The PersonalPhilosophyTrainer (PPT)


Always looking for more applications of philosophy to life, I have come up with a sure-fire winner: the PhilosophyPersonalTrainer (or PPT). Personal trainers developed out of the fitness trends of the last three decades. We pay and defer to experts to size up our (generally unacceptable) bodies and propose solutions (or at least ameliorations).

Now: enter the PPT. Poor thinking is a perennial problem, at least since the fall introduced intellectual torpor, stupefaction, and dereliction. Things really got dumber east of Eden. Poor thinking, which leads to bogus worldviews and ruined lives, needs to be corrected. As C.S. Lewis opined, good philosophy needs to exist if for no other reason than to counteract bad philosophy. Yet many never take a philosophy class, never read a philosophical book, and don’t even know what modus ponens is. (Hint: it is neither a snow mobile nor a skin rash.)

The PPT will access your intellectual life—if there is one. First he or she accesses your library. Since most do not have a library (of books at least), the trainer will recommend starting one, even if this means talking money always from (gasp) cable TV and Netflix. Then, one must actually read these rather archaic objects in book form (not on line). One must learn to love the text, to indwell it, and have it indwell oneself. This, of course, takes work. Withdrawal symptoms include: twitches in the direction of the nearest remote control, urges to check one’s smart phone and email, boredom because the book’s text does not move, blink, or bark, and so on. The trainer can provide practical help by regaling the client with stories of those who used to intoxicate at play station who now are hopeless book addicts who cannot let a logical fallacy pass unnoticed. Support groups are available as well.

Second, the PPT audits your vocabulary and knowledge of the history of ideas. This is not done through a routine test but through conversations. The PPT sometimes uses personal restraints on the more hyperactive clients who tend to lunge toward whatever electronic medium is in sight. After several conversations, the PPT accesses the client’s knowledge (and ignorance) and makes general recommendations. Here is an excerpt from one recommendation made to Ivan Ignoramus:

Ivan, you know everything about “The Matrix,” but nothing about Plato. So, you really cannot understand “The Matrix,” since it trades on Plato’s cave allegory. You are terrific at video games but no knowing of Wittgensteinian “language games.” You are swimming in data about sports, but know nothing about theories of human nature or why humans even care about sports. Your vocabulary is miniscule, pathetic. You rely on a few emotive terms to do all the work of analysis (if I can call it that). Things you like are “cool” or “awesome,” but there is no clear sense what you mean by these terms. Things you don’t like “suck,” but you show no understanding of where this expression came from (the gutter) or just why you dislike the things that “suck.” You say, “Oh my God,” all the time, but have never considered whether there are any sound arguments for God’s existence. And you don’t know what “sound argument is.”

Of course, there is much more to the discipline of being a PPT. But this is enough to start a new movement, a movement of the mind in the making. All you need is a car, philosophical knowledge, and a lot of patience and clients. But what should the hourly rate be? As Proverbs says, “Buy the truth and do not sell it.”

 

A Recently Recovered Screwtape Letter

A Recently Recovered Screwtape Letter 0n Words

My Dear Wormwood:

I lick my parched lips with delight that our propaganda efforts are going splendidly well. Good things come to those who wait—and growl in infernal anticipation. We may have won the battle of words. Not that we have won any arguments—that is expecting too much. The Enemy seems to have the advantage in that. But never mind. But we may have succeeded in eliminating arguments entirely. Oh, the delight in it!

How careless these vermin are with words—words, the very thing that separates them from the rest of the Enemy’s ridiculous menagerie. With our promptings and manipulations, they readily substitute words for thoughts. These talkative bipeds spew out a million words and few of them make up rational assessment or argument. As I said in a previous letter, we must never move the contest into the world of true and false, good and evil, rational and irrational. No, those silly dichotomies are tools of the Enemy—narrow-minded, dualist, rationalist that he is. These categories quicken the mind. We must numb it.

You must push forward a trend already set in place. Take heed to my tips, my young charge, since my words have meaning, and ignoring them will not advance your infernal vocation.

  1. Always substitute untutored emotion for conceptual clarity. Thus, vilify those speaking for the Enemy. They are so many bad things: narrow-minded, bigoted, reactionary, phobic (how we have profited from that!), and more. Never let them see that, according to the Enemy, reason and emotion should work in tandem, even shake hands with jolly goodness and resolve. Keep them away from that pseudo-intellectual and word-monger, C.S. Lewis, who wrote in The Abolition of Man:

No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical, but they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.

How I tired of that man!

  1. Attenuate their vocabulary, since the fewer words they have to capture thoughts, the less able they are to make distinctions. It is the philosophers that obsess on distinctions, especially that Nazarene, most of whose followers do not even recognize this fact! That logic-chopper outwitted all the rhetoricians and theologians we threw at him during that egregious episode they call the Incarnation. His distinctions dispatched our dialecticians.

But we are advanced in the art of retarding thought, you know. Reading is considered a luxury or even a vice. Emotive utterances and lazy superlatives—awesome, epic, perfect—have replaced the love of words and books.

  1. Make the most of slogans that applaud the loss of precise wording for important arguments. Here are a few delicious ones: “You are over-thinking this.” Of course, we know, from thousands of years of amusing experience, that few humans do this—or are even capable of doing this. “It is a matter of the heart, not of the head.” Jump in here, since this expression excuses all manner of cheap emotion, baseless opinion, and fuzzy thinking. Here is one more (there are many others): “It is what it is.” This may be used to mean “It cannot be changed.” But often it means something more helpful to our cause, such as “I cannot think it through. That would be too tiring.” Or this sentence may endorse a mindless fatalism—Stoicism, but without the intellect. You have to love that: Keep a stiff upper lip and a mind unfit for thought.

You should get the idea, Wormwood. Claptrap is our snake pit. Keep an eagle eye on their words, especially when they don’t. Be encouraged. That forgotten book in the Old Testament, Proverbs, cannot hurt us as long as it remains forgotten. Our men are doing splendid work on that.

Your ever-so-insightful uncle,

Screwtape

PS: I am delighted to add this this essay is exactly 666 words long

Episodes in a Reading Life: Smith Family Bookstore, Eugene, Oregon

Smith Family Book Store is the tag on hundreds of my books. It would take too long to count them. Places shape souls. This place, a used bookstore, formed me intellectually.

When I moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 1976, for my second year of college, I discovered a large used bookstore one block from my studio apartment and one block from Northwest Christian College. I attended there for two quarters before transferring to the University of Oregon. This sanctuary for book buffs was a mere block from the University of Oregon and became my intellectual epicenter.

Roaming the stacks contributed as much to my education as the books assigned for my courses. I read of Viktor Frankl in my Introduction to Psychology class. At Smith Family, I found a copy of his book, Man’s Search for Meaning for only 95 cents. One of the great books of the twentieth century—on par with C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man and several others—Frankl’s seminal work still has a place in my library.

That first year in Eugene was a lonely one. However, First Baptist Church became my spiritual home. Dr. Jack MacArthur’s powerful and eloquent preaching and Pastor Mike Hilty’s teaching for our college group grounded me in Scripture and the Christian life, as did my new Christian friends. Yet I lived by myself, was often melancholy, did not have a girlfriend, and found myself ensconced in books—those for college courses and those from Smith Family and other bookstores. I was a young Christian and a young man who was beginning to sense a hunger for knowledge. Smith Family offered a plethora of used and mostly inexpensive books on every topic of my interest—philosophy, psychology, religion, theology, the Bible, and more.

All bookstores offer serendipity. You never know what book will pop up. You find them and they find you. But in a large used bookstore—especially one in a university town—the selection is vast and a bit unpredictable. You find classics, recent popular books, older popular books, and…obscure out-of-print books. Smith Family sold all their books at half the cover price. The older ones were inexpensive—and tempting. They usually won over a young and aspiring bibliophile.

During my years in Eugene (1976-1984; 1989-1993), Smith Family Bookstore changed locations several times and added a new location outside the university area. I continued to peruse and purchase books, hundreds of them. Upon graduating from The University of Oregon in 1979, I spent the next five years in campus ministry. Vast stretches of time were given to me for reading and writing. I had the university library and Smith Family Bookstore to offer a wealth of books on any subject I wanted to explore. There were many.

When I returned to Eugene for visits in the summers of 2013 and 2014, both locations were still there and ripe for wandering and wondering through the mountains of knowledge. I sent home several boxes of book treasure.

Denver, where I live, is not a university town, as is Eugene. There are a number of schools, but no major university, and therefore, Denver lacks the penumbra of university culture—the coffee shops, music stores, bars, delis, and bookstores. I can find that in Boulder, but not here. There are few used bookstores, and none to compare with the mighty Smith Family. Yet my library has been fed by Smith Family Bookstore; so, it remains with me.

Gravity and Levity

Meaning demands wisdom and wisdom demands truth. Life is short and we need discernment to separate the wheat from the chaff, the ephemeral from the eternal. If our priorities are off, our lives will rot. The philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal knew this:

Man’s sensitivity to the little things and insensitivity to the greatest are the signs of a strange disorder.

Before Pascal, Saint Augustine wrote of love’s disease. As fallen creatures, we too often make our love for God partial and our love of things total. We are flippant about eternity and serious about triviality. Why attend church when we could stay home and watch a football game? Why read the Bible when we can play video games? Why give to a pro-life organization when we can take another cruise?

To live a meaningful life of wisdom based on truth, we need to distinguish gravity from levity. In a way, all of life is grave, since it is lived before the face of God in the few years we are given under the sun. The Bible speaks in one voice on this. Moses writes:

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).

The Apostle Paul exhorts us:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:15-17).James writes:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15).

Life is suffused with divine meaning. We should learn seize the day in light of eternity. The wise separate gravity from levity.

By gravity, I mean the things of moment, of importance, of significance. When a deadly or debilitating disease hits a loved one, this is grave. When a corrupt and corrupting politician undermines the foundation of a great nation, this is grave. Even the humor that ridicules this travesty can be serious, and dictators hate humor used against them. As A.W. Tozer wrote in “The Use and Abuse of Humor”:

Dictators and fanatics have no sense of humor. Hitler never knew how funny he looked, nor did Mussolini know how ridiculous he sounded as he solemnly mouthed his bombastic phrases.

Consider Charles Chaplin’s masterpiece, “The Great Dictator” (1940). This film does not make light of political evil; it creatively derides it. We should watch it today and apply it as fitting.

By levity, I mean things of little concern. They are frivolous, trite. Someone recently told me she reads romance novels because they are light. None of them will win a Pulitzer Prize, nor will any of them be in print fifty years hence. Few will be reread. Perhaps a romance novel functions as a literary hot tub—it relaxes and poses no challenges. Levity bids one to read romance novels at the expense of the Bible or great literature or contemporary books. Levity embraces trivia as meaningful or at least as a preferred distraction.

While the best humor is intelligent and instructive, much humor is trivial or worse. As Tozer warned:

Humor is one thing, but frivolity is quite another. Cultivation of a spirit that can take nothing seriously is one of the great curses of society, and within the church it has worked to prevent much spiritual blessing that otherwise would have descended upon us. We have all met those people who will not be serious. They meet everything with a laugh and a funny remark. This is bad enough in the world, but positively intolerable among Christians.

The fall of humanity turns everything upside down. We errant mortals obsess on trivia and ignore tragedy; we fixate on the frivolous and forbid the serious. What can be done?

Holy Scripture is the antidote for the malady confusing gravity and levity. It gives us wisdom and sobriety in all things:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Consider the Jesus found in our four Gospels.

We know that the Son of Man dined and talked with the down and out. For this, he was accused of being a glutton and a drunk. He was neither. He was enjoying himself with others who needed to hear his teachings. There must have been laughter. Since Jesus was the perfect human, he had a jolting sense of humor. But his life lacked levity in the way I define it. Jesus was always doing his Father’s work. He knew when to laugh. He knew when to cry. As John wrote, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:16). Hebrews tell us: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

A prig cannot laugh. Stuffed shirts never burst their buttons in hilarity. There is a time to laugh. But there is no time to slough off what should be taken on. There is no time to push aside a cross we are meant to bear. And there is no time to take seriously what ought to be taken lightly.

 

 

The Dangerous Lies of False Prophets: Lessons from the Prophet Micah


The Bible is not a romantic or utopian book. Sweet talk is absent (except The Song of Songs). Because of the fall and the perennial and perpetual presence of sin, men and women lie to deceive themselves and to deceive others. Worse yet, people lie in the name of God. Untruth sweetly drips from dirty mouths; their deceitful hearts lead them on the wide path that leads to destruction.

These are hard words, even impolite or impolitic. But without hard, true, and necessary words, untruths are left to breed, infest, and infect the church and the world.

Micah, the true prophet of the living God, knew the power of lies; he knew the pleasing form that lies can take when cloaked in religious talk and dress. The Book of Micah begins:

The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.

Hear, you peoples, all of you,
listen, earth and all who live in it,
that the Sovereign Lord may bear witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple (1:1-2).

Micah then faithfully proclaims hard and true words to God’s rebellious people. They will be judged for their sins. Micah weeps and wails, howls, and moans in lament for his beloved people.

Because of this I will weep and wail;
I will go about barefoot and naked.
I will howl like a jackal
and moan like an owl.
For Samaria’s plague is incurable;
it has spread to Judah.
It has reached the very gate of my people,
even to Jerusalem itself (1:8-9).

He faced facts that made his heart fail. The truth could not be swept aside by positive thinking or creative visualization or by claiming a promise God never made.

Yet in the face of religious and national crisis, those of Judah and Jerusalem turn to “the pillow prophets” (as David Wilkerson called them)—the prophets of the lie whose words flatter and sooth a bad conscience:

“Do not prophesy,” their prophets say.
“Do not prophesy about these things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”
You descendants of Jacob, should it be said,
“Does the Lord become impatient?
Does he do such things?”

“Do not my words do good
to the one whose ways are upright?
Lately my people have risen up
like an enemy.
You strip off the rich robe
from those who pass by without a care,
like men returning from battle.
You drive the women of my people
from their pleasant homes.
You take away my blessing
from their children forever.
Get up, go away!
For this is not your resting place,
because it is defiled,
it is ruined, beyond all remedy.
If a liar and deceiver comes and says,
‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’
that would be just the prophet for this people! (2:6-11).

These prognosticators turn to the occult, which God condemns. The occult is the practice of contacting and using the spiritual world in ways that reject the God of the Bible. God’s people were warned:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).

God brings judgment on those who want power and knowledge apart from what he has revealed through his prophets.

I will destroy your witchcraft
and you will no longer cast spells.
I will destroy your idols
and your sacred stones from among you;
you will no longer bow down
to the work of your hands.
I will uproot from among you your Asherah poles
when I demolish your cities.
I will take vengeance in anger and wrath
on the nations that have not obeyed me (12-15).

The false prophets wanted nothing of negativity and doom. They cover their ears at the voice of God’s mouthpiece. The people of Samaria and Jerusalem took the god of their imagination to be the one true God of the Covenant. But that Covenant threated punishment for disobedience as well as blessing for obedience (Deuteronomy 8:28). With their cities under judgment, their lives hanging by a thread, and their children about to be cursed beyond cure, they preferred prophesies about plenteous wine and bear. They would not imbibe. God declares of the pillow prophets:

The seers will be ashamed
and the diviners disgraced.
They will all cover their faces
because there is no answer from God (3:7).

Lies fail in the end. Liars reap shame. Truth triumphs; but we are caught in between the truth and the lie, stretched in both directions. What, then, can be done?

Micah offers hope founded on truth—the truth of God himself. The book speaks of the restoration of God’s people in the near and long-term future. The key to individual repentance and renewal is to heed God and live in his presence and according to his commands and promises. Micah sums this up memorably:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God (6:8).

God has made known what is good and what opposes his well. We are without excuse.

Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint;
but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction (Proverbs 29:17).

The knowledge of God and his ways is not optional; it is mandatory. How can we stand in the truth, stand for the truth, and stand against false prophets?

This cannot be done on the cheap. Liars can be persuasive. They may be starter than you are. To be lazy concerning truth means that you will become deceived and a deceiver. As Blaise Pascal wrote in Pensées:

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

Paul warned us:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2; see also 1 John 2:15-17).

A Christian offers herself as a “living sacrifice” by setting her mind on heavenly things, the things of God (Colossians 3:1-2). Ultimate reference for us is not the fallen world but the risen Christ. To build up one’s faith in the truth of God, one needs godly priorities.

Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ (Romans 10:17).

If you want to unmask and confront false prophets, false teachings, and false Bibles, then take heed to the living and active word of God (Hebrews 4:12). Without the standard, you cannot discern the counterfeit. Read the Bible regularly; attend a Bible-believing and teaching church; meditate and memorize passage of holy writ. Take other things out of your life to make space for truth.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1).

Let truth guide and shape your emotions. Hebrews exhorts those who were underachievers in the truth in this way:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrew 5:11-14).

Until the end, false prophets will speak enticing words of error in the name of God, the Bible, truth, love, and goodness. The people of God must be discerning. “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11; see also Proverbs 1:10).


For more on how the Old Testament prophets speak today, see Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City and Abraham Heschel, The Prophets.

The Real Slippery Slope: Logic, Fallacy, and American Decline

Logic warns the wary of many fallacies. Everyone should master this canon of error—or you will be mastered by it. A logical fallacy is a typical way in which arguments go wrong through sloppy reasoning. Let me cite a few examples before turning to issue at hand—the slippery slope from same-sex marriage to significant changes in sexual ethics.

False dichotomy is a common and cunning fallacy. An either/or condition is set up. One must affirm either A or B, not both A and B, and not neither A or B. A proper dichotomy works like this:

You are either with Christ or against him. This covers all the available options. The condition is exclusive: Christ or not Christ (Matthew 12:30; John 14:1-6).

Here, though, is a false dichotomy:

We should not defend the gospel; we must preach the Gospel.

This is a false dichotomy because the Bible calls us to both defend gospel and to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 3:15-16).

Another popular fallacy is argumentum ad hominem, or argument against the man. Instead of critiquing someone’s argument for traditional marriage, an opponent instead attacks the traditionalist’s character and motives. Some claim that denying same-sex marriage means one hates homosexuals and lesbians. This response gives us two fallacies for the price of one.

  1. The person’s character is attacked, rather than the force of his argument. This is a glaring case of argumentum ad hominem. Even if the critic hates homosexuals and lesbians (and no one should), that does not, of necessity, undermine his argument, since his argument may work independently of his motives.
  2. The false dichotomy is claiming that you either (A) support same-sex marriage or (B) hate same-sex couples.

I have introduced two classic and chronic fallacies. May we avoid them! Another fallacy feeds on itself. Meet the false charge of fallacy. Those pumped up by the power of logic may hyperventilate at the prospect of proving someone wrong through uncovering a lethal fallacy. Sometimes the difference between a fallacy and a valid form of reasoning is subtle. Consider the slippery slope.

As a fallacy, the slippery slope errs by wrongly stipulating the implications of ideas: if A, then B, then C. We always slip down the slope into the abyss. “If you do this, then that will happen, and, God help us, the other thing will happen, which is horrible!” So, the slippery slope also contains a reductio ad absurdum argument. Let me illustrate.

Some complementarians claim that if churches allow women to be senior pastors, they open the door to accepting homosexuality. Since most evangelicals—at least twenty years ago, when my wife was writing much on this topic—do not accept homosexuality, then they should reject women as senior pastors as well. But for evangelicals with a high view of biblical authority and a respect for classical methods of biblical interpretation, there is no danger of any slope to slide down, since it is obvious that while the Bible records many women leaders favorably, it never endorses any homosexual activity.

However, some ideas have consequences that may not be foreseen or that may be denied by sheer willfulness. Defenders of same-sex marriage often say that concerns over polyamory or incest are reactionary and those that are worried about this commit the slippery slope fallacy. However, the slope is there, the sliding is underway, but the slippage may be overlooked. Consider the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

According to the judges, no state may deny the right to same-sex marriage. The legal reasoning was tortuous and unsupportable, as the dissenting opinions stated. But we must go deeper. The idea behind the ruling—and behind all support for same-sex marriage—is that marriage is a socially constructed and purely human institution. Monogamy is merely a cultural and legal tradition whose cultural hegemony sputtered for years and is now ending. There is no reason why marriage should not be same-sex. In fact, to claim otherwise is to absolutize a relative and historically contingent institution. The same reasoning supported slavery, denied women the vote, and endorsed Jim Crow laws.

Given this standpoint, there is no reason to privilege couples only as constituting marriage. That would be two-ist and unfair. Therefore, by the same reasoning used to establish same-sex marriage, we must allow for polyamory. This is an open category which so far has meant marriage arrangements of at least men and women. (I have not yet heard of marriage arrangements of multiple men or multiple women.) A man has already sued to have two wives. A 2015 academic book by Ronald Den C. Otto is entitled In Defense of Plural Marriage. Amazon.com says this about it:

With over half of Americans now in favor of marriage equality, it is clear that societal norms of marriage are being quickly redefined. The growing belief that the state may not discriminate against gays and lesbians calls into question whether the state may limit other types of marital unions, including plural marriage. While much has been written about same-sex marriage, as of yet there has been no book-length legal treatment of unions among three or more individuals. The first major study on plural marriage and the law, In Defense of Plural Marriage begins to fill this lacuna in the scholarly literature. Ronald C. Den Otter shows how the constitutional arguments that support the option of plural marriage are stronger than those against. Ultimately, he proposes a new semi-contractual marital model that would provide legal recognition for a wide range of intimate relationships.

Once the traditional and God-ordained definition of marriage is breached, the floodwaters come rushing in. If love is love, and if any consensual erotic association should be deemed moral and be authorized by the state, then the logical implication is that the new sexual revolution will not end with same-sex marriage. The next step will be polyamorous marriages. Nor could there be a principle forbidding consensual incest or pedophilia. If you think pedophilia is different because the child is too young to give consent, you do not understand the deepest issues.

Breitbart.com posted a piece called “Inside the Sick, Secret World of Bestiality Forums.” The story is about BeastForum, a popular website trafficking in all manners of perversion. I will give no details. But if the animal is not hurt, and the human is not mean, why not practice bestiality? Given present trends, bestiality could emerge from the dark and dirty underside of American culture and move into the spotlight of our polymorphic perversities. (The Mosaic Law made bestiality a capital crime.)

Some will slide down this slope without fear, perhaps stopping shy of bestiality or a step before. Or perhaps not. But if one wants to apply the moral brakes, he or she needs a rational justification for stopping. I am not saying that most who deny traditional marriage will slide all the way down; but without an objective moral authority to tell us the nature of sexuality and to give the norms for sexual behavior, there are no such moral brakes.

However, if one who accepts same-sex marriage also opposes polyamory, incest, pedophilia, or bestiality, that person must face the full force of this reductio ad absurdum argument:

  1. If same-sex marriage is moral, then any consensual sexual arrangement (involving marriage or not) is moral.
  2. Same-sex marriage is moral.
  3. Therefore: consensual polyamory, incest, pedophilia, and bestiality are moral.
  4. But (3) is absurd, since these acts are immoral.
  5. Therefore, it is false that same-sex marriage is moral; it is immoral. This is by reductio ad absurdum.

One may not like this argument, but if the premises are true, then the conclusion must follow. I leave it to my readers to show that one or more of the premises are false.

When traditional moral authority is razed, then the unthinkable becomes thinkable, the illegal becomes legal, and the immoral becomes moral. This is the real slippery slope, and we are on it as a society.

May everyone—from politician to pauper, from professor to farmer, from all races, of all ages—hear the Word of the Lord:

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth—
he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.
No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine. (Psalm 33:12-19).

Blood Money: Antinatalism, Logic, and Life


A recently-released video claims that the body parts of very young and recently murdered humans are auctioned off to the highest bidder by Planned Parenthood. As Dr. Deborah Nicatola drank wine and munched on salad, she spoke of Planned Parenthood’s use of partial birth abortion to harvest fetal organs for profit. At least some at this organization don’t mind if they have blood on their hands if they have money in their pockets.

Antinatalist defines Planned Parenthood, one of America’s most grim institutions. Antinatolism is a philosophy that devalues the birth of human beings. Pronatalalism is its antipode. The Bible is pronatolist:

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court (Psalm 127:3-5; see also Genesis 1:26-28).

Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood. She was a racist and eugenics enthusiast who called inner city blacks “human weeds” and worked to render them childless. One should not assume the best about this federal-funded and Hillary- Clinton-endorsed cadre. (On this see George Grant, Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood.)

But rather unpacking the unsavory history of the leading pro-abortion group in human history, consider the philosophy behind the crime. If humans qua humans are deemed to have no intrinsic value and, therefore, are deemed to have no right to not be murdered, then abortion on demand follows logically. Human value becomes contingent on what other humans value. If the fetus is not deemed worthy of life, then he or she may be aborted. Consider the next step.

Most aborted babies are not given funerals. They are disposed of as dead tissue; they are not buried as dead people. They receive no proper burial because they are unwanted as living children. They are disposable. But now Planned Parenthood realizes that this refuse has its riches—saleable body parts. Heads are in great demand. To put if formally:

  1. Fetuses have no intrinsic value.
  2. Therefore, they have no right to not be killed; they have no right to live.
  3. Therefore, abortion is morally permissible.
  4. Therefore, the dead fetus need not be treated as a human corpse.
  5. Therefore, the heads, hearts, livers, etc., of dead fetuses can be sold for medical purposes.

Conclusion (5) is now illegal, but there is, given premise (1) no reason to think it is immoral. That is the grim logic of inhumanity.

If premise (1) is correct, then conclusions (2) through (5) follow logically. The year that instituted premise (1) in federal law was 1973. The ruling was Roe v. Wade. The death today is 58,000, 000. In 2015, premise (5) cannot be challenged unless premise (1)—Fetuses have no intrinsic value—is refuted and repudiated.

Therefore, anyone repulsed by the selling of human body parts should deny the claim that human fetuses have no intrinsic value. If so, then they do have intrinsic value. And if that is true, then abortion is not morally permissible (in the vast majority of cases). Follow the logic, please.

The real face of Planned Parenthood makes good people shudder. Perhaps such paroxysms of conscience will awaken the moral imagination and thus engage the intellect to think logically about our culture of death. When one becomes aware of these antinatalist enormities, one must act for life and against death. The Wisdom of God declares:

For those who find me find life
and receive favor from the Lord.
But those who fail to find me harm themselves;
all who hate me love death (Proverbs 8:35-36).

Further reading: Francis Schaeffer, C. Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

Should We Legislate Morality?

One objection to Christian involvement in law and politics is that it is somehow wrong to “legislate morality.” Given the heat generated by the same-sex controversy, this epithet is often hurled at Christians who dissent on the Supreme Court ruling and who do not support laws of this kind. These objections, however, have no force.

Consider the nature of civil law. Through the threat of force, these laws constrain or require actions. They are not suggestions, but imperatives. Such laws are not akin to scientific laws which describe the patterns found in nature. Civil laws prescribe behaviors. Some moral standard or moral vision lies behind all civil laws. They do not appear out of nothing, and they are not morally neutral. As R. J. Rushdoony wrote in Institutes of Biblical Law, “It must be recognized that in any culture the source of law is the god of that society.” A god rewards and punishes, forbids and requires, and defines morality. Since civil law is the last word in adjudicating human affairs, the source of that law is deemed the final authority, even if it is not.

American civil law ought to be rooted in and consistent with the Constitution, which itself is based on a philosophy of natural law or natural rights. That is, there is a law above the law to which the law should conform as much as possible in a fallen world. This powerful idea is found in the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Governments are instituted to secure rights given by the Creator. Governments do not create rights by their dicta. The American vision for law is based on the Judeo-Christian worldview—however imperfectly applied.

Some protest that religious people wrongly impose their views on others. Religion is a private and personal matter. “Get religion out of politics,” they cry. But Christians, as citizens of these United States, have just as much right and opportunity to shape law as any other citizen. This follows from the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. Richard John Neuhaus expounds this convincingly and thoroughly in his modern classic, The Naked Public Square (1984). The First Amendment insures far more than “freedom of worship”—that is, activities done at home and in a place of religious assembly. That is protected, but so is political activism and legal influence.

Civil law will not make anyone good. Moral character cannot be legislated. But laws that are just make people less likely to do what is bad for society. As Martin Luther King said, laws will not make a racist like me, but they could stop them from lynching me. That is the negative or restraining power of the law.

When law restrains virtue and encourages vice, we are in a pretty pickle. Perhaps we should legislate a better morality—one based on the founding principles of the founders of this republic, who took their standards largely from the Bible.

 

The Philosophy of Gender

Ideas have consequences, but few understand how the consequences are rooted in, and flow from, those ideas. Inextricably related issues such as same-sex marriage and gender identity illustrate this point and require philosophical analysis. Spurring this article is the Supreme Court’s egregious decision that a ban on same-sex marriage is illegal. Worldview assumptions behind this jurisprudence must be exposed to the light of reason.

Gender is now considered a flexible concept; it is not a given in one’s nature. Biology now has nothing to do with gender. Rather, one takes one’s gender by identifying with a wide range of possibilities. The nature of a human organism—down to the DNA—is irrelevant to gender identity. The tradition of the human race that male and female are fixed and perpetual categories of being mean little to the gender experimentalists. Men may identify as women (and perhaps have a sex change operation); women may identify as men (and perhaps have a sex change operation); men may identify as bisexuals; women may identify as bisexuals. Male or female may identify as partially heterosexual and partially homosexual. And on it goes.

How did this reassigning human identity come about? Before we try to answer that, consider the metaphysics of the movement in relation to Christian theism, a worldview increasingly rejected by the power brokers of American culture.

Christians, along with Jews, know that universe has an intrinsic meaning given by an infinite and personal God, the Creator and Designer of the universe. This Being, who thinks and speaks and acts, brought humans into existence as His representatives; as such, they possess rationality, will, emotion, and relationality. As the first book of the Bible teaches:

God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and    increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:27-28).

This statement is philosophically rich. Humans have a God-given nature and a constitution as male and female. This is a divinely-bestowed given. That is, humans are a particular kind of being, as is the rest of the living creation. Before the creation of humans, Genesis reports that:

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:24-25; emphasis added).

The word kind should not be taken in a biologically precise manner; rather, it speaks to a distinct form of being, an essence. God did not create the cosmos and humans in a value-neutral manner. On the contrary, the meaning and proper functioning of living entities are specified by their designer and worn in their very being.

While male and female are equally made in God’s image, their equality is not a matter of sexual sameness. Genesis, chapter two, tell us that God created humans as heterosexual being, whose sexual unity is found in marriage. After beholding the first woman, Adam broke into poetry:

“This is now bone of my bones
  and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
  for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:23-25).

Our first parent’s rejection of God’s order and command issued from the desire to redefine reality independently of God. Their rejection of God’s world on God’s terms resulted in the Fall, the effects of which have been experienced down through the ages (see Genesis 3; Romans 3:14-26).

Moving from creation to resurrection, the Apostle Paul affirms objectively real categories of reality—living and nonliving—in his great discourse on the resurrection of Christ and of Christ’s followers.

Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor (1 Corinthians 15:39-41).

One need not delve into Paul’s greater and detailed argument to discern his intent—God has specified the nature of things. Since this is so, creatures should heed their Creator’s design.

When one rejects the existence of God (or simply ignores him), one is not merely rejecting a philosophical or religious idea. One is also rejecting all ideas and practices that are uniquely supported by Christian theism. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) understood this well. In his famous parable, “The Madman” (from The Gay Science) Nietzsche lets his prophet speak of the implications of “the death of God.”

How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

Yes, “they have done it to themselves,” by banishing God from their thinking, their living, and their culture. God is dead to the ungodly, but remains stubbornly alive as Creator and Judge. Psychologist Eric Fromm (1900-1980) wrote that in the nineteenth century God died. In the twentieth century man died. If man is not created by God, why care much about him? The grim harvest was the tens of millions murdered by Nazism and communism. In the twenty-first century gender has died, since man has no given nature by God. Gender is now unhinged from biology, history, logic, and religion. It is flexible, fungible, malleable, and endlessly fickle, since it need not obey anything objectively real.

Gender talk is everywhere; gender fact is nowhere. Facts make too many demands on free spirits.

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), philosopher and social critic, discerned this break from God’s given reality in 1968 in his landmark work, The God Who is There.

Some forms of homosexuality today…are not just homosexuality but a philosophic expression. One must have understanding for the real homophile’s problem. But much modern homosexuality is an expression of the current denial of antithesis. It has led in this case to an obliteration of the distinction between man and woman. So the male and the female as complementary partners are finished. . . . In much of modern thinking all antithesis and all the order of God’s creation is to be fought against—including the male-female distinctions.

Schaeffer saw the source of the problem: People were denying the real antithesis between truth and falsity, between good and evil, between what God created and what man corrupted. But even Schaeffer—prophet though he was—could not have seen the extent to which reality would be denied in the name of love, tolerance, choice, and freedom.

Let us try to bring all this together. The philosophy that undergirds and animates this redefinition of gender is anti-essentialist and constructivist. Humans as male and female have no objective nature, qua gender. Gender is only a placeholder for the will of the identifier, who chooses gender not on the basis of anything stable or trustworthy, but only through erotic eccentricity. One constructs a gender identity, but without the aid of a blueprint. What one constructs, one can deconstruct—whimsy without end. And now this philosophy is backed by the full force of federal law. If you disagree, you will be punished. I will take this up in a later essay.

Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg

A Challenge to Christians Who Support Same-Sex Marriage

My challenge to self-identified Christians who support same-sex marriage:
1. Establish what your basis of moral authority is.
2. If it is the Bible, develop a biblical case for same sex marriage.
3. Identify the moral reasoning you are employing.
4. Put your argument in premise-conclusion form.
5. Rebut the major objections to your position.
6. Explain why your view was never held in the history of the church or endorsed by any religion or civilization until recent decades.