after the fact by bishops who were down with Greek thought. The little bit that’s in there is really Paul, right? And he was a student of Greek thought.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Greg (@67), well put. You may have explained that in a better way than I did — certainly in a much more succinct manner! :)

    Michael (@70), I would agree with you (in a way) that “the Truth of God … [is] not so simply figured out.” As a Christian, I would argue that, fundamentally, it isn’t figured out at all. Like all blessings from God, faith is a gift, not something we cobble together ourselves.

    As to the “things which could rightly be described as absolutes” that you don’t think are “apparent enough to warrant calling oneself ‘certain’ about them” — that’s because certainty to you derives only from facts, not faith. We’re likely to keep bumping into this, but there it is. Of course, I still maintain that your facts are still the product of faith, but that faith is rather subtle, and often unacknowledged.

    Michael (@72), as for non-Lutheran Christians, I can’t really defend the actions or beliefs of those who disagree with me (or, I would argue — but of course I would — the Bible). Do many (who at least call themselves) Christians believe they have to do good to go to heaven, or at least to please God? Yes. What can I say? Hopefully, they will be saved in spite of their errors. But perhaps they are a good example of whom Jesus was speaking to in the earlier Matthew passages we touched on? (I obviously can’t say on a case-by-case basis.)

    You said, “I also don’t think you do things for completely selfless reasons.” I agree — I said as much. But nor do I hold up these selfish times as exemplary.

    Anyhow, I must admit to being confused by your definition of morality. Obviously, I define mine in line with God’s will (as expressed in the Bible). Not your cup of tea, but there you go.
    What is morality to you? You say it has to be a choice (as if there were no options in the example I cited for you — of course there were: sin or don’t sin), but you disdain choices made in keeping with an external arbiter of “good” and “bad”. This leads me to believe that, to you, morality is following that which is in line with your own (and not anyone else’s) definitions of “right” and “wrong”, but this leads to situations that seem quite ridiculous, so surely I’m missing something. And yet, I would agree (I think?) with your conclusion that, as for doing right, I “can take no responsibility for it” — indeed, it is a Lutheran truism that if I do good, it is to God’s credit (though if I do wrong, it is to my shame — one of many apparent, though beloved, Lutheran paradoxes; but another time on that).

    So do you (not “one”, but you) really come up with your own morality, uninfluenced by any external idea? If everyone does this, how is it that we all have a vague notion of what morality is, or at least can agree on several points? Sheer luck? What am I missing here? And how does this all fit with your statement that, “I actually THINK about the OTHER PERSON and how it would affect them. This is called being considerate.” Sounds like something external is influencing your morality. No?

    You also said, in regard to your being “considerate”, that I was “correct in pointing out it works better for a greater number of people”. “Better” as measured by what standard? You said something similar when you said you consider others before yourself “not because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do, but because I feel it is best in whatever circumstances I find myself.” “Best” defined how — and how is that fundamentally different than the judgment used in discerning what is “right”? Same with when you said “I should try to be responsible.” Who defines “responsible”? Why “should” you be that way? you indicate you have no idea.

    You then concluded with “I endeavor not to make up arbitrary rules as to what I will do in a situation; rather, I judge each individually.” These two clauses seem in contrast to me — do you see that? You have no fundamental, consistent guiding principle other than what you decide to do in a particular situation — how is that not “arbitrary”? Either they are in contrast, or I have misunderstood you. Help me out.

    You then asked, “How am I not moral?” I didn’t say you weren’t — you have morals. They’re just not in line with what God wants (well, to a degree, they match).

    Anyhow, I am impressed in your tenacity here. Thanks for waging a multi-front comment war (as it were) with us here. Try not to think of any historical analogs that might bring to mind. :)

  • http://www.gethsemanelutheranchurch.org Greg DeVore

    Michael- It would be platonic dualism if we understood flesh as the material part of man and spirit as the immaterial. I can see how you would get that impression. This is another case of a technical meaning of terms in Lutheran theology not coinciding with usage of these terms in other contexts. For Lutherans Spirit is the whole person immaterial and material, mind and body if you will considered as united with God and partaking in God’s life. For Lutherans flesh is the whole person immaterial and material, mind and body if you will considerd as hostile to God, alianted from God and in rebellion against God. So if we are dualistic it is not of a platonic sort.

  • Michael the little boot

    Peter,

    I was remiss in my response to you @ 76, in that I didn’t call you out on your use of the words “random” and “chance” in reference to evolution. You talk about what you call the “random process of selection,” which, once again, shows your ignorance of the subject. There is nothing random about selection. There are very non-random pressures involved in selection.

    “Chance” is a bit more difficult, but it seems from your use of it that you mean it in much the same way as you mean “random.” Evolution does have guiding “principles.” I don’t mean guiding in the same way as when an “intelligent” agent guides something like a ship or a construction project. But it adheres to “natural processes” which result in the world as we see it. Using words like “random” and “chance” just shows you take your cues from the talking points of places like the Discovery Institute because you don’t want to believe evolution, not because you’ve studied it to see if it actually makes sense. Correct me if I’m wrong. But as it stands, you’re arguing with a straw man.

  • Michael the little boot

    Greg @ 82,

    Interesting. I’ve never heard this version of the “spirit and flesh” metaphor. Perhaps we can call it Lutheran Dualism? ;)

  • Michael the little boot

    tODD @ 73,

    What I mean to clarify by asking you whether you take the parables literally or figuratively is metaphors are not clear until spelled out. Jesus even says that! He says some people have ears to hear, but from some this ability has been withheld. He only spells things out once the disciples press him to make the meaning clear. So, to the others hearing it, the meaning would not have been clear. I’m mentioning this because you believe these parables were literally spoken to living people in history by Jesus himself. Those people who heard but were not disciples were left to puzzle it out by themselves.

    I must ask: why are you not using the parable I was discussing, but turning me to others? Is it because the others are more clearly spelled out? I think there’s more wiggle room in the parable of the sheep and the goats. I don’t agree with your dissection of it. It doesn’t need a middle ground, but it would benefit from further discussion of the differences.

    “He who is not with me is against me” can mean literally “those people who do not physically stand with us are against us.” It can be seen in a less hard-nosed way, as well. It can be read as “those people who do not share our ideology, while not exactly expressing opposition, are, nevertheless, in opposition to us.” Now, “He who is not against us is for us” does not have this physical dimension. It cannot be seen as such, since the word in the first statement which implies this is “with,” and there is no word like that in the second statement. Even if we take it in the second, less “materialist” way – from an ideological standpoint – it still doesn’t mean the same thing. It can be read “Those who are not against our ideology, while not agreeing with it or espousing it themselves, are actually for our ideology.” I don’t think this is the way we should take it, though. I think, since the second one is in reference to people who were actually casting out demons in Jesus’ name, while not part of the inner-circle of Jesus’ disciples. So I take it to mean “Even if they’re not part of our group, if they don’t oppose us, they’re not our enemies.” That may be a stretch, I’ll admit. But it does show there need be no middle ground. Not precise enough for you to agree with, more than likely, which I didn’t expect anyway. :)

    The problem with pulling things out of Matthew in this way (and the textual/historical method of critique will come out here, which I know is not popular with many on this blog), is the author’s purpose. If you notice, Matthew says “This was done to fulfill the prophecy…” more than any other gospel. It is mostly for this reason (there are others, but too boring to get into here, unless other people are interested…) that critics of the textual/historical school say the author of the Gospel of Matthew was mostly trying to show Jesus was the Messiah by going down the list of important prophecies, then making sure Jesus was portrayed fulfilling them all.

    For example: in Matthew, when Jesus enters Jerusalem, he does so on not just a donkey, but also on “a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The author does this because of a misunderstanding of the appropriate OT passage, and a desire to show Jesus fulfilling this prophecy. See, the author obviously doesn’t understand the Hebrew practice of repetition. As in the Psalms, most ancient Hebrew poetry would put something one way, and then repeat it in a different way in the next line for emphasis. It can be confusing to someone who has no idea this is the convention. And it apparently was to the author of Matthew, as he/she is the only gospel writer who has Jesus riding into Jerusalem in this way. (Matthew 21, just in case you want to look it up.) Perhaps the other authors were Jewish. Seems the author of Matthew was not.

    (A quick note on proof-texting. When you refer to verses – as you do when citing Matthew 7: 21-23 – without reading them in context with the rest of the passage, that is proof-texting. Remember the chapter and verse breaks were added much later. The original authors did not write in this way, for the most part, but from beginning to end. As you know from your study of Koine, there weren’t even punctuation marks then! Try to read all the relevant info so that you can get the full context. Don’t just pull verses out. Or then I WILL accuse you of proof-texting! :) )

    As far as your interpretation of who the sheep are and who the goats are, I think it’s obviously based on your bias TOWARD Christianity, as mine is based on my bias AGAINST. Not sure if it’s doing us any good to go back and forth on that point. I see why you say what you say about it. But you must admit you have a vested interest in seeing it that way. I have a somewhat less forceful interest in reading it the other way, but it is still a bias. I am not, however, married to any version of it. If it was intended to mean what you think it means, cool. It doesn’t worry me. But I think you can make a case (not necessarily a strong one, I admit) for reading it either way.

    I also think you have a clear interest in backing up Lutheran theology, as you believe that to be the “proper” interpretation of the Bible. While you’re laughing at the definitions I provided (more on that in a minute), I’m laughing at your seeing the Lutheran interpretation as anything more than that: an interpretation. Every denomination has a way to defend the idiosyncracies of its theology against other versions, which usually make the most sense to its own members. No one has given me a clear reason why you feel your interpretation is correct over-and-above the myriad others. You obviously have a reason for believing this, so I’m curious as to why you’ve not been forthcoming with the information.

    Let’s put Matthew 7: 21-23 in context. The chapter begins by telling people not to judge. It doesn’t say “Do not judge OR you will be judged,” but rather says “Do not judge, SO THAT you may not be judged.” Prior to this, Jesus had said (in chapter 6) not to worry about things like food or clothing. Then he says not to judge. He says one should not do this because “with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” Seems to me he is saying “Leave things open for yourself. Don’t make judgements about something before it is presented to you.” I see it this way because I do not read it without reading chapter 6. If Jesus is saying not to worry, then saying not to judge SO THAT you won’t have to be judged, what is he really talking about? Remember, the stuff about not storing treasures on earth but in heaven is in chapter 6 as well. He seems to be saying “Don’t get too comfortable.”

    I see it this way because of the rest of chapter 7. In it Jesus talks about the narrow gate, false prophets, and knowing what a tree is by its fruits. It is not until AFTER all this we get verses 21-23. In context with the above, how can you read this as being an affirmation of being dogmatic in having preconceived beliefs? I see it as saying “Those people who think they’re safe shouldn’t be so sure.” I think it’s talking about you, tODD, and others here who think you are right, but don’t really know why or how to defend the position.

    This is what is meant by the importance of reading in context. It allows one to conform to the text, rather than making the text conform to one’s own perspective.

    “Do you really think the point of Matt. 25 was for Jesus to say, ‘You could go to heaven, you could go to
    hell. You never know. I’m not telling.’?” Nope. Never said that. I think the point was to say “If you are very comfortable in knowing you are saved, perhaps you should question WHY you feel this way.” In fact, I think this perspective is in keeping with YOUR interpretation – that is, Jesus is not only urging “those hearing
    him not to be among those ‘shocked’ people,” he is telling them precisely how they can avoid it.

    Now, as to your giggling at my included definitions last comment, I’m not sure why. I included the complete definitions in the interest of full disclosure. I wasn’t trying to hide any from anyone, even if I didn’t completely agree with them. I even said that I wasn’t totally comfortable with some portions (though, since I’m responding to many people, it may not have been in my response to you, for which I apologize). I included the entire definition for each word because I didn’t want to be accused of leaving things out to suit my purposes, as well as to show that I do not make up my own definitions for words. But I discussed them to highlight what I think are more appropriate uses of the definitions. I am VERY conservative when it comes to precise language. It’s why I prefer the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible to any others discussed here. I find defining “faith” as “confidence or trust in a person or thing” to be fine, but not in the light of defining “certain” as “free from doubt or reservation, confident, sure.” Some people are too easily convinced of things, feel too certain too quickly based on little to no evidence.

    I stick by my statement that I don’t put faith in much. I never said I don’t have faith! You seem to think this is what I mean, since you respond “You’re not cowering in a corner, afraid of the great capriciousness of the universe, are you?” Well, no, but not because I’m certain. I don’t cower in a corner at the capriciousness of the universe because it doesn’t benefit me in any way to do so. What can I do about it? Nothing. (Kinda like the economic crisis we are facing. I try to stay informed about it, but try also not to stress too much, because my stress does nothing to solve the problem. It only hurts me.) But I do believe the universe is capricious in a sense. Not in an anthropomorphic sense; but I don’t think the universe is totally comprehensible, at least at this point. It’s so big, and our brains are so small. We can only comprehend in bite-sized chunks. An asteroid could barrel down out of the sky in ten minutes. If you believe in God you believe that’s not a capricious act. But you’d have a hard time explaining how it’s not plain mean.

    “It seems to me you’re fairly certain about a subset of things, and uncertain about spiritual issues.” Once again, nope. I’m not really certain about anything. But some things make more sense to me, and I can ACCEPT them more easily than I can others. Doesn’t mean I’m certain. But I also take it easy, so I don’t worry that I’m not certain.

    “But even those things outside of the strict spiritual realm involve faith: faith in universal laws, faith in your ability to understand things (even if it’s not 100%), faith that the scientific method will ultimately lead to truth, and has lead to much that is true already. I share much of this faith with you. But you don’t seem to think it’s faith at all.” When have I EVER said I don’t have this kind of faith? I agree with you here. I think you’re reading too much Dawkins et al into my thinking, dude. :)

    I don’t have faith the scientific method will lead to “truth” though. I just think it leads to more accurate descriptions of things. I’m not under delusions about science being a human enterprise, and, therefore, flawed. I just like that it revises itself based on new info, rather than, as I’ve said, circling the wagons and defending the old thoughts against the better new ones.

    I think your firefighter metaphor breaks down quickly. The firefighter has the benefit of EXPERIENCE, and, from your description, LOTS of it. Of course it’s scary, even in light of his experience. Why is that? Because, even though he/she has seen it done, he/she is aware it is not a perfect thing. Even if he/she has the knowledge of past successes, he/she is still smart enough to know he/she can never be totally certain. However, he/she is CERTAIN ENOUGH – that is, not completely – to jump, even though he/she is scared, because the only other choice is death.

    “I don’t know the difference between being certain and believing I’m certain.” Ah. Perhaps that’s the problem. The difference is, one can BELIEVE one is certain without being so, while if one IS certain, belief doesn’t enter into it. I don’t think one can ever REALLY do anything more than believe one is certain, because of the nature of things, and certainty being so difficult to pin down.

    Okay. This is WAAAY long. Thanks for your contribution, too, tODD. This is the most fun I have, sadly. ;)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael (@85), thanks for that. I’ll have to ponder it a bit.

    Unfortunately, I’m going to be somewhat busy this weekend, and right now, I’m having a hard time focusing on and remembering all that’s been said before. Like many internet discussions I’ve had, this is a conversation built around an ever-growing number of topics, forced into a linear framework. I think that’s one reason our responses keep getting bigger: you have to reply to everything that was said last, and tie it into the previous comments, if possible.

    All of that to say, I’m not sure if or when I can get back to you on this thread. If I forget or just get frustrated with trying to keep it going, I hope you’ll understand. But this conversation is a divergent series.

  • Michael the little boot

    tODD,

    I’m working on a response to your previous post @ 81, and I will post it. But I do understand having other things to do, and being frustrated by the nature of these online discussions. If you don’t get back, no problem. I’ve still not gotten back to our OTHER conversation, and I hope you’re understanding of that, too! But reading and responding on this blog is one of the few interesting things I do in my life, so I’ll respond regardless. :)

    (Man, am I smiley-face happy or what?)

  • Michael the little boot

    tODD @ 81,

    “…certainty to you derives only from facts, not faith…Of course, I still maintain that your facts are still the product of faith, but that faith is rather subtle, and often unacknowledged.” See last post. Just because I don’t beat it like a drum, doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge I have faith. I do.

    “…as for non-Lutheran Christians, I can’t really defend the actions or beliefs of those who disagree with me (or, I would argue — but of course I would — the Bible).” Thanks for acknowledging you basically think other Christians who aren’t Lutherans may have to be saved ” in spite of their errors.” This backs up my “Jesus wants me to pass a theology test to get into heaven” argument. You think there may be some wiggle room for them, but you’re not sure. Since I brought it up in my last response, I’ll leave it alone for now and hope you answer my question as to why you’re so certain your reading of the Bible is the way God intends for it to be read.

    “But perhaps they are a good example of whom Jesus was speaking to in the earlier Matthew passages we touched on?” Perhaps. I think no one should exempt themselves from those we were talking about before. I’m still in the “don’t get too comfortable” camp.

    You take responsibility for the selfish things you do, but not for the choice you make to subjugate yourself to God’s will. Ultimately, it is YOU who decide that what God says is moral IS moral. So YOU are your own moral authority. You just don’t come up with the code yourself.

    “Anyhow, I must admit to being confused by your definition of morality. Obviously, I define mine in line with God’s will (as expressed in the Bible).” Right. So, once again, I must go back to my question: why do you think your interpretation is the correct one?

    “What is morality to you?” It is the code of conduct one sets for oneself. For the most part it is a bunch of common stuff, as you point out. I have said in the past (no indictment here, I don’t expect you to memorize what I’ve said) that I DO get my morality from things external to me. I think we’re getting confused, once again, by definitions. By “internal morality” I don’t mean I make every part of my morals up myself, and have no outside influence. OF COURSE I’m influenced!! Internal morality is just what most people call a moral compass, but it is different than having the sort of external compass which religion (or any set of dogmatic rules, for that matter) relies upon. In other words, religion doesn’t teach you how to think, only what to think. It gives you a fish, rather than teaching you how to acquire one on your own.

    That’s why I don’t find your “options” to be options. Sin or don’t sin – that’s not offering a choice! That’s saying “There’s only one thing which is RIGHT, and here it is. You can choose NOT to do it, but you may corrupt yourself doing that, and end up burning for eternity.” It only seems like a choice to someone who wants their choices limited to the point where it is clear what they should do to be “right.” Since I have no fear of being “wrong,” I’m not worried about my choices. I make beneficial and not so beneficial choices. Who doesn’t? I don’t find the “right” path to be so clear. Hmmm. Perhaps THAT’S what Jesus meant by “the narrow gate”?

    I only “disdain choices made in keeping with an external arbiter of ‘good’ and ‘bad’” when they make no sense. Obviously, the injunction against murder is nearly universal among humans, and sensible to most, as well. But to abstain from sex until one is married? Ridiculous. The body tells you when you’re physically ready. You decide when you’re emotionally ready. No one gets good at anything without practice. Besides, do you buy a car without test-driving it? Of course not. And this is the person with whom you’re talking about spending the rest of your life. Much more important decision, wouldn’t you say? You don’t have a “wait and see” policy about any OTHER aspect of this person. See how arbitrary this “rule” is? Just an example…

    I am not so foolish as to think I am uninfluenced. I had an exchange with someone on Cranach about it a while back, but can’t remember with whom. I am just saying I’m ultimately the one who decides for myself which of these influences makes the most sense, and then to create my moral center out of these. Since no one has given me a reason why the God of the Bible is real as opposed to Allah or Krishna (or Thor or Odin, for that matter), I have no reason to take what is said in one book over another.

    “This leads me to believe that, to you, morality is following that which is in line with your own (and not anyone else’s) definitions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, but this leads to situations that seem quite ridiculous, so surely I’m missing something.” Can you give examples of these ridiculous situations? We all have to live together regardless of our opinions. If they differ, we have to try and reconcile that. Right? Once again, I’m not saying I don’t share morals with others. I share many of them. But this world isn’t simplistic. There isn’t always only one apparent answer to a given situation. What do we do when confronted with these problems? We get outside our own morality and try to find consensus. Like in the library. Obviously there are many people not comfortable with every book in the library. So what do we do? We take it on a case by case basis. Generally, we almost never reject books. So this means some books will seem completely inappropriate to certain people. We can’t please everyone, so we then defer to the fact that we do not restrict access to information. Sometimes, this means putting a book into circulation you hope no one ever reads. But you still do it, because you have decided it is the moral thing to do.

    “So do you (not ‘one’, but you) really come up with your own morality, uninfluenced by any external idea?” No. I hope I’ve now made this clear.

    “You also said, in regard to your being ‘considerate’, that I was ‘correct in pointing out it works better for a greater number of people’. ‘Better’ as measured by what standard?” Probably measured by what seems to be most/least beneficial. Who decides that? We all do. We are all humans, and similar enough to weigh benefits in a similar way. So, tODD, we define it. We create the standard. Our standards sometimes do not even cross cultural boundaries. They would probably make NO SENSE AT ALL to an orangutan or bowhead whale. Their standards don’t make a lot of sense to us, but it appears they have them. That being the case, I’d say we’re lucky there’s anything like a “universal” morality on earth among humans. But all the terms you bring up – best, responsible, should, etc. – are defined by ourselves. That’s why they change. We think they don’t, but I imagine you’d have a hard time talking about morality and coming to a consensus with someone who lived even two hundred years ago, let alone a thousand or a hundred thousand. Morals only seem like they don’t change because we live such short lives. That’s why trying to apply the Bible literally doesn’t work in the 21st century. We’re just too far removed from that time for it to make sense.

    My fundamental guiding principle is my understanding of situational ethics. Not going to be very popular here, but that’s why you can’t nail me down on these things. I find having strict, rules-based guiding principles to be arbitrary because you can’t really know what a situation entails until you’re in it. Prior to that, rules are only based on hypothetical situations, or worse, on speculation. I try my best not to speculate. So instead I learn myself, my limitations, my strengths, etc., so that I can do my best no matter the situation. This doesn’t always work, of course, but I can do no better.

    “You then asked, ‘How am I not moral?’ I didn’t say you weren’t — you have morals. They’re just not in line with what God wants (well, to a degree, they match).” So, if you respond (it’s cool if you don’t, I read your other comment), it’ll be nice if you can show me how you know your morals DO match with what God wants.

    “Anyhow, I am impressed in your tenacity here. Thanks for waging a multi-front comment war (as it were) with us here. Try not to think of any historical analogs that might bring to mind.” Thanks. I try! I really enjoy these exchanges. You make me think and work really hard. I’m feeling stupid that I can’t actually THINK of any historical analogs. Guess it’s just as well.

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