Taking back the Night

Well its October 31 again, and it is fitting then that I think a little bit about worldview.

October 31st is two different, distinct holidays. The first, and obvious one that every child in America knows (as they go from house to house begging for candy) is Halloween, a holiday with a long history from its origins in the pagan feast of Samhain, and one that has been controversial for modern Christians. For decades and possibly centuries, whatever its origin, Halloween was largely a harvest time celebration. In a largely Christian culture, it was often treated as a holiday for children to have fun in the fantasy of witches, ghosts and vampires. That has changed in recent years, and when I was a teenager, I began to realize that the holiday was controversial with some, but before exploring Halloween further, lets examine the second holiday.

The second holiday is Reformation Day, so named because the protestant reformation began on October 31st 1517 with the publication of Luther’s 95 theses about the question of whether the pope could issue indulgences to let people out of purgatory. The reformation is one of the most pivotal events in Church history and in Western civilization – Evangelical teachings had been declared heresy in the fifteenth century with the burning of John Hus at the stake, but beginning with Luther the power of the gospel would be released and realized by the millions. Luther certainly was a man of his times, and his mind did not age well, but for all his foibles and failings, he was greatly used by God.

Sadly, few people today, even few believers, remember it is reformation day and sadder still the lessons of the reformation have been forgotten. We live in a culture that began to reject God out of hand and out of its thoughts, as some people call it, a “post Christian” culture. America has undergone a dramatic shift in its worldview the metal map that we all have explaining how the world actually works and what the world is really like. It is true that many Americans believe that there is God, but their conception of God is of a nebulous, deistic figure, or a pantheistic entity like the force in Star Wars. The culture’s understanding of the universe has little real connection with the God of the Bible. In much of the culture Americans are “practical atheists,” that is, there is little difference in the way an atheist lives from someone who claims to believe in God – there is no fear of God before their eyes.

This is precisely why within some Christian circles Halloween is controversial. At some point, at least by the seventies, some in the culture started to take Halloween more seriously than the kid’s holiday we remember from our youth; Things have changed. The modern horror movie has come a long way from its roots in the gothic tales of the macabre with their warnings for the morally wayward. Interests in the supernatural and the occult became a serious element of American society; there is a sub-culture of people who emulate the dark figure of the vampire— dancing in underground clubs and feeling auras while taking ecstasy and other mind altering substances. Even Satan has had a revival, as Anton LeVey organized the first church of Satan, wrote the Satanic Bible and generally sought to shock the American culture with a philosophy of hedonism. He and others succeeded to the degree that Satanism is now passé. If some Christians in America worry about the influence of Halloween, as the fears are about more than damage to the paint from the house being egged or finding ones window’s soaped, they are not without cause. They fear the moral influence that this day will have on children. And yet, this is the wrong concern. Halloween like everything else is something that affects us as much as we give it power in our lives.

Many churches have responded with “Hellhouses” and campaigns for taking back the night with programs like trunk or treat. But this is not enough. America has abandoned Christianity. Religion is viewed as a thing of “values” not truth in the same sense as the truths of mathematics. As I sit, writing this while watching the Donald Trumps, Batmen, Antmen, fairies, and werewolves go by, I realize that the bags of candy and tracts in my wife’s shopping bag will not have a deep impact on a Biblically illiterate society.

The changes in our culture create changes for the evangelistic task. No longer do most people assume the Bible to be true, or even to contain truth. It is necessary therefore, for our churches to be able to explain why the Bible is true. To be able to do that, our churches need to view apologetics as essential for the layman, not merely as a single class in Bible college curriculum for the pastor and religious professional. Apologetics interacts with, and is derived from, the foundational level of Christian thought; as we bring the heart into conformity with Christ the Christian’s mind is as important as the rest of his heart. We need apologetics at every level of the Church’s education, and we need it practiced with children before they face a world that will either state that Christianity is an ignorance of an older era, or with Pilate will increasingly ask, “what is truth?”

Hillary Clinton, Benghazi, Socialism and Homophobia

Today Hillary Clinton testified before the House Committee on Benghazi, and in preparation for that event the American public has been inundated through social media with accusations that this is motivated by Republican activists seeking to undo Hillary Clinton. Yet, the question itself of the Republicans in the house and Senate is ultimately immaterial to the question of what actually happened in Benghazi and for that matter to the question of whether the former Secretary of State’s private e-mail server was a violation of the espionage act.

Since my point is not political (I have not yet watched the testimony and likely won’t), the same is also true for much of what is heard on conservative talk radio, conservatives often note, when discussing a particular program or legislative proposal that President Obama is a Socialist. Yet, the question of whether Obama is a Socialist is, perhaps of interest in an election, but it doesn’t actually tell us anything about the given proposal. The President might like eating oatmeal for breakfast, but that does not mean that we should boycott oatmeal on the principle. The actual question of any piece of legislation is not who proposed, the question is whether the goal of the legislation is a good one and whether the legislation will actually accomplish that goal. The rest is political theater.

More and more, as America experiences a new pseudointellectual enlightenment, we see more and more political theater. This type of political argument has become enshrined in the national debate, but it is a type of “ad hominem” argument, that is, it makes the point by arguing against the person rather than arguing the actual point the person is making.

Motivations and Truth

There are two major problems with arguing from someone’s motives. First, as I noted above, motives don’t tell us about the actual truthfulness of the facts or the validity of the case being made. I might, out of a desire to hurt someone’s feelings, tell someone that they are in need of remedial lessons in logic. My motives are wrong, but that person might very well need remedial lessons in logic, and in fact, if they took those lessons their life might very well be better off. Similarly, a person might run for office out of purely selfish motives, but in order to maintain his seat he might very carefully choose the course of action that will produce the best results for the most people in the long term, reasoning that this will be the best means to continue in office. In both cases, we can’t simply dismiss what someone says because of our perceptions of their motivations.

Secondarily, another person’s motivations may often be difficult to identify. We have all been in situations when someone made a comment about our motivations, and that person was simply wrong. Often in matters that are highly controversial we see arguments in terms of sound-bites, if someone who we know can make mistakes in understanding our motives, how much more careful should we be in judging the motives of someone we don’t know, and only see in the carefully produced and manicured media of our day? The problem with motives is that we can’t be certain we know the motives and that our own biases aren’t influencing our perception of others. This indeed is why motive arguments are so tenuous, and truthfully everyone can raise them – one might very well question Mrs. Clinton’s motivations in question Trey Gowdy’s.

Motivations and Homophobia

Why go into this rather estoric argument in logic and politics? Because in one of the major nexuses of Christianity and politics, this ad hominem questioning of motives has become a major argument. It is often argued that Christians are homophobic, and that an irrational hatred of homosexuality motivates Christian thought. As I have argued in the past, this is not true, as a Christian I don’t hate homosexuals, I pity them. My motivations in political opposition in areas of same sex marriage is focused on two specific issues – first my belief that this is a threat to religious freedom, and second, that this is detrimental for the gay couples themselves. My view of homosexuality is that it is similar to addictions, and as such I believe that society’s choosing to condone homosexuality is, in many senses, enabling on the level of the mother who protects her alcoholic child from the damage of his choices, and ultimately cripples him. You might well choose to disbelief the sincerity of this statement of my motives, but that isn’t ultimately the point.

But since you can’t judge my motives, and if you think me self-deceived in my own self-assessment.; let me offer a different tact – my motives are immaterial to the question of homosexuality. Christians believe the Bible to be true, and the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is wrong. The homosexual has two legitimate strategies to argue against the point, rather than against the man. The first is to argue that Christians have misunderstood the Bible, but while this approach is popular in the culture today, it doesn’t stand up well under careful scrutiny. The second approach is to prove that Christianity itself is untrue, which can be done by disproving the resurrection of Jesus Christ, without assuming naturalism in the process (this would be a kind of logical error known as begging the question). I think the homosexual will have a hard time disproving either, but it is my hunch that if they carefully examine the evidence, they might just become Christians.

Tolerant Christians in an Intolerant America

In the 2000 presidential race, George W Bush almost lost the election because of an “October Surprise,” when it was revealed that in 1976—24 years before the election—that George Bush had been arrested for driving under the influence. While there are divergent storylines about what happened in Florida, it is sometimes forgotten that the entire question of Florida arose because Americans “held a grudge” for something Bush did in his youth.  Depending on the personal charisma of a candidate, past misdeeds (or even alleged misdeeds) might haunt someone for years.

We live in a society in which tolerance is the major buzzword, and being intolerant is almost as serious in the social sins of New Secularized American Religion (NASR) as hypocrisy. And yet, standards of tolerance are applied haphazardly, and often in a way that is itself, intolerant. The lawsuits filed against bakers and others over homosexuality is the intolerant policy that those who do not accept the growing NASR’s moral pronouncements should be forced to accept them.

American views on “tolerance,” particularly those associated with millennials, are incoherent. Campus speech codes limit free speech in the name of indefensibly narcissistic theories about “microaggressions;” and there is a growing number of bumper stickers that read, “So many Christians, so few lions.” The New American Secularized Religion’s (NASR) incoherent views of toleration demonstrate that as we abandon Christianity, we abandon rationality.

And yet, Christianity is a highly tolerant religious set of beliefs, as exemplified by the fact that one of our major writers, the apostle Paul, had previously imprisoned and executed Christians. David and Moses were both murderers, and heroes of the faith. Many will object to arguments of Christian tolerance on the grounds of witch hunts and the persecution of Pagans, but this was a later era’s embracing the imperial lifestyle; persecution of dissident religions was a Roman idea later nominal Christians brought into the faith. The early Church, and therefore modern Evangelicals who seek to emulate a purer doctrine, did not believe in spreading the gospel by means of the sword. But by persuasion.

Tolerance, within Christianity, unlike modern America, is not an excuse for allowing immoral behavior, or for enabling self-destructive lifestyles. Indeed, no one tolerates actions they consider to be immoral – and however else we might want to discuss the matter, laws against murder, rape, and assault are attempts at “legislating morality;” these matters are simply issues of morality that go unquestioned in most systems of thought. Instead, Christians tolerate people who commit immoral acts, even if we don’t or can’t condone those acts, themselves. We may not agree with a persons lifestyle, we may condemn their actions, but we hope for their salvation.

Unlike the modernist, Christian belief, gives man intrinsic value, because man is made in the image of God and the cross of Christ as the means of forgiveness for universal human depravity gives man a dignity that no evolutionary process can bequeath to him. Because man is depraved, but can be redeemed, Christians believe in toleration in the hopes that individual men will receive the same salvation that we have.

Water on Mars and ET: Does this disprove Christianity?

The recent discovery of water on Mars raises one of the usual questions many moderns ask of Christians, does the existence or possibility of life on planets other than Earth somehow constitute an argument that Christianity is untrue? I will acknowledge from the outset that my arguments on this point have been enriched by C S Lewis’ essay “Religion and Rocketry; ”it’s a good essay, and well worth reading.[1]

The Vastness of Space and Christianity

It is often asserted that the vastness of space is a sufficient argument that Christianity is untrue. This argument, however is incoherent; on what grounds precisely does the vastness of the universe undermine Christian thought? How does the largeness of space outside of our terrestrial ball prove that Jesus was not resurrected from the dead? The point of the vastness of space is immaterial, one way or the other, to the truth value of Christianity. Medieval theologians, thinkers and poets were well aware that space was vast, and saw no contradiction with Christianity, why should we?

Sometimes this objection is rephrased, it is noted that mankind is not the center of the universe, and therefore the idea of God’s grace for mankind makes no sense. But, once again, on what grounds does mankind have to be the center of the universe for Christianity to be true or to make sense? In point of fact, the Bible does not present man as the center of the universe, either spiritually or physically; the place of man as the spiritual center of the universe is to displace the Creator who rightfully occupies that place. Man is not the object of grace because of mankind’s importance, but because of God’s goodness.

More to the point, it is a false assertion that medieval thinkers put the earth at the center of the universe because it was assumed the stars and planets revolved around us. In point of fact, medieval thinkers inherited such views from Aristotle and other Greek thinkers. The Bible references the earth and the planets, but it makes no assertions about the earth’s place in the universe, what references do exist are largely poetic, in the same vein as our own tendency to refer to the sun’s rising, rather than discussing the movement of the Earth. Arguments to the contrary for the most part are simply chronological snobbery. Nor were Aristotle’s arguments based on man’s centrality, they were simply the best explanation to the observations available to the unaided eye and senses.

Extraterrestrial Life

Nor would the existence of extraterrestrial life per say be a challenge to the faith; additional information about said life would be necessary to make any coherent argument, and modern man is in no place to answer those questions. For example, one must find not just life, but intelligent, sentient (however this might be defined) life. Animals or plants have no value to the objection against Christianity, and in fact, are an argument against evolutionary theory. If plants, microbes or animals are found on mars, then one must explain the long odds of life on two planets in the same solar system. Say what you will about life, from what we know of biology it is extraordinarily complex and relatively fragile (at least after the fall).

Even if sentient life is found, what we would learn from such an enterprise is pure speculation. Perhaps we would find a race of men who were unfallen, as Lewis hypothesizes in the first and second novels of his space trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. Perhaps we would find a race of aliens that is fallen, and has some other means of redemption, or has grounds for redemption in the crucifixion. This approach, if it sounds far fetched is ultimately no more nor less imaginative than assuming we might find Spock, Chewbacca or ET on other planets. Indeed, this itself is the problem, our entire understanding of the theoretical possibility of intelligent life on other planets is shaped by Gene Roddenberry, H G Wells and other writers of Science Fiction. While their creativity provides interesting stories, the key word in “Science Fiction” is still “Fiction.” This arguing that Christianity is untrue on these grounds, then, are raising baseless speculation, nothing more.

[1] This essay can be found in Fern-seeds and Elephants. Some of these arguments also appear in his larger work, Miracles: A Preliminary Study and The Discarded Image.