Christianity and Halloween: A Middle Road

So the past few years I have advocated what many cultural apologists have advocated: taking back the types of literature and films that are put forward in the world. To review my essential point, the modern horror movie and horror novelists like Stephen King come from the Gothic novel; a form of literature in which the monsters represent divine justice. As cultural apologists in the tradition associated with Francis Schaeffer have noted, we can trace the changes in the literature to the west’s changes of worldview. Thus, for example, Bram Stoker, in his epistolary novel Dracula clearly treats Dracula as a monster, but the evils that Dracula represents in Stoker’s novel have become a type of anti-hero in modern culture through writers like Anne Rice. Similarly, “torture porn” movies like the Saw and Hostel franchises have become a new tour deforce as people seem to take the same type of pleasure in watching human suffering that the Romans took in the gladiatorial events. This would be unthinkable in past generations.

But one major issue that commonly comes up is the question of Halloween, the time of year when horror movies are central, is one that many Christians think all Christians should avoid. This, again, is a question that I think Schaeffer answers. To those unfamiliar with Schaeffer, Schaeffer was a Christian apologist who brought discussions of worldview back to the table, there are of course issues with this approach. Schaeffer painted with a very broad brush—something that is necessary when worldview scholarship is focused on simple or simplistic comparisons, since worldviews are very large things. Sometimes in so doing his work could lack accuracy (though one of the writers following in Schaeffer’s tradition, Nancy Pearcy who came to know Jesus as Savior through his ministry at l’abri does a much better job in this regard, and her book Total Truth and the follow up works are a must read in the modern world).

When I was a teenager I fell into the anti-Halloween, anti-rock music, anti-modern subculture within some pockets of fundamentalism. These arguments, frankly, had a point,  but this seems to have changed as the rebellion by the modern west from its Christian heritage is so complete that, “if it feels right do it,” is no longer radical, it is typical. Similarly, in the late sixties and early seventies, occultic themes began to develop, as did interests in religions such as Buddhism and other Eastern religions. A sensationalist involved in occultic practices named Anton LeVey published The Satanic Bible, and started the first Satanic church in the mid-sixties; his movement and various splinter factions (such as Setianism, focusing on the Egyptian deity usually identified as either Set or Sutekh, who in at least later versions of the myth was the killer of Osiris, and the antagonist to Horus and Isis), were publicity hounds. During the eighties my family engaged in trick or treating, but the childish fun that was the hallmark of elementary school days began to change as a few Satanist inspired murders began to create a mass panic about Satanic ritual abuse (it was later demonstrated that there was no evidence to support most of the allegations featured on talk shows such as Geraldo Rivera’s, but the allegations tragically led to a number of false convictions that were later overturned). Within Christianity, conspiracy theorists, such as Jack Chick, or Texe Marrs began to argue that there was a secret cabal of Satanists that were secretly taking control of society, following a tradition of poor reasoning and research that is emblematic of Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylon’s.

Yet, there are children who have had no exposure to the gospel coming to our doors. Nor do we wish to teach our children that Christianity means missing out. There is, of course, the fact that we do not  want to teach our children that begging is the way to get things, but this is a different story.

Here is where I think Francis Schaeffer is helpful. My first readings in Schaeffer was the book The Great Evangelical Disaster, which when I was at Bob Jones was considered proof of the superiority of the Fundamentalist position over the Evangelical one. Later, after grad school during my early married years, I read several other books by Schaeffer. It opened my eyes to art and human creativity in ways I had not understood in a seminary education, and it appealed both to my natural eclecticism and tendency for seeking academic breadth as well as depth. The “touch not, taste not, mingle not” approaches to topics such as literature or music assumes only two approaches to literature are possible, we can consume and approve it and allow it to subtly affect our worldview, or we can avoid it entirely. This creates the question of where to draw lines; for example, are we going to reject only modern horror, or Dracula as well? Do we do the same thing with Beowulf due to the growth of neo-paganism? Is it ok to read Greek Mythology, which has both had a massive impact on our literature and represents a real, pagan belief system? Take the old debate about church music; some reformed groups still argue that the only songs that should ever be used in worship are those that are directly quoting Scripture (fortunately they allow translations even if they do not allow paraphrases), everything else that might be produced has been touched at some point by human depravity because it has been handled by human hands and is no longer divine (but again, they sing these Psalms through human translations).

Schaeffer instead argues for reading and understanding the worldview that is implicit in literature and music. That is, it is not merely a question of Christians either avoiding secular literature or imbibing it, but rather do we read it critically? Do we understand literature within it’s own cultural context? Can we take it, and illustrate how Christianity answers the longings of the human heart in ways that other worldviews cannot? There is, in this sense, a middle ground between the two extremes; there is Scriptural warrant for this middle ground, no believer should argue that Paul’s works are something less than Scripture, and yet those Pauline epistles we count as Scripture quote pagan poets. Paul borrowed language from the stoics, though he adapted said language for his own purposes. Similarly, as we live in an increasingly sub-Christian culture it becomes necessary to be able to communicate with that culture within terms it will understand. The modern world has its myths, both in propagandistic takes on history but also in its literature, most notably it’s fantasy, science fiction and horror literature where the existential fears, hopes, and dreams of the generation are recorded. Part of our humanity is represented in our creativity, including  our tendency to communicate our concepts of truth in the forms of stories. Even the most basic texts in philosophy, texts that are still read as a guide for teaching the dialogical method in philosophy classrooms take the form of fictional, literary dialogues. We should not engage with Halloween or anything else with our mind’s turned off, we should filter it through the prism of Scripture and Christian theology and philosophy, but we cannot act as ostriches either if we are to fulfill our role as salt and light.

I won’t tell others how they should respond to Halloween, that is not my point, and I believe texts like Romans 14:10-12 gives us a warning to be cautious in judging other believers in doubtful things. But I hope this backs up the point I have made from C S Lewis in recent years, as Christians we need to engage not only the arguments of the lost, but their imaginations as well, and we do so in large part by engaging the culture with our minds being alert. Schaeffer’s extraordinary legacy is that, when most people were simply laughing at the hippy counter-culture, Schaeffer was winning them to Jesus Christ.

 

The Real Problem with Bias

One of the most common claims made in modern discussions, including the truth of the Christian faith, is the argument of bias. This is best understood in politics, the millenials I work with universally refer to Fox News is biased propaganda; I know conservatives that say the same thing of CNN. This illustrates not only the very human tendency to define bias as a problem related to someone else, but also simething of the way it functions in acadamia, particularly in post-modernism and what some refer to as “the politicization of the humanities.” That is, claims of bias in studies involving race scholarship, feminist scholarship or other approaches identified as “critical theory” are based in an argument taken from the existence of bias; modern critical theory does not examine bias from the standpoint of seeking truth (as the search for truth or the search for justice are ultimately antithetical to critical theory, itself), it rather looks at bias as something to be weaponized, and to be used to proactively attack one’s ideological foes. Thus, discussions of bias are discussions of the “irrationality of my opponent,” it is the substitution of outrage and personal attack for argumentation.
This is not only a discussion of politics, however, but of the critic’s arguments against Christian, politics is merely an area where the principles of bias can, hopefully, be illustrated. Critics on a regular basis argue that Christian apologists are “biased” or “dishonest,” (often by those citing poorly argued works by Hitchens or Dawkins) and therefore apologists arguments do not require exploration. But one “riff” on this “dismiss apologists arguments,” argument is that it often uses the language associated with political arguments about “bias.” Thus, they will refer to Christian’s as engaging in “confirmation bias,” “cognitive dissonance,” “rhetorical tricks,” or they make the claim that apologetics is a money-making scheme (if the goal of apologetics is economics, well, I must be really unsuccessful).
It of course cannot be denied that bias or personal agendas exist and affect our thinking; even John Locke recognized the danger that bias or the personal stake one has in a theory could have a negative effect on philosophy. The problem, though, is that bias is a universal phenomenon not one limited solely to Christians, socialists, capitalists or atheists. The existence of bias ought to be recognized, but the problem with the post-modern approach to bias is that it fails to recognize that bias is a knife cutting both ways, and therefore is not a final answer to an argument. Let’s assume a feminist, we will call her Professor V (letter chosen at random), writes a book about the bias shown in biographies about George Washington. Professor V makes a central point that the love of Washington is actually a means of maintaining the patriarchy and thus power for an elite group of white males, and this is to Professor V the final arguments centering on Washington’s presidency. Some may find this take compelling, feeling that, of course, elite white males are profoundly biased and have skin in the game. Yet, this same argument can be made against Professor V’s thesis, itself. That is, Professor V’s feminist outlook is no less a bias than are more traditional approaches; feminism itself has it’s myths, such as the various theories of alleged peaceful matriarchal societies engaged in goddess worship (beliefs that are contrary to the evidence). Feminist discussions of patriarchy are, themselves founded on bias. Furthermore, Professor V has skin in the game, an academic seeking tenure or funding, the speaker seeking audience, or the author seeking book sales is not a disinterested, dispassionate observer. As this is a knife that cuts both ways, it is difficult to use it to make only one case.
So does this mean we abandon discussions of bias and the need for objectivity? No, it means we do not treat bias and objectivity as answers or significant elements of argumentation. Rather, when there is evidence of bias, we treat it as warrant for investigation, not an answer to the case. Let’s suppose a series of studies were published proposing that Zambonis caused cancer in their operators. Then three major studies are released that claim to debunk the claim; all three were funded in part by a Zamboni manufacturer. Whatever else has happened, the facts, tables, and argumentation in these three studies have not been overthrown on the basis of discoveries about funding, but it is certainly reasonable to attempt to verify and/or replicate the results because of the possibility of bias. Similarly, claims of bias cannot be treated as an answer to the question of theism or atheism, they rather provide warrant for further investigation into the cases being made. Secondarily, bias is inescapable. We are not wholly objective, and worldview formation leads to bias along the way. The solution ultimately to bias is to focus on the possibilities of bias in oneself, rather than in others, and to use it as an incentive to engage in argumentation, rather than as a reason to dismiss argumentation.

Politics as Outrage

During the lead up to the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing, a source called the City Journal, referred to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as “the Madame Defarge of New York.” Madame Defarge is Dicken’s vengeful knitting woman, who seeks to punish the innocent as well as the guilty in A Tale of Two Cities, and it is a remarkable take on where we are in our times. Dicken’s captures the mood of the French revolution and the massacre following. This analogy is apt, we are in many ways repeating steps that have led to bloodshed in the past. I’ve noted on this blog two separate points, the first that we thirst for a justice we cannot achieve on this earth because of human limitations. Secondarily, I noted the issue that modern society gives no room for forgiveness. The repercussion of this is that anger and hate; stored to become bitterness and wrath, are the growing motivational force in American politics.

 

The thing about modern American anger is it has become an issue in both parties, Conservatives and Republicans have sometimes stated they like the fact that “Trump fights back,” that is, Trump deals with Democratic party members and constituency groups the way democrats have dealt with Republican party members and constituency groups for several decades. That is, Donald Trump exemplifies the political rhetoric of Maxine Waters or Sheila Jackson Lee; this is something that, I think, is often being missed in discussions of Trump’s twitter account; it is unacceptable to argue that some people are human trash, whatever else may be true about the state of our immigration policies, it is equally unacceptable to declare half of Americans to be part of the “basket of deplorables.” As Scripture warns us in Matthew 7:2-3, we will be measured with the measuring stick we use to measure others. This, along with the way he has treated women, and his actions in the Republican primaries are leading reasons why I voted for a third party candidate in the last presidential election. Death threats, doxing, and mobs, and other forms of intimidation have become weapons of choice, Charlottesville, Berkley, Portland and other cities are seeing politically motivated violence; others seek to use mobs to shut down traffic and commerce, often with threatening behavior. Republican Congressmen have been shot at, target by a far-left extremist. The group we once called the alt-right and “antifa” are forming militias, similar to the SA and the KDP aligned Red Front in the 20’s of Germany. Where once, “No Justice, no Peace” was a slogan, hinting and threatening violence, that violence is now a small, but growing reality.

 

This becomes greater when we consider that this is true in the academy as well. One of the major movements influencing politics and education in discussions of the “politicization of the humanities,” is something known as “critical theory.” Critical theory is an application of an approach to ethics known as a “genealogical approach” which is largely descended from Nietzsche, but has been further adapted by writers such as Fouchault and socialists thinkers. Nietzsche argued that morality was a means for the weak to control the strong (his “ubermensch” which unlike the Nazi adaptation, is not a racial category). That is, to Nietzsche, morality is an illusion, but it can be used as a means to power. Nietzsche was, himself, rather critical of morality, but Fouchault adapted this thought to communist ideas, arguing initially that moral codes are a form of oppression by the strong, and in doing so seems to be making moral pronouncements to make play for his own power. Critical theory has adapted this approach, some recognize that they are themselves not making a moral argument, but they are aiming at destroying whatever they can of western culture and heritage (including Christianity), to build something new. This appears, however, to be lost among others, who do seem to think they are arguing for some type of morality, and fail to appreciate the absurdity of building an ethic from a line of argumentation that denies morality’s existence. Marxist scholars, who impose a view of class warfare on questions of morality and history have had a similar impact. But while critical theory is absurd, it seems to fan the flames of students, who then fan the flames in the streets.

 

Modern students aren’t arguing for a dispassionate live and let live relativist position, as was the left in the past. Increasingly, students at higher and higher levels believe it is just to use violence to silence speech, usually speech by the right, and increasingly students are in situations where they are intimidating professors about matters of curriculum among other things. The words “Nazi” and “Fascist” are used with less of an eye towards the Nazi and Fascist worldviews, and have become merely a new buzzword to drive people into hysteria.

 

Some will argue that I am merely picking on the left here, but as I noted before, there is a thread of pragmatism in the Trump age; the group that was called the “alt-right” will adapt these tools as we enter a phase of escalations reminiscent of Clausewitz. Antifa’s use of violence in Berkley and other places has led to the beginnings of “alt right” groups that are presenting themselves in the same light. Groups such as the “Knights of the Alt Right” present themselves as protectors of peaceful protestors, hoping to attack their rivals. Alt-right websites hint at violence, perhaps trying to draw antifa into making moves to hurt them in the press; either way it is the right’s version of “No Justice, No Peace.” Therefore, we will likely see similar protests against controversialists on the left being invited to speak in various venues, on the grounds that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. What the age of Trump proves is that the type of incivility used by left can be used against the left. There will come a point when the response to Republican senators being harassed in restaurants will be the harassment of democratic senators. Both sides have what they believe to be legitimate grievances that can be stoked for votes. What has been sown to the wind, is being reaped by the whirlwind.

 

We are spiraling towards a civil war that may be unavoidable, we are moving towards a violent clash as mob will be matched by mob. There are steps that can be taken, but only in a bilateral way. Rebuilding civility will require a de-escalation by both sides rather than calls for unilateral rhetorical disarmament as we see now, but I do not see that happening anytime soon. There are philosophically incommensurable differences between the new left and the right, differences that, alone may leave us with the choice between a national split or a civil war. Yet these intellectual differences cannot move forward in a debate or a peaceful secession of states with the current emotionally charged political climate.

 

But then, when you move into a society that has such a limited understanding of justice that it is  vested solely in human beings, can it be any other way? The primal need for justice cannot be adequately met by human beings. And when a worldview has given itself no grounds for forgiveness or mercy, what else can we expect? When government is given the role of God in a worldview, how can we anticipate anything other than a fevered hysteria, appealing to such a fickle deity? In short, the erosion of Christianity is at the heart of the decay of the civil society; we are a post-truth society wallowing in the misery of our human limitations.

The Quality of Mercy–and Forgiveness–is not Strained

The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: ‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown: His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew, Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy. William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

 

The title of the article might consider this a further in a series articles written about the Kavanaugh hearings. To be fair, that is the news of the day, and led to three articles, one on this site, one on a new sister site. But the quality of forgiveness and mercy, in a sense, has nothing to do with Kavanaugh; we cannot say a belief that Kavanaugh is guilty is justified, the case against him extremely thin, and if he is guilty there has been no request for forgiveness nor repentance. But, in another sense, it has everything to do with the social fabric that is revealed in  the public reactions by many in our post-Christian culture.

We live in a society that is increasingly being marked by paradoxes; we talk about the need for “rehabilitation” in criminal cases, but whatever might be the discussion, such a plan has been a total failure, creating an overcrowded penal system that seems to make people increasingly animalistic. The prison system seems to be based on the failed Platonic notions that ethical problems are rooted in ignorance, rather than in the human heart. We no longer talk of people paying their debts to society, this would be to give into the “primitive” ideas of retribution, and then we treat those same guilty persons as if they are still in debt to society. In some cases, the debt seems almost unpayable, and would seem to leave suicide as the only reasonable, honorable action for crimes long past their date of commitment. Physical punishment and quick executions are considered less humane than an extended social ostracism, decades in length. One of CS Lewis’s lesser known essay, “The Humanitarian Case for Punishment.”

Of course, we speak much of the need for societal forgiveness for those who have made “mistakes” in their lives, the need for those with felony records to be able to engage in meaningful, legal employment, usually in the form of a request for someone else to do something. Those deemed worthy of forgiveness also seem to be considered worthy of mercy because of sentiments of class and lack of privilege rather than a general principle of forgiveness. That is, we have more arguments that felons engaged in violence (unless it is violence against women and children) should receive societal mercy (whatever the endangerment this might entail to society) then arguments that white collar criminals should receive mercy, the original sin, the unforgiveable action of modern America no longer an action, but class based perceptions, based on questionable historical claims. In short, forgiveness is a political weapon for those influenced by critical theorists to use against enemies, not an ethical duty, or societal necessity.

In part, this is because a post-Christian society has no sufficient basis for forgiveness, within naturalism this makes sense. In many cases, a debt cannot be repaid, because a victim cannot actually be made whole. The PTSD of a survivor of sexual assault cannot simply be healed by an apology, nor can the mother or spouse of a murder victim have their child restored by repentance, there is a lack of wholeness, fueled by the natural human tendency to believe in the justness of our own actions.

This is a change, and is fueled by two things we have lost as a Post-Christian society. First, we have a different view of ourselves, in a personal sense. Christians believe that men are, by nature, basically evil, the modern believes, at least in practice, that man is basically good but some live in a bad system, but then also denies that the concept of good or evil have any real meaning. Determinism is the root of much current thought, we are machines, merely the biological automata, programmed by primarily by our genes and our habitat, freewill is merely an illusion, a useful fiction. This is as true in arguments for criminal actions as it is for the more well known arguments for human sexuality. The Christian knows better, and says “but by Christ, there go I.” This can descend to the paradox of pride in one’s humility, but is important in how we view others. The Christian sees the murderer, the sex offender, the addict, and, in admitting Christianity is true, must admit that the same problems that led this man or woman to their crimes, that is, we recognize our own hearts are made of the same degenerate spiritual stuff as the hearts of unbelievers. True humility is in remembering, we aren’t as good, great or righteous as we tend to think we are, and therefore by grace we extend grace to others.

The second thing that has been lost is the understanding of the atonement, that God became man, to atone for the sins of men. This means that whatever punishment for my sins, or anyone else, I can point to the sacrifice of something immeasurably greater. This combines, as well, with the above. I forgive, because I also am, by grace, a fugitive from God’s justice, and yet, I have obtained mercy, as the unjust in the transaction with the Just.

 

Kavanaugh, Due Process and The Yearning for Justice

The 11th hour accusations against possible Supreme court justice Brett Kavenaugh and the latest round of political outrage remind me of the pessimism I have these days about the body politic, and concerns of justice. Reading about the Innocence Project, for example leads me to question the problems with public defenders, police forcing confessions, etc. The innocence project should influence us to concern in the #metoo movement era; there is the danger of injustice by authorities not taking seriously accusations of sexual assault (a term that is far broader in law enforcement and legal discussions than it’s interpretation among the culture at large). But a part of a concern for justice is the concern for due process rights; the innocence project has demonstrated a large number of men were falsely convicted of rape often with a toxic trio of factors: coached, poisoned and/or inaccurate victim testimony, poor or inadequate legal counsel, and scientific, expert testimony.

The Kavenaugh case is interesting, both from the standpoint of legal epistemology (the study of knowledge and belief), due process rights and something of our own longings. Epistemologically, our system purposefully places the burden of proof (with the exception of “affirmative defenses”) on the prosecution and thus on the accuser. This is intentional, and proper, and comes from the Old Testament, where the text tells us one was not to be deprived of life or liberty except at the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut 17:6; Deut 19:15); Paul raises this to a general principle for religious epistemology (2 Cor 13:1).

Legal Epistemology

In the Kavenaugh case, we are met by the vagaries of testimony and law. Kavanaugh, according to his accuser, assaulted her with a friend at a party 35 years ago. She cannot remember the time or the place where it happened, though apparently it was a party where a lot of drinking happened. Two people at the alleged party (Mark Judge and another person, currently unidentified) have stated they do not remember any such incident, of course, this assumes that everyone is remembering the same party. According to Ms. Ford, he was drunk at the time, and therefore CNN has noted that this means he might be guilty and might not remember the incident. This is an interesting point, and many seem to think that when one is inebriated, they are excused from their crimes. But, presumably one knows that drinking can lead to drunkenness; one has, by drinking to excess chosen to put oneself in a situation in which one’s self control has been damaged. But, a second problem, not quite as well addressed, is that Ms. Ford faces the same issues. While we do not know if she was drinking, it is likely given the type of party described that she was, and her memory of how much she imbibed should be considered suspect—those under the influence all to often understate at the time and afterwards how influenced by alcohol they were.  If she was drinking that night, then her memories of the occurrence are equally suspect as are Kavanaugh’s; she may misremember what happened, she also may misremember who was responsible, the trauma of sexual assault seems to, according to the innocence project, damage memory of the victimizer under a number of circumstances, the innocence project has used DNA time and again to prove that real victims of rape positively, insistently, and vehemently, identified the wrong person. It is reasonable to assume alcohol makes this problem worse.

This of course is only one of a number of epistemological issues, the victim claims not to remember the time or place, this makes any real investigation involving real witnesses—meaning not those who might have been told about the matter in 2012, whose value is tertiary—but those who might have seen or heard something when the incident happened. There is also not a pattern of behavior here, as is true of many accused in recent days. I do not say this because this kind of behavior would only be unacceptable if it happens more than once, but when you have a pattern of behavior, then you have the evidence from a number of cases rather than just one.

 

Due Process

If I am unclear on anything above, one thing is clear, the burden of proof within our system of justice and in our society in general is that when a charge like this is made,  the burden of proof is on the prosecution, not the defense. This does not mean I think Ford should be silenced or the matter should be ignored, it is only a statement of epistemic responsibility. We tend to forget that a “not guilty” verdict does not necessarily mean “innocent” it may simply mean that the charge is “not proved.” In this case, because of the problems noted above, it seems impossible to prove, or even adequately investigate, the case Ms. Ford is making.

Due process concerns are important. We rightfully decry it when someone is accused of a crime if he or she does not receive a fair trial; but this often does not occur in the court of public opinion. CNN and Fox published comments left on Kavanaugh’s wife’s voicemail, and many seem to have already convicted Kavanaugh, and I am reminded of the wisdom in waiting until one hears a matter to opine (Proverbs 18:13). Similarly, though, beyond the question of the court of public opinion, and what it reveals about the American Psyche, is the issue of timing, the current push is to put off the confirmation vote until after the FBI investigates, but this 11th hour push seems problematic. While this has been brought to the attention of Kavanaugh and the world at large very recently, Senator Feinstein and others appear to have been sitting on this information since at least July, and perhaps the Senate ethics committee should be investigating Senator Feinstein’s actions in this regard. This does not speak to the question of the truth or falsity of the accusations, but it similarly points to the way matters of justice are treated in the halls of power. Interestingly, early reports indicated Feinstein acknowledged the epistemological problems and difficulty in corroborating Ford’s testimony note above. Thus falls the nation when matters of justice become merely ways of furthering an agenda.

 

But there is also the time when this happened, Kavanaugh was a minor involved in an alleged crime 35 years ago. It is rather interesting to have some Republicans who are caricatured as arguing that all violent criminals at age 17 should be tried as adults questioning the admissibility of something happening when Kavanaugh was a minor. Similarly, leftist commentators who claim we should never try anyone who is under 18 as an adult seem to find ways to pass over that discussion, for various tortured reasons. Personally, I’ve always been a moderate on this issue, there is a difference between a 17 year old who has no criminal record, and is caught shoplifting and the 17 year old charged with a gang related murder, who has a long record of assaults and distribution charges. I list extremes in part, because those who believe we should try juveniles as adults tend to focus on extreme cases, and they have a point as the justices system needs to function to protect society, but it should also be acknowledged that there is a wide disparity among youthful offenders. Some seem to think prosecutors should make the decision about charging a minor as an adult, but I am inclined to think this decision should be made by family court judges, with the defendant adequately represented by council. In otherwords, whether something is handled as an infraction by a minor in the family court system itself seems to be a matter of due process. Of course, in Kavenaugh’s case, such due process to move the question from a juvenile proceeding to adult courts has never been exercised, but it does seem to be an important one for our conceptions as a whole, and in discussions of justice, there are very real questions about youthful offenders and the sealing of juvenile records. Judge Greg Mathis, of the television show, was at one time a member of Detroit’s Errol Flynns (a violent street gang involved in heroin trafficking), but his path to becoming a valuable citizen was hindered by his criminal record.

We have here, then an injustice. To convict Kavanaugh, to treat him as guilty in this case is unjust, because it cannot be proven. But this leaves us with one of two ramifications, either Kavanaugh’s reputation has been seriously besmirched while he is innocent, as this will follow him for the rest of his life, or he is guilty and cannot be punished under any just system of law. Either is outcome is ultimately unjust.

The Real Problem

I have no conclusions, or even at this time an opinion, on the facts of the accusation. As noted, I’ve become pessimistic as such matters seem to be interpreted solely in the self-interest of political partisans. My point is deeper, and part of what it means to be human.

The Kavanaugh question, #metoo and a number of other issues point towards a deep human longing for justice, social and otherwise. Yet, the points I bring up above are serious problems in actually accomplishing such justice in a real (rather than ideal) human society; we have a system that makes it easier for guilty persons to be acquitted, and this is unjust, but we consider it less unjust than to punish the innocent. Yet, correspondingly, we have evidence from the innocence project that unfortunately a jury of peers often convicts people who are innocent of the crimes with which they are charged, this is unjust. Justice is limited by our knowledge of the actual guilt or innocence of the accused, and in cases such as this, knowing the guilt or innocence is impossible. Justice seems an elusive dream, a utopian fantasy, and the longing for justice in this life is a thirst that cannot be slaked.

 

If that longing cannot be met in society, it is something with which we are consistently strive to meet, and peculiarly, to be able to adequately define the concept (no easy task). Justice provides no survival value in and of itself; the Darwinian value that justice might present for preserving a society is limited to degrees where “close enough” is sufficient, but we do not seem to be able to say “close enough” when we meet with real cases and accusations. We get worked up about injustices from centuries ago, in some cases, millennia, as is apparent in material written about slavery during Roman times. In other cases, to avoid the questions of the origins of justice, there is a tendency to create a dichotomy between facts and values, something that cannot hold up in the long run. Attempts at justice pushed by critical theorists are logically absurd but deeply and fiercely held; Critical theory draws on the basis of Marxist and Nietschian genealogical approaches (starting with readings in Foucault), but Nietsche’s logic means the concepts of justice and morality must be dispensed with completely. Justice and morality are, to Nietsche, means for the weak to control the powerful, the small to control the great. History shows the idealism of a youthful nation in striving to build a just society fall into injustice quickly, and what is new is usually something that has been tried and found wanting in the past. In short, the crusade for justice cannot be met by human beings, and yet we still cry out for the absence of justice.

But Christianity has both an answer for where that longing comes from, and a time when that thirst will be slaked. Human justice is an inadequate mirror of a divine rule and judgment, which punishes sin with impartiality, from One that reads the thoughts and intents of our sinful hearts, Who is not limited by our epistemic limitations, and the passage of time does not affect His ability to know a matter rightly. We yearn for justice because God has planted it into our hearts, it reflects his divine economy. Yet, our yearning for justice always seems to fit what happens to others, in a jail, so many exhibit that human tendency to talk about how they are really innocent (or at the least, their punishment does not fit their crimes), and the guilt of their compatriots. But with God’s economy, we cannot complain about the justice of the Judge, it is our own personal justice that is at issue. We may be innocent of a specific crime, but we are not innocent. A thief may not be a murderer, but he is no victim of the system. There is, therefore, a second element of the Christian faith, equally as important as justice, founded in the just dying for the unjust, as our sins are carried on the back of the Perfect One.

 

Truth in the Trenches: Current Status – and where I am now

It has been a while since I have put down anything in Truth in the Trenches, so I thought a status report was in order, before it is thought this blog has been abandoned. Last September I was in an automobile accident, and it has left me recovering from a TBI, which complicates a life already busy between work, school, and family. These factors, alone, left me little time to write, at least in ways I consider to be worthwhile, Truth in the Trenches is still a part of my long term plans, as an apologist. Nevertheless, part of that plan means the development and change of Truth in the Trenches, which has never been very successful. This does not mean I am giving up, it means I need to realistically evaluate how to use this platform, and how to rebuild it so that the effort that goes into writing has a return on its investment. I also believe I am going to need to seek out volunteers for help with marketing and some of the technical aspects of production. While, precise plans (other than using a podcast format of some type as a central part of the Truth in the Trenches), are still being thought out. Until then, I post as time and mental resources allow, which is, unfortunately, means posting somewhat irregularly.

But, this is a good time to look at where I was when I started in apologetics and where I am now; Truth in the Trenches has undergone some revolutions in my approaches, and it is worthwhile to spell that out.

Where I was

My first foray into apologetics was with an e-mailed monthly newsletter, while I was working on becoming a pastor. It was a response to a documentary that I had realized was both based in poor scholarship, but excellent story telling skills. The documentary was ultimately a flop, but it was the burr under my saddle. I took a hiatus to pastor, and I was run out of the church by a women’s Bible study that was motivated largely by conspiracy theories, which led to my turning a corner; that incident was the start of several years of struggling with the problem of suffering. When the Lord brought me through that valley, I started blogging on apologetics in earnest. Truth in the Trenches may not be a big ministry, but it was the ministry I had, and I came to realize that whatever it’s size or scope, God would judge me on my faithfulness, not whether I was successful in this world (and this trite claim is far easier to swallow in the abstract when it is someone else’s faithfulness and your own preconceived notions of success). I have thought of Truth in the Trenches in those terms ever since. William Carey described himself as God’s plodder, I move forward in the light of the promise, “we will reap if we faint not.”

When I first got into apologetics, my background was in NT studies. In school, I focused on Paul more than the gospels, and my studies were very narrowly focused on exegetical details and refining my exegetical technique, along with New Testament Theology. I had read very few apologists in college, it was not an important discipline in that setting, instead I read NT scholars, but I was always interested in questions involving New Testament introduction, an interest that goes back to my first experience with intellectual doubt about the truth of the faith as a fourteen year old. During this time, I also wanted to test my arguments, so I began to get involved with debates on various facebook groups, and joined several facebook apologetics groups.

Where I am

Debating Atheists, I came to realize that atheists don’t care so much about evidence, the issues come down to their premises. That is, you can type all day about the historicity of Acts, but if someone treats Hume’s argument as a premise, then all of that work is meaningless to convincing that person. This was the dilemma that ultimately led to my pursuit of a PhD in worldview and Apologetics. My first choice was Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and there were two practical reasons for this, first, I live within a few hours of Louisville, which means I can use the library and facilities quite easily, but I also was impressed by Al Mohler and the Southern Resurgence; thankfully my application was successful.

I am still, at my core, an evidentialist, that is, if you are looking for a formal defense of Christianity the evidence of the resurrection is the place I like to start. But, I’ve always been a wide reader, and between that, and a principle I use in theory selection, a bit of a theological eclectic. This applies to my approach to apologetics. If my “academic” answers to questions of the faith are New Testament evidences, there is a need to meet people where they are, and so I try to add an element of “cultural apologetics” into my discussions. Some people consider the classical approach to apologetics to have two steps, first proving that God exists, then proving it is the God of Christianity. But, I think the apologetics of the day need to recognize we live in an increasingly non-rational culture, and many of the objections today are rooted in cultural and political dogmas. We live in a day when the ethical discussions are broken, perhaps beyond repair, if rationality is considered important in ethics. We live in a day of competing worldviews, and this competition includes questions of how to interpret evidence, and what is evidence. Cultural apologetics, in a sense bypasses therefore ethical theory discussions, to point towards the “Word of God written on their hearts,” though recognizing this aspect of our conscience can be burned out with a hot iron. The evidence of the New Testament is good, people come to know Jesus Christ because of that approach, but often after years of study and examination. The point of combining this with cultural apologetics is to provide a reason for atheists to question their premises and actually examine the evidence.

Other concerns

I have two other major concerns with apologetics that I try to incorporate into my approach, the first is the tendency in some areas to change the faith to make it more palatable to unbelievers, this change involves two major doctrinal deviations from orthodox Christian belief, notably in discussions of the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, and the second is the adoption of a heresy known as Pelegianism, particularly in the denial of the fall and the depravity of mankind; one of the central tenets of progressivism is the belief that human beings are basically good, Christians believe what is natural to man is to do what is morally evil and repugnant to God. Both are issues of worldview and are a move away from Christianity within the church.

My other concern is the tendency to separate our intellectual and spiritual lives into sealed compartments; that is, the apologist must not only view his activity as intellectual, but as spiritual and as a spiritual exercise, within a framework of spiritual warfare. So these are some of the themes I have been and will continue to discuss.

It’s too Easy Being Green

Christopher Hitchens begins his book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” with an anecdote from his school days, alleging that his teacher made a very basic mistake, arguing that God did not make the world green because it was restful to our eyes, but rather our eyes were adjusted to the green in the world.[1] I’ve noted in the past that Hitchen’s fact checking in this particular work is inadequate,[2] and he appears to be outright deceptive in his discussion of slavery,[3] and yet, in this opening section, Hitchens also seems to have not thought out the implications of his own theory.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a deer in a meadow, munching on the foliage, enjoying the sun, being soothed by the tall, green grass and suddenly the wolf eats you due to your inattention. As moderns we have these romantic notions of the forest, made possible by parks where we can visit, enjoy nature, and not worry about wolves and bears who might think we look delicious. Nature, however, is far more cruel, and this cruelty is supposedly the driving force in the innovation of biological species, at least according to Darwin.  What Hitchens misses is, in the Darwinian world he believes is responsible for everything, the result should be the opposite; green should not be a color we find soothing, it should be a color that makes us alert, wary of predators and danger, along with brown, black, and every other natural color.

In fact, our very romance of nature, the forest, the cycle of life and the food chain is counter-intuitive. If, in fact, we are merely the product of Darwinian natural selection winnowing the results of random mutations, we should be glad to live in controlled cities away from all the animals that see humans as food; in fact, we should be cheering on the destruction of the polar bear, realizing this makes the artic a safer place for mankind to eventually live. And yet, we cannot resist at some level the call of nature, and the need to preserve animal life. We carry within us a romantic ideal of nature that only makes sense if there was some ideal from which it is derived and for which we were designed, a nature where we aren’t simply a hunter or prey. In a way, Genesis makes much more sense of our intuitive view of man’s place in the world than does Darwin’s theory, which we are forced to applaud in the science classroom, but to avoid and hate in the ethics class.

[1]Christopher Hitchens God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, (New York: Twelve, 2007), 1-3.

[2]https://truthinthetrenches.org/2017/03/02/hitchens-is-not-profound-how-atheism-has-fallen/

 

[3]https://truthinthetrenches.org/2017/03/15/christopher-hitchens-is-a-liar-christianity-and-slavery/