Offense

Invoking offense is taken to mean that person or group A has affronted person or group B because of an action or statement. That P is offensive to S says nothing about whether S should be offended by P. I may be offended by someone holds a sign saying, “If Jesus comes back, kill him again.” Strictly speaking, my response of offense does not mean that the sentiment of this sign is wrong. But even if it is wrong, my being offended by the sign does not make it wrong.

Thus, saying “P offends me” only indicates that I am offended by P. The question of note is whether S has a case that the offensive statement or action is morally wrong. Therefore, I suggest we drop the use of offense as having any logical or moral weight at all. Instead of shrieking in outrage or sulking in affront, perhaps a few logical arguments are in order.

Muslims throughout their history have been offended by anything that contradicts their religion. Event after event reveals that they usually make threats and harm or kill those who offend them. No one should be intellectually intimidated by this—although one may rightly fear harm. That Muslim M is offended by a crucifix in a Catholic school does not mean that

  1. M should be offended.
  2. The Catholic school should do anything to accommodate the offense.

Further, given the American legal system, freedom of speech and religion are guaranteed in the First Amendment. Being offensed does nothing to alter that.


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Benediction 

A benediction is a human or divine pronouncement of favor upon oneself, or another, or both. It may ring pedestrian, such as “Have a nice day,” or profound, “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” Benedictions summon the desire of one person that another person receive goodness, whether it be health, employment, spiritual growth, or any other desirable state. Consider several of the multitudes of benedictions from the Bible, written by the Apostle Paul:


To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7).

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had (Romans 15:5).


Benedictions are found throughout the Scripture and outside of it as well. The toast at a wedding is a type of benediction. This gesture, which includes some libation to be drunk after the toast, is given to or for someone: “May you live happily ever after.”

The historic liturgy of the Christian church ends each service with a benediction given by the priest or pastor. This text is often used:


May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14).


If we have some idea of what a benediction is, let us consider the matter a bit more philosophically with respect to the kinds of linguistic work various sentences can perform.

The benediction is more than a wish and less than an imperative. If you say, “I wish you did not have shingles,” you are expressing good will to someone; but it is not a benediction. If I say to a student, “Never cheat on a test again,” this is an imperative, but not a benediction. I am enjoining or commanding someone to be honest. Despite this, commands may be hidden or partially expressed in benedictions. Paul shows this:


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).


By saying, “May the God of hope…,” Paul expressed his earnest desire that God bless those to whom he was writing. He includes “as you trust in him,” which is a subtle command or exhortation to trust the God who does these things for his people. The sense of command or exhortation is even stronger in this benediction from the Anglican tradition.


Go forth into the world in peace;
be of good courage;
hold fast that which is good;
render to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak;
help the afflicted;
honour everyone;
love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you and remain with you always. Amen.


The benedictory element is almost muted by the strength of the exhortation. This benediction lacks the customary, “May you…,” and instead inserts a command, “Go forth.” However, there is a sense of desire for the blessing of others is tacit. Thus, it could be worded, “May you go forth…”

To put it formally what we have argued:

A benediction is a pronouncement made on behalf of another that contains a desire that the other person or group experience some kind of beneficial state of affairs. That state of affairs may be received passively or achieved actively or it may be a combination of both, as in Romans 15:13, discussed above.

Benedictions may also perform something linguistically. Philosopher J. L. Austin wrote of a kind of speech called a performative utterance. Sentences of this stripe achieve what they affirm simply by saying it. It does not merely describe or question. When a pastor says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” he brings about the nuptial state by so pronouncing it. At graduations, some official will announce that the degree has been conferred to those who have met the qualifications. In 1979, I sat with a few friends at my college graduation ceremony. Becoming impatient, I said to a friend, “When is the moment of metaphysical import?” That is, when will the degree be conferred?” A performative utterance does not describe a set of facts as in “You have just received your degree.” Rather, the statement enacts the state of affairs that is addressed. For example this was spoken at the 2007 commencement at the University of Texas at Dallas by the President, Dr. David Daniel.


Now by virtue of the authority vested by law in the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System, I confer upon each of you the respective academic degree for which you have been recommended, with all the rights, privileges, responsibilities, and obligations appertaining thereunto.


All such ceremonies feature a similar speech event, which comes as the culmination of the meeting. This benediction is absent of religious concerns. But many are not.

Philosophically, then, benedictions have properties not possessed by other kinds of speech. The act of pronouncing a benediction invokes a future in which goodness dwells. Beyond wishing, it commends goodness to the one receiving it. In some cases, the act of benediction confers some quality of existence to the one so addressed. God has the metaphysical and moral status to give benedictions that achieve the ends he desires, since his judgments are true and his power is unlimited.

The world is fallen. God is good. Christians are spokespeople for these two truths. Therefore, even in suffering, Christ-followers may receive God’s benediction:


But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:13-14).


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Creation

A creation is a particular kind of artefact brought about by an agent. Agency requires awareness, volition, and the ability to act. A painting by Van Gogh is a creation as is a tenor saxophone solo by John Coltrane. A creation is more than a rote production, however, since it possesses novelty. The human creator innovates upon given materials in nature and according his or her own nature.

Humans are creators because they are made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). They represent God in this capacity in a finite modality. God creates out of nothing and without any limitation in power, goodness, or knowledge. Mortals create by working on what has been given by God—their being and the material available in God’s world (see Psalm 8). Unique objective value is brought into the world by creators, some of whom are rightly called artists.

Creations under the sun can go wrong, and bring imperfection or even evil into God’s creation. Speaking of those who abandon the reality of God for creation-worship, the Apostle Paul declares:

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil (Romans 1:29-30).

For example, pornography follows closely behind many forms of media, especially those of the Internet. Before cyberspace, sinners had patronized a pornography place, a store, wearing a disguise and leaving with the sexual contraband in a brown paper bag. Now, fallen creators have put it all online, and it is a click and a credit card away.

But God is not mocked. The works of darkness and death will be dragged into the light of God’s searching judgments (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). The creations blessed by God will endure, to the praise of the Creator and to the delight of his thankful creatures. His creatures who have become “new creations” through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) will live deathless in an ever-living world. As the seer of The Apocalypse writes:

The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:23-27).

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Being

A term referring to that which is opposed to that which is not–or, to non-being. However, it is not that simple for some philosophers, especially the existentialists Sartre and Heidegger (in his earlier work).

Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) penned a ponderous tome called Being and Nothingness, which covers the waterfront nicely. Of course, most philosophers are more concerned with being than nothingness, since if you have being that is all you need. Sartrean existentialism loses its oomph if nothingness is removed from it. But since nothing is nothing, then nothing would—or could—be removed. Still, it is easier to sell a book called Being and Nothingness than to sell one called simply Being.

Buddhist philosophers often write books about nothing (or Nothing), though, since that is roughly what Nirvana is. However, the Buddhist Nothing seems to be more of a something than Sartre’s Nothing. But of this, I have nothing more to say.

Some may be surprised to learn that Sartre was a closet theologian, who believed in creation ex nihilo, or ex nihilo at least. Having chased God out of his life (as he himself once put it), he could not invoke God as the Creator of all else. Instead God’s role was filled by (you guessed it) Being—or was it Nothingness? This is the rather dry narrative.

Always, there was Being. There was, and is, no reason for Being. At first, Being was alone, the being in-itself—sans consciousness and worries over non-being. Then, for no reason, being-for-itself arose or immerged. That is you and me, anxious beings who would eventually claw away to understand Sartre (and, see below) Heidegger. Being for itself defines itself in relation to non-being. As such, it tries to attain what is now nothing, but could turn into being with proper anxiety and existential crises. Thus being for-itself defines itself against Nothing, having sprung from the loins of being-in-itself.

My reader may wonder how this resembles creation ex nihilo. You see, the for-itself came from the in-itself; but the for-itself has nothing (that blasted word again) in common with the in-itself. Therefore, it comes out of nothing. In other (analytical) words:

  1. The for-itself differs categorically from the in-itself
  2. The in-itself proceeds the for-itself.
  3. The in-itself and the for-itself are not on speaking term. That is, they have nothing in common
  4. If (1)-(3), then something (the for-itself) comes from nothing, ex nihilo
  5. Wow!
  6. There is no possible explanation for how this occurs, says our frowning Sartre while hunched over a table in a French café sipping coffee and surrounded by adoring For-itselves eager to know about being and nothingness.
  7. Nevertheless, something cannot come from nothing. Nothing ever could.
  8. Therefore, Sartre’s account of being and nothingness, of the in-itself and the for-itself is (hold your breath) false.

Now let us consider a frowning German, Martin Heidegger (1976), whose prose has generated a vast and unending secondary literature for his intrepid interpreters.

Once upon a time, according to the Great Being-teller—in halcyon times preceding Greek fussiness over logic—men walked with Being alone. This, for Martin, was better than simply being alone. They could commune with Being. Then, logic ruined everything, except the logic of Heideggarian Being, offered—appropriately enough—by Herr Heidegger.

This is so weighty, that a film was made called, “Being There” (1979), starring Peter Sellers. “Rotten Tomatoes,” has given this a 96% for what it’s worth. But Sellers’s character, “Chancy Gardener,” lacks gravitas, being who and what he is. Who is he? A being estranged from Being, who derives all his information from television. His being in light of Being is pointless.

Can we clear the air and start anew? Perhaps we can.

In the beginning was not the nothing, but the Word. All things, being-in-itself and for-itself, were created by the Word, who is a He, not an It. That is, everything comes from someone (John 1:1-5). This bedevils existentialist atheists, but is true, nonetheless.

Therefore, all being has its origin and owes its continuation to a Supreme Being, who is the perfect form of being in-itself and being for itself. This means that this Being, being who he is, suffers no conflicts with non-being. Of himself, he says “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14). God he has consciousness and exercises agency with respect to the being he has created (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 90:2; Revelation 4:11).

Come, let us now laud the Supreme Being with all of our created being. He answers our philosophical problems and gives us meaning. For this is how things stand with the Supreme Being and beings.

Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name (Psalm 103:1, NIV).

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Becoming

Perhaps only a philosopher would muse over becoming as a noun. Everyone uses it as a verb: I am becoming old. I am becoming angry. I am becoming a philosopher. Yes, but what is becoming itself?

Becoming is contrasted with and conjoined to being (see earlier entry). If some being, say a cup, is unstained at time A and stained at time B, then it has become something different. Change happens to objects and events. The concept of becoming requires time, since time is the medium for change. If time were frozen, then nothing could be anything different than what it was (given the law of identity: A=A). Therefore, becoming requires both being and time.

Heraclitus and Alfred North Whitehead (taking his lead from Hegel) argued that becoming or process is ontologically deeper than being. All is Flux, cried Heraclitus. Becoming defines most everything, cried Whitehead. But there is no becoming without beings which are changed. For example, I remain a stable identity even as my qualities change: I gain weight, lose hair, and cut my fingernails. Heraclitus hinted at something beyond change, which he called The Logos. While Whitehead believed that God changes as he evolves with the cosmos, his primordial nature did not change.

As a Christian, I am justified through the finished work of Christ. That status before God will not become anything else. Sanctification, on the other hand is a process of becoming in which I become more like Jesus Christ by knowing and believing the Bible, by partaking of the institutions of the church, and by being filled the Holy Spirit.

God does not and cannot change in his essential being.

I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed (Malachi 3:6).

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
   They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
    and they will be discarded.
   But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end (Psalm 102:25-27).

Since God is self-existent, nothing can threaten his ontological integrity and fullness (Acts 17:15). God’s character remained the same through a process, however. In the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity took on a human nature. Before this, God, the Son, had not done so. Thus, God became the God-man. This was no mixing of deity and humanity, but a union of the two. Christ is one person with two natures: divine and human (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:6-11). Further, Christ did not shed his humanity after his ascension into heaven (Acts 1:9). What he became—the God-man—so will he ever be. Because of who Christ was, is, and ever will be (Hebrews 13:8), we may become something far greater than we now are.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

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On the Word “Faith”

What is faith? The word, like many words that fall out of our mouths, is often misunderstood and misused. No little problems result from such careless thought and speech. We may get reality wrong and suffer on account of our blunder. Perhaps we can rectify this a bit.

The general meaning of faith is a strong trust in something or someone taken as reliable. Thus, I have faith that J.P. Moreland’s next book will be worth reading. This is because all his work thus far has been excellent and because I know him to be a godly and intelligent man. Faith in this sense, requires no doubt that must be overcome by a leap of ascent.

But faith can also mean belief in what cannot be rationally justified. This epistemically weak sense of the term refers to what is likely a baseless hope or wishful thinking. The Bible never uses the word faith in this sense. In Scripture, believe in God and trust in God is not like this. The Bible does speak of faith as contrasted with sight, but never contrasted with reason or evidence. One may rightly believe in what one cannot see. You believe your neighbor has thoughts (which you cannot see; which no one can see), you believe in rational inference (which you cannot see; which no one can see), and you believe that there are subatomic particles (which you cannot see; which on one can see). One could go on, but you should see the point.

Religious people are sometimes singled out as “people of faith,” since they hold to beliefs not held by everyone and beliefs that are usually rooted in a holy book or some other seat of authority. They place their faith (assent and trust) in these doctrines, either rationally or irrationally.

However, non-religious people have faith as well in that they adhere to some stripe of worldview based on some notion of authority, albeit a non-religious authority such as “science” (a weak reed, that) or mere personal experience, which they claim to have rightly interpreted. An atheist may have faith that the universe began to exist out of nothing a finite time ago and without a cause. No atheist has observed this, but it is inferred (against all reason, since something cannot come from nothing), and then taken as a basic belief. They, thus, have a faith in (literally) nothing–everything came from nothing, plus nothing. May reason always deliver us from such faith.

Proof is not required for rational faith. (See my previous essay on this blog.) All one needs is adequate justification for belief P and the requisite trust in and response to this belief. Then you have faith. Thus, I believe on good evidence that my dentist is well-trained. That is rational assent. Then on the basis of this rational assent (belief), I open my mouth to accommodate her use of the tools (some very noisy), hoses, chemicals and other dental machinery.

As a Christian of many years, I assent that Christianity is objectively true, and do so for many reasons. My most developed testimony to this is Christian Apologetics (InterVarsity Press, 2011). As a follower of Christ and believer in the Bible as true and authoritative, I entrust my self to God through prayer, service, and worship.I not only believe that Christianity is true; I believe in God as revealed in the Bible and through Jesus Christ, God Incarnate.

Perhaps this has cleared away a few cobwebs. Faith need not and ought not be blind, whatever the object of that faith may be. And it does make a difference. If Christianity is true, the stakes could not be higher.

My first entry in An Opinioned Philosophical Dictionary

Alienation:

Term used by Continental philosophers to refer to any system or situation that ticks them off. Hegel is likely at the headwaters of alienation talk. Given his opacity and grandiosity, this explains why many are alienated from his dialectics of alienation. Roughly, Hegel meant that when A is alienated from B, this generates a conflict wherein A gets upset with B. Then, somehow A, prevails over B on the way a mystical ascent into another alienation. But somehow things are getting better, Hegel assures us on the basis of his alienated and dialectically delicious mind. The antagonisms of these alienations form the dialectic of ideas. And so it goes. You get the idea—perhaps. But let us bring it down to earth.

In Marxism (which is more an ideology than a philosophy), claims that workers are alienated from the fruit of their labor through wage slavery. The capitalists supposedly benefit unjustly. The Marxists answer to these perceived maladies resulted in well over 100,000,000 murders in Marxist regimes in the 20th century. These dead workers, I am sure, would rather be alienated from the fruit of the labor than alienated from their earthy existence by authoritarians raving about false philosophies.