Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

Well, it’s that time of the week! It’s time for me to let you know that Alayna and I just got engaged :). That’s right, the deed was done (proposing… get your mind out of the gutter…) and she said yes. I’m not going to try to put the whole story in this post (though you might get it at some point in the future), but she seemed to think that I handled it well enough to be worth a shot :P… Seriously, if you haven’t gotten this hint from the posts we’ve been writing, Alayna is a pretty awesome lady, and amazingly she thinks that she’s lucky to have me (I have yet to figure that out because I’m obviously the lucky one). Anyway, Put your thinking caps on and get your brains working… and yes, I did just use the phrase ‘put your thinking caps on’. I have something of a fun theological question for you today: what is sin? Is it something you do? Something you think? Something you are? A conversation Alayna and I had recently actually inspired this post. So, let me set out the basic theological view: 1) Sin is something that you do (i.e. personal sin), and 2) Sin is something that you are (natural sin).

The foundation of the doctrine of sin is natural sin. Natural sin presents sin as an ontological corruption (or corruption of the being or essence of a thing – of this case man). That is to say that, in Augustine’s language, there is a seed of corruption within the human soul that corrupts the very essence of its ontological existence (i.e. it’s being or nature). This ontological corruption cannot be removed without first removing the seed of sin, and the seed of sin cannot be removed by any human power. Thus, even if it were possible for a person both to be ontologically corrupted and still live a perfect life (i.e. a life that never intentionally transgressed divine law or, more realistically, a life that hasn’t yet intentionally transgressed divine law such as an infant), that person would still be damned because of the corruption in their very nature (I am not saying here that any ontologically corrupted being could live a perfect life, but instead explaining the the nature of ontological corruption in and of itself before considering its practical effects). However, this ontological corruption also inevitably leads to a practical corruption (i.e. personal sin or knowingly transgressing the law of God), and thus we have what we normally call sin (i.e. doing bad things). Thus, natural sin proceeds personal sin and thus anyone who lives long enough in a state of natural sin will inevitably commit personal sins (and it generally doesn’t take long at all).

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

Too far?
Too far?

Well, it looks like you ll are stuck with me for this week’s challenge. I know, I know, I’m not the usual person for these exercises, but I’m all you’ve got today. So, today’s challenge is a little bit different. I have a question for you today: How far is too far? I was talking about Ayn Rand with my parents tonight and one of our conclusions was that Rand started with a number of solid concepts, but then she took all of them too far. Often theology has the same problems. A theologian will start with a good idea, but then take that idea to its logical conclusion, which is far past what scripture actually supports. Calvinism and Arminianism both suffer from this problem. So, here is my challenge for you today: how far is too far? How do you know when you’ve gone too far? This question is equally applicable to philosophy, theology, and pranks on your girlfriend. So, you know the rules. Write me a story of about 1000 words that both presents and defends your answer to this question.

Philosophical Story Challenge of the Week

St-AugustineCanterbury_bWell, it’s been a little while since I wrote one of these, and I’ll be honest… I’ve been reading City of God lately… so this might be more of a theological challenge than a philosophical challenge. Hopefully it’ll be fun anyway. So, near the beginning of the book Augustine presents the concept that wrongs forced upon the body unwillingly (rape is an easy example here) have no corrupting influence. His reasoning here is that it is the wickedness of the soul that defiles the body, and the defilement of the body does not corrupt the soul in any meaningful way. This reasoning leads to the argument that if a wrong is forced upon the body, the individual cannot be held accountable for that particular wrong, because the wrong did not originate from the individual’s soul. However, if a wrong originates in the soul, then it has a corrupting influence, even it that wrong is never acted out by the members of the body (for instance, if you lust after a woman in your heart, then you have committed adultery). So, here is my challenge to you today. Consider Augustine’s argument here and decide whether you agree, disagree, agree but with some alterations, disagree but accept some parts… you get the idea. Then, write for me a story of 1000 words that presents and defends your conclusions about Augustine’s concept here. Have fun!

Ted Dekker’s The Priest’s Graveyard

9470898This isn’t going to be a full review, mostly because I don’t honestly have time to write a full review at the moment. However, I just finished my first book by Ted Dekker, and I have a few thoughts. First of all, friends have been telling me to read Dekker for years and I’m only now getting around to it (kind of sad, huh?). I’ve also been told the The Priest’s Graveyard isn’t one of his best books. That being said, it is definitely worth reading if you get the chance. If you don’t know Dekker is a Christian author, but unlike many Christian authors, his doesn’t use his Christianity to serve as a stand in for good writing, and he doesn’t pull punches to make his books ‘appropriate’. The Priest’s Graveyard reminded me of The Ethical Assassin by David Liss in many ways. The story focuses around a series of killings and the people who do the killing. It interacts with some reasonably high level ethical reasoning, and none of the characters are really particularly likable at first. Dekker’s book also has a fair bit of theological thought involved as well.

One of the great things about Dekker’s book is that he has a clear point, and his story effectively makes that point without sacrificing elements of the story itself. Following the paths of his two main characters, it makes sense how they get where they wind up, and there aren’t any major imaginative leaps or ‘wait, he did what?’ moments where characters simply don’t act like themselves. The story is interesting, complicated, and the end is both unexpected and inviting.

That being said, Dekker does make a couple of theological missteps along the way. His personification of an evil, BDSM rapist lawyer as ‘the Law’ is certainly a problem for anyone familiar with the Old Testament. Though the shift to the a strictly ethical avenging ‘angel’ as the law is a little better, ultimately Dekker still presents the law as ‘the enemy’, and this is not the message of Scripture. In the Christian scriptures the law is not presented as evil, or as the enemy, it is simply not the goal. It is the first necessary step in a process that ends with grace.

Dekker’s ultimate message, that grace is superior to judgment, is a very good one that many Christians certainly need to hear (we can be a fairly judgmental group). However, as a theologian I have to say that this characterization of the law as ‘the evil enemy’ that must be escaped is problematic. After all, Christ himself proclaimed that he was not the enemy of the law, but instead its ultimate fulfillment. So, with that in mind, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Ted Dekkar’s The Priest’s Graveyard and enjoy his message.

Christ and Death

Yes, this strikes me as vaguely sacrilegious... but it also strikes me as hilarious. It was found here.
Yes, this strikes me as vaguely sacrilegious… but it also strikes me as hilarious. It was found here.

The other day I had a conversation with a friend that took a rather interesting turn. During a pause in the discussion my friend turned to me and said, very randomly I might add, “So, Jesus killed death.” This led to the following exchange (reconstructed from memory, so I’m essentially paraphrasing here):

Me: Well… not exactly.

Friend: Jesus destroyed death?

Me: No, that’s not really it either.

Friend: Jesus killed his own death!

Me: I suppose you could say that, but still, it’s not quite… it.

Friend: Ok, well then what is it?

Me: Well, Jesus conquered death. He didn’t kill it, and he didn’t destroy it, death is still around. It’s kind of like… I guess you could say that Jesus made death his bitch.

Friend (laughing): Jesus made death his bitch? Only you!

While I’m certain that the colloquialism will be offensive to some readers (and I apologize to anyone who might be offended), the message contained within is correct. Now, of course, for any of this to matter one must believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is factual, and not simply a Christian myth. If it is myth, as opposed to truth, then any debate over whether Jesus conquered death or destroyed death is a moot point, rather like arguing whether Superman or the Hulk would win in a fight. However, if the resurrection is fact, and not myth (this argument has been made by many and I have provided links to some good examples below), then this semantic difference actually does matter. Jesus did not kill death, nor did he destroy death, but instead he conquered death, both nullifying the power thereof for believers, and making death his servant, instead of his master.

4smThe accounts of the resurrection themselves (if believed, see below) are ample proof that Christ was not contained or mastered by death. Of course, the crucifixion itself is prophesied in the old testament (most notably in Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Zechariah 12), and his resurrection is also prophesied (notably in Psalms 16 and 40, also the story of Jonah is used as a type of resurrection by the new testament, and Hosea 6 is often seen as a prophecy as well, Hosea 13:14 is sometimes seen as a prophecy of the resurrection, but this does not place the verse in its proper context). However, throughout scripture the teaching is not that Christ has destroyed death, but that he has removed its vicious power. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul quotes Hosea 13 saying, “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” And in Revelation 1 Christ himself tells us, “I was dead, and behold I am alive forever more, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

The verse that most notably gives pause to the argument that Christ conquered, rather than destroyed, death is 2 Timothy 1:10 which reads, “…who abolished death and brought life…”. The term ‘abolished’ here is sometimes translated as ‘destroyed’, but most often as ‘abolished’ or ‘annulled’, and the Greek word used here is καταργήσαντος (katargesantos) which comes from καταργέω (katargeo). The basic meaning of this term is to ‘bring to naught, sever, or abolish’, and its meaning here is best understood by the term ‘annulled’. Paul is saying to Timothy that Christ, through the resurrection, has made the power of death inconsequential; not that he has brought an end to death. It should be noted, in this discussion, that Revelation 21 tells us that there will be an end to death, but this is a matter of timing. In the new heavens and new earth death will no longer be, but this does not mean that death no longer is.

This is a beautiful wallpaper from Playlogic that just seemed appropriate.
This is a beautiful wallpaper from Playlogic that just seemed appropriate.

Now, the conquest of death is no small matter. Christ’s victory over death, and his rulership of death is something that every Christian can and should rejoice in daily. However, we should not confuse the issue with poor terminology. If Christ had ‘killed’ death, as my friend stated, then logically everyone, or at least every Christian, should be immortal. Obviously, this is not the case, and thus the declaration of Christ’s destruction of death is not only a logical impossibility, but implies a ridiculousness to the Christian faith that is not truly associated with it. This is one example of the importance of theology and biblical hermeneutics. We cannot say that Christ killed death and retain any semblance of credibility. However, we can say that Christ conquered death (or in my colloquialism ‘made death his bitch’ – I still really like this), and thus understand that death should have no fear for the Christian.

Christ has removed the fear of death, and the power that fear holds over us, but he has not yet removed the presence of death. We will all die and, for the Christians among us, go on to glory with Christ. I, for one, look forward to this.

***************************

A Q&A Argument for the resurrection from William Lane Craig

An excerpt from Peter Kreeft’s Apologetic work

Transcripts of a debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman

A Synopsis of Various Arguments

An Article by N.T. Wright – Also see N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God

Some Articles and Videos from Gary Habermas – Also see Habermas’s The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

Philosophy in Writing: Explicit vs. Implicit?

John-Ronald-Reuel-Tolkien-10-500x337There are two underlying approaches to writing anything with a philosophical basis or concept behind it. Regardless of everything else you do, you must choose to be either explicit or implicit in your writing. However, regardless of which you choose to adopt in your own writing, it is important to recognize and understand the importance of both styles and their respective advantages and disadvantages. I am not going to tell you which one is better for your personal writing; they can both be effective or ineffective equally, but personally, I find myself drawn more towards those writers whose philosophy takes on an implicit form, but that is just me.

Tolkien’s writings (particularly the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit) are prime examples of the subtle and intricate nature in which Tolkien conveys his philosophy. The connections between his stories and the ‘real world’ are obvious to the reader on a conceptual level, yet difficult to pinpoint in detail. This is precisely what it means to write the implicitly true; Tolkien believed that an implied truth was far more readily accepted by the common reader than an explicit one. He wanted to create a story which was true in its meaning, even if it is untrue in regards to the actual existence of the world and characters that he created. In this way it can be accurately said that all stories are true, even though some of them never happened, for all stories carry truths, both implicitly and explicitly. As to the question of which one is better or which one ought to be chosen for a particular story I am afraid that I cannot begin to answer that for you; yet to speak out of personal preference, I find writings with implicit morals to be much more fascinating because of their heavier reliance on the active engagement of the reader. Anyone who has any inkling of knowledge about Christianity can read the Chronicles of Narnia and make the connections, but without any clear knowledge of Tolkien or the Silmarillion it is easy to conceive of (in part because it happened prior to the publishing of the Silmarillion) someone reading the stories of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit without picking up on the subtle Christian truths woven throughout the story which I do not have the time to mention here. Tolkien’s ability to create a world so relatable to our own despite its vast differences is just one attestation to the power and importance of implicit philosophy.

jack13On the other side we have the explicit; perhaps the greatest examples of explicit truths are Aesop’s Fables. These short stories are famous for their practical applications and stated morals. Really any story with an obvious or stated moral to it can be considered explicit; it is the obvious connections to daily life that make it explicit. Similarly, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia are also explicit in their connections to general church theology. Aslan is obviously representative of God and his actions are clearly reminiscent of God’s actions in Christian theology. He dies to save a boy who betrayed Aslan and the boy’s family and was resurrected. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth does not have any clear correlation to Christian theology on the level that Narnia does and this is one of the reasons for which Tolkien, who as we mentioned before believed that implied truth was more powerful than its explicit counterparts, critiqued Lewis’ writings. He found the truths to be too obvious and too blatant compared to his much more subtle way of expressing similar underlying beliefs. Despite Tolkien’s harsh opinion, I do believe that the explicit is important as well, especially for younger audiences. A child is not going to pick up on the subtleties of Tolkien’s writings whereas they might find the lion Aslan to be a comforting reminder of what they learned in church, or what their parents taught them about right and wrong.

Pope’s Essay on Man

DISCLAIMER
This essay was written in preparation for a debate on the relevance and congruence of Pope’s Essay with Christian principles. The position taken in this essay was the one assigned to me, and henceforth not necessarily my complete opinion. In order to keep the spirit of debate and intellectual stimulus alive, I would love to hear your stance on the issue.

DERIVED FROM POPE’S ESSAY ON MAN, EPISTLE 1
While Pope’s Essay on Man does contain religious principles, his religious outlook should not be taken as a Christian, biblical worldview. For within his essay, Pope’s emphasis lies purely on the natural order of things, without taking into consideration that man is a fallen being and that earth itself, while filled with the wonders and signs of God, also possesses the handprints of its fallen inhabitants. As a result, this essay will dispute Pope’s claims of the Great Chain of Being (and all of its implications), the faulty assumption that man is as perfect as he can be in the here-and now, and Pope’s reliance on reason through general revelation and knowledge without considering the implications of faith and special revelation.

Drawing on his Catholic background and faith, Pope advocates for the Great Chain of Being and draws most of his arguments from this rigid hierarchy which states that the great order is God, Angels, Man. While the basic concepts of order, placing man under God is correct, the underlying layers of the concept which come from it, and to which Pope alludes, do not align to a Christian worldview. Among these concepts is complacency with the status quo.

Lines 69 and 80 read, “Then say not Man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault; Say rather, Man’s as perfect as he ought.” While the claim that heaven is not to be blamed for the bad tidings on earth holds to a biblical standard, the claim that man is as perfect as he should be disagrees with the Christian belief that Christians should strive toward perfection and Christ-likeness. Because man is fallen, he is not as perfect as he ought to be. Romans 1 is just one example where God condemns men for becoming “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.”

In addition to the rigid hierarchy, Pope uses Nature and the natural way of things in order to establish man’s place in the world. However, while man is organic and natural, the Bible clearly places humans above the natural order of things. The fact that man was created in the likeness of God, takes men out of the realms of angels, fauna and flora. By using the reason and knowledge of which Pope speaks, we can see that while most of the natural world runs in a cyclical sphere (seasons, the “circle of life,” etc), man, as represented in the Bible, runs on a linear scale ranging from the Creation to the Crucifixion and ending at the New Jerusalem. The comparisons Pope uses in section II therefore, are out-of-context for his argument.

Another point deals with Pope’s, almost deistic look on man and reason. Pope expounds on the concept that man is just part of a whole. As a result, he can only see part of the way things are or are to be, and therefore has no right to judge or assess himself or God. In many ways, Pope models the dialogue between Job and God. God does rebut Job for questioning his fairness and remarks on Job’s limited scope of knowledge, but this man who dared to question God ends up with more rewards than the men who passively accepted the way things were. In addition, while man does not have knowledge of everything, God has seen fit to give men wisdom and understanding, prophecies, visions, and other knowledge outside the scope of reason. According to James 1.5 this information, while usually outside the scope of man’s “order in the hierarchy” comes specifically when man refuses to be content with his state of “perfection” and asks for it. As such, it is a form of special revelation.

The idyllic manner in which Pope portrays the Indian draws on the Indian’s use of general revelation in order to come to some understanding of a higher power. General revelation can be an excellent source for reason. As observations are made about the natural world and its systems, conclusions can be drawn. To this extent, Pope draws conclusions about man’s limited, finiteness and places him on the hierarchal scale as a result. However, while many of his conclusions are true to an extent, the use of reason as a whole end in and of itself does not allow for the use of Special Revelation as sent by God. The psalms are filled with special revelations, as are Jesus’ miracles. According to Psalm 8, God created man just a little lower than Himself and in Genesis we find that man is made in the likeness of God, whereas the angels were not. According to natural observations and reason and through perverted pride, the Great Chain of Being has dictated that man is below both God and angels, but this does not hold with scriptures which, while speaking of man’s inferiority, also speaks of man’s great potential.

Philosophy and Theology

I am profoundly ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  Anyone who is familiar with psychology will know that ADD presents itself in a multiplicity of ways, and that not every person with ADD fits into the generally assumed hyperactive/no attention span/unable to concentrate format.  While these symptoms are present in me, the most common way that my ADD presents is as a shifting focus.  I move through phases in which I am only interested in watching anime, or crime dramas, or reading fantasy, or reading philosophy, etc.  Lately I’ve been in the mood to read philosophy and theology.  Another way the my ADD presents is that I get easily bored – which means that I can’t sit down and read one book for hours.  Instead, I read four or five books at a time.  So, lately I’ve been reading a number of medieval theological texts (one of which I have recently reviewed).

I say all of this because my thoughts tend to follow the same patterns.  When I’m interested in watching anime/tv, I’m thinking about filmography.  When I’m interested in reading fantasy, I’m thinking about writing – characters, plots, etc.  When I’m interested in reading philosophy then I’m generally thinking about philosophical issues.  So, I wanted to take a moment to inform everyone that several of my upcoming blog posts are going to address philosophical issues, and especially the nature and importance of critical thinking (although I do have a few things to cover first).

Some of my upcoming topics (mostly on Sundays) are going to include (in no particular order):

The Problem of Pleasure

The Importance of Critical Thinking

Critical Reasoning in Academics

Critical Reasoning in Life

Why to Raise a Critical Child

I hope that you will all enjoy these philosophical posts, and that you will forgive me if you don’t, and continue to read the posts on writing present through the rest of the week.

A Review of Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross

Saint John of the Cross was born in 1542.

This post is primarily intended for those Christians in my audience.  Dark Night of the Soul is a book on spiritual development, and is obviously intended for already mature Christians.  Thus, if you do not fit within this demographic, then regardless of this review, this book is probably not for you at this time in your life.  That being said, Dark Night of the Soul is not a fiction book, and so it cannot be reviewed in the format that I normally use to review books.  Thus I am going to be using a completely different format entirely.

Overall:  10/10

There are a few books that I would recommend that every serious Christian read at some point in his/her life.  Cost of Discipleship and Life Together by Bonhoeffer, Celebration of Discipline by Foster, Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer, The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee, and The Church Impotent by Podles among others.  Dark Night of the Soul has recently been moved very high up on this list.  Wayne, one of my frequent commenters, posted a couple of weeks ago that he views this book as a manual for spiritual growth.  I agree with his concept, but I disagree with his wording.  Dark Night of the Soul is an extremely organic book, and I believe that manual has taken on too technical of a meaning to accurately reflect it.  The book is an expanded commentary of a poem written by the author, and the organic and artistic nature of the poem is deeply reflected in the form and structure of this book.  Of the Mortification of Sin by John Owens is a manual to for spiritual growth, but Dark Night of the Soul serves more as a guide book – perhaps comparable to a hypothetical tourist’s guide to Everest.  The author points out land marks of spiritual growth, explains what they will look like – and also what they will not look like.  He also offers necessary encouragement to the supplicant to stay on the path, much like our hypothetical tourist’s guide to Everest might offer.  One of the best aspects of this book is that, unlike many modern books on spiritual growth, it does not offer a simple five, seven, or ten step plan to becoming a spiritual giant.  Instead the author is very plain that there is no easy or quick path to spiritual growth – maturity takes time, effort, pain, and endurance (which is why I have compared it to climbing Everest).  This willingness to deal realistically with the issue of spiritual growth makes this book one of the best texts that I have ever read on the subject.

Author:  10/10

Together John and St. Teresa of Avila founded the Discalced Carmelite order.

Saint John of the Cross was a Spanish Roman Catholic Carmelite Friar and Counter-Reformer within the Church who lived in the second half of the 16th century.  He worked alongside Teresa of Avila to reform the Carmelite order which eventually resulted in the creation of the Discalced Carmelites (as opposed to the Calced Carmelites)  These reforms were largely unpopular within the order, and let to John’s imprisonment, humiliation, and torture.  After nine months of imprisonment John escaped to rejoin his newly formed Discalced Carmelites, and continued to work with them until his death.

Intended Audience: Priests and Initiate Priests

It is clear from the contents of the book and the situation at the time of its writing that John’s intended audience for this book were priests within his order who were responsible for the spiritual training of young initiates, and those initiates themselves.  The book at times addresses itself to a mentor or teacher, and at times to a supplicant seeking spiritual growth.  The high level of spiritual maturity among the intended audience is one reason for the straightforward, sometimes harsh honesty displayed in John’s treatment of his subject.  This honesty is, however, one of the most valuable resources of the book itself.  The primary subject matter is discussion of the inevitable pain that comes in spiritual growth (in the dark nights of the spirit and the soul especially), and John’s honest appraisal of its necessity is likely too difficult for many young believers to apprehend.

Treatment of Subject: Personal – 10/10

Dark Night of the Soul is a book of theology, but it is not written as a book of theology.  John addresses two primary trials through the course of the book, first the dark night of the spirit (or the deprivation of sensual pleasure) and then the dark night of the soul (or the deprivation of spiritual wellness).  His thesis is that completion of both of these trials is necessary for one to enter into complete unity with the loving goodness of God – i.e. the highest spiritual maturity that one can find in this life.  He is also open about that fact that these trials can often take years, decades, and sometimes the entirety of a person’s life to complete.  While it is clear that John knows his theology, and that he has specific theological goals and points for this text, he does not approach his subject as a theologian – systematically breaking down and analyzing each theological and philosophical aspect of his thesis – but as a teacher and mentor; guiding his initiates through these trials, and the inevitable pain and fear that come with them.  This approach makes the book intensely personal, and relatable in a way that the vast majority of theological texts are never able to achieve.  It is clear that John’s purpose in writing was not to discuss some particular theological problem, but instead to see to the well-being of men and women in the midst of a terrifying experience.

A modern day Carmelite monastery in Missouri.

Writing: 6/10

First of all, it must be noted that this book was originally written in 16th century Spanish, and so any English translation will necessarily suffer.  That being said, the translation that I read, also available here for free, is quite readable, but sometimes difficult to follow.  The grammar is often…wonky (having done translation myself, I don’t think the word wrong can be applied in this case), and sometimes leads to a couple of readings for complete apprehension of the subject matter.

Conclusion:

As I said at the beginning, if you are not a mature Christian, then this book is probably not for you.  If you are not a Christian, then I doubt that you would care, and if you are an immature Christian, then you may not be ready to face many of the things that John discusses.  If you are a mature Christian, especially if you are in a place of spiritual darkness that you do not understand, or a place of deprivation that seems meaningless, then this is definitely a book that you should read.