Faithandthelaw's Blog

The law as it relates to Christians and their free exercise of religion

Posts Tagged ‘ravi zacharias’

Altars Against God

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on August 5, 2017

Excerpted from Jesus Among Secular Gods by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale (Nashville: FaithWords, 2017). Used by permission of the Hachette Publishing Group.

It was years ago when I was speaking at an openly and avowedly atheistic institution that I was fascinated by a questioner who asked what on earth I meant by the term God. The city was Moscow; the setting was the Lenin Military Academy. The atmosphere was tense. Never had I been asked before to define the term in a public gathering. And because I was in a country so historically entrenched in atheism, I suspected the question was both hostile and intentional. I asked the questioner if he was an atheist, to which he replied that he was. I asked him what he was denying. That conversation didn’t go very far. So I tried to explain to him what we meant when we spoke of God.

It is fascinating to talk to a strident atheist and try to get beneath the anger or hostility. God is a trigger word for some that concentrates all his or her stored animosity into a projectile of words. But as the layers of their thinking and experience are unpacked, the meaning of atheism to each one becomes narrower and narrower, each term dying the death of a thousand qualifications. Oftentimes, the description is more visceral and is discussed with pent-up anger rather than in a sensible, respectful discussion. More than once I have been amazed at the anger expressed by members of the atheist groups at one or other of the Ivy League schools in the United States to which I have been invited to speak, anger that I was even invited and that I had the temerity to address them.

In theory, the academy has always been a place where dissent serves a valuable purpose in helping thinking students to weigh out ideas and make intelligent choices. And, dare I say, had I been a Muslim speaker, there would have been no such dissent as I faced. Evidently, being able to instill fear in people has a lot to do with how much freedom of speech you are granted. But alas! For some, at least, civil discourse is impossible. To her credit, at the end of a lecture, one senior officer in one club stood up and thanked me, a veiled apology for the resistance vented before the event. I did appre­ciate that courtesy.

This unfettered anger on the part of some is quite puzzling to me. I was raised in India where I was not a Hindu and, in fact, never once gave it any serious consideration. For that matter, I’m not sure if I even really believed in God. I was a nominal Christian but never gave that much thought, either. Most of my friends were either Hindu or Muslim or Sikh, with a few others of different faiths. I never recall feeling any anger or hostility toward those who believed differently than me, no matter how ludicrous their beliefs may have seemed to me. Nor do I remember ever being on the receiving end of such anger and hostility because I did not have the same belief.

But the likes of Richard Dawkins are renowned for their bully­ing and mocking approach toward opposing views, an attitude from an academic that makes one wonder what is really driving such an intense temperament. A questioner at a gathering in Washington, DC, once asked Richard Dawkins how one should respond to a per­son who believed in God. “Mock them,” he actually replied. “Ridicule them.” When someone at an event asked me what I thought of that response, I reflected that, were Dawkins to practice that same method in Saudi Arabia, chances are he would not need his return ticket. One thing is for sure—he would at least find out that not all beliefs in God are similar and not all imperatives, equal.

But his “ridicule them” posture remains unchanged. In an inter­view in The Independent with Maya Oppenheim (May 23, 2016), he said, “I’m all for offending people’s religion. It should be offended at every opportunity.”1 Really? Is this how one arrives at whether or not a belief is valid? He went on to add, “In the case of immigrants from Syria and Iraq, I would like to see special preference given to apostates, people who have given up Islam.”2 If Donald Trump had said the same, there would have been a session in the British Houses of Parliament to decide whether or not he should be allowed into the country anymore. But Dawkins says it and it’s acceptable, because atheists who love him and his style of atheism have their own absolutes and their own legitimized prejudices.

Intolerance, prejudice, disrespect, hatred, and offense are all within the fruit of Dawkins’ philosophy. In creedal form, his philos­ophy is hate, discriminate, judge, mock, castigate, eliminate, stop…do whatever you need to do to put an end to belief in God. Ironi­cally, he condemns God for being prejudiced, hate-filled, egotistical, judgmental, and demeaning to those who don’t agree with Him. He derides the attributes of God by making a caricature of Him, but justifies the same attributes in himself without caricature. I would rather trust the judgments of a good and gracious person than one who spends his time and energy in mocking people and their sacred beliefs. And he is not alone. The hallmark of the so-called “new athe­ists” is the anger and ridicule that is hurled toward anyone’s belief in the sacred.

Need I add, not all atheists have the same disposition. In fact, many find the hostility of the new atheists an embarrassment. I have met many a cordial conversationalist who is atheistic in his or her belief, and we’ve had the best of conversations. Many have remarked that they have been able to take only so much of Dawkins and his followers and then stopped even reading them. Whatever worldview we espouse, dialogue and debate should take place with civility and courteous listening. But our times make that ideal so elusive. Hold­ing a supposedly noble belief and reducing it to ignoble means of propagation makes the one who holds that belief suspect.

To be sure, many in the so-called “religious” category have pro­voked strident responses. The pulpit can sadly be a place of bullying people into guilt and remorse and other emotions that make them want to escape from the voice hammering away at them, to say noth­ing of the anti-intellectualism among Christian ranks that brands even a hint of philosophy or science heretical.

History has taught us to beware of extremists in any camp that sacrifice cordial conversation at the altar of demagogic enforcement. Views and opinions are aplenty in our world of tweeting and Insta­gram, but civil discourse is rare. And rarer still is the ability to defend one’s beliefs with reason and experience. I sincerely hope that as my colleague Vince and I examine the differences among secular belief systems (that are, in fact, also religions), we will be able to effec­tively demonstrate where these differences really lie, and that the Judeo-Christian worldview has the most coherent answers to the inescapable questions of life that we all have, regardless of our beliefs.

Questioning the Question

The story is told of an Indian sitting in a plane next to Albert Einstein. To pass the time, Einstein proposed that they play a game. “I will ask you a question, and if you can’t answer it, you pay me fifty dollars. Then you ask me a question, and if I can’t answer it, I will pay you five hundred dollars.” The Indian knew he was no match for Einstein but figured he had enough philosophical and cultural knowledge to be able to stump Einstein sometimes, and with a ratio of ten to one, he could manage to stay in the game.

Einstein went first and asked the Indian how far the earth was from the moon. The Indian was not sure of the exact number and put his hand into his pocket to give Einstein fifty dollars. Now came the Indian’s turn, and he asked, “What goes up the mountain with three legs and comes down with four legs?” Einstein paused, pon­dered, finally dipped his hand into his pocket and gave the man five hundred dollars. Now it was Einstein’s turn again. He said, “Before I ask you my next question, what does go up the mountain with three legs and comes down with four legs?” The Indian paused, dipped into his pocket, and gave Einstein fifty dollars.

Like that Indian, we often ask questions that are manufactured to trip up the other person, while having no answers to the question ourselves. In his book The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom, Robert Morey points out the seven leaps atheists have to explain: How…

Everything ultimately came from Nothing

Order came from Chaos

Harmony came from Discord

Life came from Nonlife

Reason came from Irrationality

Personality came from Non-personality

Morality came from Amorality3

But more than that needs to be asserted. The questions in life are not just in the sciences. They are not just of mathematical or empir­ical measurement. Two people sitting next to each other in a plane may both be going to the same destination. They may know how many hours the journey takes and how many miles they may cover. One may be going to give a talk on science and the other may be going to bury his grandson. But think about this. The scientist may have his subject well in hand, but still have unanswered questions on the meaning of life, while the person next to him may have unan­swered questions on the value of the constants in the early formation of the universe, yet have the knowledge of what life really means. He may have in his heart the deep conviction that this present sorrow is only a punctuation mark because eternity awaits. One discipline may answer “how” in a material explanation, but the most import­ant question answers the “why.” Why is it that we are here in the first place, and who will see us through the anxieties and pains of life itself? These questions are different yet equally relevant, but for dif­ferent reasons. Life requires some understanding, and the struggles we face need explanatory power. It is when we get the two subjects and their reasons for existence mixed up that we end up with verbal attacks and needless hostility.

Many an atheist asks questions for which he or she admittedly has no answers or believes the answers to be “on hold,” but we are expected to give credence to the whole worldview for merely raising the question. I understand. As a young man I was like that, think­ing that putting another person down automatically justified what I had said in response to his position. This book is about examining the “gods” secular thinkers “worship” and how repeatedly they leave their own questions unanswered.

The points of tension within secular worldviews are not merely peripheral. They are systemic. Indeed, they are foundational. I have dealt with the philosophical debate on these matters in other writ­ings. Here, I wish to examine their answers to questions about life and its meaning in distinction to the answers Jesus gives to the same questions. That’s where our philosophical rubber meets the road of life. But hopefully, more than that, we will state why the answers of Jesus have stood the test of time, truth, and coherence.

Remember the insight of G. K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy that, for the atheist, sorrow is central and joy peripheral, while for the follower of Jesus, joy is central and sorrow peripheral. The reason that statement is true is that for the atheist, the foundational questions remain unanswered while they have answers for the peripheral ques­tions; hence, sorrow is central and joy peripheral. For the Christian, it is reversed: The foundational questions have been answered and only the peripheral ones remain in doubt.4 Hopefully, as the content of this book unfolds, Vince and I can sustain that claim.

Life Seeks a Balance

My favorite essayist, F. W. Boreham, has written an essay enti­tled, “A Baby’s Funeral.” Anyone who has read Boreham knows the beauty of his language and the depth of his writing. He has authored over fifty volumes of essays. In this particular essay, which I have references in two of my previous books but in this new context per­fectly illustrates how all of life must be grounded in truth, Boreham begins by describing the scene of a distraught woman he saw one day walking back and forth outside his home, pausing as though wanting to enter his garden and then backing off.

Finally, Boreham stepped out of his home and wished her a good morning. She asked if he was the pastor of the church nearby and he admitted that he was. She entered the house at his invitation and struggled to pour out her story. She had had a baby, born terribly deformed, who had died shortly after birth. She desired for the baby to have a proper burial and wondered if he would do that for her.

Boreham promptly responded that he would. He took out a pad to get the information. Did the child have a name? Who was the father? So went the questions. She answered them and the date for the funeral was set. The woman left and Boreham and his wife con­tinued with their plans for a picnic that morning. Throughout the day the woman was on his mind and he told his wife that there was something that didn’t quite sound right about her narrative. He did not know what it was but hoped he would have more clarity before the day of the burial.

When they returned home, the woman was standing outside their home and asked if she could come in. She sat down, rubbing her hands nervously, and said, “I have not been honest with you. The baby was born illegitimately, and I have given you a made-up name for the father.” The story unfolded and Boreham comforted her as best as he could.

The day of the burial came. It was pouring rain, and to add to the desolate reality, the cemetery was a new one and this was to be the first body interred. Boreham remarks on the total feeling of alone­ness for this poor woman. An illegitimate, deformed baby. Pouring rain as the three stood under their umbrellas, the grave digger stand­ing by ready to lower the casket into the soggy ground. A tiny body about to be buried in a place where no other had ever been laid to rest. No one else, just the minister and his wife and the bereaved mother present for this tragedy, and they too were strangers.

Boreham suddenly switches the scene and begins to write about being on a train journey years later with a superintendent in his denomination. It was a whistle-stop trip where, at every station the superintendent would step out, meet with a group of his ministers, listen to them, pray for them, and then would leave these parting words with them, “Just be there for your people. Be with them in their needs, in their hurts, in their pains. They will never forget your presence and your kindness.”

Boreham continues that as he listened to this advice being given to the younger pastors, his mind flew back over the years to the day a young woman walked distractedly back and forth in front of his home, a woman whose child he had buried in a lonely cemetery. He realized that through the years, rain or shine, every Sunday since then that same woman had been in his church and lived a life in a quiet relationship with her Savior.

This very type of story was reinforced just two days ago. I had just finished speaking to a full church in Jakarta, Indonesia, and there was a silence as the music played softly for the closing moments. I was near the platform, having stepped away from the lectern, and my eyes caught sight of a young mother with two little children. Her arms were gently bent at the elbows, palms open, reaching outward while the two little ones, one on each side of her, held on to her skirt. As soon as the benediction was over, the two of them ran up the stairs to give me a hug, though I had never met them before. And as they left, my interpreter said to me, “Almost exactly to the day, a year ago their father was murdered. The little boy looks just like his dad.”

What a statement that suddenly changed the context and my emotions from witnessing a young family at worship, absent the father, to realizing a young single mother reaching out to her heav­enly father and raising her two children without bitterness or anger. I spoke to her afterward and my heart still recalls her words. “Yes, I’m alone now, but my God is with me.”

You see, there is an intellectual side to life but also a side to life where deep needs are experienced. We falsely think that one side deals with truth and the other with fantasy. Both need the truth, and the elimination of one by the other is not the world in which God intends for us to live. A mockery of the sacred reveals an animosity that staggers not just the mind but shows the character flaw in one such as that. The words of Blake are appropriate here:

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;

Mock on, mock on, ’tis all in vain!

You throw the sand against the wind,

And the wind blows it back again.5

It is my hope that the reader will stay the course with an open mind to judge fairly how unique and splendid is the message of Jesus Christ, reaching to the deepest hungers and questions of the heart and mind. To be truthful, I wouldn’t waste a solitary moment in this task if I didn’t truly believe that as the world is skidding out of con­trol—politically, socially, economically, and racially—Jesus’ answers are unique and true and provide the only coherent worldview, combining truth with relevance to bring hope and meaning.

Every day, the news carries stories of tragedy and atrocity. News is thrust into our consciousness whether we want the information or not. Behind many an act and behind all responses is a worldview that filters reality. The follower of Jesus sees what is happening through the lens of how Jesus describes the human condition and the answer He gives. The contrast with the secular gods of this age is huge. A fair-minded person must at least give a hearing as to why that is so and, if indeed the answers of Jesus open up vistas for one’s own individual life, see the world through a different set of eyes. With that goal in mind, I enter into this journey of thought.

Your Worldview Matters

The Great Books of the Western World, published in the 1950s, gave the longest space to the theme of “God,” addressed by the most notable Western thinkers of the day. When Mortimer Adler, the edi­tor, was asked why that theme occupied such length when many other notable themes were given less space, he answered without hesita­tion, “Because more consequences for life and action follow from the affirmation or denial of God than from any other basic question.”6

The questioner was silent and nodded.

Yes, indeed, more consequences, on every matter of value and relationship, follow from one’s genuine belief or disbelief in God than from any other issue. This alone ought to remind us just how critical is the foundation to every life when it comes to God. The follower of Jesus Christ must take serious note of this. That belief has meaning and must make a difference.

I will never forget talking to a former Muslim who had com­mitted his life to Jesus Christ and who gave me a fascinating word picture. He drew two circles and put a small dot in each of them. Pointing to the first, he said, “As a Muslim, I believed the circle to be my faith and the little dot to be my life.” Then he pointed to the next circle and said, “Now, as a follower of Jesus, I have seen the differ­ence in the cultural tension. To many Westerners, the circle is his life and the dot is his faith.”

In other words, a Muslim believed that life was expendable, his faith paramount. The Westerner, he charged, regards his life more important than what he believes. “That is why,” he added, “the West will ultimately be overrun. Faith, in the West, is sort of an extracur­ricular interest and a mere aspect of life for the sake of inner peace. But faith seldom enters the conscience as a conviction.”

That was truly a sobering revelation of just how faith is viewed by most in the West, let alone the plurality of faiths that exist. In fact, the very word faith is now used in less than flattering terms. The real world is considered intellectually rigorous, and the world of ulti­mate reality—faith—fanciful, not to be entertained in factual terms. How fascinating that is. So the values by which we live are parked on the shifting mix of quicksand the skeptic calls “faith,” while the world of pragmatic and real understandings is supposedly built on the bedrock of the sciences called “reason.”

Is my friend right?

If he is right, I will go so far as to say that the West is on the verge of collapse at the hands of its own secular intellectuals. It is only a matter of time. The Christian faith brings with it convictions by which to stand and build a moral framework. The secular thinker, with his implicitly amoral assumptions, imagines that knowledge without a moral base has enough sustaining power. It simply doesn’t.

Watch Europe cower under the heel of Islamists who have not forgotten that they were stopped from overtaking Europe and beaten back by Charles Martel thirteen centuries ago. Now, with patience and the clever control of demographics and a gullible media, they stand by, ready to one day take over the structures and edifices built by a different ethic and a different belief system. It is only a matter of time, and they are in no hurry. Thirteen centuries ago, Europe was able to stop the theocratic Islamic tidal wave because it had a faith to defend. The value-less culture of today will not be able to withstand the attack.

Years ago, while Hitler was making plans to overrun the world and some were attempting to placate him in order to save themselves from having to make a moral justification for war, Winston Chur­chill made a telling speech in the House of Commons on October 5, 1938. (“The Munich Agreement” is also known by the title “A Total and ‘Unmitigated Defeat,’” referring to the mollifying treaty brought back by Neville Chamberlain.) Quoting from Scripture, Churchill declared, “You have been weighed in the balances and found want­ing” (Daniel 5:27). Then he ended his speech saying, “And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recov­ery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”7

After Hitler visited Paris in 1940, André Boulloche, a courageous member of the French Resistance, penned a letter to his father, say­ing: “The country can only be saved by a complete moral resurrec­tion, something that will require the work of all men of good will.… I think I can contribute a great deal. And if more troubles lie ahead, isn’t my duty present?”8

Indeed, the preservation of a nation’s ethos is at stake at all times. This is especially true of a nation such as America whose values of trying to balance liberty with law were clear from the beginning. That balance is easier stated than done. John Adams said it well: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”9

So I ask: Should one’s belief in God and destiny be more import­ant than life itself?

The answer truly depends on what that belief is and whether it is true. The irony is that for the atheist, the answer can only and ultimately be found in one’s political theory or, by default, in one’s cultural cradle, and cannot be mandated by a supervening world­view that pursues truth as an objective fact over and above all else. Every other discipline is dismissed as being outside truth, reflecting merely cultural and career desires. That’s all life is about. The natu­ralists control truth and then give license to other disciplines to live without absolutes. That is the deadly fallout.

In a commercial I saw recently, a couple of bandits are hold­ing the tellers at a bank at gunpoint and demanding money. All the customers are ordered to the floor. One man whispers to a security guard, “Do something, you’re armed!” The security guard replies, “I am on duty not to do anything but only to determine if a robbery is underway.” Then he pauses and reassures the customer, “Yes, indeed, this is a robbery.”

The naturalist is somewhat like that. Unable to respond to where the truth leads, he is useless to a person hungering for rescue and safety for life itself. He just states what is and does nothing about what should be.

Why do I make the connection between a nation, a people, and a culture? In the current climate, the political arena is fraught with language and views that are scary and disorienting. In one instance, a trail of lies makes no difference to the electorate, proving that the most valuable thing in human discourse, truth, is an expendable value if power is obtained. In another instance, even extreme and sometimes pejorative statements on people and views don’t seem to matter, and the dignity of office is replaced, once again, by the quest for power.

Candidates coming to the fore propound ideas that are creat­ing anger and protests that make the future very fearsome. For one, “dishonest” sums it up. For the other, “disrespectful” or worse, “prej­udice” is the charge. Whether these are legitimate assertions or not is secondary to the assumption that morality matters.

Ironically, the protestors protesting the candidates themselves resort to injurious means. But what is obvious is that statecraft has become soulcraft, and a nation that formally wishes to deny God finds its imperatives in a deadly mix of conflicting worldviews and hate-laden words on a path to power. What has happened? The answer is clear. The discussion in the public square is now reduced to right or left, forgetting there is an up and down.

These matters alone remind us that we had better understand this philosophy called atheism and why it leads where it does. Strange, isn’t it, that atheists in the West want the term marriageredefined while their counterparts in Russia and China will have nothing of that redefinition? Both have their own reasons, and there is no common point of reference. That’s precisely the edifice built on the bedrock of naturalism. Each person is a law unto himself.

Remember in the Old Testament when people wanted a king and God said that He wanted to be their ruler? The people fought back and said they wanted to be like every other nation and, in fact, have somebody else to fight their wars while they could go about their lives. They got what they wanted and found out that the greatest battles were ultimately for the rule of one’s heart. Once that becomes autonomous, culture and politics become lawless. And when those battles are lost, the war that looms is of huge proportions. This is, at best, the unintended consequence of atheism.

As Old as the Hills

We think atheism is some kind of newfangled thinking, that sci­ence and its bequest gave way to autonomy and our solitude in the universe. That is simply not so. The formalization of it and giving it intellectual respect may have taken time, but the question goes back to the beginning of time. Right from the start the question was not the origin of species but the autonomy of the species. We are more prone to quote from the Wilberforce/Huxley debate or the Galileo/Church conflict than to look back and see where such real tensions began.

We think Darwin buried God, but in fact, in Genesis 3, the very first in the created order wished to bury Him too. All the way to Calvary, the first attempt at death was the death of God. The kill­ing of God was followed by the killing by Cain of his brother, Abel. The Bible addresses this conflict from the pre-Mosaic era. After all, the battle in Genesis was really based on two questions. The battle between theism and atheism is the oldest philosophical debate. It didn’t take the French philosophes or the British empiricists to get it all going.

What are the two questions that existed for humanity from the beginning of creation? The first salvo hurled against God in the Gar­den was “Did God really say?” In the gospel story, the temptation of Jesus resurrects the same question, either by questioning a text or by wrenching it free from its context. The test brought to Jesus in the desert, the same test brought in the Garden, was “Has God said?” and “Is it true?” Those questions implicitly asked whether there was an up and a down. Is there a prescriptive backdrop to life? Can I not be my own definer of good and evil? Am I subject to some higher non-tangible authority?

In his article on “Religion,” Thomas Paine picks up this tension as if it is something new and makes some incredible statements questioning whether one should actually believe that God reveals and speaks. Here’s what he says:

As to the bible (sic.), whether true or fabulous, it is a history, and history is not revelation. If Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, and if Samson slept in Delilah’s lap, and she cut his hair off, the relation of those things is mere history, that needed no revelation from heaven to tell it; neither does it need any revelation to tell us that Samson was a fool for his pains, and Solomon too.

As to the expressions so often used in the bible, that the word of the Lord came to such an one (sic.)…it was the fash­ion of speaking in those times…. But if we admit the suppo­sition that God would condescend to reveal himself in words, we ought not to believe it would be in such idle and profligate stories as are in the bible.… Deists deny that the book called the bible is the word of God, or that it is revealed religion.10

That is a fascinating mix of prejudice and perversion. One feels he must ask if Paine was present in the Garden right from the begin­ning. He takes the stories of Solomon and Samson and puts them in a “history” category. Would he do the same with the crucifixion and the resurrection or does a different kind of narrative now take place?

The key here is that he simply does not believe God would reveal Himself in propositional truth. Paine didn’t invent that predica­ment. It existed from the beginning. Revelation was not in a vacuum of belief. Revelation was sustained by evidence and propelled by a reality check, time and again. The very means by which we ascertain truth is not merely an inner voice but the rationale of why we are here in the first place.

The question should really be why we even think of a supreme being. Why do we ask if there is a sovereign power over the universe?

Is it because we are deluded into thinking there should be, or is it because reason demands a cause and a purpose? Is it possible that deep within our hungers is this quest to know why we are here in the first place, and the naturalist’s cavalier dismissal of that question falls upon questing souls that search for a reason as much as the body yearns for water?

There were no professors of science in the original created order to question revelation. From deep within the human soul arose the challenge for autonomy over against a boundary within which to live. So let’s get over two blunders—the one that thinks this is mod­ern man in revolt, and the other that thinks intellectuals disbelieve in God and only the naïve or stupid continue to believe in God. I have met intellectuals on both sides of the issue, and it is not merely an intellectual struggle. It is a struggle of bridge building, of trying to tie theoretical structures to heartfelt and heart-hungering realities. 

As Real as Now

The second question that originated in Genesis came in the form of a challenge: “You will not surely die! You will be as God, defining good and evil.” For Darwin, as for our polite modern thinkers, hell is anathema. Why would any self-respecting human being think up hell? Interestingly, these who challenge the existence of God are the very ones who are willing to punish others for their beliefs. “Destroy the livelihood of those who believe in the sanctity of marriage!” “Don’t give them a place in academia if they really believe God exists!” Such is the retribution of self-worship, imposed by those who call God vengeful, a “joy-killing monster,” and “a freedom-re­stricting tyrant,” if you don’t give Him His due place. Fascinating how we wield power when we own it and then mock others with power for giving in to the same expression.

The enemy of our souls basically counters the claims of God, not merely by questioning them, but then by asserting that by dis­obeying God’s commands one will actually be promoted to taking God’s place. Once again at the heart of all temptation is the desire for autonomy and power. The human scene was steeped in the battle for autonomy and power right from the beginning. Did God speak? Is it true what He says about good and evil? Are we going to believe the truth, or are we comfortable with the lie because of the power it promises to give us?

It seems as though the ultimate destination point, then and now, is the power to control culture and destiny. Very recently, a Russian business tycoon gave Stephen Hawking one hundred million dollars toward his endeavor to find extraterrestrial intelligence. Hawking has opined that it is critical for us to find them before they find us, saying that if we don’t find them before they find us, they could wipe us out of existence. After the slaughters in San Bernardino, Belgium, Paris, the Boston Marathon, Turkey, Baghdad, Orlando, Dallas, and the list goes on endlessly, we want to get to other planets without fixing our own and destroy them also?

I found his comment fascinating. My first reaction was cynical. Yes, I thought, since we don’t see much intelligence on this planet any more, let’s go looking for it elsewhere. Then another thought kicked in. It is fascinating that the “world’s brightest mind” thinks an intel­ligence possibly exists out there that could destroy us, but no intelli­gence exists as Creator.

Then yet another thought. Professor Hawking himself, had he been left at the mercy of a pragmatic “life is not human in the womb,” or not worth saving by virtue of a degenerative disease, would have been destroyed and we would never have seen the likes of his genius. It would have been our loss. You see how intrinsic value decisions are in the choices we make? The scientific single vision does not give us values; it gives us only what is and cannot give us what ought. Is it any wonder that in this scenario where science is our single vision, existence is the circle and what we believe—our values—are merely a dot, as described by my friend?

Another personal note, from having lived in Cambridge in the early nineties: Hawking’s first wife, Jane, was and is a devout Chris­tian, an intellectual in her own right. Hawking himself has paid her the finest compliments. Living side-by-side with one of the brightest minds in the world did not take away her deep belief in Jesus Christ and in the created order. That alone should tell us that what is at issue is not as simplistic as an intellectually determined faith. Much more goes into this.

So then, right from the beginning, in the face of choices, two questions determined the future: 1) Did God say? 2) Do you really think you’re going to die or can you become like God, determining good and evil? 

The Theoretical Backdrop

What does it mean to be an atheist? What does the “ism” of the atheist hold? Is it monolithic? Are all atheistic systems the same in political theory? How did that philosophy become a formal system, and how does one respond to its claims?

Let’s go back to the philosophical and categorical roots of this so-called belief, to its philosophical and cultural viewpoint. The very Greek word from which we get atheism is really a simple conjoining of the negative with the divine. The alpha is the negative and theos is the word for God. At its starting point, from the very structure of the word itself, the philosophy of atheism means no personal, self-existent, autonomous, intelligent first cause of reality.

Ironically, in particular cultural milieus the word gets watered down so that in the days of the early Church, Christians were called atheists because they denied the existence of the gods of Greece and Rome. By the seventh century, Muslims branded Christians polytheists because of their cardinal doctrine of the Trinity. One can readily see how important it is to understand, from the orthodox point of view, what the beliefs really are rather than attributing cultural nuances to a system.

In two of my previous works, I have quoted the standard texts and definitions that provide the starting point for this discussion. I would like to refer back to that before I move forward and bring the positions up to date. Frankly, in a subject such as this, there really is ultimately nothing new under the sun. People such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Krauss, and others who promote the aggressive side of this belief muster not a single new argument to defend their position. That is why even other prominent atheists or agnostics con­sider them an embarrassment and say so. In fact, Dawkins’ remark on Harris’s explanation in The Moral Maze—that he provided the last strand against theism—is embarrassing to other atheists, to say the least. I doubt he truly believed that.

The well-respected Encyclopedia of Philosophy edited by Paul Edwards defines atheism as follows: “An atheist is a person who maintains that there is no God, that is, that the sentence ‘God exists’ expresses a false proposition…a person who rejects belief in God.”11 In his book on atheism, Étienne Borne says, “Atheism: the deliber­ate, definite, dogmatic denial of the existence of God.”12So while the bottom line of the view is a denial of God’s existence, in fairness it is really within the spectrum of agnosticism that ranges from a soft-boiled agnosticism where one claims not to know whether God exists to a hard-boiled agnosticism that postulates that one simply cannot know. The next stage is a rigorous denial of the existence of this Being we call God. That is the hard-nosed idea that God is not in the realm of meaningful statements, and that if He/She/It does indeed exist, it is up to the theist to prove it.

Now this latter assumption is terribly prejudiced by culture and, one might dare say, flies in the face of how philosopher Alvin Plantinga, a longtime member of the faculty at Notre Dame, would describe belief in God—a “Properly Basic Belief” so common and so self-evident to the masses of humanity that, to them, no defense is needed. Of course, other philosophers take issue with that and say that in any debate this description would not stand the test of argu­ment. Plantinga contends that the masses of people are not in the arena of debate; they intuitively believe that there is a power greater than themselves, and they seek ways in which to connect with that supreme being. Raised in India, I have seen this firsthand. Though it was not my personal belief, it was indisputably intrinsic to the main­stream of life, both for the unsophisticated and the highly educated.

It is important to recognize that the Greeks, who really are the forerunners in systematic philosophical thought in classical philos­ophy (and as an extension of that came democratic government), attempted to define ultimate reality in abstract terms. Their musings and ponderings on ultimate reality cause some to even argue that Plato was probably moving toward a high monotheism. Whether one accepts that or not, what is important is that in their view, ulti­mate reality was inseparable from virtue and ethical norms.

For many in Greek thought, the power of reason was supreme, and the freeing of philosophy and science from the mystical was a deliberate and purposeful discipline. But, I repeat, for the Greek thinkers, though they did not posit a God, one thing was certain—virtue and harmony were the emergent implications for life.

There is a striking similarity between our so-called doctrine of tolerance and the early Greeks. For example, the oration at the funeral of Pericles gives fascinating insight into the hub and spokes of their reflections on life and destiny. We owe to Thucydides the reconstruction of that eulogy. Here it is:

[J]ust as our political life is free and open, so is our day-to-day life in our relations with each other. We do not get into a state with our next door neighbor if he enjoys himself in his own way…. We are free and tolerant in our private lives; but in public affairs we keep to the law….

When our work is over, we are in a position to enjoy all kinds of recreation for our spirits…in our own homes we find a beauty and good taste which delight us every day and which drives away our cares….

Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extrava­gance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft…. As for poverty, no one need be ashamed to admit it: The real shame is in not taking practical measures to escape from it.

We make friends by doing good to others, not by receiv­ing good from them. This makes our friendships all the more reliable…. [E]ach single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his own person, and to do this, moreover, with exceptional grace and exceptional versatility.13

Tolerance the New Virtue

Actually, that philosophizing would fit into Buddhism, Hindu­ism, Jainism, and the new tolerance of Western Secularism. That is the new god of this age. One look at this and you can see how a politi­cal framework addresses the soul of a people when God is not known or sought. We can readily see how critical it is that values be upheld for the public good. In reality, this is possibly the basis of a noble humanistic credo, but we shall deal with that later.

For now, we see how the early Greek philosophers and early non­theistic spirituality or mystery religions believed in a structure of vir­tue for one’s individual life and destiny. There were, however, very important differences in terms of why they thought this way and what they believed the purpose of life to be. That, to me, is key. As I have travelled for some four decades and have literally met with thousands of individuals, either one-on-one or in small groups after the public forums, there are really a handful of questions that emerge.

The first question is of life’s purpose and meaning: What does life and living really mean? Then there comes the question of plea­sure and enjoyment: How do I fulfill my desires? The pursuit of pleasure is at the core of our existence. We work, we earn a living, we return to our homes, but then we make decisions for our enjoy­ment: Are there any boundaries for pleasure? Then there is the third question: What does one make of all the suffering and pain we see in this world?

There you have it. Meaning, pleasure, pain. And all of these hang on the hinge of the fourth major question, a very defining one: How and why am I here in the first place? This was the very bedrock of questioning that Solomon pursued. He was not raised a Greek. He was raised in David’s family, a Jewish family with a definite belief in a personal God. There had to be a father-son disjunction here for Sol­omon to live as a hedonist but be regarded as a moralist, renowned for his wisdom.

That defining question is answered confidently by the atheist that we are here by accident. Turn back the clock and try the same thing again and it will never happen once more. Our presence is a cosmic accident for which there is no script for life or preassigned purpose. But let us be absolutely clear: The atheist has placed all other definitions of life’s imperatives on this one hinge, that we exist on this earth and struggle with human personality, morality, and reality without a personal, moral, or real first cause. That’s the leap of faith—to believe that ultimately life is matter and that it therefore doesn’t really matter. If you submit to the first conclusion, you are inextricably bound to the rest that follow.

Take for example Stephen Jay Gould:

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial crea­tures; because comets struck the earth and wiped out dino­saurs, thereby giving mammals a chance not otherwise avail­able (so thank your lucky stars in a literal sense); because the earth never literally froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa, a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a higher answer—but none exists. This answer though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must con­struct these answers ourselves—from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.14

Gould states unequivocally that meaning is not decipherable by us. No higher answer exists, he says, and we have to find the answers on our own terms. This incredibly answerless answer is what sends Western values on the slippery slope of nihilism. But there is more. If meaning is not within the purpose of our existence, the second struggle is whether to seek a boundary for pleasure or eliminate all boundaries.

The difference between a nontheistic religion and an atheistic worldview is literally worlds apart. The difference comes from the explanation for theistic thinking. Both the realities of pleasure and of pain demand answers and explanation, whether life has meaning and whether there is a solution to the problem of pain. To arrive at a formal and creedal denial of a supreme being opens the door to all kinds of debates and arguments on the entailments of such a hope­less foundation.

From that starting point the remaining three answers are liter­ally up for grabs, so let’s see how the religious nontheist and the sec­ular atheist deal with the entailments of their starting points. When you start off with “no god,” you end up with the strangest of mental manipulations to keep you from the logical arc of reasoning. And the first mistake for the atheist is to position science into doing what it was never supposed to do.

Scientists themselves question their fellow authorities in this field. The agnostic physicist David Berlinski has written a trenchant critique of Dawkins in his book The Devil’s Delusion, a challenge to Dawkins’ The God Delusion. On the inside flap of the book, intro­ducing his subject, he writes,

Has anyone provided a proof of God’s inexistence?

Not even close.

Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe and why it is here?

Not even close.

Have the sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life?

Not even close.

Are physicists and biologists willing to believe anything so long as it is not religious thought?

Close enough.

Has rationalism in moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral?

Not close enough.

Has secularism in the terrible twentieth century been a force for good?

Not even close to being close.

Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy of thought and opinion within the sciences?

Close enough.

Does anything in the sciences or in their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational?

Not even ballpark.

Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual con­tempt?

Dead on.15

One has to commend Berlinski and others like him for call­ing the bluff of those hiding behind science and making sweeping assertions against belief in God. In fact, there is so much contradic­tion even within the exact sciences that anyone who speaks for all obviously does not respect the different disciplines within science. I know scholarly thinkers in the field of chemistry who have issued challenges to others, asking them to show evidence from chemistry that the move from primordial slime to Homo sapiens is even theo­retically possible. Professor James Tour of Rice University is one such scholar. In fact, cosmologist John Barrow said to Dawkins, “You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you’re not really a sci­entist. You’re a biologist.”16

Interesting, isn’t it, how the methodology and implications vary between the disciplines? It was this very challenge that caused Chan­dra Wickramasinghe and Fred Hoyle to postulate that an earth­bound theory explaining origins is mathematically impossible. But that is the foundation on which all the debunking of religious belief takes place. My colleague in this book will be dealing more exten­sively with the hazards of a scientific single vision. For my purposes here, let us agree that the extension of the discipline takes it outside its range.

That, then, brings the implications of the existential struggle into the no-man’s-land of meaninglessness.

A Rootless Culture

In Western cultural speak, we have basically gone from being a rootless society to a ruthless society. In America, we say that we are a nation of laws. That sounds fascinating. Are we implying that other nations are nations without laws? No culture on earth has more laws than the Islamic world. Their laws extend to what you eat and when you eat, how you marry and whom you marry, how you bank and with whom you bank, when you fast and how much you give, which way you face when you pray and how many times…laws ad nau­seam. They pride themselves on it.

So we are a nation of laws. Let’s move further. To use a meta­phor, law forms the roots from which our culture is built. The trunk then becomes the political system; the branches and the leaves or the fruit of the tree become the expression of the culture. That’s the figurative description of how we build a culture. When you think about it, it is actually circular. We act as if law just came into being and is self-evident. The question should really be, what holds the law in place?

The laws that legitimized slavery were railed against by a moral intuition that this exploitation and dominance of a people was morally wrong. Ironically, in their songs both the slave and the slave owner called upon God to rescue them or validate them. They weren’t calling upon nature to do so. Even in the context of the dominance of the Indian people by the British, Bertrand Russell, of all people, said that it was doubtful the plea from reason would have succeeded against the British except that it appealed to the con­science of a Christianized people.

This is where worldviews come into play. What holds the laws of a nation? It is the moral soil that must hold the roots. As G. K. Chesterton put it, lawful and legal do not mean the same thing and the moral soil is indispensable to aesthetic flourishing:

We are always near the breaking point, when we care only for what is legal, and nothing for what is lawful. Unless we have a moral principle about such delicate matters as mar­riage and murder, the whole world will become a welter of exceptions with no rules. There will be so many hard cases that everything will go soft.17

Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of mere art, any more than anything essentially reasonable has ever arisen out of pure reason. There must always be a rich moral soil for any great aesthetic growth.18

Recently I saw a movie titled Irrational Man. The well-known actor Joaquin Phoenix plays the role of an esteemed and atten­tion-drawing professor of philosophy. Before he arrives at the school at which he will be teaching, he already has a reputation as a bit of a loner and an eccentric. As the story line builds, we become aware that his goal is to influence his students toward the ethical system he subscribes to, built on the existentialists.

One day he overhears the story of a woman who was wrongly victimized by a judge’s ruling and becomes irate over that injustice. He ponders how to set this right and decides to kill the judge. That accomplished, one of his students discovers that he is the killer and, aghast, gradually pins him down with the truth. He has one option left, to kill her as well, even though he was romantically involved with her. In the end, in a struggle near an open elevator shaft, she gets the better of him and instead of her, as he had intended, he is crushed under the weight of the elevator.

It is interesting that though reason was his discipline, he was crushed by the weight of the immoral reasoning he had justified in his own heart as the right thing to do…until he was found out and had to explain it.

Law, philosophy, love, education, justice…all are built not on reason alone but on moral reasoning. This is the discipline under which atheism fails, and the ideas of atheism will be crushed under the very system constructed to make the one who points the guilty finger ineffectual.

The hunger of the human heart is for meaning, reason, purpose, and value, and atheism simply does not have either the answers or the explanatory power to make it possible to build a life on the foundation it offers. That is why some of the best of them discover at life’s termination point that their philosophy was reasoned into irrationality and their temporary victory, pyrrhic—it cost the victor more than it cost the vanquished.

To wit, Antony Flew and A. N. Wilson, two prominent thinkers who climbed the tree of atheism to great renown, only to concede that its trunk is hollow and its branches, deadly. The unanswered questions made Flew question the philosophy. An Easter Sunday walk to church with his family where he observed the followers of Jesus and heard the truth claims of their resurrected Lord made the difference for Wilson, the difference between life and death, sub­stance and hollowness, purpose and meaninglessness, love and hate, living a lie or living by the truth.

The chapters to come show the difference between Jesus and secular “isms” in the why of life itself. Our first comparison will be a deeper exploration of atheism—the general “ism” underlying all other secular worldviews. Then we proceed chapter by chapter to confront the secular gods that guide our neighbors and our nation. So far we have glimpsed only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s see where the differences really take us.

 

__________

Ravi Zacharias is Founder and President of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

 

Maya Oppenheim, “Richard Dawkins: Atheist academic calls for religion ‘to be offended at every opportunity,’” The Independent (23 May 2016), http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/richard-dawkins-atheist-academic-calls-for-religion-to-be-of­fended-at-every-opportunity-a7043226.html. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

2 Ibid.

Robert A. Morey, The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1986), 98.

4 G. K. Chesterton observes, “It is said that Paganism is a religion of joy and Chris­tianity of sorrow; it would be just as easy to prove that Paganism is pure sorrow and Christianity pure joy…. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsa­tion of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live. Yet, according to the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic, this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled. Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity.” G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 236–237, 105. Also available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16769/16769-h/16769-h.htm. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

William Blake, “Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau” in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Third Edition, general editor M. H. Abrams (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975), 1338.

6 Mortimer Adler, The Synopticon: An Index to the Great Ideas, Vol. 1 (Chicago: Britan­nica, 1952), 543.

7 Winston Churchill, “The Munich Agreement,” http://www.winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1930-1938-the-wilderness/101-the-munich-agreement. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

Charles Kaiser, The Cost of Courage (New York: Other Press, 2015), 51.

9 “Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, 11 October 1798,” in Revolutionary Services and Civil Life of General William Hull (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1848), 266.

10 Thomas Paine, The Theological Works of Thomas Paine (London: R. Carlile, 1824), 317.

11 Paul Edwards, ed., Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 1 (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 175.

12 Étienne Borne, Atheism (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1961), 61.

13 Thucydides, “The Funeral Oration of Pericles,” History of the Peloponnesian War, M. I. Finley, editor, translated by Rex Warner (New York: Penguin Classics, 1972), excerpt online at http://teacher.sduhsd.net/tpsocialsciences/world_history/dem_ideals/peri­cles.htm. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

14 Stephen Jay Gould, quoted by David Friend and the editors of Life magazine, The Meaning of Life(Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991), 33.

15 Citation from book jacket, http://www.davidberlinski.org/devils-delusion/about.php. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

16 John Barrow quoted in Julia Vitullo-Martin’s “A Scientist’s Scientist,” http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/barrow-to-dawkins-youre-not-really-a-scientist/. Accessed 10 Sept. 2016.

17 G. K. Chesterton, As I Was Saying, ed. Robert Knille (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1984), 267.

18 G. K. Chesterton, “A Defence of Nonsense” in A Defence of Nonsense and Other Essays (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1911), 8.

Advertisements

Posted in Faith Issues in Our Times, Tim's Blog | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Examining Religions

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on January 6, 2017

truthBy Ravi Zacharias

It was years ago when I was speaking at an openly and avowedly atheistic institution that I was fascinated by a questioner who asked what on earth I meant by the term God. The city was Moscow; the setting was the Lenin Military Academy. The atmosphere was tense. Never had I been asked before to define the term in a public gathering. And because I was in a country so historically entrenched in atheism, I suspected the question was both hostile and intentional. I asked the questioner if he was an atheist, to which he replied that he was. I asked him what he was denying. That conversation didn’t go very far. So I tried to explain to him what we meant when we spoke about God.

It is fascinating to talk to a strident atheist and try to get beneath the anger or hostility. God is a trigger word for some that concentrates all his or her stored animosity into a projectile of words. But as the layers of their thinking and experience are unpacked, the meaning of atheism to each one becomes narrower and narrower, each term dying the death of a thousand qualifications. Oftentimes, the description is more visceral and is discussed with pent-up anger rather than in a sensible, respectful discussion. More than once I have been amazed at the anger expressed by members of the atheist groups at one or other of the Ivy League schools in the United States to which I have been invited to speak, anger that I was even invited and that I had the temerity to address them.

In theory, the academy has always been a place where dissent serves a valuable purpose in helping thinking students to weigh out ideas and make intelligent choices. And, dare I say, had I been a Muslim speaker, there would have been no such dissent as I faced. Evidently, being able to instill fear in people has a lot to do with how much freedom of speech you are granted. But alas! For some, at least, civil discourse is impossible. To her credit, at the end of a lecture, one senior officer in one club stood up and thanked me, a veiled apology for the resistance vented before the event. I did appreciate that courtesy.

This unfettered anger on the part of some is quite puzzling to me. I was raised in India where I was not a Hindu and, in fact, never once gave it any serious consideration. For that matter, I’m not sure if I even really believed in God. I was a nominal Christian but never gave that much thought, either. Most of my friends were either Hindu or Muslim or Sikh, with a few others of different faiths. I never recall feeling any anger or hostility toward those who believed differently than me, no matter how ludicrous their beliefs may have seemed to me. Nor do I remember ever being on the receiving end of such anger and hostility because I did not have the same belief.

But the likes of Richard Dawkins are renowned for their bullying and mocking approach toward opposing views, an attitude from an academic that makes one wonder what is really driving such an intense temperament. A questioner at a gathering in Washington, DC, once asked Richard Dawkins how one should respond to a person who believed in God. “Mock them,” he actually replied. “Ridicule them.” When someone at an event asked me what I thought of that response, I reflected that, were Dawkins to practice that same method in Saudi Arabia, chances are he would not need his return ticket. One thing is for sure—he would at least find out that not all beliefs in God are similar and not all imperatives, equal.

Need I add, not all atheists have the same disposition. In fact, many find the hostility of the new atheists an embarrassment. I have met many a cordial conversationalist who is atheistic in his or her belief, and we’ve had the best of conversations. Many have remarked that they have been able to take only so much of Dawkins and his followers and then stopped even reading them. Whatever worldview we espouse, dialogue and debate should take place with civility and courteous listening. But our times make that ideal so elusive. Holding a supposedly noble belief and reducing it to ignoble means of propagation makes the one who holds that belief suspect.

To be sure, many in the so-called “religious” category have provoked strident responses. The pulpit can sadly be a place of bullying people into guilt and remorse and other emotions that make them want to escape from the voice hammering away at them, to say nothing of the anti-intellectualism among Christian ranks that brands even a hint of philosophy or science heretical.

History has taught us to beware of extremists in any camp that sacrifice cordial conversation at the altar of demagogic enforcement. Views and opinions are aplenty in our world of tweeting and Instagram, but civil discourse is rare. And rarer still is the ability to defend one’s beliefs with reason and experience. But we do well to examine the differences among secular belief systems (that are, in fact, also religions). We do well to examine where these differences really lie. I continue to find that the Judeo-Christian worldview has the most coherent answers to the inescapable questions of life that we all have, regardless of our beliefs.

Ravi Zacharias is founder and chairman of the board of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

See RZIM.org

Posted in Attack on Christianity, Faith Issues in Our Times, Tim's Blog | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Must the Moral Law Have a Lawgiver?

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on August 21, 2016

imageBy J.M. Njoroge

Atheists don’t believe we need God to understand what is right and wrong. Yet Christians point to a moral law that is written on our hearts by God, and our conscience testifies either for us or against us with regard to morality.

Before I respond directly to the question raised in the title of this article, let me say a word about what I take to be the place of arguments for God’s existence. To the person who has walked with God for any length of time and who has experienced firsthand the reality of God’s work in his or her life, offering arguments for God’s existence can feel as awkward as planning a surprise birthday party for Auntie Jenny in her presence. I suppose most people do not believe in God as the end result of logically airtight conclusions built upon indisputable premises; they are first confronted with their own sinfulness and the need to be reconciled with a Holy God as encapsulated in the gospel message and then build a rational case for their newfound faith as questions, and sometimes doubts, arise.[1] We should be careful not to overemphasize the intellect at the expense of the will. Just like any other good thing our Lord has freely given to us, we can use reason to conceal our flight from Him. When it comes to making a decision either for or against God, the defining issue is the deceptively simple question Jesus asked the disciples of John the Baptist who expressed interest in following Jesus, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). Doubt and skepticism are valid postures as long as they are motivated by the search for truth rather than a repudiation of it. What we want to be the case can keep us from accepting what is in fact the case, in spite of the amount of evidence at our disposal. Elsewhere, Jesus puts it this way, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17, emphasis added).

Nevertheless, there is indeed a place for taking a step back to consider the nature of the rational evidence that may be marshaled in defense of our faith. The process of loving God with the entirety of one’s being, including the mind—a major part of the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-8)—is not only commanded in the Scriptures, but it is also integral to spiritual growth. Moreover, it is true that a rational presentation of the gospel routinely serves as the catalyst that propels many to faith in God. For some people, the way to their heart is through their mind. And when the will is right—when what we want is to submit to a reality not of our own making—we find that God has really put us in a world fraught with clues of his holy pursuit. Among other things, we are rational beings, and it stands to reason that our minds, properly chastened, should not be at war with the truth, wherever it may be found. To quote the legendary scientist Galileo,

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.[2]

So, what do our senses, reason, and intellect tell us regarding the existence of God? There are many different strands of evidence available to us in answer to this question. We could, for example, consider the origin and complexity of the universe, the presence of information in the DNA, the origin of life and consciousness, biblical history, including the resurrection of Jesus, and our immediate experience of God. In this article, I will concentrate on the moral nature of our universe, which I take to be one of the peskiest pointers to God for anyone who is intent on turning his or her back on Him.

In what follows, I will offer some of the reasons why I believe we cannot make adequate sense of our experience of morality without God. My goal is not to focus on the moral argument as a whole but on the obligatory or normative aspect of the moral law that I will argue cries out for a moral lawgiver. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant noted several centuries ago, morality is largely constituted by categorical imperatives: nonnegotiable rules of behavior to which every human being must conform. I will argue that such a demand makes sense only if there exists a moral lawgiver who made us as moral agents capable of apprehending an objective moral standard external to us and applying it to ourselves. We exist in a world that comes packaged with a moral law that we did not invent. We discover it and once we do, we find that we are bound by it. This is, indeed, our Father’s world!

THE MORAL ARGUMENT

Like hundreds of other young men and women I have met in my travels around the globe, my first foray into systematized philosophical thinking as it applies to Christian apologetics was occasioned by a “chance” encounter with the spellbinding lectures and messages of Ravi Zacharias, especially his 1992 Veritas Forum lectures at Harvard University that eventually found their way into his provocatively titled book Can Man Live Without God. I was barely out of my teenage years, and I had traveled to the US to study medicine. But God used Ravi’s messages to lead me on a different path as I came to terms with the infinite value of God’s Word, properly communicated. The rest, as they say, is history.

One of the points Ravi emphasized in his lectures, one that I found to be quite persuasive, was the fact that there is a very compelling link between morality and God. Here is a succinct summary of his argument in response to a question:

When you say there is evil, aren’t you admitting there is good? When you accept the existence of goodness, you must affirm a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But when you admit to a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver.[3]

Now, anyone who may be unfamiliar with the academic literature on the source of our moral intuitions might be surprised to learn that most philosophers who teach ethics, including atheists, accept almost each one of the claims Ravi makes in the above quote. In popular culture (and in a few academic circles as well), there are various attempts to explain morality in terms of evolution, social contracts, relativism, etc. [4] Much of the interaction on moral issues tends to take place at that level in popular circles. And because there exists a gap between the academy and the so-called masses (and we are all members of the “masses” outside our professional or academic disciplines), addressing these topics in the manner in which the masses grapple with them is vitally important. But academic ethicists realize that morality is too central and binding a reality in human experience to be relegated either to individual or collective human will, desires, or beliefs. Nor can it be adequately understood on the basis of social contracts or evolution.

That morality is objective, binding, and inevitable is most evident to us when we are either the victims of injustice or when our sympathies for the helpless are awakened. Everything within us cries out against such experiences. A number of years ago, I read a story about a woman who had given birth through C-section in a certain country. In the process of the delivery, something went horribly wrong. The doctors, one would hope inadvertently, inflicted deep wounds on the baby’s face. The baby could not breathe and breastfeed at the same time. The doctors assured the mother that the baby would be fine in a couple of days and encouraged her to take the baby home.

Well, the baby got worse. When the mother took the baby back to the hospital, she discovered that, to her horror, the hospital staff had purged all the records of her ever having been to the hospital. They told her that if she ever set foot in that hospital again, they would call the police on her because of what she had done to her own baby. It is impossible for me to imagine any morally healthy person reading such a story without reacting strongly against the injustice. An unabashed craving for justice is deeply woven into the very fiber of our being, and it is strongly awakened in such moments. But as Ravi notes, such a reaction betrays the fact that we are very much aware of the existence of a moral law that applies to all of us. We can’t complain about evil without at the same time invoking the primacy of good, and to do so is to acknowledge that morality is objective.

For most people, what we have said so far is enough to establish the dependence of morality on God. All the pieces we need to build that puzzle are not only present but in their rightful places. We know that some things are really wrong. Other things are really right, and there is an objective moral standard that helps us differentiate between the two. We also sense quite strongly that this can only be true if God exists. Morality is indeed grounded in God. Once one begins to realize that morality is not relative, that it cannot be grounded in biological evolution, and that it cannot be fully explained on the basis of social conventions or individual taste, one immediately feels drawn to the conclusion that God must exist.

In my travels, I have discussed the claims I’ve made so far with a lot of people, including atheists. I find that most people accept our thinking thus far. They believe that there is something rationally duplicitous about claiming that there is an objective set of dos and don’ts imposed upon human beings while denying that God exists.

“That is simply preposterous!” one self-proclaimed atheist friend said to me. “Only a person who just wants to avoid God would grant the objectivity of morality while rejecting God. If there is an objective moral standard, then there is a moral lawgiver, which means God exists.”

We both laughed out loud when I uttered a hearty “Amen!” in response. As an aside, you may be wondering how my friend could still describe himself as an atheist if he believed morality points to God. Sadly, he chooses to deny morality. He agrees that if you accept that morality is objective, then you must believe in God. But, he reasons, if you reject morality, then you don’t need to worry about morality pointing you to God. As we will see later, my friend is not alone in this. But yes, I did let him know that denying morality—denying that some things are really evil and some things are really good, regardless of what anyone says—is just as preposterous. That conversation reminded me of the following quip by GK Chesterton,

If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can make one or two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.[5]

Our experience of morality, especially when we are the victims of injustice, is too powerful to be illusory. To deny that there are things that are right, and others wrong, is as absurd as denying the cat as in Chesterton’s example. But if the point is so obvious, and if so many have turned to God on the basis of the pressure morality puts on their unbelief, how is it possible that some of the leading ethics professors in the best of our universities around the world can affirm the objectivity of morality while rejecting God? How do they manage to have their cake and eat it too?

DENYING THE CAT: OBJECTIVE MORALITY WITHOUT GOD

If you are reading carefully, you will note that I said that most ethicists, including atheists, accept almost each one of the claims Ravi makes in the quote above. So what part of the argument do they dispute? Unfortunately, the most hotly debated part of the argument also happens to be the most important, i.e., the direct link between morality and God. The controversy is centered on the last line of Ravi’s quote: the claim that it is not possible to have a moral law without a moral lawgiver.

For reasons such as the ones we’ve already talked about, most philosophers are unwilling to deny the reality of morality. They agree that acknowledging that good and evil exist invokes an objective moral law, but they also think that the moral law stands on its own without any need for further justification. In other words, one does not need to appeal to a moral lawgiver to acknowledge that there is indeed a moral standard that is independent of human decisions, will or desires, and that helps us differentiate between good and evil. For example, atheist philosopher Louise Anthony writes,

I take it that theists and atheists will agree about what it means to say that morality is objective: first, whether something is right or wrong does not depend on any human being’s attitudes toward it, and second, moral facts are independent of human will.[6]

Similarly, Erik Wielenberg, also an atheist, writes, “[My view] is non-theistic in that it implies that objective morality does not require a theistic founda­tion; indeed, the view implies that objective morality does not require an external foundation at all.”[7] Other examples could be given.

To understand how someone can accept that morality is objective while rejecting the existence of God, we will look at two of the best arguments for the position. These arguments are (1) we can make perfect sense of objective morality without God, and (2) invoking God in discussions about morality actually creates more problems than it solves.

Before we delve into the arguments, let’s first say a word about “arguments” in logic. An argument in logic is not a quarrel. It is the juxtaposition of statements in such a way that the truth of one of those statements (called the conclusion) is entailed by the other statement(s), which are called premise(s). Logical consistency is one of the tests of the truth of a worldview, so logic is extremely important. But logic calls for clear thinking, which can be hard at times. Like Apostle Peter, I invite you to “gird up the loins of your mind” and join me on a mental adventure. It will be rough going in places, but I promise you the trip is more than worth it. As followers of Jesus Christ, logic is our friend, not our enemy.

1. Can we really make sense of objective morality without God?

The first argument for morality without God is fairly easy to grasp. It is simply the claim that morality is not different from other truths that we grasp about our universe without having to appeal to God. It is not different, for example, from our grasp of logical and mathematical truths. Consider the following argument, one that is found in many logic textbooks. Suppose you were given these two premises,

All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
You know immediately that you ought to draw the following conclusion:

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
You know immediately and instinctively that the conclusion follows from the premises. In addition, if you pardon the pun, you know immediately that 2+2 is equal to 4. These are truths that are simply a part of reality, truths that we employ in our day-to-day lives without invoking God, or so the argument goes. According to this thinking, moral truths work the same way. They are just there as part of reality, and we apprehend them and use them in the same way we apprehend and use truths of logic and mathematics. We do not need God to apprehend and apply these truths to our lives.

However, I hope you can spot a move that has been played on us, which makes this argument seem much more compelling so far than it really is. Namely, we have switched from talking about where morality comes from (what it is grounded in) to talking about how we know about morality. To use some fancy philosophical terms, the former is an ontological task (concerning the nature of reality), the latter an epistemological one (concerning the nature of knowledge and how we acquire it).

Even if it is true that we apprehend moral truths in the same way that we apprehend logical and mathematical truths (which I believe is true), it does not follow that morality is not grounded in God. It could be the case that God made us in such a way that we are in fact able to apprehend laws of mathematics, logic, and morality immediately. As a matter of fact, the Scriptures teach that this is exactly what happened, specifically with regard to the moral law. In Romans 2:14-15, the apostle Paul writes

Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.

The requirements of the law are written on our hearts, and our conscience testifies either for us or against us with regard to morality. That is why God judged Gentile nations in the Old Testament for their evil behavior, even though they did not have the Bible. They ought to have known better. That is why God judges people who have never read the Bible and who may not care about it. They ought to know better. So, we should not let a skeptic get away with saying that since we can tell the difference between right and wrong without appealing to God, we don’t need God to ground morality. A good number of skeptics think pointing out that we can tell the difference between right and wrong all by ourselves is enough to dissociate morality from God. It is not enough. How we learn about morality and what morality is grounded in are two very different questions.

But if that were the only reason given for the claim that we can make sense of morality without God, the argument would be too weak to convince professional ethicists to accept morality while rejecting God, though it regularly works at the level of the masses. So we must now consider the second step taken in defense of the argument. Philosophers proceed to point out that logical, mathematical, and moral facts are necessary truths. When philosophers say that something exists necessarily, they mean that it has always existed and it will always exist. It is not possible for it not to exist. That, we should note, is what we believe about God. He is from everlasting to everlasting. His existence is uncaused—He simply exists.

The argument follows similar logic in maintaining that, in addition to God who is a necessary Being, there are other necessary entities, and they include the laws of mathematics and the laws of logic. Laws of mathematics and logic simply exist. Even God, who is a rational Being, must follow these laws. He cannot violate them, the argument continues, and it makes no sense to ask where they came from or what they are grounded in.

Now, if the laws of logic and mathematics can exist without any need for a logical or mathematical lawgiver, the argument continues, why can’t the laws of morality exist in the same way? Why do we need a lawgiver for the moral law but not for logical or mathematical laws? Those who insist on uncoupling morality from God obviously insist that we should understand the laws of morality in the same way that we understand the laws of logic and mathematics. The moral law also exists necessarily and it therefore doesn’t need to be grounded in anything.

I hope you can now appreciate the reason why so many philosophers find this argument in support of the claim that we can make sense of morality without God compelling. But before we offer a response, let’s review the argument briefly. We are simply aware of the laws of morality in the same way we apprehend the laws of mathematics and logic. We responded by saying the question we are answering is not how we come to know about these laws but what they are grounded in. The part of the argument we are considering now is the claim that since these laws are unalterable, non-negotiable, and they exist necessarily, we therefore don’t need to ask where they come from or what they are grounded in. They have always existed, and they will always exist. Even God cannot change them. Now we must respond to this second strand of the argument.

In response to the argument, we begin by noting a couple of things. First, we are now well beyond the boundaries atheists normally draw around the ultimate nature of reality. We are regularly told that all of reality can be fully explained by matter, energy, and the interactions that take place among or within material particles. With the argument we are now considering, the story shifts dramatically. In addition to material particles and energy, we now have an entirely different realm of reality—a reality that consists of abstract entities that exist necessarily and to which human beings are subject. That is no small shift. We now have one foot in the unseen world, where God lives. Exit materialism, to which much of the modern atheistic movement is intricately wedded.

Secondly, the claim that the laws of logic, mathematics, and morality do not need to be grounded in anything since they exist necessarily needs to be defended, not just asserted. Showing that something exists necessarily is not the same thing as showing that it needs no explanation for its existence.

To state the point differently, something can exist necessarily and still require an explanation for its existence. As far as I know, there is no good reason to think that once one shows that something exists necessarily, questions about what explains its existence become irrelevant. As a matter of fact, argues William Lane Craig, such a position can be shown to be false. He writes,

The assumption here seems to be that necessary truths cannot stand to one another in relations of explanatory priority. Not only do I see no reason to think that assumption true, but it strikes me as obviously false. For example, “States of consciousness exist” is necessarily true, since “God exists” is necessarily true. That is to say, the fact that a personal, metaphysically necessary being like God exists explains why it is necessarily true that states of consciousness exist. To give a nontheological example, the axioms of Peano arithmetic are explanatorily prior to “2+2=4”, as are the axioms of Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory to the theorems thereof.[8]

Consequently, it is not enough for one to point out that the laws of logic, mathematics, and morality exist necessarily. One must also offer valid reasons as to why we should think that they do not need to be grounded in anything and are not in need of any explanation. As Craig puts it, “…if necessary truths can stand to one another in asymmetric relations of explanatory priority, then there is no objection … to holding that moral values exist because God exists.”[9]

Thus one can argue that the laws of mathematics, logic, and morality are all grounded in God. They exist necessarily, but they are also in need of explanation, and that explanation is God. Although much more could be said about this, I would like to pursue a different line of thinking in order to show that the moral law does indeed require a moral lawgiver. I will argue that, even if we grant for the sake of the argument that we don’t need to appeal to God to explain the laws of logic and mathematics, morality is sufficiently different from logic and mathematics to demand a moral lawgiver. Specifically, my claim is that the fact that morality contains within it a normative or obligatory character does indeed presuppose the existence of a lawgiving, transcendent Personal Being. In other words, morality is agent-centered—it requires a thinking being with the authority to issue commands. But before we look at that response in more detail, let us examine briefly the second argument given for the claim that morality is not grounded in God.

2. Does invoking God in morality create more problems than it solves?

At this point, the skeptic has another weapon in his arsenal. For someone who is not philosophically inclined, the subtlety of this argument can easily make it seem quite abstract and irrelevant, not to mention bewildering. So, once again, I implore you to gird up the loins of your mind. We’ve come too far—it’s too late to turn back now!

Here is the argument: If we say that moral obligations are commands that God issues and which He requires us to obey, we must be assuming that we are already obligated to follow God’s commands even before He issues any command at all. In other words, the fact that we have the obligation to obey commands issued by God is itself an obligation that is simply true—it is not one of the commands God issues. You obey God’s commands because you already have the obligation to obey God. God cannot make it the case that you ought to obey the commands He issues if it weren’t already the case that you ought to do so

An example might be helpful here. Suppose you are made aware of the command that you must set aside Wednesday as a holy day and you are to do no work on that day. You ask who issued that command. Would you really feel obligated to do so if you found out that the order to keep the Sabbath on Wednesday came from your next-door neighbor, Bill? I suppose the answer is “No!” You are under no obligation to keep any commands issued by Bill. So, why think that we have the obligation to obey God’s commands but not Bill’s? J.L. Mackie stated the objection as follows:

The commands of a legitimate human ruler do not create obligations: if such a ruler tells you to do X, this makes it obligatory for you to do X only if it is already obligatory for you to do whatever the ruler tells you (within the sphere in which X lies). The same applies to God. He can make it obligatory for us to do Y by so commanding only because there is first a general obligation for us to obey him. His commands, therefore, cannot be the source of moral obligation in general.[10]

We could respond by saying that God has the authority to issue commands, yet a human being, like Bill, doesn’t. Given who God is, I am under his authority and I must obey his commands. The crucial point here is this: Just as Bill cannot make it the case that you ought to obey the commands he issues just by issuing that as a command, God cannot make it the case that you ought to obey Him just by commanding you to do so since, if you are not already obligated to obey Him, you would not need to worry about this command either. You obey his commands because there is an antecedent, independent obligation owed to Him simply because of who He is, whether He has issued any commands or not.

But that creates a problem for our original claim that our obligations are commands issued by God. We have said that God doesn’t need to issue any commands for it to be the case that I am obligated to obey his commands. But if I am already obligated to follow God’s commands before He issues any commands, then it follows that there is at least one obligation that is just true, namely, the obligation to follow any command God issues. Here is the linchpin of the argument: if it is possible for there to be just one moral obligation that is simply true, i.e., one that is independent of any commands issued by God, why can’t we say the same thing about all the other obligations, especially if we concede that moral truths exist necessarily?

If your head is spinning at this point, don’t worry. The argument will become crystal clear to you right before you go to bed, and then you’ll stay up all night wondering how to answer it! If that happens, just come back to the next section of this article for a brief but, I believe, effective response. The first thing to note about the claim being made here is that it can be applied to any moral theory. If we say, for example, that morality is a matter of human convention, then we must assume that we have the prior, independent obligation to obey the directives of the community. If we say that what is right is determined by the majority, then we must suppose that we are obligated to follow the dictates of the majority. Here is how Mark Schroder states this point:

So if [this] argument successfully shows that not all obligations can be explained by God’s commands, then it looks like it must also show that not all obligations can be explained by self-interest, by hypothetical contracts, by what would maximize the good, by what is in accordance with rules no one could reasonably reject, or any other source.[11]

In other words, we are left with no possible way of offering an explanation for the source of our moral obligations.

The skeptic set out to uncouple obligation from God and ended up making the idea of obligation even more mysterious. The reason this has happened is because the attempt to show that obligations do not come from God rests on an equivocation.[12]

Consider these two statements:

We are obligated to do what God commands.
There exists an antecedent obligation to obey whatever God commands.
In order to make the argument against explaining our moral obligations in terms of God’s command work, the skeptic must assume that the second statement above is true. But the theist is not at all committed to the second statement; all the theist needs is for the first statement to be true. There is no antecedent, mysterious obligation that needs to be explained.

The moral of the story thus far is that even the best of the reasons routinely given for thinking that we do not need to appeal to God to ground morality do not succeed. If there is a moral law, there must be a moral lawgiver. But we can strengthen the argument even further by showing that morality, and specifically moral obligation, is both agent-relative (it can only arise in the case of persons) and objective (it transcends human will). If moral obligation is grounded in a person (or persons) and it is not dependent on human beings, then it must be grounded in a supernatural Person, i.e., God.

MORAL OBLIGATION AS AGENT-RELATIVE

We normally take it for granted that we have obligations to do or not do certain things. When tragedy strikes, our political leaders invoke this sense of obligation to justify the actions they believe we should support. Speaking about the need for the US to take care of its veterans, President Obama stated, “The bond between our forces and our citizens has to be a sacred trust, and that for me, for my administration, upholding our trust with our veterans is not just a matter of policy, it is a moral obligation.”[13] It’s a common assumption that we have the moral obligation to act in certain ways. Morality binds us, leaving us with no choice in the matter. Shame and guilt are the result of disregarding the dictates of morality.

But as far back as 1958, Cambridge philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe argued that the concept of moral obligation in Western philosophy has its roots in Christianity, which conceives of ethics, and especially moral obligation, in terms of laws given by God.[14] With the abandonment of Christianity among many in Western philosophy, Anscombe counseled her fellow philosophers to jettison the concept of obligation as well since its metaphysical foundation was no longer plausible for them and talk of obligation has thus become incoherent.

When we consider what it means to say that we have moral obligations or duties, we quickly begin to see the validity of the point that Anscombe was making. The eminent moral theorist John Stuart Mill described the concept of moral duty as follows:

We do not call anything wrong unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it—if not by law, by the opinion of his fellow creatures; if not by opinion, by the reproaches of his own conscience…. It is a part of the notion of duty in every one of its forms that a person may rightfully be compelled to fulfill it. Duty is a thing which may be exacted from a person, as one exacts a debt.[15]

JT-24.3-John-Njoroge-DesignNot only are certain things wrong to do, we are prohibited from doing them. Not only are some things good to do, we are required to do them. As Mill notes, duty is something we owe in the same way we owe debts. One is hard-pressed to make sense of owing duties (and debts) to no one in particular. The best way to make sense of talk of duties is in a social context where duties (like debts) are owed to other persons.

In support of the claim that obligation requires agency, Yale philosopher Stephen Darwall argues that neither the moral “ought” nor practical reason is sufficient to bring about obligation. One can have very good reasons to do something morally right and still not be obligated to do it. Accountability and responsibility are also needed, and we are responsible to someone. Darwall notes that such diverse philosophers as Suarez in the late 16th and early 17th century, John Stuart Mill, and Nietzsche have defended this view. He says,

I think it’s a conceptual truth that what we are morally obligated to do is what we are responsible to the moral community for doing. Exactly who is the moral community is itself contestable. Theological voluntarists might believe it is really just God. You and I might believe it is just persons—people who are capable of holding one another morally responsible.[16]

As is evident from the quote, Darwall defends a secularist approach to morality. Similarly, Susan Wolf, another secularist philosopher, points out that it is not enough to say that moral requirements are requirements of morality; that to follow moral obligations is simply to do what morality requires of us. When we demand of people that they live up to their moral duties, “…we mean to say that we require [them to do so] on moral grounds or for moral reasons.”[17] For Wolf, the “we” that stands behind these requirements is the social community. In other words, human beings are the moral community that gives obligation its normative force.

The point made thus far is that moral obligation is a social concept. Accountability makes sense only if we are accountable to other persons. In the next section, we will see that the Person we are ultimately responsible to is God. Since obligation is not only a social concept but also an objective one, the existence of God makes the most sense of our experience of morality. Human societies or communities cannot adequately account for moral obligation.

But it is important to address a common misconception about the normative character of morality in a more direct way. It is often assumed that reason by itself is adequate to give us all we want in terms of knowing and acting upon our moral obligations. What is moral to do, the claim goes, is what is reasonable to do. But although morality is indeed reasonable, the relationship between the two is not as clear cut as the foregoing claim implies. It is one thing to have good reasons to do something and quite another to be obligated to do it. Having reasons to perform an action does not necessarily imbue one with the kind of obligation morality requires.

An illustration given by C. Stephen Evans might be helpful here.[18] Suppose someone is offered, say $5,000, to deliver a lecture he has delivered several times before on an afternoon when he is free and has nothing to lose should he accept the offer. He would have a very good reason to perform that act. But he would not be considered morally blameworthy should he choose to play golf instead. The point, once again, is that having good reasons to do something is not the same thing as being obligated to do it. Alternatively, violating rationality is not the same thing as violating moral obligation. As Robert Adams puts it,

To the extent that I have done something morally wrong, I have something to feel guilty about. To the extent that I have done something irrational, I have merely something to feel silly about—and the latter is much less serious than the former.[19]

The only time when failure to heed the demands of reason bears serious consequences is when there is a moral component involved. For example, an error of calculation in designing a bridge is more serious than getting an answer wrong on an engineering examination. Moral obligation has a certain, distinct characteristic that gives it its compulsive force with blameworthiness or guilt attached to it. Moral obligation has the unique capacity to override any other reasons we may have to do or not to do something. Such a decidedly law-like character of obligation makes sense within a social context where demands or imperatives and accountability are in force. Moral obligation is a social concept: it is based on the assumption that there are persons involved.

MORAL OBLIGATION AS OBJECTIVE

So far we have seen that we have good reasons to think that moral obligation is a social concept. As already mentioned, many philosophers agree with this conclusion. Some of those who argue that obligation is a social concept claim that human societies can adequately account for it. It is the society, period, that places moral demands on its individual members. But while it is true that we have obligations that are created by the societies to which we belong, the imperatival force of morality makes it doubtful that appealing to the society can account for the entire range of the obligations we acknowledge.

To begin with, societies often err in prescribing behavior for their members. For example, those who obediently followed the laws issued by the Nazis during the Second World War were indeed carrying out their societal obligations. But their society was gravely mistaken about the obligations morality prescribed for its citizens. This suggests strongly that moral obligations are not decided by the society. They are objective—what we are obligated to do transcends individual or the collective human will, desires, or beliefs. Thus unless there is a law above human law, it is hard to see how we can justify our claim that some things commanded by certain societies are wrong.

Philosopher Joel Marks has argued that obligation does indeed require the existence of God, though he sadly rejects morality instead of seeing it as further evidence for God. He writes,

I had thought I was a secularist because I conceived of right and wrong as standing on their own two feet, without prop or crutch from God. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, period. But this was a God too. It was the Godless God of secular morality, which commanded without commander—whose ways were thus even more mysterious than the God I did not believe in, who at least had the intelligible motive of rewarding us for doing what He wanted.[20]

Similarly, Yale law professor Arthur Leff concluded his powerful critique of morality without God with the following words,

All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked to make us “good,” and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. Only if ethics were something unspeakable by us, could law be unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things now stand, everything is up for grabs.

Nevertheless:

Napalming babies is bad.

Starving the poor is wicked.

Buying and selling each other is depraved.

Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and

Pol Pot—and General Custer too—have earned salvation.

Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.

There is in the world such a thing as evil.

[All together now:] Sez who?

God help us. 21

Secondly, the demands of morality frequently conflict with our self-interests in a way that suggests that they transcend mere individual or societal conventions. If we were solely responsible for assigning moral obligations to ourselves, why would we make them so difficult to fulfill, and why do we keep on trying to meet them when we have proven that we are incapable of doing so perfectly? Why not adjust our obligations to match our practical abilities? Our very struggle in this area shows that we recognize the transcendent, otherworldly source of our moral obligations.

The hound of heaven is ever on our trail. Consider the words of the following poem written by A. E. Housman22

And how am I to face the odds

Of man’s bedevilment and God’s!

I, a stranger and afraid

In a world I never made.

They will be master, right or wrong;

Though both are foolish, both are strong.

And since, my soul, we cannot fly

To Saturn nor to Mercury.

Keep we must, if keep we can,

These foreign laws of God and man.

The speaker acquiesces to the weight of moral obligation that he finds to be undeniable, even though it is foreign to his preferred mode of existence. Morality doesn’t ask for our permission before placing its burdensome demands on us. How is such compulsion to be justified? Why should one yield to such demands? Christine Korsgaard’s statement in this regard is worth considering:

… the question can become urgent, for the day will come, for most of us, when what morality commands, obliges, or recommends is hard: that we share decisions with people whose intelligence or integrity don’t inspire our confidence; that we assume grave responsibilities to which we feel inadequate; that we sacrifice our lives, or voluntarily relinquish what makes them sweet. And then the question—why?—will press, and rightly so. Why should I be moral? 23

In Christian terms, we should be moral because we are moral beings made by a moral God in his image. We find our proper telos or purpose when we become what we were originally intended to be. That process begins in this life and continues on to the next, where it will be fully perfected. Morality doesn’t always keep its promises in this life; not only do nice guys not always finish last—sometimes they don’t finish at all. But if this life is not all there is, then the scales will eventually be evened out, and morality and happiness will one day coincide.

THE REALITY OF MORALITY

I find it absolutely mystifying that some would choose to deny the reality of morality rather than acknowledge the fact that it indeed points us to God. That is their prerogative, though in the end they will find themselves “without excuse”: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Thankfully, there are many others who have found their way to the cross after pondering the implications of an objective morality that is simply a part of the fabric of the universe. After discussing some of the points I have raised here with a seemingly hardened, lifelong atheist university professor, he completely caught me off-guard by confessing to me that the argument makes his atheism untenable. I have seen students give their lives to Christ when they learn how to think clearly about morality and when they consider what the gospel of salvation has to offer them—not just for this life, but also for the life to come, as we will see at the conclusion of this article.

Moreover, CS Lewis’s classic book Mere Christianity has played an incalculable role in leading many to faith. One of the most compelling sections of his book is the section where he deals with the moral argument for God’s existence. In his autobiography, Chuck Colson recounts the impact the moral argument had on him in his journey to faith as he read Lewis’s book,

As a lawyer I was impressed by Lewis’s arguments about moral law, the existence of which he demonstrates is real, and which has been perceived with astonishing consistency in all times and places. It has not been man, I saw for the first time, that has perpetuated moral law; it has survived despite man’s best attempts to defeat it. Its long existence therefore presupposes some other will behind it. 24

Similarly, Francis Collins, former leader of the Human Genome Project and now director of the National Institutes of Health, recalls his reaction to the moral argument as presented by CS Lewis:

The hard part for me [as an atheist] was the idea of a personal God, who has an interest in humankind. And the argument that Lewis made there—the one that I think was most surprising, most earth-shattering, and most life-changing—is the argument about the existence of the moral law. How is it that we, and all other members of our species, unique in the animal kingdom, know what’s right and what’s wrong? In every culture one looks at, that knowledge is there. Where did that come from? 25

The Christian has a ready and compelling answer to the question: morality comes from a God who made us in his image and who makes it possible for us to apprehend and apply morality to our lives. Christianity makes an empirically verifiable diagnosis of our spiritual condition; we have broken God’s law. We are at odds with a system of morality that we did not invent, and we stand condemned. But Christianity does much more. It offers a solution to the human condition through the Cross of Christ. At the cross, God marvelously honors his justice while demonstrating his infinite love at the very same moment. And, finally, the Word of God promises that we will one day be made morally perfect. At that point, morality will no longer be a subject of debate—we will just live it out the way we breathe oxygen today, only without the threat of air pollution. Imagine that: we will one day live beyond right and wrong!

BEYOND RIGHT AND WRONG

In addition to accounting for the objectivity and agent-centeredness of moral obligation, Christianity fulfills and complements morality itself in ways naturalism can never hope to do. When we are honest with ourselves, we all know that we fail to keep the moral law that we know exists. And our failure to keep it is more than just a matter of ignorance; it bears the marks of what the Bible calls rebellion against God. As a result, we all stand in need of forgiveness. The Bible thus offers both an accurate diagnosis of the human heart as well as the solution for our primary malady.

In a chillingly profound passage, atheist philosopher Joel Marks makes the following observation:

Philosophical ethics [has become] the pursuit of grounds independent of either God’s fiat or God’s instruction for telling the difference between what we should do and what we should not do. Thus, ironically, secular ethics seeks to replicate the religious origin of sin (of wresting the knowledge of good and evil from God’s providence).26

Did you catch that? Marks says that the philosopher’s struggle to account for morality without God is reminiscent of the account of the fall of humanity in the Old Testament book of Genesis, which offers an explanation for the origin of human evil. In Genesis 3:4-5, the serpent assures Adam and Eve that they are mistaken to let God define right and wrong for them. He says to them, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

What the Tempter meant was not that Adam and Eve would know about good or evil or that some things were wrong to do. They must have known that already, or the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would not have made any sense to them. What the Tempter meant was that Adam and Eve did not need to let God define good and evil for them; they could determine that for themselves. Marks detects the same spirit in the denial of God’s place in morality in contemporary philosophical ethics. When that happens, we become incapable of appreciating and appropriating the power of the gospel in our lives. This gospel is the forgiveness of sin and the necessity of Christ’s death on the cross—revealing also that human beings are morally at odds with God’s righteousness.

But the hope offered in the gospel message goes well beyond morality. In Christian terms, merely recognizing and even keeping the moral law is ultimately beside the point; one of the key goals of the biblical call to righteousness is to be transformed to become like God’s Son (see Romans 8:29). When we have achieved the status for which we were made, morality will cease to occupy the central place it does in our day-to-day lives. In a world where perfection reigns and where all types of sin are completely absent, talk of “right,” “wrong,” “duty,” etc., would at best be forgotten altogether or be mildly entertaining. As George Mavrodes notes, a theistic view of the world “gives morality a deeper place in the world than does a [naturalistic] world and thus permits it to ‘make sense.’” Perhaps it also “suggests that morality is not the deepest thing, that it is provisional and transitory, that it is due to serve its use and then to pass away in favor of something richer and deeper.” 27

Similarly, CS Lewis penned these profound words:

I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. 28

When we complain about evil, we do indeed presuppose the reality of the good. Good and evil invoke an objective standard of right and wrong. Such a standard in turn points us to the God who made us, not just so we can recognize and apply morality to our lives in this life, but so that we can actually enter into an intimate relationship with God and a process of discipleship in his kingdom that begins to prepare us for the noblest existence possible: being in God’s presence forever. We know that we flout not only God’s standards, but also our own. How wonderful to know that forgiveness and eventually eternal restoration are available for people like us. What an incredible promise: that one day we will be able to live beyond right and wrong!

John Njoroge is a member of the speaking team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and wrote his PhD on this subject.

[1] I am convinced the reverse is also true: most people do not reject the faith due to arguments. They develop arguments to defend a position they’ve already accepted on other grounds.

[2] Galileo, Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany Galileo, 1615.

[3] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994), 182.

[4] I should note that in this article I use the terms “morality” and “ethics” interchangeably.

[5] GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1994), 11.

[6] Louise Anthony, “The Failure of Moral Arguments,” in Debating Christian Theism, edited by JP Moreland, et. al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 110-111.

[7] Erik J. Wielenberg, “In Defense of Non-Natural, Non-Theistic Moral Realism,” Faith and Philosophy, vol. 26 no. 1 (January 2009), 24.

[8] William Lane Craig, “The Most Gruesome of Guests” in Is Goodness Without God Good Enough?, ed. Robert Garcia and Nathan L. King (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), 170.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Quoted in Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan (Grand Rapids: Baker House, 2014), 157.

[11] Mark Schroder, “Cudworth and Normative Explanations,” in Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, vol. 1, no. 3 (October 2005), 4.

[12] For an extended discussion, please see Schroder’s article and Copan and Flannagan’s relevant section in their book.

[13] See https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/08/26/our-moral-obligation-president-obama-speaks-nations-largest-veteran-service-organiza.

[14] G.E.M. Anscombe, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” in Philosophy, 33, no. 124 (January 1958).

[15] John Stuart Mill, “Utilitarianism” (originally published in 1861), in Hackett edition, 1979, 47-48. It is important to note that duty, or obligation, holds even when no punishment is intended. All that is needed is for there to be a person with the authority to issue a command.

[16] Stephen Darwall, “The Second-Person Standpoint,” in The Harvard Review of Philosophy, vol. XVI 2009, 125.

[17] Susan Wolf, “Moral Obligations and Social Commands,” in Metaphysics and the Good: Themes From the Philosophy of Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 351.

[18] C. Stephen Evans, God and Moral Obligation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 9-10.

[19] Robert Merrihew Adams, Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 238.

[20] Joel Marks, “Confessions of an Ex-Moralist,” http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/confessions-of-an-ex-moralist/?pagemode=print.

21 Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law” Duke Law Journal, Vol. 1979, No. 6, 1249, online at http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3810&context=fss_papers.

22 A.E. Housman (1859-1936), “The Laws of God, The Laws of Man.”

23 Christine Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 9.

24 Chuck Colson, Born Again (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2008), 134.

25 See http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/questionofgod/voices/collins.html.

26 Joel Marks, Ethics without Morals: In Defence of Amorality (Routledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory) (Kindle Locations 412-414). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

27 George Mavrodes, “Religion and the Queerness of Morality” in Rationality, Religious Belief and Moral Commitment: Essays in the Philosophy of Religion, edited by Robert Audi and William J. Wainwright (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), 213-226.

28 CS Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 132.

Courtesy of http://rzim.org/just-thinking/must-the-moral-law-have-a-lawgiver/

 

 

Posted in Attack on Christianity, Faith Issues in Our Times, Tim's Blog | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Wide the Divide: Sexuality at the Forefront, Culture at the Crossroads

Posted by goodnessofgod2010 on July 17, 2015

RZIM_ravi_zacharias_apologetics_how_great_the_divide_supreme_court_decision

A century ago these times were imagined and they are now here. How do we live as Christians in such times?

My mother-in-law is ninety-five years old. She has lived through several wars and numerous other cataclysmic events in her life. Nothing has her more perplexed, shocked, and almost emotionally stunned as the culture wars that have been waged and have changed our world. I see her sitting in church when I am visiting her, obviously wondering why all of her past memories have been lost in the present format of worship. She is not at home either in the world or in her church and eagerly awaits the day when she can be in the City of God, her eternal home. ‎ ‎

What has changed? How did we get here? As Nietzsche would say, “Is there any up or down left? Who gave us a sponge to wipe away the horizon? Will lanterns have to be lit in the morning hours? What sacred games will we need to invent?” Yes, a century ago these times were imagined and they are now here. While the secular world has invented its secular games, many churches have invented their own “sacred” games.

The most daunting question for us today is how do we live as Christians in such times? The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States sent tremors around the globe and I have received scores of messages asking whether we, at RZIM, are going to say anything in response. What more is there to say? The spectrum of views that were immediately expressed said all there was to say. When the law passed, the first thought that came to my mind was Chesterton’s prophetic comment more than half a century ago: “For under the smooth legal surface of our society there are already moving very lawless things. We are always near the breaking-point when we care only for what is legal and nothing for what is lawful. Unless we have a moral principle about such delicate matters as marriage and murder, the whole world will become a welter of exceptions with no rules. There will be so many hard cases that everything will go soft.”

That breaking point is here.   ‎

After hours of pondering and praying, I would like to say something to my fellow believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Naturally, some who disagree with my views will probably be reading this as well so I have to expand the justification a bit. I am keenly aware that on this subject winning the approval of all is not only impossible but if done, would be at the risk of substance. I shall try to walk through this minefield.‎

As Christians, we often look outside of ourselves and wonder why the world is so different from us. We seldom pause and ask how the Church of today has become so different from what it was and so indifferent to the world around us. Liberalism is not just a political term. What has happened in our world was foreseen a few decades ago. Changes were underway then and we were taken by a storm from within. Culture at large moved unabashedly towards the mockery of the Christian worldview; Eastern religions were spared that, either because of the cowardice of the Western critic or simply to not be seen as attacking another ethnic group. But the Church is really where the titanic shifts in the culture started. As the liberal church swung to the extreme of religion without absolutes, the evangelical church flirted with emotionalism without intellect, while some of the mass distributors of spirituality peddled a cosmetic version of truth that was hollow and hairstyles became more important than what was going on in the head itself.

Of course, there are exceptions to these generalities. Some of the most thriving churches today are those that have a deep allegiance to the gospel message. I am honored to often be in their midst and I have hope because of them. But for now, let me just talk about how wide is the divide between secular society and the Church, and why it is. ‎ ‎

There are three starting points that separate the historic Christian view from those who called for the legalizing of gay marriage that is now the law of the land, albeit by one vote.

One, we come from two different definitions of what it means to be human. For the Christian, life is in the soul. The body is the temporal home. George MacDonald said it well: “You do not ‘have’ a soul; you ‘are’ a soul, and ‘have’ a body.” For the one living with a secular worldview there is no such thing as the soul. To be sure, that is not true of all in that disposition. I know many who would not deny the essential spirituality of human life and will admit to a deep struggle between their attractions and their cautions. Strangely, there has also arisen a strained view that seeks to justify the marital bond between any two consenting adults as biblically permissible. I shall not wander into an apologetic countering that. But there are those within their own ranks who seriously challenge such distortion. Fine theologians have argued and demonstrated the cracks in their foundations.‎ ‎

For the most part, in secular terms NOW is all we have and NOW is the moment to enjoy whatever one pleases. A soul-less existence makes the body the sole means of fulfillment. When one starts that way, sexuality is a thing to be restricted only by parameters that are materially referenced. As the songwriter said, “In the dark it is easy to pretend that the truth is what it ought to be.” Touch becomes defined by feel and taste, nothing more than that. “I feel I enjoy it so please stay out of my way.”

‎The contrast here between the Christian worldview and the secular is a big one. For the Christian, not only is life in the soul, but the body, in Jesus’s words, is the temple of God. That is the highest locus of communion between a human being and God. For the one who recognizes no such thing as the sacred, the body is the playing field of life and pleasure sets the rules. This is a significant difference as a starting point.

Two, the Christian believes in absolutes. For the secular person, moral relativism is the only absolute. No one ever really says what something is relative to, but the implication here is that there is no boundary for behavior. Even the economic destruction of those with whom they disagree can become the water-boarding and the slow kill of the secular armory. For the relativist, no decision is determined by a transcendent definition of life, and where there are no absolutes, there had dare not be any prohibition by anyone else. The banner of the atheistic society in England during Christmas two years ago said it all: “There probably is no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Relativism is the open door to fun, absolutes the closed door that destroys fun. That is the way it is seen.

Three, the defender of sexual freedom sees a parallel between what is seen as anti-gay prejudice today and racial prejudice as it was practiced at its lowest point decades ago. Here, a word game has entered the vocabulary. Relativist convictions are supposedly prejudice-free, while absolute convictions are branded as phobias. Any stigma can lick a good dogma, it is said. With that verbal deconstruction of a worldview, all questioning of sexual freedom is castigated as a phobia. Quite amazing that atheists are not called “theophobes” or that those against Christians are not called “christophobes.” Pejoratively, the counter positions have been appended with phobias till we may have a whole new polyphobic dictionary.

But that is the lesser problem. I contend that equating race with sexuality is actually a false premise and an unfortunate analogy.‎ In the matter of race it simply doesn’t matter how I feel about it; my ethnicity transcends my preferences or inclinations. In the Hindi language there is a mildly mocking expression to describe one who acts different to his or her essence in race: “Desi murghi pardesi chal” … “this is a local bird with a foreign walk.” As was recently established, a person may feel like one race, associate primarily with that race and think like that race, but that doesn’t change who she really is. Why is this analogy unfortunate? Because it moves the debate from what is right to what are one’s rights. Ironically, the political party now most aligned with arguing for rights was once the same party that argued against the emancipation of slaves because of the slave-owners’ “rights.” In that case, those rights were overruled by what was right. Interesting that a new word wasn’t coined then to describe those who made moral arguments against the slave-owners’ rights as “slaveophobes.” Thankfully, essential human worth and moral reason trumped existential and pragmatic preferences and by God’s grace, what was right was deemed to be right and the slave was freed.

There are absolutes. To the Christian, every person is made in the image of God and is loved by God. He sent his Son for the whole world, not just for those of a particular race or sexual proclivity. Sex is a sacred trust with deliberate boundaries. It is at once one of the greatest gifts and one of the greatest struggles. The 5000-year-old struggle in the Middle East has its roots in polygamy when two half-brothers shared a father but not the same mother.

‎The violation of race is a violation of the sacred and for the Christian, the violation of sex is seen the same way. The secularist does not see the latter as a violation where there is consent, but this is simply not so for the Christian. Desacralization is an emptying of essential purpose and meaning and leads to the loss of essential purpose in life itself. This is why it is vacuous to say that if two people love each other they may express it in any way they choose. Love is not defined in a way that is self-referencing. It ultimately hangs on the peg of God’s love and how He defines love.‎ ‎

But here a caution is critical. All violation of the sacred, not just sex, is ultimately in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. That is the Christian view. That is why the good news is that God’s gift of salvation and redemption is offered to all. That is why what is right has to win the day over what we may see as rights. As hard as this may seem to some, it is the only hope to avoid the misuse of reason for other attractions. Can we not, on the same argument presently used—adult consent—someday justify a multitude of proclivities? Even more, what is to keep Sharia Law from being brought into the culture to respect the rights of a particular group only to have it one day used by extremists to overrule our present laws? After all, extremists have ways of dictating for all. Isn’t that what we witness time and again? This is not a slippery slope. This is an irrational, runaway train driven in the name of rights and tendentious reasoning. It can happen. I suspect it will happen. The cultural plausibility can shift. Not everything that is fatal is immediate.‎

With these three chasms, the heart sinks and exclaims, how wide is the divide‎!

This, then, brings me as a follower of Jesus Christ to the three most important bridges between all of us, regardless of our views on this issue. The gay community rightly cries out for identity and intimacy. These are, after all, the longings of the mind and heart of every human being, regardless of our position on this issue. This is where the gospel enters as the only way to bring us together.‎ Indeed, the first bridge of the gospel is that my identity is found in Jesus Christ because of whom I must tame my passions. My identity dictates my behavior. Before I committed my life to Jesus Christ, my identity within my culture was dictated by the status of my family: who my father was, how I did in school, what my grades were, how much money I had access to. All these were and are systemically woven into my culture. I had no choice. This is how I was viewed. Take a look at the matrimonial section in India’s newspaper today. Color, caste, education, wealth, beauty all are repeatedly mentioned as parents seek what they consider the best partners for their children. It’s so clearly discriminatory. When my sister married a Hindu convert to Jesus Christ, the challenge for his parents was huge. But amazingly, their understanding of what Jesus Christ had done for their son changed everything. This is the only bridge I know of that can change the human heart.

It is because of this relationship that we change our behavior from what attracts us to what we act upon. This connection is crucial. If I know what it is to be a man, I know how sexual attraction works. Over time you learn that giving in simply does not bring lasting happiness or purpose. It is only in the keeping of the body as the temple that the sacred is upheld and the grace of God brings conviction and restraint. The Bible says we are not to place our offerings on every altar. One psychologist describes indulgence as “short term fleeting relationships with long term bitter disappointments.” This is true of all behavior and of all sexual expression that runs afoul of God’s design. He has built this law into the human fabric. Deep inside we know this. Temporal allurements are ultimately unfulfilling without a spiritual bonding and binding. It is the eternal that must guide the temporal. ‎ ‎

The second bridge the gospel brings is intimacy. We all long for touch. This is true even in the most senior years of one’s life. I have talked to people working in homes for the aged and they have remarked on how much the elderly miss a physical touch and embrace. This is how we are made. Carrying that concept into sexuality, consummation is the all-embracing act of intimacy. Being as consummate as it is it demands exclusivity, otherwise it is rendered profane and common place. Experience tells us this repeatedly. Cultures that totally desacralize sexuality are non-existent. Even the polygamous guard the numbers. Even the unclad have boundaries. There are laws that govern against rapacious acts.

The biblical description of marriage is for one man and one woman in sacred commitment. So profound is this union that the relationship of God to the Church bears that comparison. He is the bridegroom; the Church is the bride.

Is this so abstract that it doesn’t come down to where we are in our individual yearning for intimacy? Not in the least. According to the gospel, God offers us his indwelling presence where spirit touches spirit and the deepest, truest intimacy results. I am fully aware that to one who has never tasted intimacy with God this seems absurd. But it is here that I think we as Christians need to awaken to the unpleasant reality that we have not taught and proclaimed God’s Word faithfully and demonstrated true holiness.

How can my mind be transformed so that intellectually I understand perspectives and counter-perspectives? How do I so embrace God’s truth that it transforms my heart and my inclinations, or at least gives me the ability to control my inclinations? I have a colleague who confessed to having same sex-attractions. He went on to say that on a given day he thought and thought about the Christian message and finally and wholeheartedly surrendered himself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In his words, he “sensed a presence of being overcome from the top of my head to the soles of my feet…I have tasted a glimpse of heaven; why would I stoop to what is below?” Are there days of struggle for him? Is there a certainty of his new affections in Christ? “Yes,” he says to both questions. I have a huge respect for him and his sacrifice.

For the Christian, the question is this: How do I so walk with God that ALL my affections are brought under Jesus’s Lordship, whether my inclinations be same-sex or opposite sex or any other struggle? How may I love those with whom I disagree on these serious matters? The bridges will always be the identity and intimacy offered in the heart commitment to the Savior, first lived out then lovingly taught. ‎ ‎

Also, for the Christian we must remember that we cannot make this realm the eternal order. Our earthly cities are not what eternity alone will bring. Augustine’s two most memorable masterpieces are his Confessions and his City of God. As he lay dying in his home city, barbarians were already scaling the walls of Rome. Even as many churches were being destroyed, the main ones he had planted withstood the carnage. Incredibly, even though his mortal frame was breaking down, people continued coming to him so that he could pray for them. That is a glorious picture. His body was meeting its end. But his soul was not. He had confessed his need for his Savior and he looked to a city whose builder and maker was God. All earthly cities will at some time crumble and fall, as will our mortal bodies. Our eternal place of abiding is in God’s presence, no longer merely in a counter culture but in a place prepared for us. Augustine’s life enfleshed all those truths.‎ ‎

The third and final bridge of the gospel is that of community: the love of God working through us as a Church where worship brings together all our inclinations, surrendered to God’s sacred call for all of us. That is worked out in love and grace. Our worship will have to have theological integrity, not just in form but in substance; worship that is not just moments of exhilaration but is co-extensive with life itself and sermons that are not merely heard but are also seen. The outreach of love will then be embodied and not be mere talk. The Church must not be a fortress guarded by a constabulary but a home where the Father ever awaits the return of each of us who is in the far country. ‎ ‎

For those who follow Jesus Christ, our message to the world must be clear. God transforms the heart and mind and we become his children and his ambassadors. Let us so live that we will never be accused of hate or indifference. But let us also know that compromising the truth is a serious blunder and ends up celebrating that which is not in the will of our Father. This is a painful tension for a believer. To be seen as rejecting a belief or a behavior is not the same as rejecting the person. But God helps us to carry that burden.

By contrast, when Truth is lived out in love and grace, it will always make the faith attractive and even the one who opposes us will recognize the fearful symmetry of a conviction for the sacred that will swim against the tide and a commitment to the person that will find a bridge of hope. We must so live the gospel that men and women will call upon God’s name and make this body his home until we reach our Eternal City bought with the precious sacrifice of Jesus Christ. His body was broken for us so that ours might be mended for Him. ‎ ‎

Ravi Zacharias‎

http://rzim.org/global-blog/how-wide-the-divide-sexuality-at-the-forefront-culture-at-the-crossroads‎

Posted in Faith Issues in Our Times, Religious Freedom, Tim's Blog | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »