Friday, September 28, 2007

One can make room for the slaughter of a child within the ethical

Fear and Trembling Some more notes from Kierkegaard.
posted by Peter J. Leithart
1. In the Problemata sections of Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard, posing as Johannes de Silentio, poses a series of questions that arise from his reading of the story of Abraham and Isaac, within the Hegelian framework. The questions concern the "teleological suspension of the ethical," the question of absolute duty to God, and the problem of Abraham's secrecy.
2. In the first, he is defining the "ethical" in terms of universal rules, and the "ethical" as the telos of everything that is outside the ethical. But within this framework, Abraham can only be judged as a murderer, or at least guilty of attempted murder. But Abraham acted in faith, and his story thus reveals "this paradox that the single individual is higher than the universal." If he didn't act in faith, then Abraham is lost and faith is impossible, for in that case, the ethical – as social morality – is the highest possible aspiration and "no categories are needed other than what Greek philosophy had or what can be deduced from them by consistent thought." Faith is beyond thought here, because it is beyond the mediation of the universal.
3. One can make room for the slaughter of a child within the ethical, within the confines of Greek thought. Kierkegaard cites Agamemnon and Iphigeneia, Jephthah and his daughter, and Junius Brutus and his sons as examples. In each case, though, these sacrifices were performed within the confines of the ethical, that is, for the good of the society involved. They are tragic heroes, and still within the ethical. But Abraham bursts these confines; his plan to sacrifice Isaac is something between him and God, something that brings no benefit to society. Abraham's temptation is precisely to confine his actions to the ethical, to refuse to kill Isaac out of ethical scruples. But that is a temptation. The only way to describe this is to say that there is a category beyond ethical, the religious. In the religious, the individual is in an absolute – not a mediated – relation with the absolute. His act is justifiable not by any universal ethical rules, but purely as an individual. By this reflection, Johannes has pushed Hegelianism to the limit; either Abraham is a murderer, or Hegelian universalism doesn't tell the whole story. Something escapes the system: Namely, faith.
4. The teleological aspect of this is important. For Hegel, the telos of all ethical action is the good of all; the highest ethical act is to sacrifice oneself, to annul one's individuality, for the universal. Tragic heroism is the greatest of heroism. But Johannes is asking whether there is some higher end that beyond the ethical, where the demands of universal ethics are suspended. The higher end is the end of faith, the end of individual responsibility before God, which cannot be encompassed in universal categories.
5. The question, Is there an absolute duty to God? also provides an angle for challenging Hegelian assumptions. Here, though, the Kantian categorical imperative is also in Johannes's sites. The issue this gets at is the priority of the outer to the inner. For Hegel, the outer is higher than the inner, since the outer is universal and the inner particular. There is no private relation to God, since God is Absolute Mind and since we are ethically bound to forgo privacy to come into contact with God. This is consistent with the primacy of the ethical; the external/universal/ethical provides the mediation through which our obedience to God is mediated. Again, Abraham breaks through these categories. His experience shows that the inner is higher than the outer, and the individual is, again, higher than the universal. This is the absolute duty of the individual to God, captured in Jesus' chilling instructions to hate father and mother (Luke 14:26). There must be this absolute duty, or faith doesn't exist, and, once again, Abraham is lost, a murderer.
6. Contrary to accepted opinion, Johannes does not believe that being an individual is easy, while submitting to the universal difficult. He says instead that living as the individual means living in "fear and trembling." The knight of faith has to recognize the validity and claims of the universal, but he also needs to know that he may be called to transcend the universal and act as an individual in a way that will make him an outcast.
7. Interestingly, Johannes anticipates Buber and twentieth-century personalism is saying that the knight of faith enters into a second-person relation with God, while the tragic hero remains in a third-person relation. Hegel had implied that we have only a third-person relation with God.
8. The third problema deals with the question of secrecy, using Abraham's secrecy as the hinge of his exploration: "Was it ethically defensible for Abraham to conceal his understanding from Sarah, from Eliezer, and from Isaac?" This is in p1. In the Problemata sections of Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard, posing as Johannes de Silentio, poses a series of questions that arise from his reading of the story of Abraham and Isaac, within the Hegelian framework. The questions concern the "teleological suspension of the ethical," the question of absolute duty to God, and the problem of Abraham's secrecy. connection with language, which is always public and disclosed and universal.
9. Johannes tells a series of stories to make his point. The first involves lovers who keep their love secret because the woman is promised to another man. This is an offense against ethics, which demands disclosure of their love, but it is not a religious secrecy, but only an aesthetic one. The aesthetic rewards their secrecy, however, since everything works out in the end. Ethical action cannot, however, rely on coincidence. The secrecy was unethical. Agamemnon's silence in sacrificing Iphigeneia is also discussed under the heading of aesthetics; he must remain silent, or else he would be robbed of his tragic dignity; yet Iphigeneia must be told, so that her horror can provide a test of Agamemnon's resolve. This is aesthetically resolved when someone else tells Iphigeneia of the plan. Agamemnon thus remains a tragic hero, within the confines of the ethical, since everything is made public. Part of Johannes's point is to emphasize that the ethical disturbs the realm of the ethical. The aesthetic hero isolates himself as an individual in a realm of secrecy, for the protection of one he loves, but his decision to remain hidden is a matter of choice not necessity (unlike the secret hero of faith). He is therefore constantly presented with the possibility of disclosure, constantly pressured to bring his secret out into the hope to be judged by universal standards.
10. Abraham, however, is not an aesthetic hero. Silence in the cases Kierkegaard describes initially is always for the sake of preserving someone. But Abraham's silence doesn't preserve Isaac, but the opposite. Abraham is also unlike the aesthetic hero because, even if he brought his plans into the public sphere of universal ethics by disclosing them, he couldn't be understood. He can't explain himself. Nor can he explain faith, which is inexpressible and which would cease to be faith if it were made sensible to the demands of universal ethics. But Abraham does speak – "The Lord will provide the sacrifice." This is not disclosure of his plans, nor is it deceit that hides the truth from Isaac. Instead, he employs irony, which enables him both to disclose and not disclose. Irony is the language of faith. posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, September 22, 2007 at 04:13 PM [Philosophy Link Print] « Back Home Next »

Thursday, September 27, 2007

El may have been a god in the Canaanite pantheon, while YHWH may have been a Midianite god imported, via nomads

HOW TO READ THE BIBLE A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. By James L. Kugel. 819 pp. Free Press. $35. Related First Chapter: ‘How to Read the Bible’ (September 16, 2007) NYT
Reading Is Believing, or Not By DAVID PLOTZ Published: September 16, 2007
Depending on who’s reading Genesis and why, Abraham’s not-quite sacrifice of Isaac is a true historical event that establishes the Jewish claim to Jerusalem, or an inspirational lesson in how God tests the faith of ordinary men, or a tribute to the Bible’s first willing martyr, or a foreshadowing of the crucifixion. Or maybe it’s merely a just-so story, a made-up tale stuck into the Bible by ancient Israelites to explain why they didn’t practice child sacrifice, even though neighboring tribes did.
All these interpretations for the binding of Isaac — and still others — can be found in James L. Kugel’s “How to Read the Bible,” an awesome, thrilling and deeply strange book. Kugel, an emeritus professor of Hebrew literature at Harvard and, mark this, an Orthodox Jew, aims to prove that you can read the Bible rationally without losing God. He sets himself the monumental task of guiding readers all the way through the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament, more or less, if you’re a Christian) and reclaiming the Bible from both the literalists and the skeptics.
So, how to read the Bible? Kugel proposes two different ways. First, he shows us the Bible as it was read by the “ancient interpreters,” writers who lived in the period a couple of hundred years before and after the birth of Jesus, even as the Bible itself was being codified. Their way of reading the Bible — their assumption of its inerrancy, their belief that scripture teaches moral lessons, and their faith in divine authorship — is the way many of us still read it today. Second, Kugel leads us through the Bible as it’s understood by modern scholars, who for the past 150 years have used archaeology, linguistics, history, anthropology and all the other tools of science to excavate the truth about the Good Book. Kugel seems to have begun “How to Read the Bible” with the notion of giving equal weight to his two methods, but he soon sidelines the ancient interpreters and focuses on the exceedingly provocative modern scholarship. Though Kugel surely did not intend this, in its own way, his book proves as devastating to the godly cause as any of the pro-atheism books that have been dominating the best-seller lists in recent months.
It’s not news to anyone — at least anyone who reads the Bible even a wee bit skeptically — that the book is chock-full of contradictions and impossible events. Instead of carping snidely about this, in the style of a college bull session, Kugel gives us a magisterial, erudite, yet remarkably witty tour through the research. If reading the Bible demands a suspension of disbelief — Moses turned the Nile to blood? Joshua stopped the sun at noon? Samson killed 1,000 men with the jawbone of an ass? — then “How to Read the Bible” will prompt a suspension of belief. Some of the territory Kugel covers will be familiar to lay Bible doubters already. He reviews the “documentary hypothesis,” which demonstrates pretty conclusively that the first five books of the Bible were not written by a single person (Moses, according to tradition), but actually cobbled together from four, or maybe five, different writers. Kugel points out the Bible’s plagiarism from earlier, non-Israelite sources: laws nicked from Hammurabi; chunks of the Noah flood story lifted from the Epic of Gilgamesh; prophecies of Ezekiel inspired by Middle Eastern temples. He even implicates the Ten Commandments, which were apparently derived in part from ancient Hittite treaties.
Modern scholars have also unmoored many of the most beloved stories in Genesis and Exodus. These tales are now viewed as etiological — that is, they were invented to explain how the world got to be the way it is. In this reading, the conflict between Jacob and Esau isn’t a true story of sibling rivalry but an account of why, at the time the story was written down, the Israelites had such hot and cold relations with the Edomites, a nearby tribe identified with Esau. Similarly, the “mark of Cain” that God places on Cain after he murders Abel, promising sevenfold vengeance for anyone who harms him, was probably a tale designed to highlight the brutality of the Kenites, Israel’s notoriously fierce neighbors.
Most unsettling to religious Jews and Christians may be Kugel’s chapters about the origins of God and his chosen people. Kugel says that there is essentially no evidence — archaeological, historical, cultural — for the events in the Torah. No sign of an exodus from Egypt; no proof that Israelites ever invaded, much less conquered, Canaan; no indication that Jericho was ever sacked. In fact, quite the contrary: current evidence suggests that the Israelites were probably Canaanites themselves, semi-nomadic highlanders or fleeing city dwellers who gradually separated from their mother culture, established a distinct identity and invented a mythical past.
God himself has an equally murky personal history. At the start of the Bible, God is often viewed as just one of many gods. Only later in the book does he become the sole deity. More confusingly, he doesn’t even seem to be the same god throughout the book. Mostly, God is called YHWH, but sometimes, especially in the earlier books, he’s known as El. According to Kugel, these are probably two different deities fused into one: El may have been a god in the Canaanite pantheon, while YHWH may have been a Midianite god imported, via nomads, to the early Israelites, who made him their only god.
One purpose of “How to Read the Bible” is to recapture the Bible from literalists, and Kugel certainly succeeds. His tour through the scholarship demonstrates why it makes no sense to believe that every word of the Bible is true history. Piling on, he also contends that modern Bible literalism, that brand of six-day-creationism favored by fundamentalists, is wildly out of step with traditional Christian interpretation. Such monomaniacal focus on the Bible’s literal truth is a relatively new phenomenon. It’s not so much that readers of yore didn’t believe the Bible’s truth; they just didn’t waste a lot of time trying to prove impossible events like the Flood.
But vanquishing the literalists is only half of Kugel’s project. He also seeks a safe haven for rationalist believers. In other words, having broken all the windows, trashed the bedroom, stripped the wires for copper, sold the plumbing for scrap, and jackhammered into the foundation, Kugel proposes to move back into his Bible house.
Kugel spends the final chapter trying to salvage the Bible for rational believers like himself. And give him credit: he refuses to take an easy way out. He won’t say — as many Reform Jews and Christians do — that the Bible is just a series of excellent moral lessons. (After all, Kugel asks, what then are we supposed to make of all the ugly, morally repellent laws and stories?) He also won’t say that Jewish observance is enough, that following God’s laws — independent of accepting their truth — is satisfactory. Instead, Kugel tries to separate scholarship and belief. At bottom, Kugel seems to conclude that, scholarship be damned, there is some seed of divine inspiration in the Bible, even if he can’t say exactly where it is. The fact that we can’t prove any particular passage isn’t important, and the fact that it’s a pastiche of myths and plagiarized law codes doesn’t extinguish the holiness that’s in it, and doesn’t diminish how it still inspires us to love and serve God. That’s a humane and humble conclusion, but it won’t reduce the delight of Bible skeptics, cackling with glee about Chapters 1 through 35. David Plotz is working on a book based on his “Blogging the Bible” series for Slate, where he is the deputy editor. More Articles in Books » HOW TO READ THE BIBLE A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. By James L. Kugel. 819 pp. Free Press. $35. Related First Chapter: ‘How to Read the Bible’ (September 16, 2007)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Upcoming book on "Christology and Science"

Christology and Science
Pairing these modes of inquiry -- Christology and Science -- may seem odd to many readers, but I am increasingly convinced that one of the major challenges for Christian witness to Jesus Christ in postmodern culture will be articulating christological doctrine in dialogue with contemporary sciences such as biology, sociology and even physical cosmology.
The searches for the historical Jesus (at least the first two anyway) were in large part driven by Lessing's threatening ditch, and the drive for universality implicit in modern criticism and later positivism. But these are not so threatening anymore, and so talking about the particularity of Jesus and the significance of fidelity to his way of life is not so alien in postmodern culture.
However, many of the WAYS in which we talk about this particularity and fidelity are problematic insofar as they presuppose ancient or early modern philosophical and scientific assumptions. In my upcoming book on "Christology and Science" I attempt to spell out some reconstructive directions for the doctrines of the incarnation, the atonement and the parousia.
But for this blog, I would like to invite reflection on the way in which we -- as persons interested in a conversation between the church and postmodern culture -- respond to the challenges and opportunities implicit in such an endeavor.
Here are a couple of paragraphs from the Introduction, encouraging us to attend to the delightful terror of such an interdisciplinary engagement:
"In every generation Christian theology is faced with the task of articulating the intuitions of the biblical tradition about the significance of Jesus Christ in a way that engages its own cultural context. This task feels especially daunting and dangerous in the context of interdisciplinary dialogue with contemporary sciences such as evolutionary biology, cultural anthropology and physical cosmology, which question the coherence and plausibility of many traditional Christological formulations. However, as we reflect on the philosophical shifts that have shaped the conceptual space of late modern discourse about human life in the cosmos we may find that these challenges also provide theology with new opportunities for explicating and clarifying the Christian experience and understanding of Jesus Christ.
This book is my attempt to show that engaging in this interdisciplinary endeavor is both possible and promising. The task of reforming Christology will indeed require the reconstruction of previous doctrinal formulations, as it has throughout church history. Many traditional depictions of the person, work and coming of Christ are shaped by assumptions about humanity and the world that no longer make sense in light of contemporary science. One way of responding to these challenges would be to try to insulate theology from science, defensively maintaining one’s favored ancient or early modern doctrinal formulation. Or one might try to insulate science from theology, defensively reducing the human longing for redemptive transformation to one’s favored disciplinary explanation. Extreme responses are often the easiest.
However, the more difficult reconstructive response, which attempts to maintain the integrity of theology while integrating relevant scientific and philosophical insights, will also be the more rewarding. As we will see in the following chapters, reconstructing Christology has always been an important part of the ongoing reformation of the Christian church.
This brings us to a second sense in which this book aims at reforming Christology. The study of Jesus Christ ought to have a reformative effect on contemporary life. An articulation of Christian doctrine should not only help us make sense of our experience in the world; it should also facilitate the reformation of our ways of living in the world.
Many traditional formulations of Christology rely so heavily on ancient concepts of substance or medieval concepts of jurisprudence that they seem irrelevant to the concrete concerns that shape late modern culture. Yet, the human longing to understand and be understood, to love and be loved, to hold and be held onto in healthy relations with others is as strong as ever in contemporary life. One of the functions of Christological discourse is to illuminate the origin, condition and goal of these desires. Bringing Christology and science into explicit, concrete dialogue will have a disturbing effect on many of our comfortable assumptions about our life together, but this is an important part of any deeply transformative process.
It is important to face the fears that we bring to such an endeavor. Some theologians will be concerned that discussion of particular claims about Christ may offend the pluralist sensibilities of the interdisciplinary community, while others will be anxious that serious engagement with science will simply render implausible some cherished Christological formulations. Some scientists will worry that talking about Jesus in public will undermine their reputation among their colleagues, while others will suspect that religionists are encroaching on their territory. Some laypersons will fear that any change in inherited formulations brings the destruction of faith itself, while others will wonder whether maintaining the centrality of Christology is really worth the effort."
I then try to enhance the desirability of engaging in the reconstructive task of interdisciplinary dialogue without obscuring the real terror that it brings.
But I would be curious to know how those who follow this particular blog conversation respond to the very idea of such a reconstructive engagement? Posted by LeRon Shults in Theology the church and postmodern culture: conversation contemporary philosophy...for the the vernacular conversations hosted by Baker Academic coordinated by Geoff Holsclaw series editor: James K.A. Smith

Friday, September 21, 2007

Nietzsche’s writings first made belief in cultural relativism truly possible

Atheism in Philosophy: Marx, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche
Marijo Cook
At one time, Marxism appeared to offer a viable alternative to theological ethics, but, curiously, it seems to have been refuted through scientific experiment. I like this. The evidence of the real world should be admissable to the argument. And the evidence on Marxism is that the communities fail after a period of time. The predictions do not come true. The theory fails its own test for verification. Even The Farm has given up their original communistic ideals.
Rationally, there's no real problem with communism-- if we all work together, we should be able to create heaven right here on earth, and the theological bases of ethics are simply replaced by the secular goal. Unfortunately, without coersion, we won't all work together, and introducing coersion undermines the ethics. Even the socialistic compromise seems to work only in communities which are relatively prosperous to begin with and racially homogenous.
Kierkegaard and Dostoievsky are generally considered the forerunners of existentialist thought. I'll probably have to do a whole other page on Dostoievsky, but we can start with Kierkegaard here.
S.K. was a Christian, although he didn't think he was a very good one, and the church fathers of his day were certain that he wasn't a very good one. I find his formulation of Christianity facinating, and his analysis of faith is probably the best anywhere. In S.K.'s theology, God exists, but you'd almost have to be crazy to have utter faith in His plan for the world. Having complete faith is the only way to be genuinely comfortable with life, but it means believing that God's values, which are clearly not the same as our human values, are the correct ones.
The famous example of this comes from the writer's repeated attempts, in Fear and Trembling, to get inside the head of Abraham as he heads out to kill his only son, because God told him to do it. Abraham is a perfect man of faith-- he obeys the command without a shudder. But how can an ordinary person understand this? If it was a neighbor hauling his kid off to a mountaintop, we'd have Child Protective Services and the police and the men in white coats out to intervene so quick he couldn't get the donkey loaded before he and kid were separated, probably for life.
The point is that God's plan for the world always includes things that we simply cannot approve of or understand, which is both why faith is necessary and why it is so difficult to genuinely understand or achieve. Faith would be superfluous if God's plan were rational and in agreement with our values. There's no leap to approving a rational plan with which we agree. Faith is required because God's plan doesn't make sense to us, with our limited point of view and understanding. 19 years ago, when I was first studying this in college, my professor used the Ayatollah Khoumeni as an example of a man of faith who appeared insane to us. Events since then have provided many more examples of people (and not only Muslims) who use faith to justify actions which the rest of us find appalling. How can we know they are wrong, if we also believe in a God? Doesn't our God also command some appalling things?
Of course it's a short step from here to dispensing with the notion of God altogether. Who needs an incomprehensible God? The other existentialists (Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus) take a look at the life which is left without God, and they find it pretty bleak. Human beings are caught in a world which really doesn't consider our heightened sensitivities or show any concern for us. The alternatives are to dull our senses and plod through tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, measuring out life with coffee spoons, or else to embrace the phenomenon of life with all of its pain and agony and joy, but refusing to buckle, insisting on finding the pleasures of life wherever we can and relishing them as much as we can.
This is nearly as difficult a leap as faith is (at least, it was for me with my depressive tendencies and taste for drama and crisis), and actually a similar one. The focus is turned elsewhere, however. Instead of having faith that there is a plan somewhere which makes sense, we must have faith in our own ability to manage the pain of life without being, well, driven to insanity, I suppose, or suicide. We trust that we will be able to look at life with fully open eyes, yet find a way to appreciate it.
This is the "humanism" of secular humanism. Our faith is in the strength and power of the human being rather than in the plan for the world which God keeps in his infinite mind. This is Philip's "complete human, the idealized human, acting out of enlightened self interest".
Okay, so far, so good. Except that there are no natural limits to self-interest in this formulation, I would argue.
Well, then, on to Dostoevsky and, judging from the indignant comments, it looks like we’d better review a little of Nietzsche, also.
Crime and Punishment has been one of my favorite books for many years, and if you’ve never read it or haven’t read it in a while, there is a very good new translation out (well, its from 1992– that’s new for some of us...) by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky which I recommend. I’ve adopted their spelling of Dostoevsky for the remainder of this entry. (Also note that even though I "give away" part of the story in what follows, this should by no means diminish the pleasure of the person reading the book for the first time. My synopsis of what happens doesn’t begin to touch the depth and beauty of this masterpiece.) Dostoevsky wrote during the latter part of the 19th century, some 50 years or so before the revolutions which eliminated legal religion in Russia for most of the 20th century. Dostoevsky was very aware of the intellectual turn away from religion in his country, and many of his novels address the issue and the dangers which he saw in the trend. In Crime and Punishment, a young student who is a believer in the new ideas formulates a plan to kill a rich old woman with no redeeming qualities in order to save himself from abject poverty and his sister from a marriage of economic convenience.
Raskolnikov, like most students, believed that his ideas would be an important contribution to society, if he could just get enough money to stay in school and finish his research and writing. His sister was willing to marry an unpleasant rich man in order to get this money for her brother. Raskolnikov reasons that by killing the old pawn-broker, he can get the money, save his sister, and make a huge contribution to society, and the only cost would be this insufferable old woman who causes more misery than anything else. The cost/benefit analysis is clear, and the reasoning is as sound as any that justified any war in the history of mankind. Rationally, killing this old woman should be no more of a crime than killing a stray dog would be– and she caused more damage than most strays. Only his fear, his inferiority, held him back. By overcoming this fear and going forward with the plan, Raskolnikov could join the ranks of those extraordinary men who are able to leap over the common moral laws in order to perform feats which benefit themselves, and which benefit society as a whole by providing it with the best, bravest, most daring leaders.
Napoleon is the prime example of this sort of man–the son of a lawyer, he rose through the military to become the emperor of France at the age of 30. He was the first emperor in history (as far as I know) to ascend through his own talent rather than through his birth to a royal family. Even though Napoleon dismantled the French parliament upon his assumption of power, it was still the French revolution which created the opportunity for him to govern. Napoleon was the first to capitalize (spectacularly) upon the possibilities for ordinary men within democratic nations. (Remember that the U.S. was still inconsequential in international affairs in 1866, when C&P was written.) His success fired the ambitions of young men everywhere, I imagine, but perhaps especially in Russia, where the revolutionaries were still actively proselytizing. (Prince Andrew, in War and Peace, is another young man fascinated by Napoleon, even as he fights against him.)
Crime and Punishment acts out the conflict between the atheist’s and the religious points of view. Raskolnikov never gives up his belief in the possibility of rising above the ordinary moral code; he just decides that he is not one of those destined to do it. And his friend Sonya likewise clings to her belief that shedding the blood of another human being is always wrong, a sin against the earth itself.
I find myself hesitant to get started in writing about Nietzsche, and I’m not sure why. Probably because he’s difficult– terribly brilliant yet annoyingly adolescent, groundbreaking and chauvinistic, poetic, yet draping his philosophy in layers of value-laden terms. There’s no doubt that his writings have had a tremendous influence on the way we perceive ourselves today, but to go back and read him again now, I almost want to wonder, "How were we taken in by this?"
Nietzsche was not the first atheist, but he is probably the most notorious. His writing was deliberately incendiary, so it is not surprising that his words "God is dead,"would be the ones most commonly associated with the advent of atheism in Western culture, even though they were published the year that Marx died and after Darwin had published his major works.
Nietzsche was a philologist, an expert in Greek and Roman language and texts, and his admiration for the ancients colored his philosophy. Unlike the British romantic poets who were also enamoured with Greece, (almost 100 years previously) Nietzsche did not believe that we should emulate their polytheism or convert it into a variety of Nature worship. Rather, Nietzsche adapted the (homoerotic?, narcissistic?) Classical idealization of man to the scientific nineteenth century. In Nietzsche’s thought, the gods were always creations of man, addressing a cultural need of one kind or another. Man is the creative power, creating values and the gods who represent them. This is a nice inversion of both Marxist thought, which holds that the gods are created by the ruling class to keep the lower class in check, and, of course, of Christianity. It is Nietzsche’s vision of Man as the ruler of his own destiny, the creator of gods who operate in his service, which will carry culture through the 20th century’s industrialization and warfare.
To give but one example of his methods, from The Genealogy of Good and Evil, Nietzsche contrasts the Classical values "good and bad" with the Judeo-Christian values of "good and evil". The Classical values, he contends, stem from the nobility’s sense that they are the fortunate, happy, and good people, and that the lower classes are the poor, unfortunate ones having bad lives. The value judgment springs from the vivacious and brutal, but successful, way of life of the powerful. They say of themselves "This is good", and a value is created. On the other hand, he says, the Christian values of "good and evil" spring from the resentment and envy of the lower classes, who decide that the behavior of the upper classes, when they are warlike and dangerous, is evil, thereby leaving the lower classes on the moral high ground: the good becomes the meek and humble. Nietzsche is explicitly on the side of the aristocracy– another admirer of Napoleon– and he is unashamedly opposed to democracy, and Buddhism, which he equates with nihilism. In these latter choices, he foreshadows Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and the novels of Ayn Rand. Nietzsche’s noblemen are the ones saying ‘yes’ to life, even though life can be brutal, destructive and indifferent in its growth and self-assertion. They are dragging the human race forward with their enthusiasm, while the "Priestly class" is trying to hold it back, to say "no" to the nobleman’s conquests.
In the new turn-of-the-century century world of industry and business, however, Nietzsche’s ideals found a home. The businessman was expected to leave his Christianity at home with the wife when he went to work– in the marketplace, transgressions against the moral code were profitable and even admirable, at times. He who had the nerve to overstep the rules could accumulate more and more power. The mighty European industrialists and imperialists and the American "self-made men" were the glittering celebrities of the next century. Money was power, and those who had it were self-absorbed and indifferent to any destruction they left in their wake (cf. The Great Gatsby), and those who didn’t have it were endlessly imagining and scheming ways to get it, hanging on the coattails of the powerful and imitating everything they did. ‘Morality’ becomes a secondary consideration to the celebration of life, virility, and potency being carried on by the rich. These are also the notions which gave the 20th century rulers of nations the idea that their cruelty in war need not be restrained– they felt they had the right to do whatever was necessary to preserve the ‘good’ way of life in their homeland. This goes for Roosevelt, Churchill, and Truman as well as for Hitler.
Nietzsche was so brilliant and perceptive, and so wrong at times, that it is difficult to summarize all of the contributions he has made to our ways of thinking. One which I find important, however, is that Nietzsche’s writings first made belief in cultural relativism truly possible. He did this by taking the disagreement between cultures out of the realm of "the civilized vs. the savages" (or at least by inverting this dyad) and plunking it down squarely in our own backyards, showing us the conflict between those values which descend from our Judeo-Christian heritage and those we inherited from the Greeks and Romans. Nietzsche showed us how values could develop from cultural practices, and, to his credit, I believe, he insisted that we could still evaluate, from the present, the different systems, instead of having to blandly affirm that any values are as good as any others– or none. I don’t agree with his choices, but I have a tumultuous 150 years of history to consider that he didn’t have in his past.
I do believe that it is important to recognize, however, that there is a system of valuation which begins with atheism and which does not assume that everyone will or even should put the interests of the community above their own narrow self-interest. Some would say that to do so is to hold some people back from achieving all that they are capable of, and from exemplifying the glorious possibilities of the human being (Man, that is). Morality castrates our leaders, they would say, so we should not expect them to follow the rules which are perhaps necessary for common folk.
I am deliberately using the language of masculine sexuality here, by the way. I do believe that this is all very penis-driven thought. But my purpose in this piece is not really to criticize Nietzsche, but to try to present his strongest arguments. My criticism will have to wait for later. What happens when you tell a lie? an atheist looks at spiritual principles HomeAbout the Title'Is it wrong to lie?' : The short answerhow to tell a lie © Copyright 2003 Marijo Cook. Last update: 10/5/2003; 12:41:32 PM.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Michael Polanyi built on the work of Henri Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin

Viewed as a scientific system, Darwinism has some attractive features. Its great advantage is its simplicity. Ignoring the specific differences between different types of being and the purposes for which they act, Darwinism of this type reduces the whole process of evolution to matter and motion. On its own level it produces plausible explanations that seem to satisfy many practicing scientists.
Notwithstanding these advantages, Darwinism has not entirely triumphed, even in the scientific field. An important school of scientists supports a theory known as Intelligent Design. Michael Behe, a professor at Lehigh University, contends that certain organs of living beings are “irreducibly complex.” Their formation could not take place by small random mutations, because something that had only some but not all the features of the new organ would have no reason for existence and no advantage for survival. It would make no sense, for example, for the pupil of the eye to evolve if there were no retina to accompany it, and it would be nonsensical for there to be a retina with no pupil. As a showcase example of a complex organ all of whose parts are interdependent, Behe proposes the bacterial flagellum, a marvelous swimming device used by some bacteria.
At this point we get into a technical dispute among microbiologists that I will not attempt to adjudicate. In favor of Behe and his school, we may say that the possibility of sudden major changes effected by a higher intelligence should not be antecedently ruled out. But we may take it as a sound principle that God does not intervene in the created order without necessity. If the production of organs such as the bacterial flagellum can be explained by the gradual accumulation of minor random variations, the Darwinist explanation should be preferred. As a matter of policy, it is imprudent to build one’s case for faith on what science has not yet explained, because tomorrow it may be able to explain what it cannot explain today. History teaches us that the “God of the gaps” often proves to be an illusion.
Darwinism is criticized by yet a third school of critics, one which includes philosophers such as Michael Polanyi, who build on the work of Henri Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin. Philosophers of this orientation, notwithstanding their mutual differences, agree that biological organisms cannot be understood by the laws of mechanics alone. The laws of biology, without in any way contradicting those of physics and chemistry, are more complex. The behavior of living organisms cannot be explained without taking into account their striving for life and growth. Plants, by reaching out for sunlight and nourishment, betray an intrinsic aspiration to live and grow. This internal finality makes them capable of success and failure in ways that stones and minerals are not. Because of the ontological gap that separates the living from the nonliving, the emergence of life cannot be accounted for on the basis of purely mechanical principles.
In tune with this school of thought, the English mathematical physicist John Polkinghorne holds that Darwinism is incapable of explaining why multicellular plants and animals arise when single cellular organisms seem to cope with the environment quite successfully. There must be in the universe a thrust toward higher and more-complex forms. The Georgetown professor John F. Haught, in a recent defense of the same point of view, notes that natural science achieves exact results by restricting itself to measurable phenomena, ignoring deeper questions about meaning and purpose. By its method, it filters out subjectivity, feeling, and striving, all of which are essential to a full theory of cognition. Materialistic Darwinism is incapable of explaining why the universe gives rise to subjectivity, feeling, and striving.
The Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson vigorously contended in his 1971 book From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again that Francis Bacon and others perpetrated a philosophical error when they eliminated two of Aristotle’s four causes from the purview of science. They sought to explain everything in mechanistic terms, referring only to material and efficient causes and discarding formal and final causality.
Without the form, or the formal cause, it would be impossible to account for the unity and specific identity of any substance. In the human composite the form is the spiritual soul, which makes the organism a single entity and gives it its human character. Once the form is lost, the material elements decompose, and the body ceases to be human. It would be futile, therefore, to try to define human beings in terms of their bodily components alone.
Final causality is particularly important in the realm of living organisms. The organs of the animal or human body are not intelligible except in terms of their purpose or finality. The brain is not intelligible without reference to the faculty of thinking that is its purpose, nor is the eye intelligible without reference to the function of seeing.
These three schools of thought are all sustainable in a Christian philosophy of nature. Although I incline toward the third, I recognize that some well-qualified experts profess theistic Darwinism and Intelligent Design. All three of these Christian perspectives on evolution affirm that God plays an essential role in the process, but they conceive of God’s role in different ways. According to theistic Darwinism, God initiates the process by producing from the first instant of creation (the Big Bang) the matter and energies that will gradually develop into vegetable, animal, and eventually human life on this earth and perhaps elsewhere. According to Intelligent Design, the development does not occur without divine intervention at certain stages, producing irreducibly complex organs. According to the teleological view, the forward thrust of evolution and its breakthroughs into higher grades of being depend upon the dynamic presence of God to his creation. Many adherents of this school would say that the transition from physicochemical existence to biological life, and the further transitions to animal and human life, require an additional input of divine creative energy.
Much of the scientific community seems to be fiercely opposed to any theory that would bring God actively into the process of evolution, as the second and third theories do. Christian Darwinists run the risk of conceding too much to their atheistic colleagues. They may be over-inclined to grant that the whole process of emergence takes place without the involvement of any higher agency. Theologians must ask whether it is acceptable to banish God from his creation in this ­fashion.
Several centuries ago, a group of philosophers known as Deists held the theory that God had created the universe and ceased at that point to have any further influence. Most Christians firmly disagreed, holding that God continues to act in history. In the course of centuries, he gave revelations to his prophets; he worked miracles; he sent his own Son to become a man; he raised Jesus from the dead. If God is so active in the supernatural order, producing effects that are publicly observable, it is difficult to rule out on principle all interventions in the process of evolution. Why should God be capable of creating the world from nothing but incapable of acting within the world he has made? The tendency today is to say that creation was not complete at the origins of the universe but continues as the universe develops in complexity.
Phillip E. Johnson, a leader in the Intelligent Design movement, has accused the Christian Darwinists of falling into an updated Deism, exiling God “to the shadowy realm before the Big Bang,” where he “must do nothing that might cause trouble between theists and scientific naturalists.”
The Catholic Church has consistently maintained that the human soul is not a product of any biological cause but is immediately created by God. This doctrine raises the question whether God is not necessarily involved in the fashioning of the human body, since the human body comes to be when the soul is infused. The advent of the human soul makes the body correlative with it and therefore human. Even though it may be difficult for the scientist to detect the point at which the evolving body passes from the anthropoid to the human, it would be absurd for a brute animal—say, a chimpanzee—to possess a body perfectly identical with the human.
Atheistic scientists often write as though the only valid manner of reasoning is that current in modern science: to make precise observations and measurements of phenomena, to frame hypotheses to account for the evidence, and to confirm or disconfirm the hypotheses by experiments. I find it hard to imagine anyone coming to belief in God by this route.
It is true, of course, that the beauty and order of nature has often moved people to believe in God as creator. The eternal power and majesty of God, says St. Paul, is manifest to all from the things God has made. To the people of Lystra, Paul proclaimed that God has never left himself without witness, “for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Christian philosophers have fashioned rigorous proofs based on these spontaneous insights. But these deductive proofs do not rely upon modern scientific method.
It may be of interest that the scientist Francis Collins came to believe in God not so much from contemplating the beauty and order of creation—impressive though it is—but as the result of moral and religious experience. His reading of C.S. Lewis convinced him that there is a higher moral law to which we are unconditionally subject and that the only possible source of that law is a personal God. Lewis also taught him to trust the natural instinct by which the human heart reaches out ineluctably to the infinite and the divine. Every other natural appetite—such as those for food, sex, and knowledge—has a real object. Why, then, should the yearning for God be the exception?
To believe in God is natural, and the belief can be confirmed by philosophical proofs. Yet Christians generally believe in God, I suspect, not because of these proofs but rather because they revere the person of Jesus, who teaches us about God by his words and actions. It would not be possible to be a follower of Jesus and be an atheist.
Scientists such as Dawkins, Harris, and Stenger seem to know very little of the spiritual experience of believers. As Terry Eagleton wrote in his review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge is The Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. . . . If card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins [were asked] to pass judgment on the geopolitics of South Africa, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.”
Some contemporary scientific atheists are so caught up in the methodology of their discipline that they imagine it must be the only method for solving every problem. But other methods are needed for grappling with questions of another order. Science and technology (science’s offspring) are totally inadequate in the field of morality. While science and technology vastly increase human power, power is ambivalent. It can accomplish good or evil; the same inventions can be constructive or destructive.
The tendency of science, when it gains the upper hand, is to do whatever lies within its capacity, without regard for moral constraints. As we have experienced in recent generations, technology uncontrolled by moral standards has visited untold horrors on the world. To distinguish between the right and wrong use of power, and to motivate human beings to do what is right even when it does not suit their convenience, requires recourse to moral and religious norms. The biddings of conscience make it clear that we are inescapably under a higher law that requires us to behave in certain ways and that judges us guilty if we disobey it. We would turn in vain to scientists to inform us about this higher law.
Some evolutionists contend that morality and religion arise, evolve, and persist according to Darwinian principles. Religion, they say, has survival value for individuals and communities. But this alleged survival value, even if it be real, tells us nothing about the truth or falsity of any moral or religious system. Since questions of this higher order cannot be answered by science, philosophy and theology still have an essential role to play.
Justin Barrett, an evolutionary psychologist now at Oxford, is also a practicing Christian. He believes that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good God crafted human beings to be in loving relationship with him and with one another. “Why wouldn’t God,” he asks, “design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” Even if these mental phenomena can be explained scientifically, the psychological explanation does not mean that we should stop believing. “Suppose that science produces a convincing account for why I think my wife loves me,” he writes. “Should I then stop believing that she does?”
A metaphysics of knowledge can take us further in the quest for religious truth. It can give reasons for thinking that the natural tendency to believe in God, manifest among all peoples, does not exist in vain. Biology and psychology can examine the phenomena from below. But theology sees them from above, as the work of God calling us to himself in the depths of our being. We are, so to speak, programmed to seek eternal life in union with God, the personal source and goal of everything that is true and good. This natural desire to gaze upon him, while it may be suppressed for a time, cannot be eradicated.
Science can cast a brilliant light on the processes of nature and can vastly increase human power over the environment. Rightly used, it can notably improve the conditions of life here on earth. Future scientific discoveries about evolution will presumably enrich religion and theology, since God reveals himself through the book of nature as well as through redemptive history. Science, however, performs a disservice when it claims to be the only valid form of knowledge, displacing the aesthetic, the interpersonal, the philosophical, and the religious.
The recent outburst of atheistic scientism is an ominous sign. If unchecked, this arrogance could lead to a resumption of the senseless warfare that raged in the nineteenth century, thus undermining the harmony of different levels of knowledge that has been foundational to our Western civilization. By contrast, the kind of dialogue between evolutionary science and theology proposed by John Paul II can overcome the alienation and lead to authentic progress both for science and for religion.
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., holds the Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University. Contact Subscribe Advertise Privacy Policy © First Things 2006-2007. All Rights Reserved. (x)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

In Judeo-Christian America one finds the idea of equality before God and the law

The Judeo-Christian Values of America By Ronald R. Cherry
American Thinker 2007 Home September 15, 2007
Judeo-Christian Values have a foundational role in America, beginning with 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..."
Since the pursuit of happiness, as Sigmund Freud surmised, is tied to human love and to creative work and play, the principles of American Judeo-Christian Values can rightly be summarized as the honoring of God-given Life, Liberty and Creativity. This seed of American Social Justice was then fleshed out in the U.S. Constitution through reason and common sense, unencumbered by the dysfunctional religious and secular traditions and laws of Old Europe.
Our Founding Fathers separated church from state, but they wisely did not separate God from state; they acknowledged God as the source of our rights, and, in fact, they were careful to place Biblical morality directly into our founding documents and laws, and into our values and culture precisely to help prevent a future of totalitarian or tyrannical rule in America. The combination of keeping Judeo-Christian religious morality in the state, as opposed to the church it's self; and, additionally, setting up our laws based on reason and common sense has contributed to the American Character, and to what is known as "American Exceptionalism."
Our Founding Fathers were religious in a new way, the Judeo-Christian way, and they were the liberals of their day by deducing that our political and human rights come from a power higher than human government; but they were conservative to Biblical morality. There was and still is a connection between God and Liberty; He is the author of it. It is ironic that American Conservatives are now the champion of this our most liberal founding principle; and also an irony that most American Conservatives are wholly unaware of their connection with the liberal founding ideas of this great republic. It is also an irony that many American Liberals have turned a blind eye to the required connection between God and Liberty. As Thomas Jefferson and John Adams noted, as you will see below, Liberty cannot survive among men without its Divine connection.
In Judeo-Christian America one finds the idea of equality before God and the law, but not government forced economic equality. Modern European culture has stressed the value of economic equality rather than Liberty, and their governments unjustly enforce the principle. This has led to the failed European inventions of Socialism and Communism. Socialists in America have been lured into this failed European idea of social justice. Socialism is a failure in that it unjustly suppresses human creativity by excessively taxing away its rewards, and by foolishly giving economic reward to many who, even though mentally and physically able, fail to honor their Divine privilege and duty to work creatively.
Thus, Socialism is a dual insult to God-given creativity. Communism was much worse in that it also dishonored the sacredness of human life and liberty. Communism was the inevitable result of separating not just church from state, but God from state. Communism dishonored God's gifts of Life, Liberty and Creativity. European cultures have historical ties to authoritarian and totalitarian systems dating back to the Roman Empire. Even European Christianity was, for a time, contaminated by its links to authoritarian rule.
American Judeo-Christian Culture, on the other hand, has been linked to honoring Life, Liberty and Creativity from the outset; deriving its wisdom from the lights of reason, common sense, and both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament Christian Bible. Thomas Jefferson and the great majority of our Founding Fathers explicitly put God into the national life of the United States, by putting the Creator into the Declaration of Independence. It is important that American Liberty has something to do with God; that is something for students to know and discuss, even if they are not particularly religious. This does not represent some form of tyranny of the religious majority or an injustice; it was in fact the wisdom of our Founding Fathers to stand in opposition to tyranny and injustice by acknowledging the source of our rights -- those rights originating from God rather than from King George III, or for that matter from the Soviet or Chinese Politburo, or a courthouse, or a legislature.
America is a melting pot of diverse people including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists; and from the Judeo-Christian perspective, all are made in God's image. We have in America a multiethnic society, and that is good. What would be unhealthy for America would be for it to become Balkanized, something likely to happen with the atrophy of Judeo-Christian American Culture and Values. Worse yet would be for America to adopt the toxic values which exist in some parts of the world and which are endemic in some foreign cultures. The values of Fascism, Nazism, Communism or Totalitarian Islamic Sharia Law for example must never metastasize into our American Culture, rooted in Judeo-Christian values. These values have been with us from the beginning and they have made us strong and successful. These Judeo- Christian Values should be kept central to the American Spirit and Culture even as we have become more multi-ethnic.
Some of the words of our Founding Fathers will illustrate American Judeo-Christian Values and our separation of church and state, but not the separation of God from state, and provide grounding for our understanding of social justice. Thomas Jefferson wrote:
"all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them 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 ...."
He also wrote:
"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?" He also wrote: "Almighty God hath created the mind free. ... All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens...are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion..."
He also wrote:
"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
Our Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
President George Washington said this when proclaiming our National Thanksgiving Holiday:
"It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God ...."
John Adams wrote this:
"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
Later, Abraham Lincoln wrote these words about the Bible:
"In regard to this great book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to men. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong."
He also spoke these words at the Gettysburg Address:
"...that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
The following are the Judeo-Christian Values embraced by the American Republic and People.
I am indebted to Dennis Prager who has listed Judeo-Christian Values and elaborated on this subject long before I took it up; and those who know his work will recognize many of his thoughts.
1. Our sense of right and wrong and our sense of wisdom come from the use of reason and common sense, but also, and importantly, from the Bible which, by faith was considered by our Founding Fathers to be God's inspired text; and not just from the mind or heart of man. This faith lead to the mottos: "In God We Trust" and "One Nation under God." Our Founding Fathers were believers in the God of the Bible, even if some were not orthodox Christians, and they put that faith into the Declaration of Independence, into our laws, into our national monuments, and into our culture. Faith is a part of American Culture, something Atheists, Secularists, Humanists and those of other religions should acknowledge and accept as historically accurate truth. To remove the results of Biblical Faith from America is to undo what the Founding Fathers have wrought.
2. Truth is Sacred; there can be no liberty or justice, and little happiness without it. Jesus connected truth and liberty when he said "the truth shall make you free." In the Book of Exodus of the Hebrew Bible God describes Himself: "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth..." In Deuteronomy God is described this way: "He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice." Listen to King David in Psalm 25: "Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me your paths. Lead me in Your truth..."; and in Psalm 51: "Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom."
3. Human life is the first gift of God, and it is of infinite value since man is made in the image of God. Judeo-Christian Values have lead to a culture of life in America, not a culture of death. Americans with Judeo-Christian Values will defend innocent God-given life.
4. Our Liberty is a gift from God and stated so in the Declaration of Independence. It is also stated in the New Testament Christian Bible: "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty." Americans with Judeo-Christian Values will defend their God-given Liberty from tyranny and terror.
5. Human creativity is also a gift from God and is not to be unjustly suppressed by totalitarian, tyrannical or excessively taxing government. The work ethic is an important part of Judeo-Christian Values since honorable work is a reflection of God-given human creativity. Human reason is also a part of God-given human creativity, and it has led to scientific knowledge and technological progress. Reason and science are important aspects of Judeo-Christian Values. Human creativity is central to the pursuit of happiness, but does not guarantee it; totalitarian systems such as Communism or Islamic Sharia Law guarantee utopian happiness, but don't deliver it.
6. "Establish justice." This is commanded repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible. This is how it has been done in America: Honor Life, Liberty and Creativity. Liberty in practical terms means: Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, no established or state-supported religion, right to bear arms and act in self-defense, uninterrupted elections and the division of powers into its three branches. Where our culture is now headed in the wrong direction, in my opinion, is to provide special rights for certain groups of people. Our Founding Fathers acknowledged these basic rights for all people, and our Civil War enforced it for the American slaves when they were denied their God-given Liberty.
7. "Hate Evil". This is commanded three times in the Hebrew Bible; this is from the book of Proverbs: "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Hear the Prophet Isaiah: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness...." Americans with Judeo-Christian Values, as opposed to Europeans, still believe in the death penalty for pre-meditated murder, and America is still the nemesis of terrorists and tyrants - see the seal of the state of Virginia.
8. "Love your neighbor" - commanded in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. "Love your enemy" - commanded in the New Testament Christian Bible. Generations of Americans, starting with our Founding Fathers, have had to square the values of "Hate Evil" with "Love your enemy." This has been done by hating the evil within the enemies of God-given Life and Liberty, but not hating the evil-doer him/herself.
9. In the Judeo-Christian Value System there is a natural and common-sense balance between compassion and courageous confrontation of evil. This can be seen metaphorically as a natural balance between femininity and masculinity; both good and necessary. The secular culture of Europe and of many in the United States today have unwisely suppressed the masculinity of Judeo-Christian American Culture, and this has put our society out of balance.
10. From Many, One: e pluribus unum. Ethnicity and race don't matter, but values do matter. We Americans should consider ourselves blessed to live under God-given Liberty in the same melting pot; and we are privileged to pursue happiness through creative work and play, unencumbered by excessive government. Those things that divide us, such as race or ethnicity, can be viewed metaphorically as our various styles; and are not very important. Those things of lesser importance should melt into what is very important and which should unite us: our value of Life, Liberty and Creativity - those rights defined by the Declaration of Independence, and rightly identified as the gifts of God.
11. The natural resources of the Earth, including the animals, along with the rest of creation should be honored and well cared for, but also used and enjoyed; and never worshiped.
Ronald R. Cherry is a medical doctor. © American Thinker 2007

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Romanticism is a secularized expression of religious faith

The Religious Roots of “Child‑Centered” Education
by E. D. Hirsch, Jr. The Classical Teacher , Summer 2007
In my mind, progressive educational ideas have proved so seductive because their appeal lies not in their practical effects, but in their links to romanticism, the 19th century philosophical movement so influential in American culture, that elevated all that is natural and disparaged all that is artificial. The progressives applied this romantic principle to education by positing that education should be a natural process of growth that flows from the child’s natural instincts and interests. The word “nature” in the romantic tradition connotes the sense of a direct connection with the holy, lending the tenets of progressivism all the weight of religious conviction. We know in advance, in our bones, that what is natural must be better than what is artificial.
The Chasm Between
There are many disputes within the education field, but none so vituperative as the reading and math wars—the battles over how best to teach children to read and to solve arithmetic problems. These aren’t just disputes over instructional techniques--they are expressions of two distinct and opposing understandings of children’s nature and how children learn. The two sides are best viewed as expressions of romantic versus classical orientations to education. For instance, the “whole language” progressive approach to teaching children how to read is romantic in impulse. It equates the natural process of learning an oral first language with the very unnatural process of learning alphabetic writing. The emotive weight in progressivist ideas is on naturalness. The natural is spiritually nourishing; the artificial, deadening. In the 1920s, William Kilpatrick and other romantic progressivists were already advocating the “whole language” method for many of the same reasons advanced today.
The classical approach, by contrast, declines to assume that the natural method is always the best method. In teaching reading, the classicist is quite willing to accept linguistic scholarship that discloses that the alphabet is an artificial device for encoding the sounds of language. Learn the forty-odd sounds of the English language and their corresponding letter combinations, and you can sound out almost any word. Yet, adherents of “whole language” regard phonics as an unnatural approach that, by divorcing sounds and letters from meaning and context, fails to give children a real appreciation for reading.
The progressivist believes that it is better to study math and science through real-world, hands-on, natural methods than through the deadening modes of conceptual and verbal learning, or the repetitive practicing of math algorithms, even if those “old fashioned” methods are successful. The classicist is willing to accept the verdict of scholars that the artificial symbols and algorithms of mathematics are the very sources of its power. Math is a powerful instrument precisely because it is unnatural. It enables the mind to manipulate symbols in ways that transcend the direct natural reckoning abilities of the mind. Natural, real-world intuitions are helpful in math, but there should be no facile opposition between terms like “understanding,” “hands-on,” and “real-world applications” and terms like “rote learning” and “drill and kill.” What is being killed in memorizing the multiplication table? The progressivist says it is children’s joy in learning, their intrinsic interest, and their deep understanding.
Natural Supernaturalism
Romanticism is a secularized expression of religious faith. In a justly famous essay, T.E. Hulme defined romanticism as “spilt religion.” Romanticism, he said, redirects religious emotions from a transcendent God to the natural divinity of this world. In emotional terms, romanticism is an affirmation of this world—a refusal to deprecate this life in favor of pie in the sky. In theological terms, this sentiment is called “pantheism”—the faith that God inhabits all reality. Transcendent religions like Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism see this world as defective and consider the romantic divinizing of nature to be a heresy. But for the romantic, the words “nature” and “natural” take the place of the word “God” and give nature the emotional ultimacy that attaches to divinity. As Wordsworth said,
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
—The Tables Turned (1798)
The romantic conceives of education as a process of natural growth. The teacher, like a gardener, should be a watchful guide on the side, not a sage on the stage. The word “kindergarten”—literally “children-garden”—was invented by the romantics. It was the romantics who began mistranslating educare (ee-duh-kar’e), the Latin root word for education, as “to lead out” or “to unfold,” confusing it with educere (eh-diu’ke-re), which does mean “to lead out.” It was a convenient mistake that fit in nicely with the theme of natural development, since the word “development” itself means “unfolding.” But educare actually means “to bring up” and “instruct.” It implies deliberate training according to social and cultural norms, in contrast to words like “growth” and “development,” which imply that education is the unfolding of human nature, analogous to a seed growing into a plant.
The same religious sentiment that animates the romantics’ fondness for nature underlies their celebration of individuality and diversity. According to the romantics, the individual soul partakes of God’s nature. Praise for diversity as being superior to uniformity originates in the pantheist’s sense of the plenitude of God’s creation. “Nature’s holy plan,” as Wordsworth put it, unfolds itself with the greatest possible variety. To impose uniform standards on the individuality of children is to thwart their fulfillment and to pervert the design of Providence. Education should be child-centered; motivation to learn should be stimulated through the child’s inherent interest in a subject, not through artificial rewards and punishments.
A More Complicated Nature
Plato and Aristotle based their ideas about education, ethics, and politics on the concept of nature, just as the romantics did. A classicist knows that any attempt to thwart human nature is bound to fail. But the classicist does not assume that a providential design guarantees that relying on our individual natural impulses will always yield positive outcomes. On the contrary, Aristotle argued that human nature is a battleground of contradictory impulses and appetites. Selfishness is in conflict with altruism; the fulfillment of one appetite is in conflict with the fulfillment of others. Follow nature, yes, but which nature and to what degree?
Aristotle’s famous solution to this problem was to optimize human fulfillment by balancing the satisfactions of all the human appetites—from food and sex to the disinterested contemplation of truth—keeping society’s need for civility and security in mind as well. This optimizing of conflicting impulses required the principle of moderation (the golden mean), not because moderation was a good in itself, but because, in a secular view of conflicted human nature, this was the most likely route to social peace and individual happiness. The romantic poet William Blake countered, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” But again, that would be true only if a providential nature guaranteed a happy outcome. Absent such faith in the hidden design of natural providence, the mode of human life most in accord with nature must be, according to Aristotle, a via media that is artificially constructed. By this classical logic, the optimally natural must be self-consciously artificial.
The very idea that skills as artificial and difficult as reading, writing, and arithmetic can be made natural for everyone is an illusion that has flourished in the peaceful, prosperous United States. The old codger Max Rafferty, an outspoken state superintendent of education in California, once denounced the progressive school Summerhill, saying:
Rousseau spawned a frenetic theory of education which after two centuries of spasmodic laboring brought forth… Summerhill… . The child is a Noble Savage, needing only to be let alone in order to insure his intellectual salvation… Twaddle. Schooling is not a natural process at all. It’s highly artificial. No boy in his right mind ever wanted to study multiplication tables and historical dates when he could be out hunting rabbits or climbing trees. In the days when hunting and climbing contributed to the survival of Homo sapiens, there was some sense in letting the kids do what comes naturally, but when man’s future began to hang upon the systematic mastery of orderly subject matter, the primordial, happy-go-lucky, laissez faire kind of learning had to go.
The romantic versus classic debate extends beyond the reading and math wars to the domain of moral education. The romantic tradition holds that morality (like everything else) comes naturally. The child, by being immersed in real-life situations and being exposed to good role models, comes to understand the need for sharing, kindness, honesty, diligence, loyalty, courage, and other virtues.
The romantic wishes to encourage the basic goodness of the natural soul, unspoiled by habit, custom, and convention. The principal means for such encouragement is to develop the child’s creativity and imagination—two words that gained currency in the romantic movement. Before the romantics, using the term “creativity” for human productions was considered impious. But that ended when the human soul was conceived as inherently godly. Moral education and the development of creativity and imagination went hand in hand. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, textbooks like the McGuffey Readers strongly emphasized moral instruction and factual knowledge. With the rise of progressive ideas, however, the subject matter of language arts in the early grades began to focus on fairytales and poetry. The imparting of explicit moral instruction gave way to the development of creativity and imagination. Imagination, the romantic poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “brings the whole soul of man into activity.” When we exercise our imaginations, we connect with our divine nature, develop our moral sensibilities.
Romance or Justice?
One cannot hope to argue against a religious faith that is impervious to refutation. But there can be hope for change when that religious faith is secular and pertains to the world itself. When the early romantics lived long enough to experience the disappointments of life, they abandoned their romanticism. This happened to Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. One of Wordsworth’s most moving works was the late poem, “Elegiac Stanzas,” which bade farewell to his faith in nature. Similar farewells to illusion were penned by the other romantics. There is a potential instability in natural supernaturalism; romantic religion is vulnerable because it is a religion of this world. If one’s hopes and faith are pinned on the here and now, on the faith that reading, arithmetic, and morals will develop naturally out of human nature, then that faith may gradually decline when this world continually drips its disappointments.
So far, progressivism has proved somewhat invulnerable to its failures. But its walls are beginning to crumble, and none too soon. Only when widespread doubt is cast on public education’s endemic romanticism will we begin to see widespread improvements in achievement. Everyone grants that schooling must start from what is natural. But schooling cannot effectively stay mired there. With as much certainty as these things can be known, we know that analytical and explicit instruction works better than inductive, implicit instruction for most school learning. To be analytical and explicit in instruction is also to be artificial and skeptical that children will naturally construct for themselves either knowledge or goodness.
The romantic thinks nature has a holy plan. The classicist, the modernist, and the pragmatist do not—and neither does the scientist. In the end, the most pressing questions in the education wars are not just empirical, scientific questions, but also ethical ones regarding the unfortunate social consequences of the progressive faith, especially the perpetuation of the test-score gaps among racial and economic groups. Are we to value the aesthetics of diversity and the theology of spilt religion above social justice? That is the unasked question that needs to be asked ever more insistently. Economic and political justice are strenuous goals. They cannot be achieved by doing what comes naturally.
E. D. Hirsch, Jr. is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation. He is also author of many acclaimed books including Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, The Knowledge Deficit, and The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them. This article was originally a speech given at Harvard University in 1999. It was adapted from an article in “Education Next” magazine, a publication of the Hoover Institute ( [home] [classical education articles] [newsletter] [Classical Teacher ] [checkout][about us] [contact info] [privacy/terms] © Memoria Press

Friday, September 14, 2007

Darwin makes several references to the Creator

Religion advances despite science (and thanks to Dawkins)
Today's arguments between science and religion are not constructive. Worse, they could result in some unforseen consequences for both sides September 13, 2007 5:30 PM
The title may be backhanded flattery to Richard Dawkins but the shrill tones with which he pitches his anti-religious campaign may have implications he couldn't have foreseen.The debate that pits science against religion seems to fascinate more than ever. One of the best-attended lecture series on Tuesday at the BA Festival of Science in York dissected the link between secularisation and science. Speaking to more than two hundred people, John Brooke of Oxford University said that, contrary to popular intuition, the world is becoming anything but more secular despite advancing science and technology.
Prof Brooke, who held the Andreas Idreos Chair in Science and Religion at Oxford until last year, has a background in chemistry, history and theology. In Western Europe formal religious worship may be flagging but other expressions of faith are taking root. Among scientists themselves, Prof Brooke quoted a survey from Nature which found that around 40% of scientists hold some kind of faith. That number has been the same for more than 20 years. In Eastern Europe Catholism and Orthodoxy is more vibrant than it has been for the last 60 years, boosted at the end of the Cold War but developing nevertheless against a backdrop of advancing science. And throughout the world religious fanaticism is on the rise. In the United States, Christian fundamentalism continues to thrive in one of the most affluent and technologically advanced societies.
But instead of building bridges and a dialogue, a wedge is being driven between the faith and non-faith camps by tarring moderate believers with the same brush as fundamentalists. Dawkins et al lay down a spiritual version of the gauntlet from DC Comics: "Are you with us or against us". That mentality should be consigned to the comic books where it belongs. "Richard [Dawkins] does seem at times to conflate two very different understandings of creation.
One is that of American creationists who like to see God conjuring up new species as if by magic. And [Dawkins] represents that as a doctrine of creation. That is actually an aberration if one if looking at the history of creation doctrine. The classical doctrine within Christian theology [...] is ultimately the dependence of everything that exists, including evolutionary processes, on some transcendent power (God). And we shouldn't confuse those two ideas", said Brooke. One might not like either of those ideas, and Richard [Dawkins] clearly doesn't, but they are not the same", he said. "It is the reductionism of the argument that creates the confrontation."
So we arrive at the absurd situation where both camps batton down the hatches and lob grenades across their spiritual Magineaux line. Speaking on misconceptions about Darwin's Origins of the Species, Brooke said: "the book is not an atheistic book. Darwin makes several references to the Creator and indeed adds more for subsequent editions where he argues that the Universe is not self-explanatory and that it is not unreasonable to refer to a creator."
Worryingly, one real fear is starting to emerge, hitherto whispered only in academic and extremist circles. If Dawkins et al insist with their zeal to promote evolutionary theory as an inherently atheistic doctrine - which could be construed as a matter of faith - he may well be handing a rope to the creationist brigades. The US Second Amendment forbids the teaching of faith in schools and it would be at least ironical if the creationists could use that to evict Darwin from the classroom.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Freud speculates that one of the strongest human desires is to encounter God — or the gods — directly

Defender of the Faith? The Times Magazine By MARK EDMUNDSON NYT: September 9, 2007 In “Moses and Monotheism” Freud has something truly fresh to say about religion.
About two-thirds of the way into the volume, he makes a point that is simple and rather profound — the sort of point that Freud at his best excels in making. Judaism’s distinction as a faith, he says, comes from its commitment to belief in an invisible God, and from this commitment, many consequential things follow. Freud argues that taking God into the mind enriches the individual immeasurably. The ability to believe in an internal, invisible God vastly improves people’s capacity for abstraction. “The prohibition against making an image of God — the compulsion to worship a God whom one cannot see,” he says, meant that in Judaism “a sensory perception was given second place to what may be called an abstract idea — a triumph of intellectuality over sensuality.”
If people can worship what is not there, they can also reflect on what is not there, or on what is presented to them in symbolic and not immediate terms. So the mental labor of monotheism prepared the Jews — as it would eventually prepare others in the West — to achieve distinction in law, in mathematics, in science and in literary art. It gave them an advantage in all activities that involved making an abstract model of experience, in words or numbers or lines, and working with the abstraction to achieve control over nature or to bring humane order to life. Freud calls this internalizing process an “advance in intellectuality,” and he credits it directly to religion.
Freud speculates that one of the strongest human desires is to encounter God — or the gods — directly. We want to see our deities and to know them. Part of the appeal of Greek religion lay in the fact that it offered adherents direct, and often gorgeous, renderings of the immortals — and also, perhaps, the possibility of meeting them on earth. With its panoply of saints, Christianity restored visual intensity to religion; it took a step back from Judaism in the direction of the pagan faiths. And that, Freud says, is one of the reasons it prospered.
Judaism, on the other hand, never let go of the great renunciation. The renunciation, according to Freud, gave the Jews remarkable strength of intellect, which he admired, but it also made them rather proud, for they felt that they, among all peoples, were the ones who could sustain such belief.
Freud’s argument suggests that belief in an unseen God may prepare the ground not only for science and literature and law but also for intense introspection. Someone who can contemplate an invisible God, Freud implies, is in a strong position to take seriously the invisible, but perhaps determining, dynamics of inner life. He is in a better position to know himself. To live well, the modern individual must learn to understand himself in all his singularity. He must be able to pause and consider his own character, his desires, his inhibitions and values, his inner contradictions. And Judaism, with its commitment to one unseen God, opens the way for doing so. It gives us the gift of inwardness.
Freud was aware that there were many modes of introspection abroad in the world, but he of course thought psychoanalysis was by far the best. He said that the poets were there before him as discoverers of the inner life but that they had never been able to make their knowledge about it systematic and accessible. So throughout the Moses book, Freud subtly identifies himself with the prophet and implies that psychoanalysis may be the most consequential heir of the Jewish “advance in intellectuality.” Freud believed that he had suffered for his commitment to psychoanalysis (which did not and does not lack detractors) and clearly looked to Moses as an example of a great figure who had braved resistance to his beliefs, both by Pharaoh in Egypt and by his own people. Moses hung on to his convictions — much as Freud aspired to do.
Though Freud hoped that mankind would pass beyond religion, he surely took inspiration from the story of Moses, a figure with whom he had been fascinated for many years. (He published his first essay on the prophet in 1914.) Freud wanted to lead people, and he wanted to make conceptual innovations that had staying power and strength: for this there could be no higher exemplar than the prophet.
“Moses and Monotheism” indicates that Freud, irreligious as he was, could still find inspiration in a religious figure. Something similar was true about Freud’s predecessor, Nietzsche. Nietzsche is famous for detesting Christianity, and by and large he did. But he did not detest Jesus Christ — whose spontaneity, toughness and freedom of spirit he aspired to emulate. “There has been only one Christian,” he once said, one person who truly lived up to the standards of the Gospel, “and he died on the cross.”
Schopenhauer, to whom both Nietzsche and Freud were deeply indebted, was himself an unbeliever, as well as being an unrelenting pessimist. To Schopenhauer, life was pain, grief, sorrow and little else. Yet he, too, was able to take inspiration from Christianity, affirming as he did that a faith that had a man being tortured on a cross as its central emblem couldn’t be entirely misleading in its overall take on life.
Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud were all at times able to recognize religion as being what Harold Bloom has wisely called it: not the opium of the people but the poetry of the people. They read Scripture as though it were poetry, and they learned from it accordingly. They saw that even if someone does not believe in a transcendent God, religion can still be a source of inspiration and of practical wisdom about how to live in the world. To be sure, it often takes hard intellectual work to find that wisdom. (As the proverb has it, “He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.”) Yet Freud’s late-life turn shows us that there is too much of enduring value in religion — even for nonbelievers — ever to think of abandoning it cold. 1 2 3 Mark Edmundson teaches English at the University of Virginia. His book “The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days” is being published this month.