Epistemology and Morality: The Case of the Ferguson Shooting

One cannot know the good and act rightly if one cannot sift evidence and construct sound arguments with a virtuous character. This is evident in the Ferguson shooting incident. As rioters destroy, pundits declare, and confusion reigns, consider these principles of epistemology (the study of knowledge):

  1. Truth is not determined by feeling. A true statement is one that corresponds to reality; it matches reality; it fits the facts. Your belief about X (any proposition) does not make X true or false.
  2. Some beliefs are false. Many of our ideas fail discern reality aright. Therefore, if we care about truth, we will test our own beliefs against reality as best we can. We need knowledge, not merely opinion. This is especially so for things of great moment, such as whether a killing was justified or unjustified.
  3. To have knowledge of X:
  4. One must believe X
  5. X must be true
  6. X must be justified
  7. Standards for justification (3.C) vary from discipline to discipline. Our court system is structured to weigh evidence carefully, to minimize prejudice, and to give the accused a fair hearing according to stated standards.
  8. Grand juries are charged to determine whether the accused should be brought to trial. They are made up of citizens from the location of the incident. In the case of Ferguson, they considered evidence of all sorts and deliberated for three months. In other words, they know more about the situation than anyone outside of this setting, except God.
  9. The nine Ferguson grand jury members—six white, three black—decided that Police officer Darrin Wilson should not be put on trial, since the evidence was not strong enough to warrant this. Grand juries do not decide the innocence of guilt of anyone. They, rather, determine whether a case should be brought to trial.
  10. In light of 1-6, it is reasonable to conclude that the police officer did not wrongfully kill Brown. Beyond that, the evidence released to the public shows that Brown tried to take the officer’s gun and was aggressively attacking the policeman.

Concluding comment:

Slogans can obscure truth. In the Ferguson case, the situation was often reduced to “a policeman shot to death an unarmed man.” This is true, but misleading, since it communicates that it is always wrong for the police to kill an unarmed man. This is not so for at least two reasons. First, the officer may not know the man is unarmed. He has to assume otherwise to protect his own life. Second, unarmed people can be lethal. They can kill with their bare hands or otherwise. Those enraged, especially if they are on illegal drugs, may continue to attack even after having been shot several times. Those who get concealed carry permits in Colorado are taught this in the required class.

This essay is not meant to address all the sad issues raised by the death of a young black man. But unless we heed basic logic, reasoning, and intellectual probity, no justice will be served.

Ideas from David Wells: The Courage to be Protestant

In America, personality (being charismatic, glamorous) has replace character (being virtuous).

We look to the self for meaning, truth, and fulfillment. This is sin. The result is the loss of meaning and the unmooring of the self from reality, which is the Triune God.

Too many churches are trying to sell the gospel through marketing. But the Gospel cannot be changed into a consumer item for empty selves. The Gospel flows the objective and holy nature of God himself.

The postmodern world gives us the context for ministry; it does not define the content of theology, which is based on the timeless truths of Holy Scripture.

The number of fitness centers has increased as the number of church diminishes. Fitness becomes the new holiness.

What is Worldiness?

David Wells described worldliness as

that system of values, in any given age, which has at its center our fallen human perspective, which displaces God and his truth from the world, and which makes sin look normal and righteousness seem strange. It thus gives great plausibility to what is morally wrong and, for that reason, makes what is wrong seem normal. (Losing our Virtue, p. 4)

See  1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:1-2.

Cultural Exegesis

I often tell my students to exegete the Bible, themselves, and their culture. Otherwise, we become worldly and ineffective for ministry. See 1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:1-2. However, I have never spelled out specifically what exegeting culture involves. I will try.

1. You look for the worldview behind films, songs, art works, and more. This does not exhaust their meaning, but it is vital, since cultural forms often speak subtly, but powerfully.
2. Continue to read and study and meditate on the Bible, since it gives you an eternal perspective on the temporal. See Psalm 119; 2 Timothyy 3:15.
3. Observe how technologies effect relationships.
4. Abstain from some popular technology for ten days. Then reflect on how this has affected you and those around you.
5. Learn the history of various cultural objects and systems, especially those pertaining to communication. Consider books like, “The Victorian Internet” and “The Shadows” treatment of Nietzsche’s use of the newly created typewriter.
6. Talk to those from cultures outside your own about their culture and how they perceive and evaluate your culture.
7. Make time and place for silence in order to set in order the experiences. of your life. See Psalm 90:12.
8. Consult your elders on matters of cultural exegesis, both inside and outside of your family. They may much more than you think.
9. Pray all the time, depending on Christ, and asking the Spirit for wisdom.

Now, do you have more ideas? Or would you like to challenge any?

“America: What Would the World Do Without Her?”

What is America? What role has she played in history? Has she been a force for more good than for evil or a force for more evil than for good? This well-produced documentary-drama featuring politico Dinesh D’Souza attempts to answer this question by using the anti-American left as its foil. Interviews and various footage are interspersed with historical reenactments of scenes from the lives of George Washington, Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and even Hillary Clinton.

The film interviews thinkers on the left and the right and responds to five charges made against America, which include that America is based on theft, that it is imperialist, and that capitalism steals from the poor. It was heartening to find that it takes particular aim at Howard Zinn’s a-historical machinations in A People’s History of the United States, a book that is sadly assigned in high school history classes in America.

While the film is pro-American, it is not nationalistic or jingoistic. It rather tries to correct pervasive misunderstandings and outright lies. In this, it does well, but the fuller case made in the book of the same name should be consulted. (I have not yet received the book from Amazon.) It is particularly insightful in charting a key ideological influence on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. That man is Sal Alinksy, who wrote Rules for Radicals.

Whatever your political persuasion or knowledge of American history, “America…” is worth seeing and discussing, as I was privileged to do with two of the smartest young people I know. I will not likely see America’s return to the liberty and opportunity of its founding heritage. But perhaps Joey and Sarah will.

A Biblical View on Homosexuality

The biblical position on homosexuality is rooted in Genesis 1-3; this is where foundational principles for religion and relationships are laid out. God’s designed order for human sexuality is heterosexual monogamy. Male and female are equally called to serve God, love each other, and to develop and cultivate the good earth (Genesis 1-2). But through the fall, humans are alienated from God, from themselves, from each other, and from nature (Genesis 3). It is because of the fall that homosexuality exists; it has no root in creation. The Hebrew theocracy required the death penalty for those convicted of homosexual behavior (and for many other crimes as well). In the New Covenant, the civil laws of Israel are transcended, yet Paul teaches that homosexual activities are the result of sin and rebellion against God (Romans 1:18-32), and warns that those who persist in such activity will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). Thus, the theological categories are clear cut. The Bible gives no positive examples of homosexual activity. Rather, homosexual activity is something to repent of, and repentance cannot be subtracted from the Gospel (Matthew 4:17).

Because of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, any sinner can be justified and forgiven through the atonement of Jesus Christ. (While Jesus did not directly speak about homosexuality [he did not need to, since no loyal Jew would defend it], he did ratify the Genesis pattern of marriage in Matthew 19:1-4.) All guilt, homosexual or otherwise, can be taken away through Christ’s finished work on the Cross. As Francis Schaeffer taught in True Spirituality, the justified person can hope to experience “substantial healing” through sanctification. This includes the dimension of sexual sin. Some homosexuals have experienced total deliverance from this orientation through God’s healing; others experience more gradual restoration. But in a fallen world, some regenerate people will not find themselves restored to a heterosexual set of desires. In that case, the Christ-follower must submit himself or herself to a life of celibacy for the sake of conscience and in obedience to God and his Word.

While these moral guidelines are clear cut, they do not warrant hatred or bitterness to those affected by homosexuality. The gospel goes out to all sinners, homosexual or otherwise (Acts 17:30). Yet we cannot twist the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16) to make them endorse homosexuality or same-sex marriage. Christians, in the power of the Holy Spirit, should show compassion toward homosexuals, but this does not include supporting same-sex marriage, which is a violation of the most basic institution ordained by God at creation: heterosexual marriage. Further, in our pluralistic and largely post-Christian culture, the case for heterosexual monogamy can appeal to natural law (Romans 1:24-23; 2:14-15) as well as to special revelation, since heterosexual monogamy is deeply rooted in human nature, as Robert George and others have argued. But if relativism prevails in our culture, even this appeal will become increasingly difficult to make.

Trends in Technology to Consider

One of my interests in the philosophy of technology, which is part of a larger discipline called media ecology, initiated by Neil Postman. I offer the following to get you thinking about the effect of technology on culture and your body and soul.

Features of technology to ponder:

1. There is a trend toward miniaturization.Think of old radios and TV sets and computers. Think of mini-computers everywhere–and robots.

2. There is a trend toward mobility. Think of stationary TVs, telephones, and computers. Then consider video on smart phones, computers on smart phones, telephones on smart phones!

3. There is a trend toward unification and system. Clocks used to be stand-alone objects. The same goes for computers. But now some clocks are part of a satellite system. You do not have direct control because “they” have remote control.

4. There is a trend toward surveillance, which is closely related to point (3). You may get a traffic ticket issued on the basis of a monitor, not a human. They give you a photo of yourself while breaking the law. Parking lots are camera rich as well. Remember, Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon.

5. There is a trend toward the cyborg. People are wearing cell phones and access to the Internet. Some have monitors that record bodily functions that are relayed to external parties (computers, I mean) that give advice on how to be healthier. Now combine this trend toward cyborgization with (3) and (4) with the addition of ObamaCare. When the state controls medical means (which is the ultimate goal), then it will want accurate information on how the subjects (ah, I mean citizens) are managing their bodies. Think of 1984, except worse, because the power of surveillance is far beyond what Orwell imagined.

This is only a start. Now, Have a nice day. Can you add more trends? Please be serious.

How To Have a Good Conversation

1. Turn off all devices.

2. Listen.

3. Do not interrupt.

4. Ask good questions

5. Find a quiet environment.

6. Add coffee and/or adult beverage–in moderation.

7. Do not do all the talking.

8. Monitor the other persons responses. Are they bored or offended or interested?

9. Try to speak well.

10. Do not complete another person’s sentence unless they are obviously having difficulty finding the correct word. Some people–believe it or not–pause to find the right word. I am one of them. I do not need you to help out, thank you.

11. Pray for the person with whom you are speaking.

12. Before a planned conversation, ask God to work through you to minister to the other person.

13. Do not fear silence.

14. Know when to end it.

Notes on Visiting An Art Museum

Turn off all electronic devices and do not turn them back on until you are far, far from the exhibit. You will live without them for a spell; in fact, you are likely under their spell. Put them in their place and try to open up to new areas of culture and history.

I have found that you need a certain arrangement of people to profit from the experience, unless you are going along (which has its charms, especially for introverts). Some people want the visit to be a socializing event, and thus will talk less about the art than about anything else. If you are an art-lover, this is annoying. Furthermore, to get deeply psychological, some combinations of folks do not work well. Let us say Person A wants to talk about the art with Person B and Person C. But Person B dominated the discussion by clinging on to Person A at the exclusion of Person C of the discussion, thus causing Person C to be ticked off at both Person A and Person B. This is not good.

Going to an exhibit with a painter or expert on art adds much to the experience. If you can do it, listen to that person and ask many questions. If you are an artist or expert, do not be afraid to comment, but not at the expense of the ideas of others with whom you attend the exhibit.

It is usually best to follow the path of the exhibit in a linear fashion, since that was intentional by the curator. However, there are obnoxious people who talk too much or too loudly or both. If so, you may need to skip ahead or lag behind. The alternative of telling off the blokes will not usually work.

Do not rush your way through the artworks. Linger and gaze on them. Look at them from various angles. Read the accompanying textual material, if their is any. Listen to the audio, if available. Ask your companions what they think and why.

When you are finished, you may want to purchase a book that accompanies the exhibit for further reference and reflection. You may even want a print of one or more of the paintings or sculptures. It is best not to immediately jump into some other immersive activity, but to let the experience settle within you.

You should consider visiting a particularly excellent show more than once. I attended “Modern Masters” at the Denver Art Museum four times, once by myself and then with various combinations of friends three other times. Each visit was unique and enjoyable. Even on the fourth visit, I discovered things I had missed the first three times.

Painting is one of culture’s greatest gifts to all of us. Even ugly and off-putting pieces may tell us something significant about culture and history. Deep and great works enlarge our understanding and please our sensorium. Let your mind dwell on these good things, as the Apostle Paul said.

A Short Theology of Listening

In a world scrambled by aimless philosophical speculation and ever-more commercial and marketable religious apostasy and crass superstition, we should exult in our knowledge that we personally bear the very image of God (imago Dei). Consequently, we have the God-given capacity to reasonably and spiritually respond to the Creator-God’s revelation and to know Him personally. We can further rejoice that our Lord Jesus Christ, through His costly grace, has died for the sin that previously blinded our eyes and deafened our ears to spiritual reality (2 Cor. 4:3-6). The Lord has spoken:  in creation, in the Bible, and by his Son—and we have heard and obeyed, by His grace. Jesus preached:  “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Yet how do we listen to Christ’s prophets and teachers and preachers? How do we respond to the spoken word of biblical teaching and preaching? Do we really hear?

In his classic text, Biblical Preaching, Dr. Haddon Robinson affirms the centrality and power of preaching the authoritative word. He says of the Apostle:  “Preaching in Paul’s mind did not consist of a man discussing religion. Instead, God Himself spoke through the personality and the message of a preacher to confront men and women and them to himself.”

God has specially appointed teachers and prophets for equipping the saints and for the building up of the Body (Eph. 4:11, 14). They must be heeded, for they are no less than the spokespeople of God. In an age rebelling against all legitimate authority, during a time when error is enthusiastically embraced and Truth largely shunned, we must become disciplined, earnest listeners to the Truth. It is our privilege; it is our responsibility.

Our worship doesn’t end with the last hymn or chorus before the teaching; rather, our worship shifts from vocally praising God to actively listening to Him. “Hear O Israel,” cried Moses, God’s prophet, “The Lord our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:4).

Listen . . . with all your might; hear the living and active word. The teaching and preaching of God’s imperishable word is truly a sacred event whereby the Truth penetrates hearts and minds, consciences are quickened, sin is disclosed, salvation is offered, wisdom is imparted . . . if we listen, if we actively engage ourselves in hearing, if we participate as the Holy Spirit works in our midst.

We are all too accustomed to being entertained and passively amused. Television often hypnotizes or anaesthetizes us; it demands little response and by its very nature stimulates stagnation, not spiritual encounter. Video games, cell phones, and internet access offers an endless source of possible distraction. But when we come together as the Body of Christ we come as participants not as spectators, we come to hear and obey the Truth not to be entertained. Neither Moses nor Paul captured their audience through eloquence or style. They were not entertainers but Truth-tellers:  they spoke God’s word with a power that provoked response.  Our Lord, when teaching by parable, alerted his hearers: “Therefore, consider carefully how you listen” (Luke 8:18). We are to be engaged in listening, intent on hearing.

Just as it is morally incumbent upon the teacher or preacher to diligently hunger and thirst after an exegetically and theologically correct message (James 3:1; Matt. 12:36, 37), so it is ethically imperative that the hearers receive and respond to the word—always considering the message according to Scripture. For no human is infallible, and all must be corrected biblically; yet God in His mercy uses these earthen vessels “to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

Sound biblical teaching and preaching when illumined by the Spirit is a transaction of grace: needed Truth is dynamically imparted to both redeemed and unredeemed sinners through the spoken word—a momentous event! It’s not just another Sunday’s half hour, not just another “religious” routine. The gracious gifts of the Spirit are to freely operate with the wind of the Spirit filling our sails and refreshing our hearts.

Practically, we must regain a biblical reverence, a fear and trembling before our Maker (Prov. 1:6). As a teacher and a preacher, I know the meaning of the congregation’s eye contact, facial expressions, and posture. Yes, in a way it is the speaker’s responsibility to provoke the interest of the hearers. But it is equally our responsibility to listen and to help the speakers by demonstrating an interest. This may require a sacrifice if you are not naturally captivated—but isn’t that the essence of following Christ—sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2)?

We obey what we have truly heard; we truly hear what we dedicate ourselves to hearing “and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).  “Hear O Israel.” “Let everyone be quick to hear” (James 1:19) that the Lord may be honored, revered, and obeyed.