Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

So, Alayna is an absolutely amazing wife. For a combined Father’s day/Anniversary present she got me a pre-order of the new game Total War: Warhammer (which comes out on the 24th). This is a game that I (and a lot of other people) have been waiting for someone, anyone, to make for around fifteen years. I still play a few video games, but I don’t generally play that many (I don’t have time to play that many…). I actually still haven’t gotten around to finishing Pillars of Eternity (though it is an awesome game). However, like I said, this is a game that I’ve been waiting for fifteen years to see someone make. I’m a little bit excited about it. Anyway, on a completely different note, something that I’ve been thinking about lately is American Christian attitudes towards money (on the individual level) and economics (on the societal level). I often see attitudes in the Christian church that do little to reflect the actual teachings of scripture. In general, these attitudes tend to follow the two common secular attitudes towards general economics: Capitalist Christians and Socialist Christians. Now, I should point out first that when I speak of Capitalism I mean primarily the economic structures that you see in America, not the economic structures that you find in Columbia or Niger. Similarly, when I speak of Socialism I mean primarily the economic structures that you see in Austria, Germany, or Canada, not the economic structures that we saw in Society Russia or Maoist China. A good argument can be made that extreme Communism is a form of Socialism. However, a good argument can also be made that the oppressive ‘free’ markets of South America and Central Africa are a form of Capitalism. So, for a good comparison conservative Capitalism and Socialism should be compared to one another and extreme Capitalism and Socialism should be compared to one another: that is that Soviet Russia should be compared to Columbia and Canada should be compared to the US.

That being said, I don’t honestly think that either Capitalism or Socialism effectively presents a biblical attitude towards economics. It is true that Adam Smith’s original theory (Capitalism) did make some use of the Christian concept of providence in the ‘Invisible Hand’ of the market. However, even in his original theory this comes across more as a statement that ‘God is in control so we don’t need that many rules’ (and in laissez-faire capitalism this tends to turn into ‘we don’t need any rules’). However, this seems to be a muted and generally empty conception of Providence, which must be combined with Sovereignty to have any meaningful content. Christian versions of Capitalist theory generally faik to acknowledge that the world is the Lord’s and all that is in it, but attempts to rely on the idea that God guides the unknowable forces of the free market. Instead of actually living in a world that is seen as meaningfully God’s, with all of the responsibilities (social and theological) that come with that understanding, it tends to adopt a Capitalist assumption that economic growth is essentially good (that is in Aristotelian terms that goodness is a necessary component of economic growth such that if it is not good it cannot be called economic growth, this would be opposed to an accidental and contingent goodness of economic growth which accepts that economic growth is good when it stems from good motives and is used for good ends). In extreme forms of Capitalism this assumption is used to justify over oppression and subjugation of vulnerable people groups. However, even in less extreme forms of Capitalism the assumption is present and generally leads to the rejection of regulations that are necessary to effectively guide the market according to God’s principles. For instance, consider the economic laws of the Old Testament such as the Sabbatical Years or the Year of Jubilee, the requirements against the charging of interest, etc. These laws existed to ensure that the economic growth of the nation of Israel protected and provided for even the weakest among them. The economic oppression and subjugation of the weak members of Jewish society was not acceptable under the Old Testament law, and throughout the Prophets this very economic oppression and subjugation is one of their primary condemnations of Israel.

However, on the other hand, Socialist theories tend to attempt to take regulation into the hands of man. They tend to reject the concept of the invisible hand of the market and the concept of providence that goes with it. However, this equally rejects the sovereignty of God. Scripture absolutely supported the equitable provision of opportunities, and this is consistently seen in the Law through the emphasis that the land could not be permanently bought or sold. Every Israelite family had the opportunity to develop their own land and thus prosper economically. However, scripture no where supports the intentional redivision of resources in order to provide equal income. What the Israelites did with their land was on them. Those who cared for their land well and prospered tended to have more and those who neglected their land fell into debt and sometimes had to sell themselves into indentured servitude (I use this term because it more accurately described the strictures of the law than ‘slavery,’ which has specific connotations in America that do not reflect the Mosaic Law). However, even in these cases their masters were to treat them well, and every fifty years slaves were freed and their original land was returned so that the family could start over. So, the idea that a universal $15 minimum wage is a moral necessity simply doesn’t see biblical support, nor does the excessive taxation of the wealthy in order to provide welfare services to those who could work, but don’t. However, the taxation of those who can and do work in order to provide for those who legitimately can’t (i.e. the seriously handicapped or very vulnerable) absolutely sees biblical support. As does the argument that the government has a responsibility to care for the poor (in fact, in the Old Testament it is most commonly the King, Judge, or Ruler who is expected to enforce the laws that provide for the legitimately poor, and it is the wealthy who are expected to leave some of their income in order to supply this provision).

Ultimately, Christian Capitalists tend to fall into the trap of ignoring the impact of greed upon the economic structures of the nation while Christian Socialists tend to fall into the trap of ignoring the impact laziness upon the economic structures of the nation. This is very general and the issue is significantly more complicated, but this seems to be an apt, if very general, description. So, here is my question for you: is there a third option? Some Confucian scholars have pointed to several area in the Far East (specifically Singapore and Japan) that are in the process of developing ‘Communitarian Capitalism,’ which stands starkly against the individualistic and often greed-focused liberalism of Laissez-Faire Capitalism, but stands equally against the thoroughly State-Led nature of Socialism and accepts the general idea of a free market that is, to some degree, self-directing. However, this is effectively experimental and, for Christians, likely falls into some of the same traps as I outlined above. If there is a third option, what significant underlying assumptions would it be founded upon?

As always, write me a story of 1000+ words that gives your take on the issue.

Sex and the Family by Alayna

Hey, this is Alayna. Tobias has exhausted pretty much all of his brain energy on studying for his upcoming entrance exams so as a result you all are stuck with me for today. The truth is I actually volunteered to write for today when he mentioned he didn’t have any mental energy left for a blog post. That was of course without taking into account pregnancy brain (for which I am a textbook example), so this might not be an improvement at all. He said he was in the middle of a series on theology in fiction and asked me to consider that from the perspective of books or TV I have watched recently. I’m going to detour a little from that (while still technically complying) and focus on the differences between God’s perspective on sexuality and what is seen in media and even in real life.

America in general is obsessed with sex. Whether it’s in illicit gratification (including pornography, non-marital sex, or graphic nonconsensual sexual acts displayed on TV), what one might call ‘normal marital sex’, as well as an obsession with avoiding, condemning, or in all other ways pretending that sex does not exist. Unfortunately, for how much attention the topic is given, God’s commands are nearly completely forgotten, or worse, mocked by the majority of Americans. This is seen by people who say that sex stops after marriage (a fairly popular idea on Rules of Engagement), who joke about pornography or one night stands, and even the seemingly harmless connotation of anything sexual being ‘dirty’. Just yesterday, while Tobias was booking a hotel room for us (after mentioning it was for him and his wife), the first question the other person asked was ‘how many beds?’ I get it’s part of his job and I don’t hold him responsible for what our society has become but is that really what God meant when He said that the marriage bed was to be ‘honored’? Was it something to be considered sinful or inappropriate and only to be mentioned when absolutely necessary and even then in the broadest and vaguest of terms? Or something to be used and thrown away at a whim? The same culture that idolizes sex and sexuality also encourages people to use that same sexuality by pimping out their bodies as a way to somehow advance their own agendas (and is then shocked when such actions do not lead to lasting happiness). Dare I even mention the woman in England who married her dog back in 2014 (and is apparently only one of a long list on google of people who have married their pets)?

Is it possible that in our efforts to expand sex education in the schools to the extent that we force detailed anatomical lessons or subjects like birth control and abortion on young children, that we’ve completely lost sight of what human sexuality is supposed to be? If neither removing all the stops when it comes to sex, nor treating it as taboo are appropriate, how can we best express our God-given sexuality? In a world that is all set to add more names to the list of failed sex education recipients, how can we best view our sexuality and pass that on to our children?

I think that many of the problems in our culture stem from the way we’ve handled sex and the family. The family is the core unit of any functioning society, and while it may look somewhat different in different societies (i.e. polygamous societies for instance) it still retains all of its functional parts. However, in American society we have accepted a view of sex that renounces any need of a real family structure, and then we have glorified that view of sex and the broken families that come with it. In fact, research has shown time and again that children who grow up in a stable family with a loving, active male parent and a loving, active female parent are prone to more successful, happier, and more satisfying lives. Literally, they consistently report more life satisfaction overall. Simply having two active parents of different genders greatly enhances a child’s quality of life over the course of his/her entire life, even after those parents die. Yet, we continue to fill the airwaves with television and radio shows that actively attack this idea. We print novels that promote a family destroying view of sexuality. Ultimately, we almost seem bent on our own destruction as a people and as a nation.

While I realize that a lot more goes into this than simply fiction writers, I also believe that there is a lot that fiction writers (both television/movie writers and authors of the printed word) can do to influence the societal view of sex. I would love to see more television families and views of sexuality like those found on Everyone Loves Raymond or Family Ties. Tobias would probably add some examples like the early seasons of Seventh Heaven or the FBI agent and his wife from White Collar. These aren’t boring shows or even boring characters, but they are shows and characters that give us a better example of what our lives could look like than most of what we see in the media today.

Fiction as Theology Part 4: What is Theology (Which Should Have Been Part 1)

So, the last time it was my week I discussed three ways in which we could respond to fiction as fundamentally theological (i.e. whether in can be theological, how it helps us understand our own beliefs, and how it helps us communicate our beliefs). However, as I’ve been thinking more about this I realized that I really started at the end, rather than starting at the beginning with the end in mind. So, my three posts this week are going to deal more specifically with explaining the nature of theology itself and how it can be approached.

Theology can be most broadly defined as the study of god or gods. While most in the West probably think of theology primarily as Christian theology, this is not entirely accurate. There is also Islamic theology, Muslim theology, Hindu theology, etc. In fact, every religion that puts forward a belief in a god or gods also has at least a rudimentary study of them and the world in light of them. However, I am most familiar with Christian theology, and Christian theology in its broadest scope is one of the best developed fields of its kind. Further, I personally believe that the general organization of Christian theology can also be easily and effectively applied to other forms of theology as well. Thus, this post initially will outline the academic organization of theological study.

Broadly speaking there are four major fields of theological study:

Biblical Theology: in foreign this could be termed ‘textual theology’ or ‘cultic theology.’ This field focuses on the study of the proper translation and interpretation of a religions sacred texts or central creeds. In Christianity the field of biblical theology (also called biblical studies) focuses on questions about what the bible actually says. For instance, how should Romans 1:24-27 be interpreted? How should the term ratsach in Exodus 20:13 be translated? This field can be separated into four major areas: study of the original languages (i.e. Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic and sometimes Ugaritic, Sumerian, and Latin or other major Middle Eastern languages as well), Hermeneutics (or the study of interpreting written texts), Old Testament Studies (which includes both the study of Old Testament documents and of the culture and history of Ancient Near Eastern societies from around 2500-2000 B.C.E. to around 0 C.E.), New Testament Studies (which includes the study of New Testament documents and of the culture of Ancient Near Eastern Societies from around 400 B.C.E. to around 100 C.E.). Any scholar of Christian Biblical Theology could be expected to have some familiarity with all of these fields, but will probably be specialized in one or two.

Natural Theology: this field focuses on the study of the revelation given by god or gods outside of sacred texts. In Christianity this focuses on the study of God’s revelation through creation. For instance, how much of God’s moral law is revealed apart of Scripture? How are God’s attributes revealed through the natural world? This is a field of study that is not often a focus of Christian theologians, but is often heavily used by Christian Apologetics. Thus, aspects of Natural Law theory, Apologetics, and Christian Philosophy draw heavily on the study of Natural Theology, but it is not a discipline in which Christian theologians generally specialize apart from their study of one of the other major areas of theology.

Systematic Theology: this field focuses on the organization and extrapolation of the truths revealed by biblical and natural theology. While Systematic Theology draws (or at least should draw) heavily on the work produced by the study of sacred texts and the natural world, it is not the same as this study. Instead, it is an attempt to organize the results of these studies topically and to apply reason in order to explore and consider the logical implications of the work produced by the study of sacred texts and the natural world. Systematic theology in Christianity is separated into nine categories: Theology Proper (the study of nature and attributes of God), Biblical Theology (the study of the whole context of scripture–similar to but not identical with the biblical theology listed above, this is more focused on topical analysis than textual analysis), Christology (the study of the person and work of Jesus Christ), Pneumatology (the study of the person and work of the Holy Spirit), Soteriology (the study of the nature of salvation), Theological Anthropology (the study of the nature of man), Hamartiology (the study of sin), Angelology (the study of Angels and Demons), Ecclesiology (the study of the Church), Eschatology (the study the end times and final judgment). Some of these categories would be appropriate for a systematic theology of other religions as well, but many obviously are not.

Applied Theology: applied theology is the study of how theological truths can and should be applied to daily life. Some people will argue that all theology is applied theology, but I disagree with this. All theology should be taken to the point of being applied, but theory comes before application. So, there must be theoretical theology, but that theory must be applied if it is to have any purpose. In any religion there are as many areas of applied theology as there are possible fields to which theology can be applied. For instance, theology and culture studies the implications and applications of theology to modern high or pop-culture (i.e. art, fiction, music, etc). Worship theology studies the implications and applications of theology to the practice of corporate worship. Political theology studies the implications and applications of theology to the governance of a community (sometimes called Christian Social Ethics). Moral theology studies the implications and applications of theology for the individual moral life (sometimes called Christian Ethics). Spiritual Formation studies the implications and applications of theology for individual worship and relationship with God. Obviously, these are all somewhat intertwined such that all fields of applied theology have some things in common and generally touch upon each other in many and significant ways.

These is the basic outline for the nature of theology that I will be discussing this week. Most theologians focus on a few areas in one of these fields, but all theologians should be familiar with all of these fields (as is appropriate for their religion obviously) because they have a substantial impact upon one another. A systematic theologian who pays no attention to biblical theology, and thus does not have a strong foundation in what the sacred texts of his/her religion actually say, is unlikely to produce meaningful and edifying work in his field. The same can be true with an applied theologian. Alternatively, a biblical theologian who has no clear concept of systematic theology would be under-prepared to effectively and meaningfully organize and present the results of his textual studies in the light of the text as a whole. Thus, while one may specialize, some degree of generalization is necessary for any good theologian.

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

Well, this post could probably be called a Theological or Hermeneutical Story Challenge of the Week, but we’ll stick with the title as is. So, first of all I would like you to read 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (below):

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

I’ve taken out the verse markings so that the passage can be read as is, rather than split into neat little sections. Now, the claim that ‘the body is the temple of the lord’ has been interpreted in a wide variety of ways in the Christian thought of the last forty years. Some pastors/writers/pundits have used this phrase as a bludgeon to declare as open sin everything from smoking and drinking to eating ice cream or not exercising at least 150 minutes a week. Given that I’ve just started my workout and weight-loss program these arguments have been on my mind for the past couple of week. Christians fall into three very general camps on this issue: 1) Sex only: the sex only camp interprets ‘the temple of the lord’ in this passage to be an argument against immoral sexual behavior that condemns and corrupts the body. This camp refuses to see this passage as banning Christians from any other kind of behavior. 2) Attacking Vice: this camp interprets ‘the temple of the lord’ in this passage to be an argument against certain, specific vices generally including smoking, drinking, use of illegal drugs, unnecessarily use of prescription drugs, sexual promiscuity, and extreme gluttony (though this is rarely defined in any specific way). They argue that it is sinful for Christians to engage in any of these activities because the body is God’s temple and these are clearly sinful behaviors that actively tear down and destroy the body. 3) The Fitness Gurus: this camp interprets ‘the temple of the lord’ in this passage as an argument for a specific lifestyle that is carefully controlled in what and how much it eats (ice cream, brownies, candy, sodas, alcohol, etc are all off the table), and in how much exercise it gets (150 minutes a week is minimal, God is really glorified if your getting 400-500 minutes a week). They generally see a life of fitness and healthy behaviors as an act of worship that is demanded by God in this passage.

So, here is your challenge this week: how should the idea that our bodies are temples of the Lord be interpreted from this passage?

As always, write me a story of 1000 words that presents your response.

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

personhood1How do we determine when a person is, well… a person? This question has been around in one form or another for a long time, but it has developed a new level of urgency over the past few decades as it has become a key question in the debate over the moral legitimacy of abortion (and thus whether abortion should be legal). Life, defined scientifically, unquestionably begins at conception. This is true for all creatures that reproduce through sexual relations of any form. Thus, human life (again, defined scientifically) also begins as conception when a new living organism exists and begins to grow through cellular division.

However, many have raised the question as to when human personhood (or human life where life is non-scientifically defined) begins at the same time as human life. This has a strong relation to questions about human death as well. For instance, a brain-dead body can be kept alive for a time (sometimes an extended period of time) through advances in medical technology. However, does this mean that the person is still actually alive? A simple biological definition of life doesn’t really seem to account for what we normally mean by human life, and certainly if we define life so simply then we seem to have a moral responsibility to go to every possible length to keep a body a live even when the brain is clearly dead (or even mostly removed).

This has led many scholars to present and defend a wide variety of arguments about when human personhood begins. The most common placements are at conception, either because personhood and biological life are seen as synonymous or because the natural potential of future personhood is seen as equivalent to actual personhood (i.e. it is wrong to abort an embryo because it will one day be a fully functioning person, but it is not morally required to keep an ancephalic baby [i.e. a baby born without or with only minimal brain matter] alive through mechanical intervention because there is no possibility that it will every be a person); at the first sign of brain activity (as brain activity is seen to indicate internal life and personality); at birth (as the baby is no-longer dependent upon its mother and is clearly a living, conscious, independent organism); or at the achievement of certain designated criteria (i.e. speech, cognizance, social usefulness, etc). There are arguments for and against each of these positions. For instance, some have pointed out that the argument from human potential is flawed because we don’t treat an acorn like an oak tree, or a dog embryo like a beloved pet. Others have pointed out that the argument from designated criteria is flawed because it is easily possible to define personhood in such a way that most living humans today are not human persons. The argument for personhood at birth has been attacked by pointing out that the baby is actually still dependent upon its mother in a great many ways, and by pointing out the the baby has significant aspects of humanness (i.e. human appearance, brain waves, heart beat, physical behavior, communication, etc) long before it is actually born.

Further, some Christian scholars have rejected all of the above arguments as naturalistic and argued that the only significant criteria for human personhood is ensoulment (i.e. when a body becomes a living soul). Three major views have been presented along these lines: pre-existentism argues that human beings exist as souls long before they are born (some argue from eternity past) and that God implants these already existing souls into bodies at some point in the gestation process (normally some point between the first appearance of brain-waves and the birth of the child); creationism argues that every soul is specially and individually created by God and implanted in the body at some point during gestation (historically between 40 days after conception and 30 days after birth, but most modern creationists will argue that souls are created and implanted immediately at the moment of conception); Traducianism argues that the soul is ultimately created by God, but immediately formed through the blending of the souls of the parents just as the body is ultimately created by God, but immediately formed through the blending of the DNA of the parents, and that these are distinct but conjoined spiritual and physical processes such that the soul is not physical in nature, but that it necessarily begins its formation at the moment of conception just as the body necessarily begins its formation at the moment of conception. Each of these concepts of ensoulment has been attacked and defended on both biblical and theological grounds. It has been pointed out the creationism has little biblical support and that it presents problems for a clear understanding of how sin is transmitted from parent to child unless one resorts to a Manichean division of flesh as evil and sinful but spirit as good and pure. Pre-existentism has been attacked as having little biblical support and that it raises questions about the actual connection between soul and body such that murder seems to be wrong simply because of divine fiat and not because any part of the image of God is harmed (as scripture seems to indicate). Traducianism has been attacked as having little biblical support (let’s be honest, the bible doesn’t say a whole lot about ensoulment in the first place, so this criticism is universal) and as being prone to a physicalist reduction that denies the spiritual nature of man.

So, here is your challenge for today. Given everything presented above, what do you think a human person is? When does personhood begin and how can we tell?

As always, write a story of 1000 words or more that presents your response to the question.

Fiction as Theology Part 1: Is Fiction Theology and If So, What does this Mean?

waffles-vs-pancakesYesterday I started reading John Frame’s A Theology of Lordship Volume 3: Doctrine of the Christian Life. I bring this up because Frame makes the claim in his introduction that life is theology and theology is ethics, thus life is ethics. Now, he explains that by this he does not mean that there God is desperately interested in whether I have pancakes or waffles for breakfast in the morning, and thus my decision between pancakes and waffles is both a theologically significant and morally important decision. However, if I am to understand the purpose of my existence as being to glorify God (consider that Colossians 1:16 tells us that everything exists 1) because God made it, and 2) for God’s purposes) then the way I approach my decision about having pancakes or waffles (or perhaps sausage and eggs or a bowl of fruit) fundamentally changes. No longer am I considering this decision simply as a matter of preference, but I am considering how to best glorify God–which inevitably involves my own enjoyment of his creation, my health as a human being, the example that I am setting for others, the habits that I am forming as an individual, etc. Suddenly my decision about what to have for breakfast is no longer merely a choice of which tastes I prefer this morning, but it is a matter of 1) who I am as an individual and who I want to become as an individual, 2) what the likely results of my actions are, 3) what the intrinsic nature of my actions is, and 4) how my actions express the image of God that I bear. Now, all of this may sound unbearably and unnecessarily complex for those non-Christians reading this post. However, I might point out that this is not wholly dissimilar to Aristotle’s perspective, though with an eye towards the Christian God. More importantly, I might point that that any belief system requires a focus. For me this focus is God, for a Muslim it may be Allah, for an Atheist it may be their own good or some abstracted concept of the common good. Now, as a Christian I will argue that some of these foci are more intrinsically valuable than others, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a focus to each of them. Every action is performed for an end–even when that end isn’t consciously considered.

blind-beliefSome of you may also be wondering what in the world any of this has to do with writing fiction, and I’m getting to that, though this is only the first of three posts. Reading Frame’s argument got me thinking: is writing a theological practice? If life is theology and theology is ethics, then it must necessarily include that fiction writing is a practice of theology which is in turn an application of ethics. Thus, all fiction writing would be the practice of theology. How might this be so? Does this mean that Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is a work of practical theology? Well, when practical theology is considered as a discipline, not so much. However, when practical theology is defined as the application of one’s beliefs about god, gods, or the lack thereof to some particular aspect of life in this world, then yes, in a sense it is. I must stress this in a sense because Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, while certainly a work of political philosophy, says little, if anything, about God. However, consider that everything we write is set on the basis of our fundamental notions*. A friend recently described Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series to me as ‘very clearly a Mormon fantasy,’ and he was exactly correct. Sanderson is a Mormon and this particular series is very clearly a fantasy (well-written and well-plotted) that is heavily influenced by a Mormon conception of god, life, and the universe. What we believe often has a much greater influence on what we write than we realize. Often, even when we go out of our way to write something that is fundamentally not what we believe, it still clearly communicates to others what we believe.

trust_me__i__m_ten___t_shirt_design_by_lantis_erin-d52yu6xSo, what do we do with this knowledge? What does this mean for Christian, Atheist, Mormon, Hindu, Agnostic, Wiccan, or generally confused writers? First, I will point out that it is fundamentally impossible to not have beliefs. As soon as we are exposed to something we begin to form beliefs and opinions about it. These may be more or less informed, more or less accurate, more or less consistent with other beliefs, etc. However, the only way to have no beliefs at all is to not exist, and the only way to have no beliefs about some particular idea or thing is to never be exposed to it. So, in my next two posts I’m going to focus on two questions: 1) how can my writing help me to explore my own beliefs and discover inconsistencies in them? 2) how can my writing help me to communicate my beliefs effectively to others?

I hope that you’re looking forward to them. I’m looking forward to writing them, that’s for sure.

* This is true whether one holds to a historicist, empirical, constructivist, etc theory of knowledge. Regardless of what knowledge inherently is or how beliefs are initially acquired, once we have established a set of consistent beliefs or biases the rest of our interaction with the world (both input and output) tends to be defined around these beliefs and to reference them regularly.

Philosophy Challenge of the Week

C. S. Lewis, among others, argued that God was outside of time. Some have argued that God exists entirely within time, and that he must exist within time because there can be no meaningful concept of a being without fixed temporality. However, Lewis and others argued that if God was a temporal being, then God would be beholden to and controlled by temporality, which would make him something other than God, and thus Lewis argued that God must have a sort of timeless existence. Aquinas put forth the same idea in somewhat more philosophical terminology by arguing that God, if he was God, must exist in a true eternity which had no beginning, end, or progression. Man has all three: we begin at birth and progress through life to our end at death. Angels have two of the three, because though their existence is apparently indefinite, they had a clear beginning when they were created, and thus mark a progression from that beginning. God, however, has none of the three: he had no beginning and he will have no end, and thus he cannot progress from anything or to anything. Thus, for God all of eternity must be simultaneous, which can explain how God could know the future and how the distant past could be as yesterday for him. However, others have argued that such an existence is nonsensical, that any being that interacts with creation must interact with it in some form of meaningful progression, otherwise how could God distinguish between creation, crucifixion, and judgment. They argue that though God is not ‘beholden’ to time (i.e. trapped within it’s dauntless progress), he must meaningfully progress from point to point in order to distinguish them in a meaningful way. So this is my question for you today: assuming that a perfect, monotheistic God exists, how would such a being interact with time? I’ve given you three meaningful interpretations to work with, but if you have other ideas feel free to present your own.

As always, write me a story of 1000 words that presents and defends your answer to the question.

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

Well, life is interesting. My web browser randomly crashed on me tonight, which made it difficult to get online. I’m actually still trying to trouble shoot it as we speak. Anyway, I have a question for you: where did religions come from? There are a few different theories about this. Some of the more popular are the Evolutionary Development theory, which argues that religions developed progressively from least complex (i.e. simple spiritualism) through various stages (animism to polytheism to henotheism to monotheism to atheism) as cultures developed and more questions found naturalistic answers. This theory admittedly has the advantage of fitting in with many modern scientific worldviews, and of being able to treat all religions as fundamentally equal, though ultimately untrue. This theory tends to see religion as a progressive search for answers that has been rendered largely unnecessary by scientific advances over time to the point that it now serves a purely aesthetic and social purpose. It is also somewhat supported by the fact that many primitive cultures currently in existence are animistic or polytheistic in nature. However, the theory has the disadvantage of having relatively little evidential support. Scholars who oppose the theory point out that not only has such a progression of religious belief never been seen in a living culture, but we don’t have records of such a clean progression either. Many religious changes happen because two religions intersect and must either grow together or further define themselves (as with Zoroastrianism and Judaism), others happen because of violent conversion (as with the early spread of Islam), etc. Those few records we have of natural religious development don’t show a clear nature of progression. For instance, the Chinese moved from the seemingly henotheistic or monotheistic worship of Shang-ti in the Shang dynasty to a more polytheistic religion by the time of the Qin dynasty.

Opposed to this theory is a theory known as Original Monotheism which argues that progression happens in the opposite direction. This theory argues that early humans were apparently monotheists, but that various cultural developments led to significant splits that resulted in the creation of other religious forms ranging from animism to pantheism. Again, this theory has certain advantages: while it does propose an original monotheism, it does not argue for a clear or consistent progression of religious development across cultures, which better fits the historical record. Further, in many ancient cultures there is some evidence (though often very slight) for an ancient monotheistic belief, though whether they can all be attributed to the same monotheistic belief is highly questionable. Original Monotheism also has the advantage of generally taking religion more seriously than the Evolutionary Development theory has, and many supporters believe that there is at least some kind of reality behind at least some religious beliefs, though the extent varies widely. However, Original Monotheism suffers from the same general lack of evidence. There are many cultures that show no clear evidence of monotheistic belief anywhere in their recorded history, which raises questions for the theory. Original Monotheism also often sees other forms of religion (i.e. polytheism, pantheism, animism, etc) as devolutions or deformities from the original.

There are also many religious opinions about the origin of religions. For instance, some Christians believe that non-Christian religions were originated by demonic forces bent on corrupting mankind. Others believe that different religions represent different real and equivalent spiritual forces, or that all religions are simply cultural attempts to understand the same fundamentally real spiritual power.

So, this is my question for you today: where did religion come from?

Write me a 1000 word story the presents and defends your opinion.

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

So, I’m essentially done with my major research on both Thomas Aquinas and Kongzi (Confucius), and today I started into my research on Jonathan Edwards. One of the interesting questions that you run into, especially when approaching ethic from a Reformed perspective, is whether non-Christians can be good in any meaningful sense of the word. This is because ‘good’ both by Augustine and by many Reformed theologians is defined as ‘God and God alone.’ That is to say that any action that does not both stem from God’s will and return to God’s glory is a wicked action (i.e. God is the formal, but not necessarily the efficient, and final cause of the action). Thus, the argument goes, God is good, and those who are beneficiaries of his grace are capable of doing that which is truly good because he alters their wicked natures to be able to know him and know his will so that they might be able to choose to act on it. This can be compared to bringing home flowers that you intend to give to your secretary the next day, only to find out that they are your wife’s favorite flower and she had been pining for flowers all day. Though bringing home the flowers might be similar to something that would please your wife, the fact that they are for your secretary and not your wife kind of destroys any pleasure that she might take in them. Similarly, the same action can be pleasing to God when done because of an intention to please him, but displeasing to God because it is done for some other reason.

The argument has been raised that this concept of ‘good’ makes it impossible for non-Christians to every do anything that can actually be described as good. Thus, this raises the question of whether non-Christians can be or do good in any meaningful sense of the word. Now, because of the way the ideas interrelate either a yes or a no answer has significant impact. If the answer is yes, non-Christians can be and/or do good, then we are forced to question whether we are even using the same definition of good, and if we are, how they can do good. If the answer is no, then we must deal with the seemingly elitist result that only Christians can be good in any meaningful sense of the word.

So, your challenge this week is a little bit specific: I want you to assume a Reformed perspective and then answer the question ‘Can non-Christians be/do good in any meaningful sense of the word?’ Once you’ve done this, the actual challenge begins. You are to write a story of 1000 words that presents and defends your conception of the impact that your answer to the question has at a practical level. Have fun!

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

There are some (I’m not going to name names because we don’t do that here) who believe that the Old Testament Law is what we should live by today, and there are others who want the Old Testament law to have been perfect. Yesterday Alayna pointed me to a blog post where a man was essentially trying to argue both of these together. His argument, in brief, was that because the OT law treats women as property, wives today should be considered the property of their husbands. However, there are many problems with this: first, while he denies this, he essentially assumes that there is no difference between women and slaves in the OT law, which is not true. In fact, he comes across as arguing that anyone under the authority of another individual is their property in some way. Under the OT law slaves were ‘property with basic rights’ (that is to say that the OT law set out specific responsibilities that owners had to their slaves), but women are not treated as ‘property with basic rights.’ Certainly, women are not free in the modern libertine sense of the word, they are beholden to the authority of the significant males in their lives (father, brothers, and husbands), but they are also not property. A prospective husband would pay a bride price, it is true, but this was in many ways similar to the origin of the engagement ring–it was essentially a way for the prospective husband to show the girl’s father that he can care for her. Secondly, the particular blogger that Alayna pointed out to me argued that if the OT law is not perfect (i.e. what we should live by today) then God must be condoning sin. However, if this is true, then we must say that anytime God allows sin, he must be condoning it, which causes problems because God does not stop us from sinning. The Old Testament Law cannot be viewed as God’s ultimate moral standard for all time, though it does contain much that is of universal value. Consider Aquinas’ argument here: Aquinas argues that there are three kinds of law in the OT law. 1) The Moral Laws: such as love your neighbor, do not murder, etc, 2) the Ceremonial Laws: such as laws concerning sacrifices and worship, and 2) the Civil Laws: which are laws such as the law that one may kill an intruder in one’s home at night (which it is too dark to see who the intruder is or what they are doing, and thus legitimate to assume that they mean you harm), but not during daylight (when one can easily differentiate between an intruder who is trying to cause you harm and an intruder that is stealing your fine China). Aquinas argues that the moral laws are absolute and universal, but that the ceremonial and civil laws are specific and contextual examples of how the moral laws can be applied to a particular culture, and thus that they will necessarily change from culture to culture.

So, here we have two very different interpretations of the Old Testament law, and ultimately we could do a lot with them. However, I think that one of the major mistakes that the author Alayna pointed out to me was in the nature of authority. As I mentioned above, the author seems to be under the impression that anyone who is legitimately under the authority of someone else is their property in some way. There would likely be some limitations that he would put on this (for instance, he would probably argue that a paid secretary is not the property of her boss). However, there seems to be a direct line from his argument that wives and children are the property of the husband to the argument that citizens are the property of the state government. We may view authority in a few different ways. However, predominantly conceptions of authority can be broken down into categories: stewardship concepts and autonomous concepts. In an autonomous concept of authority, my authority is mine and it derives from something about me (i.e. some virtue, power, position, etc that is mine forces others to obey me). This seems to be the conception of authority that this blogger is using. Since the husband’s authority is autonomous and derives from the husband, those under his authority belong to him. Similarly, since the authority of the state derives from the state, everyone under the state belongs to the state.

However, the stewardship model of authority argues that authority is given by some higher power. Thus, the authority of the health inspector does not derive from the health inspector, but from the state that enforces the health inspector’s judgments, and the health inspector is thus accountable to the state for how he uses the authority that has been give to him. In this model the individual is a medium for the authority of some higher power.

Now, there is some necessary truth to the autonomy model: authority has to begin somewhere. An infinite regress of authority giving powers cannot exist. Thus, the health inspector is a steward of the power of the state, and the state is a steward of the power of the people, and the people are a steward of the power of…? Some will argue that all legitimate power derives from the people as a body. Other will argue that all legitimate authority derives from God or some other divine being, but even in a stewardship model original authority must derive from somewhere.  Thus, we could argue that all authority derives from God, and thus all powers with authority are simply mediums for God’s authority, and thus are accountable to God for how they use the authority that they steward.

Similarly, there is some necessary truth to the stewardship model: the authority of the health inspector clearly doesn’t derive from any power of the health inspector himself. It clearly derives from the power of the state. However, can we say that all authority is so derived, or can we argue that there are many powers from which authority derives, and that any of these powers can then invest others with their authority? For instance, can we argue that the father’s authority (to use the example from the other blog) derives from the father and that the father is thus an autonomous ruler who can then invest his authority in his property (for instance, perhaps by telling his older son to watch his younger daughter?)

So, this is my question to you: where does authority come from, and how does it work? As always, write me a 1000 word story that presents and defends your response.