Conservative Colloquium

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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Christianity is Historically Reasonable

Posted by Tony Listi on January 1, 2011

It seems lately that there has been a resurgence of atheism and agnosticism in American youth culture. With this in mind, it is necessary for young Christians to be able to explain and defend their faith through reason rather than mere appeals to authorities that non-Christians do not accept (i.e. the Bible, Church authority, Holy Tradition). Using inductive reasoning and the historical record, Christians can demonstrate that their faith is reasonable.

In my experience, most atheists and agnostics reject Christianity on the basis of a dogmatic and irrational rejection of miracles and Christian morality. Let me address this briefly before turning to the historical data.

Miracles are philosophically possible for the reasons the skeptic philosopher David Hume lucidly explained with regard to causation: past chronological experience in itself is no guarantee that physical phenomena will always occur in the future exactly like in that past experience. Philosophical skepticism undermines the dogmatic scientism and rationalism that say miracles can’t happen. I also suggest reading C. S. Lewis’ Miracles which explores precisely this topic and asserts that the reality of reason itself is miraculous. To summarize the argument in the book, Lewis quotes J. B. S. Haldane who appeals to a similar line of reasoning. Haldane states “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

Morality, if it is to have any real and signficant meaning apart from human opinion and preference, is a matter of faith. Morality is beyond reason. Reason and logic can never provide foundational moral principles; reason can only expound upon such unprovable principles. You can’t reason your way to unselfishness as a moral principle. Whether egoism or love is moral can be determined only by appeal to a faith, a religion. Atheists and agnostics have no reason on principle to embrace love and altruism. Because God is excluded, any atheist or agnostic “morality” has to be man-made and thus inherently arbitrary. For who is any man to say his morality is better than any other man’s? Moreover, a willful refusal to obey Christian morality says more about the disobedient person than it does about Christian morality; such a willful refusal certainly doesn’t say anything about the truth or reasonableness of Christianity one way or another.

Alright, now on to the historical evidence. 

What we know about Jesus and early Christianity as a matter of history comes from Christian, Roman (Tacitus and Pliny the Younger), and Jewish (Josephus and the Talmud) primary sources. The Christian sources are eye-witness testimonies. They tell us four historical facts that are accepted by sincere and mainstream scholarship and have to be accounted for by the atheist, agnostic, or non-Christian:

  1. Jesus was tried, convicted, and crucified by the Jewish and Roman authorities.
  2. The tomb of Jesus was guarded and yet found empty. Neither the Jewish nor the Roman authorities could produce His body.
  3. Afterward, many of His followers, former skeptics among them, claim to have to have seen Jesus alive in the flesh (not a ghost) and to have interacted with Him.
  4. His followers then, in the face of harsh persecution and martrydom, created a revolutionary worldwide movement that converted millions of people to a new way of life based on the life and teachings of Jesus. They achieved this without any significant economic, political, or military power.

The second and fourth facts are particularly significant. 

The Christian explanation for these historical facts (the resurrection) is far more reasonable than all the other theories that non-Christians have come up with over the centuries. It passes historical scrutiny. Let’s take a look at these other theories one by one:

 1. Jesus’ followers created a myth; they lied.

  • The gospels tells us that Jesus’ followers were amazed at the sight of the risen Jesus; they did not expect Him to rise from the dead. Some refused to believe it even after others told them that He was alive in the flesh.
  • It is one thing to create a myth or lie; it is quite another to endure persecution and death for the sake of beliefs that one knows or even suspects to be untrue. Such behavior is highly unlikely. Who would behave like this? (See theory #4 too.)

2. Jesus’ followers stole the body of Jesus. (A very early accusation made against Christianity by Jewish authorities.)

  • The gospels and Jewish sources tell us that the tomb of Jesus was closed with a stone and guarded. It is highly unlikely that the poor, weak followers of Jesus could have overcome the guards nor do Jewish sources make this claim.
  • If the followers of Jesus had stolen the body, then they would have known that Christianity was false. That would bring us back to the previous theory (#1) which has already been rebutted.

3.  Jesus didn’t really die. (This theory is held by Muslims in particular and other non-Christian theorists.)

  • This theory requires us to believe that Roman soldiers didn’t know how to kill people. How reasonable is that?
  • Even if Jesus somehow managed to survive the scourging, crucifixion, and spear in His side. How reasonable is it to believe a man in such a state could have rolled the stone away from his tomb, overcome Roman guards, and made his way to his followers in various locations?

4. Jesus’ followers hallucinated or were insane.

  • Insanity and hallucinations are private, not public. If many people report seeing something that is highly unlikely, it is not reasonable to say they are all merely dreaming, imagining things, or insane.
  • Insanity and hallucination in themselves are very rare statistically. Hallucinations are usually caused by drugs or bodily deprivation.
  • The gospels tells us that Jesus appeared to and interacted with many of his disciples, as many as 500 of them on one occasion according to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The Bible also give us insight into the character and state of mind of those whom Jesus appeared to: the disciples were fearful, doubtful, despairing, skeptical, etc., hardly fertile ground for hallucination.
  • Paul, a Pharisaic Jew, Roman citizen, and persecutor of Christians, according to his own letters claims to have encountered the risen Jesus. How likely is it that such a person would hallucinate such things and radically change his life?

Ultimately, each and every one of us has to come up with a reasonable answer to the question that Jesus posed to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” The most reasonable answer is the Christian answer. In this way, reason calls us to faith.

This post is indebted to Dinesh D’Souza’s Life After Death: The Evidence and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, both of which I recommend for further reading in Christian apologetics.

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Posted in Christian Apologetics, Religion and Theology, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Church and State” vs. Religion and Politics

Posted by Tony Listi on July 25, 2010

When I get tired of addressing the same misunderstandings over and over again, I decide to write a blog post about it that I can just send people to, rather than having to explain myself and common errors over and over again.

The “separation of church and state” is a common objection people of many political persuasions like to fling at conservatives, as if these objectors had any philosophical or historical understanding of the phrase and their interpretation of it.

There is a difference between the institutional separation of church and state vs. the philosophical separation between religion and politics. There is a difference between institutions and people vs. ideas and philosophy.

The former is possible, desirable, and necessary for the sake of both church and state. It is not good for priests, pastors, bishops, or popes to hold political offices outside of the Vatican. There have been times in the history of Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, when religious leaders wielded formal political authority too. But more importantly, before Christianity and after the Protestant Revolution, the state assumed religious authority as well, dictating to its subjects what they shall believe and how they shall act, subjecting religious leaders to political authority. In the modern era, this usurpation has been accomplished through government-run education and a variety of laws premised on anti-Christian principles.

The Crown and Parliament of England in particular controlled the Church of England. This reality is what motivated the American founders to enact the 1st Amendment which prohibited the “establishment of religion” at the national level (it did not prohibit established churches at the state level and many states had and retained these established churches after the ratification of the Constitution). The 1st Amendment prevented the establishment of a Church of the USA, funded by tax-payer money, akin to the Church of England.

Both the life of the spirit and the public life of politics suffered (at least eventually) under such institutional arrangements. The institutions of church and state must be kept separate and independent. I am FOR the separation of church and state. And these arrangements are what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he wrote the phrase in his letter to the Danbury Baptists (the phrase is not in the Constitution).

However, the latter, the separation of religion and politics, is intellectually impossible.  Religion makes claims about the origin and nature of man, including his natural rights. Just because one is an atheist or agnostic doesn’t mean one doesn’t have religion. Everyone has religion because everyone has a view about the origin and nature of man and about his nautral rights. And natural rights are the basis of good, just, and moral politics. Natural rights are what the founders appealed to in the Declaration of Independence.

It is impossible for one to be for or against the separation of religion and politics. The fact is that they cannot be separated, as a matter of reason and contemplation about what each sphere entails. The political order rests upon the moral order and the moral order upon the religious order.

So the next time some preacher, pastor, priest, bishop, or pope starts talking politics, denouncing abortion and gay “marriage,” I don’t want to hear appeals to the “separation of church and state.” It is irrelevant.

What you are really saying is that you want a separation of the Christian religion from American political discourse, which is un-American historically and philosophically dangerous. You would rather substitute a leftist, collectivist, libertine, secularist pseudo-religion for Christianity as the basis of moral judgment, natural rights, and law. Such a substitution would be immoral, unjust, and terrible for the spiritual and material well being of all Americans.

Posted in American Culture, American History, Christianity and Politics, Conservatism, Government and Politics, Political Philosophy, Politics and Religion, The Constitution, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Church, Not State: The Christian Approach to Health Care

Posted by Tony Listi on December 1, 2009

St. Luke, the physician

Christians cannot and should not try to separate their religious beliefs from their political beliefs. Faith must inform our morals, and morality must inform our politics. So what does the Christian faith have to say about health care? Quite a bit actually.

Christianity is fully embodied in Catholicism, and Catholicism uniquely reveres, embraces, and is founded upon the authoritative traditions of the early Church. So the answer to “What does the Christian faith have to say about health care” is another question: how did the early Church traditionally approach health care? (Scripturally, some important information on early Christian charitable work in general can be found in the Book of Acts and some of St. Paul’s letters but very little specific to health care aside from miraculous healings and the institution of the Sacrament of the Sick through the letter of St. James, 5:14-15.)

The history of institutionalized health care is so intimately intertwined with the history of Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity, that it is no exaggeration to say that the latter gave rise to the former.

But for the purposes of the current American health care debate, two main questions stand out: Did the early Church relinquish all responsibility for care of the sick to the state (the Roman Empire)? Did it demand the state tax the rich heavily to pay for health care for everyone?

On both counts, no, it didn’t. And it is so frustrating that the leadership of Christian churches, but especially that of the Catholic Church, as well as many lay Christians have ignored the history of the Church with regard to this issue.

Even before the persecution of Christianity stopped, the early Church assumed full responsibility for the sick (including their pagan persecutors) and financed their hospitals through private charity.

According to a Christianity Today article, reviewing the book Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity:

As early as A.D. 251, according to letters from the time, the church in Rome cared for 1,500 widows and those who were distressed. A hundred years later, Antioch supported 3,000 widows, virgins, sick, poor, and travelers. This care was organized by the church and delivered through deacons and volunteer societies…. When the plague of Cyprian struck in 250 and lasted for years, this volunteer corps became the only organization in Roman cities that cared for the dying and buried the dead. Ironically, as the church dramatically increased its care, the Roman government began persecuting the church more heavily.

Outside their close family and perhaps friends, most pagans cared nothing for their fellow human beings, whom they did not consider to be brothers made in the image and likeness of God, as Christians did. We should expect nothing less with health care under the neo-pagan political left in America today. Ideas have consequences; indeed they have already occurred in de-Christianized Europe. Just as the pagans before them, leftists are willing and even eager to kill the weakest among us, i.e. the unborn (or even born) child, the elderly, and the mentally or physically disabled.

According to sociologist Alvin J. Schmidt in How Christianity Changed the World:

Charity hospitals for the poor and indigent public did not exist until Christianity introduced them…. [T]he first ecumenical council of the Christian church at Nicaea in 325 directed bishops to establish a hospice in every city that had a cathedral…. The first hospital was built by St. Basil in Caesarea in Cappadocia about A.D. 369…. After St. Basil’s hospital was built in the East and another in Edessa in 375, Fabiola, a wealthy widow and an associate of St. Jerome, built the first hospital in the West, a nosocomium, in the city of Rome in about 390. According to Jerome, Fabiola donated all of her wealth (which was considerable) to construct this hospital, to which she brought the sick from off the streets in Rome….

The building of hospitals continued. St. Chrysostom (d. 407), the patriarch of the Eastern church, had hospitals built in Constantinople in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, and St. Augustine (354-430), bishop of Hippo in northern Africa, was instrumental in adding hospitals in the West. By the sixth century, hospitals also had become a common part of monasteries. Hence, by the middle of the sixth century in most of Christendom, in the East and the West, ‘hospitals were securely established.’ Also in the sixth century, hospitals received an additional boost when the Council of Orleans (France) passed canons assuring their protection, and in the last quarter of the same century, Pope Gregory the Great did much to advance the importance of hospitals….

By 750 the growth of Christian hospitals, either as separate units or attached to monasteries, had spread from Continental Europe to England…. And by the mid-1500s there were 37,000 Benedictine monasteries that cared for the sick….

The Crusaders also founded healthcare orders, providing health care to all, Christian and Muslim alike. The Order of Hospitallers recruited women for nursing the sick. The Hospitallers of St. Lazarus, founded in the East in the twelfth century, devoted themselves primarily to nursing. This order spread to Europe, where it founded many more hospitals and treated people with various diseases. The Knights of the Order of Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem (Knights of Malta) not only operated and maintained hospitals, but also admitted the insane. They founded a Christian insane asylum in 1409 in Valencia, Spain.

According to historian Gary Ferngren in Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity:

The experience gained by the congregation-centered care of the sick over several centuries gave early Christians the ability to create rapidly in the late fourth century a network of efficiently functioning institutions that offered charitable medical care, first in monastic infirmaries and later in the hospital.

The Protestant Revolution, the Endarkenment, the French Revolution, and its intellectual descendants have brought abrupt and sometimes violent disruptions, if not a complete end, to this vast charitable network in many places. Yes, “evil” religion and “papism” had to be smashed and replaced by the “humanitarian” Animal Farm of the Leviathan state. Ha, how “compassionate.” But I digress….

Now, am I suggesting that the U.S. return to the exact health care system of the early Church? Of course not! This straw man entirely misses the point that I’m trying to communicate here. I’m not suggesting a structure and system in itself but rather an approach and a set of principles that need to be incorporated into the American health care system. And the Christian churches, esp. the Catholic Church, need to recommit themselves to their obligation to care for the indigent sick and need to take an active role in articulating and promoting these Christian principles to everyone.

What are those principles?

  1. Generally and most importantly, care for the physical needs of human beings do NOT override Christian moral imperatives not to steal and commit violence, even from and against the rich. Spiritual needs override any physical needs.
  2. The health of the poor in one’s local community must be a pressing concern of all Christians.
  3. Care for the sick is an essential duty of local churches that should not be relinquished to the nation-state.
  4. In general, care for the sick is not to be financed by state-coerced wealth redistribution but by the patients themselves or charity.
  5. However, to whom much is given, much is expected. The rich are morally obligated to voluntarily direct their wealth to the health care of the poor, starting in their local communities.
  6. If the state is to assist in financing health care in any way (which I doubt is necessary), it should be done as locally as possible, according to the Catholic moral principle of subsidiarity.

Medicine today is vastly more accurate, comprehensive, sophisticated, technological, and effective. That also means that, aside from higher costs caused by government interference in the industry,  health care is naturally more expensive now because it is so much more valuable than it was centuries ago. But none of these facts change or undermine the Christian principles I’ve laid out above. Politics itself has shown that more than enough money can be raised through a well-organized solicitation of voluntary donations.

The fact that modern medicine can treat so many maladies naturally and psychologically creates more pressure to assure every sick person receives treatment. But again, that pressure should not tempt us to stifle charity through state-enforced plunder. That pressure belongs on us as individuals, esp.  the rich, who must care for modern-day Lazarus or face an eternal punishment.

It is an inverse relationship and a zero sum game between government control and Christian charity. The former stifles the latter. Even if socialized medicine did work better (it never does), it would do no good for us to gain all the bodily health in the world yet become mortally and spiritually sick in the process.

Posted in Catholicism, Christianity and Politics, Church History, Government and Politics, Health Care, Moral Philosophy, Politics and Religion, Religion and Theology, Science and Religion, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Scienceolatry: Science as a Religion and Idol

Posted by Tony Listi on April 26, 2009

Our student newspaper, the Battalion, seems to worship the All-Powerful, Almighty Science, who saves all from death and conservatism (secular sin), especially one staff writer in particular, Mr. Tiruvadi:

“[M]any Americans are just getting sick of sectarian bickering and dogma, turning away from organized religion and instead toward an optimistic humanism that accurately reflects 21st century hopes…. As time went on and pesky scientists were dealt with, the inevitable transition of atheism from the dark arts to an acceptable religious identity accelerated. What we’re seeing now is the natural extension of the spirit that started the science ball rolling centuries ago…. Religion is often associated with vehement opposition to stem cell research, classroom science lessons, individuals exercising their rights and sexual scandals while those that don’t believe are seen as intellectual elitists.”

The irony is that there would be no modern science without the Judeo-Christian tradition. Virtually all other religious traditions, those of the gentiles and pagans, thought of the physical world as permanently divine and thus irrational (for their gods were capricious). Only with the coming of Yahweh, the Creator of the natural world, did humanity powerfully come to see order and reason to the universe, an order which by human reason could be measured, studied, recorded, even manipulated. The story of Galileo has grown into an atheist/agnostic myth over time. There is no real conflict between science/reason and Christianity.  Humanism, divorced from divinely sanctioned morality, must degrade into horrific, totalitarian power-worship over time.

Tiruvadi also writes, “As our excellence in science, arts and business increases we will see a shift in public misconceptions of A&M, fortified by our increasingly knowledgeable faculty and research focus…. In the coming decades we’ll find ourselves deeper into the vanguard of science, a place where our definition of tradition will really be tested and we’ll be confronted with controversial opportunities. For example, will A&M’s participation in stem cell research be an affront to its tradition? If you define A&M’s tradition as wholly steeped in conservatism then yes, we’ll have to forsake our brain just to be a big heart. Will we let misconceptions of the theory of evolution get in the way of how we teach biology? Luckily the integrity of science is still strong at A&M, but growing reactionary views can bring even science dangerously close to conservatism’s guillotine.”

Ironically, the guillotine was the instrument of the “progressive” French Revolution, which also idolized rationality and science and attempted to destroy all signs and symbols of organized religion. How appropriate that those who worshipped rationality would execute their heretics by chopping off the seat of such rationality! “Conservatism’s guillotine” is an oxymoron.

Media Credit: Jordan Bryan

Obama seems to have become Tiruvadi’s Scientist in Chief: “This may very well be the closest we get to a scientific-messiah-president, and that’s good news for every American…. America is still at the vanguard of scientific innovation, with brilliant minds paving the way…. The promise of stem cells as a viable cure in any disease is still up in the air, but as science always says, you don’t know until you know. And now, with a President that doesn’t resort to religion-laden stem cell rhetoric, we might finally know.” Thanks Yogi! Brilliant!

Science says touch your toes…. Touch your head. No, you’re out, I didn’t say “Science says“!

And they call us religious nuts? Who says science can’t be perverted into a religion (scientism) with their own messiah and dogma to go with it?

I could argue with Mr. Tiruvadi ad nauseam. But nothing I could say would be as powerful as three movies: The Island, Gattaca, and Brave New World. As I’m sure he would agree, seeing is believing, no? These are three must-see movies for everyone.

Science has methods and nothing more. It has no ethical standards in and of itself. Ethical standards must be applied to science from without. Science is knowledge and thus power. Power has no ethical standards in and of itself. Power-worship merely takes different forms throughout history. The golden calf, the hammer and sickle, and the swastika have all seemingly been replaced by the glass test tube.

Yet this is precisely what Mr. Tiruvadi and others like him seem to claim: science can do no wrong. They are not willing to engage in a moral debate because science sets the terms of morality, or, even worse, has “determined” that morality is a biological-sociological phenomenon, a delusion of sorts. “There is no good and evil; there is only power and those too weak to seek it.” When does human life begin? Does innocent human life have dignity and thus deserve protection, no matter the stage of its growth and development? These questions are brushed aside as heresy, as challenges to scientismic dogma.

Ironically, science itself tells us when human life begins: conception. Humanity can be scientifically defined, more or less, by genetic material, 46 chromosomes. And life can be defined, more or less, by the presence of cells, especially those which grow and divide. Thus conception is the exact moment at which humanity and life become one and find coexistence. So tell me, which book of the Bible or religious dogma did I just cite? The left abandons reason rather than embracing it.

In contrast, scientism and its acolytes often wish to define human dignity on a sliding scale based on intelligence; the intelligent may thus oppress or even enslave the ungifted and untalented. The mentally disabled, the senile, the comatose, and even the child, within or outside the mother, are thus expendable according to this strict logic.

We have seen communism and fascism, leftist ideologies both, deny human dignity and use the power of the state to commit genocide and enslave human beings. Perhaps the worst is yet to come under neo-pagan scientism, for it promises a power over human beings that not even Hitler or Lenin could have imagined, a miserable totalitarian power that only fictional movies can capture and illustrate…for now.

Posted in Abortion, American Culture, Christianity and Politics, Culture War, Fascism, Government and Politics, Hollywood and the Film Industry, Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Political Psychoanalysis, Politics and Religion, Science and Politics, Science and Religion, Socialism, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

C. S. Lewis on Barack Obama

Posted by Tony Listi on December 29, 2008

C. S. Lewis

Lewis died in 1963, so there is no knowing exactly what he would say. But I have come across some wonderful quotes from his satirical Screwtape Letters (uncle demon writing to a nephew demon on how to damn souls) that have obvious significance for what we should think of Barack Obama, the campaign he ran, and the state of American culture.

Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity. It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time—for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, or Communism, which fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead….

To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too—just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow’s work is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present. This is not straw splitting. He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future—haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth—ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other—dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes whose end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.

It follows then, in general, and other things being equal, that it is better for your patient to be filled with anxiety or hope (it doesn’t much matter which) about this war than for him to be living in the present. But the phrase “living in the present” is ambiguous. It may describe a process which is really just as much concerned with the Future as anxiety itself. Your man may be untroubled about the Future, not because he is concerned with the Present, but because he has persuaded himself that the Future is, going to be agreeable. As long as that is the real course of his tranquillity, his tranquillity will do us good, because it is only piling up more disappointment, and therefore more impatience, for him when his false hopes are dashed. (Letter XV, underlined emphasis mine)

In American politics, the words “past” and “future” have, respectively, negative and positive connotations. Is this a good thing? Did not Barack Obama’s campaign exploit futuristic jargon most successfully? Shouldn’t we be skeptical of so-called “progressive” policy schemes that play on false hopes of heaven on earth?

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And”. You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing. (Letter XXV)

From the above passage, I think it is quite clear what Lewis would think of Black Liberation Theology and the Trinity United Church of Christ. He would disapprove.

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating Pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together on the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual ear; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.

Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children, until we have taught them better, will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer. Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up.

This demand is valuable in various ways. In the first place it diminishes pleasure while increasing desire. The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns. And continued novelty costs money, so that the desire for it spells avarice or unhappiness or both. And again, the more rapacious this desire, the sooner it must eat up all the innocent sources of pleasure and pass on to those the Enemy forbids. Thus by inflaming the horror of the Same Old Thing we have recently made the Arts, for example, less dangerous to us than perhaps, they have ever been, “low-brow” and “high-brow” artists alike being now daily drawn into fresh, and still fresh, excesses of lasciviousness, unreason, cruelty, and pride. Finally, the desire for novelty is indispensable if we are to produce Fashions or Vogues.

The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere “understanding”. Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.

But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate his horror of the Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption in the will. It is here that the general Evolutionary or Historical character of modern European thought (partly our work) comes in so useful. The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make. As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done. Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective “unchanged” we have substituted the emotional adjective “stagnant”. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain—not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is…. (Letter XXV)

Is American culture obsessed with change for its own sake? Is it irrationally afraid of “the Same Old Thing”?

The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unraveling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth…. So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or “science” or psychology, or what not. (Letter XXVIII, emphasis mine)

Do Obama and liberals believe that they can create heaven on earth?

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The Bible and Slavery

Posted by Tony Listi on May 17, 2008

There seems to be a lot of ignorance and confusion among Americans (especially on the Left) about what the Bible says about slavery and the impact that the Judeo-Christian tradition had on that peculiar institution. So it’s time to set the record straight: the Bible does not encourage or approve of slavery and it is the Judeo-Christian tradition that provided the moral force to abolish it.

First of all, it is important to realize that slavery was by and large uncontroversial and accepted in the ancient pagan world. Slavery was widely practiced in every ancient civilization, but only one civilization took it upon itself to abolish slavery within its own communities by force of law: the Christian West. In fact, slavery still exists today in some parts of the Islamic world and Asia.

It is not surprising that historically the Judeo-Christian tradition is responsible for abolishing slavery if one takes a careful look at the Bible. Equality before the eyes of God became equality before the law for all.

The Old Testament and Slavery
In ancient times, slavery was not based on racism. In ancient Israel, the slaves were prisoners of war, criminals, or indentured servants. Relative to the time, slavery was a humane alternative to slaughter, cruel punishment, starvation, or debt imprisonment. Most Hebrew slaves were probably bondsmen who voluntarily bound themselves to a master and thus not really “slaves” in the modern understanding of the term.

Keep in mind one crucial point when reading the Old Testament: just because it regulated a practice does not mean that it approved of that practice. For example, the Old Testament regulates divorce, but it also says that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). And Jesus tells us that the Father tolerated divorce among the Israelites because of the hardness of their hearts (Mk 10:4-5; Mt 19:8) Thus, though the Old Testament regulated slavery, it did not approve of it.

Moreover, compared with the other ancient civilizations of that time, the regulations of slavery within the Old Testament were almost always to moderate the practice. For example, according to the Code of Hammurabi, a person who harbors a runaway slave should be put to death. In contrast, the Old Testament prohibits one from returning a runaway slave to its master: “You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has taken refuge from him with you. Let him live with you wherever he chooses, in any one of your communities that pleases him. Do not molest him” (Deut 23:16-17).

Anyone who abducted another person and sold them into slavery (cf. the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis): “A kidnapper, whether he sells his victim or still has him when caught, shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:16).

It was required that slaves be freed after six years or on the Jubilee Year:

“If your kinsman, a Hebrew man or woman, sells himself to you, he is to serve you for six years, but in the seventh year you shall dismiss him from your service, a free man” (Deut 15:12; see also Exodus 21:2).

“When, then, your countryman becomes so impoverished beside you that he sells you his services, do not make him work as a slave. Rather, let him be like a hired servant or like your tenant, working with you until the jubilee year, when he, together with his children, shall be released from your service and return to his kindred and to the property of his ancestors. Since those whom I brought out of the land of Egypt are servants of mine, they shall not be sold as slaves to any man. Do not lord it over them harshly, but stand in fear of your God” (Lev 25:39-43).

A slave could also buy his freedom or be redeemed by relatives: “When one of your countrymen is reduced to such poverty that he sells himself to a wealthy alien who has a permanent or a temporary residence among you, or to one of the descendants of an immigrant family, even after he has thus sold his services he still has the right of redemption; he may be redeemed by one of his own brothers, or by his uncle or cousin, or by some other relative or fellow clansman; or, if he acquires the means, he may redeem himself” (Lev 25:47-49).

Moreover, a slave was to be treated quite generously upon emancipation! “When you do so, you shall not send him away empty-handed, but shall weight him down with gifts from your flock and threshing floor and wine press, in proportion to the blessing the LORD, your God, has bestowed on you.For remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the LORD, your God, ransomed you. That is why I am giving you this command today. If, however, he tells you that he does not wish to leave you, because he is devoted to you and your household, since he fares well with you, you shall take an awl and thrust it through his ear into the door, and he shall then be your slave forever” (Deut 15:13-17; emphasis added).

A slave not wanting to leave his master? Obviously, this is not the kind of slavery that most Americans envision when they hear the word.

The Mosaic Law recognizes that slaves are human beings, not merely property. The punishment for killing a slave is the same as for killing a free person, i.e. death: “When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished…. But if injury, ensures you shall give life for life….” (Exodus 21:20, 23). This was unique in the ancient world at that time.

All slaves were expected to participate in religious ceremonies and duties of the household too, including observing the Sabbath and all holy days:

“…but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you” (Exodus 20: 10).

“In the place which the LORD, your God, chooses as the dwelling place of his name, you shall make merry in his presence together with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite who belongs to your community, as well as the alien, the orphan and the widow among you” (Deut 16:11).

If a household had no heirs, the slave could inherit the estate: “Abram continued, ‘See, you have given me no offspring, and so one of my servants will be my heir'” (Genesis 15:3).

There are even special regulations for female slaves. Whereas sex slaves were common in the ancient Near East and in the Islamic world, it was forbidden under Mosaic Law: “When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house. But before she may live there, she must shave her head and pare her nails and lay aside her captive’s garb. After she has mourned her father and mother for a full month, you may have relations with her, and you shall be her husband and she shall be your wife. However, if later on you lose your liking for her, you shall give her her freedom, if she wishes it; but you shall not sell her or enslave her, since she was married to you under compulsion” (Deut 21:10-14).

And of course, we must not forget the Exodus story, how God freed the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. God continually reminds them of the freedom he gave to them and thus to take it to heart not to mistreat their own slaves. And let’s not forget that black slaves in America looked to the story of Exodus for hope and inspiration.

The New Testament and Slavery
In the Roman Empire (the time of the New Testament), slaves were apprentices and indentured servants. They represented a broad social and legal category. Some slaves were very well educated and thus more valuable to their owners (e.g. Epictetus). It was common for slaves to live apart from their masters with their own home and families. In fact, many slaves did not want to be free, and some owners wanted to be rid of their slaves! Slaves were expensive to feed and house. (The high cost of feeding slaves is a common motif in Roman literature.) With this context in mind, the following statement of St. Paul makes perfect sense: “If you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity” (1 Cor 7:21).

Also, when Jesus talks of slavery (which is not often) in the New Testament, it almost always in the context of a parable. Thus, Jesus is not approving of slavery; he is merely using examples of everyday life in Roman Palestine.

Like Jesus, St. Paul does not seem to think it is important whether one is a slave or free man: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian. For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:25-29; emphasis added of course). Thus sprang the Western conception of equality of dignity of all human beings. For the Christian community, there is no slave and free.

Moreover, St. Paul and the early Christians believed that the Apocalypse, Christ’s 2nd Coming, was near. There was no reason for sweeping social reforms if Jesus was to going to establish justice soon enough.

St. Paul also says, “Were you a slave when you were called [to be a Christian]? Do not be concerned but, even if you can gain your freedom, make the most of it. For the slave called in the Lord is a freed person in the Lord, just as the free person who has been called is a slave of Christ. You have been purchased at a price. Do not become slaves to human beings” (1 Cor 7:21-23). He urges people not to bind themselves in servitude to others.

Paul did not approve of slave-trading: “We know that the law is good, provided that one uses it as law, with the understanding that law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, practicing homosexuals, slave traders, liars, perjurers,…” (1 Tim 1:8-10).

The most important slavery that concerns Jesus and St. Paul is spiritual slavery, slavery to sin. But even so, the entire book of Philemon is an emotional appeal by St. Paul on behalf of a runaway slave named Onesimus. Paul writes to the master, Philemon, and asks him to show mercy and receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ: “Perhaps this is why [Onesimus] ran away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord. So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me. And if he has done you any injustice or owes you anything, charge it to me” (Philemon 15-18).

Slaves and masters are brothers in Christ. This spiritual equality laid the foundation for social and legal equality.

Posted in Christianity and Politics, Government and Politics, Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics and Religion, Religion and Theology, Uncategorized, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Which is More Materialistic: Capitalism or its Alternatives?

Posted by Tony Listi on May 15, 2008

Marxism is specifically atheistic. By denying the supernatural, transcendent, and spiritual aspects of reality, it is inherently materialistic and deterministic. The world is atoms, their random motions, and absolutely nothing else. Marxism seeks to satisfy material needs and desires regardless of the moral consequences (because morality, a transcendent thing, doesn’t exist). Communism, socialism, and welfare statism are merely derivatives of this Marxist theory.

Capitalism inherently believes that all human beings have free will and should be free to exercise that freedom without coercion from others in economic matters. Now the very idea of free will and freedom presupposes the divine, the supernatural. Freedom presupposes something more than a mere mass of atoms and random chance. It presupposes something more than the material world. It presupposes something (or someone) that can actually choose, i.e. the soul, and thus presupposes a Soul-Maker too. Thus capitalism presupposes the transcendent and spiritual and thus is less materialistic than any of its alternatives.

There is a distinction between materialism and productive use of the Creation. But of course, if you are an atheist, this distinction necessarily has no meaning for you.

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Individual Freedom: A Tenet of Christian Prudence

Posted by Tony Listi on April 21, 2008

Within limits, human beings should respect the individual freedom other human beings because this freedom, our free will, is a gift of God. I believe our freedom is also a reflection of the freedom of God, a reflection of his image and likeness perhaps.

However, we live in a fallen world such that people do not always use this gift responsibly. Human beings must endeavor to order themselves correctly as best they can, though knowing all the while that everyone, even our leaders, are fallen and prone to the disorder of sin. So for the sake of ordered society, we cannot tolerate the abuse of that freedom in certain circumstances, especially when they cause harm to others. And because human beings are dependent on each other for learning and practicing good order, widespread abuse of freedom could ultimately destroy a community or a nation. In such cases, power and coercion (i.e. government) must be brought to bear to curb individual freedom.

Therefore, the social and political life of human beings is characterized by the tension between order and liberty (which is a key insight of conservatism). Theoretically, if the state could in fact order human beings’ lives and society well (totalitarianism), would Christians have any reason not to support state intervention into all aspects of their lives? Yes, because such a fact would deny the value of human freedom. There would be no value in a hypothetically all-benevolent state controlling each and every citizen like a remote controlled robot. Individual freedom does have value in and of itself.

Also, for all the imperfections of the human soul and the free market, more often than not, government intervention in the market and the lives of individuals does more harm than good. The concentration of power necessary for a supposedly benevolent government to totally order society, that concentration of power is itself corrupting and thus a cause of disorder.

Therefore, individual freedom, for the Christian and conservative, is not a matter of absolute principle but rather one of prudence (as is requiring obedience to human authorities). And thus the exercise of reason is required too. Harm to others must be weighed against individual freedom.

Thus the conservative certainly believes that prudence dictates much more economic freedom than we have currently in the US. The conservative, though, may struggle on a variety of issues relating to personal freedom (gay marriage, prostitution, drugs, etc.). The struggle arises because the harm to others may be less apparent or immediate and little to no coercion is involved.

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Myths Christians Believe About Wealth and Poverty

Posted by Tony Listi on March 12, 2008

Please listen to http://www.acton.org/daily/nowatacton_200709051337.php

1. The Piety Fallacy: Good intentions are all that matter. Piety is no substitute for technique. Good intentions are no substitute for good consequences. God holds us accountable for our intentions, but public policy should help people regardless of the nature of intentions. God asks us to love him with all our mind too, so he holds us responsible for the manifest consequences of our actions (something apprehended by the mind). (e.g. rent control, child labor)

2. The Freeze Frame Fallacy: Assuming certain trends or demographics will always stay the same. A single point in time and place is not representative of all reality. Things change. Life is not static. (e.g. population growth)

3. The Artsy Myth: Confusing aesthetics and economics; attributing ugliness or harshness to the free market. Such aesthetic judgments may be true, but such judgments should not be made in isolation, cut-off from economic realities. But poverty is not pretty either. Beauty is expensive; don’t punish the poor just so you have something nice to look at or feel good about something. Heed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physical needs come before aesthetics. (e.g. corporations like Wal-Mart)

4. Zero-Sum Game Myth: If I become rich, doesn’t that make someone else poor? The wealth of the First World causes the poverty of the Third World. Economics is not like chess, checkers, sports, or war. The free market (and free trade) is a win-win game overall, not a win-lose game, though not everyone ends up on top. Our GDP goes up over time and correlates to free trade. The pie is not static; it grows.

We are created in the image and likeness of God. God is a creator and so are we! We are his co-creators, and so there is nothing evil about business or production. Rather business people imitate the creative nature of God in providing goods and services.

Q&A: 
Bill Gates of all people should know how wealth is created and yet even he doesn’t get it. Rather than making the Third World productive, he would prefer to make the Third World dependent and thus permanently vulnerable to poverty.

Is all this talk about income inequality merely a reflection of the entrenched  materialism in our culture that in turn fosters envy and jealousy of others success and wealth? Most likely. One can reduce envy by making everyone poor (a possibility) but not by making everyone rich (impossible).

People who are taxed the highest give the least to charity. Conservatives give more to charity too (http://www.arthurbrooks.net/index.html). Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” It is hard to suffer with the poor using someone else’s money.

What is the moral relevancy of a person who becomes wealthy through free exchange? None.

Posted in American Culture, Christianity and Politics, Economics, Government and Politics, Politics and Religion, Poverty | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Mandated Giving Doesn’t Come from the Heart

Posted by Tony Listi on March 11, 2008

My fellow Christians, take heed!

http://www.acton.org/publications/randl/rl_174article04.php  

By Robert A. Sirico

It seems that some Biblical fallacies never go away, especially as regards redistribution and the poor. Hardly a day passes when I don’t hear some version of the following: The Gospels speak clearly on the issue of the poor. They must be cared for. Special obligation falls to the rich who have the resources to care for them. This country has programs in place that are designed to do just that. Therefore, Christians have an obligation to politically support these programs.

The problem here is the slick move from personal ethics to public policy. What is required of us as individuals may or may not translate into a civic policy priority. In the case of the welfare state, it is possible to argue that it does great good (though I would dispute that). Whether it does or does not, however, a government program effects nothing toward fulfilling the Gospel requirement that we give of our own time and income toward assisting the poor.

The reason has to do with matters of the human heart. If we are required to do anything by law, and thereby forced by public authority to undertake some action, we comply because we must. That we go along with the demand is no great credit to our sense of humanitarianism or charity. The impulse here is essentially one of fear: we know that if we fail to give, we will find ourselves on the wrong side of the state.

Remember that the government has no money, no resources, of its own. Everything it has it must take from the private sector, which is the engine of wealth creation. If we can imagine a world in which there is no private sector at all, we can know with certainty that it would be a world of bare subsistence at best: universal impoverishment.

Wealthy societies today can afford to create large welfare states while avoiding that fate. But let us never forget the funds that make it possible do not appear as if by magic. They are taken from others without their active consent except in the most abstract sense that people might vote for them.

I cannot see how this method of redistributing wealth has anything to do with the Gospel. Jesus never called on public authority to enact welfare programs. He never demanded that his followers form a political movement to tax and spend. Nor did he say that the property of the rich must always be forcibly expropriated. He called for a change in the human heart, not a change in legislation. There is a massive difference.

There are other grave dangers in confusing the welfare state with personal charitable obligation. The more people hear that the welfare state discharges their moral mandate to give, the more these programs crowd genuine charity. “I gave at the office,” becomes the attitude. This is essentially what was behind the comment by Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol when he dismissed his need to be charitable. “Are there no poorhouses?”

There are further problems. The programs are not effective over the long term. They generate dependency and bureaucracy. They create upside-down incentives. But leaving all that aside, the core message here is that, from a moral point of view, they do not fulfill the criterion that the Gospels specify for generosity, which must come from within and cannot be imposed from the top down.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted in American Culture, Budget, Spending, and Taxes, Christianity and Politics, Economics, Government and Politics, Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, Politics and Religion, Poverty, Socialism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »