[Turing 2012] Christian Answer #12

This is the twelfth entry in the Christian round of the 2012 Ideological Turing Test for Religion. In this round, the honest answers of Christians are mixed in with atheists’ best efforts to talk like Christians. It’s your job to see if you can spot the difference. The voting link appears at the end of the entry, and you can look at all entries in this round here.


When (if ever) have you deferred to your philosophical or theological system over your intuitions?

(I’m going to narrow this to ethics.) I have no systematic ethics other than the following rough guidelines: “Remember God and nurture a relationship with him,” “Have compassion for others’ suffering and seek to understand them even when they are hurting me,” “Give to others as much as I reasonably can,” and, “Oppose oppression.” Subordinate to these is a fourth: “Speak no falsehood in malice.” Of course I fail to live up to these, but that is not quite the point. The point is that the first four rules are both intuitive for me (though not habitual) and, from what I can tell, Gospel- and prophetic-tradition-based. I rarely need to defer to theology over intuition because they usually align. The exception is that at times, in order to promote a long-term good, I must suppress my intuitive desire to avoid a short-term harm. For example, I will try to address a person who has slighted me in order to prevent them from slighting others in the same way; this is serving their long-term good, but it is counter-intuitive to me. However, once I have thought it through, my intuitions usually come into line with my more reasoned and prayerful consideration.


Are there people whose opinions on morality you trust more than your own? How do you recognize them? How is trusting them different than trusting someone’s opinion on physics?

There are no people whose opinions on morality I trust more than my own. I have a reputation as someone who is both reasonable and very concerned with morality; not many people I know would want me to emulate them in ethics, except to be more self-interested, which my friends often encourage. I do defer to some people’s opinions on other matters which sometimes impact morality. Some people have a better sense of social decorum. Other people, such as mental health professionals, have a better sense of psychology. I have favourite theologians and academics. I turn to these people when I have factual, interpretive, or emotional questions I need help with so that I can then make an ethical decision. You can see above that I have a particular ethical framework, and it would be hard for me to find someone who was coming from the same place. Physics is different: I have not studied physics and my intuitions don’t line up with physical laws, so I ask physicists. My own emotions bias my interpretation of others’ behaviour, so I ask for help there. But the only outside source I use for ethics is prayer, which helps straighten my priorities.


Can you name any works of art (interpreted pretty broadly: books, music, plays, poetry, mathematical proofs, etc) which really capture the way you see life/fill you with a sense of awe and wonder? You can give a short explanation or just list a few pieces.

Ugh. Christian art is usually so bad. I enjoy minor-key Christmas carols like “Silent Night” and “We Three Kings,” along with others songs like “The Parting Glass”. Fragments of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings might count, and the whole of both works when read through Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia and Bradley Birzer’s J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth. Madeleine L’Engle’s books are wonderful when I can ignore their syrup and snobbery. I really like Jane Austen’s views on psychology and on human folly, and on the topic of the latter I also like Calvin and Hobbes and Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town. As for poetry, I must stereotypically list John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Paradise Lost excites me, even if I disagree with its theology. More than any of these, I get a sense of the sublime from Pan’s Labyrinth. Arranged (a film) captures the way I feel about life sometimes. Occasionally I read litanies from the Book of Alternative Services as poetry. Altogether, I appreciate wabi-sabi, compassion, subversion, and emotional honesty. On another topic, I like how labyrinths, Buddhist temples, small liturgical churches, and Japanese gardens manage colour and space.


Click here to judge this entry, and, once you’ve voted, feel free to speculate and trade theories in the comments or look at other entries in this round.

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  • I interpret this as confirming a prior intuition.

    • Can you clarify your deictic? (In other words, what does “this” refer to?)

      • After the great reveal. (But, I promise, even if I’m totally wrong.)

      • Sorry to disappoint, but it’s probably more boring than you expected.

        I recognized you specifically on both round. The confirmed prior intuition is the one I expressed in my comment on your atheist entry.

        There the thing I had thought and wanted to reject because it precluded my favorite theory was your estimate that you probably wouldn’t have the time to make an entry.

        So basically the confirmed intuition is “Christian H. is in this test after all.” As for clarifying the deictic, well there aren’t that many liberal Anglican Canadian anti-systematic pomo-Christians with a penchant for liturgical churches hanging around here.

        • Well, now, I’m not quite pomo or quite anti-systematic (I rather like systematic theology, I just think folks shouldn’t so certain about it), but point well taken.
          In fact, I was being quite honest when I said I couldn’t participate…at the time I wrote it. Then a week’s worth of class got cancelled and look at that! I had time.

          • Now I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to imply your were lying, but I see how my comment was very open to that interpretation. My imagination ran more along the lines of unplanned all-nighters than canceled classes though.

          • Don’t be sorry. I didn’t think you thought I was lying; I labour under the delusion that people think my backstory is interesting.

  • Either a Protestant or an atheist who didn’t even bother trying.

    • That said, it’s very easy to be sympathetic with much of the third answer. (Convincing it ain’t.)

    • It would have to be a pretty faithless Protestant. Dismissing most Christian art is probably a no-no; at the very least Michelangelo and Bach deserve some mention, and at least acknowledge that Dante existed.

      • deiseach

        And to be fair, much of modern Christian art is dreadful. The only contemporary Christian composer I can unreservedly recommend is Arvo Pärt; people adore the John Rutter Christmas carols but his too-rich, over-sweet style always has me diving for the knob to change the station on the wireless when I hear them.

        I don’t think the respondent meant to dismiss Michelangelo and Bach, but more the “Thomas Kinkade: Painter of Light ™” style of “Precious Moments” sentimentality that is what springs to mind when ‘Christian art’ is mentioned nowadays. Or the “Left Behind” novels. Or the “Haugen and Haas” school of liturgical music. Or Christian movies like “Fireproof”, “Courageous”, “Facing the Giants” which, although admirable in their aims, forget that the purpose of a film is first to communicate a story, not preach a sermon. Need I go on? 🙂

        • This is exactly what I was saying. (You seem to have the rest of me wrong, though, based on your other comments. I do take the Anglican creeds literally.)

      • (Dismissing most Christian art is not at all a no-no. That answer makes more sense than the other two combined.)

    • deiseach

      I have to disagree with you on this, Ubiquitous; if it is an atheist, it’s one who did a bit of research and looking around on the Internet (an atheist who didn’t even bother trying would have gone with a creationist-type caricature).

      I’ve seen this kind of attitude before, and I always think of W.H. Auden’s ‘New Decalogue’ <a href="http://members.wizzards.net/~mlworden/atyp/auden.htmverse&quot; “Nor speak with such/As read the Bible for its prose”. There are even clergy who like to plume themselves upon treating the Creeds as poetry but, natürlich, nowadays they are not restricted to the outworn, narrow limits of a sterile dogmatism; instead, they gather the nectar of a thousand different blooms from the varied and vast domain of human attempts to express the ineffable, and they explain how they can stand at the altar on Sunday and recite a creed they do not believe in the slightest as a symbolic nod to their solidarity with the history of the church as expressed by their particular denomination.

      This person is probably a perfectly nice type who does a lot of good, and I’m not saying they’re guilty of the kind of airing their personal enlightenment as evidence of superiority to us literalist Neanderthals who actually mean it when we say “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” that I have seen associated with the attitude described above, but unfortunately the expression of their synthesis brings me out in hives.

      • You two are probably right. I based my initial response on the first two answers, chock-full of nonsense that they are, without pausing to poke the head out of the Catholic bubble. Forgot for a moment that answers to questions like these are often full of nonsense (on both sides of the aisle.)

  • deiseach

    And once again, a very definite answer for me on this one.

    Christian (of a certain type). Bet the farm on it. Primarily because it’s the kind of answer I’ve seen before and it always makes me want to smack ’em round the chops with a kipper 🙂

    Leah, this is fun. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you for all your hard work and for giving us the chance to show off (and then be humilated afterwards, when our confident predictions turn out wrong – just like political and economic pundits!)