Thursday, May 28, 2009

Origin of Human Value & Purpose

I recently saw a person comment on theist's blog regarding the meaning of life. Why, he asked, does belief in God give meaning and purpose to life?

If the commenter means “belief” in the intellectual adherence to a propositional statement, I can understand the need for the question. However, what is being proposed by theists is not just personal adherence to a propositional belief in the existence of God, but the reality of His existence.

If God exists and has meaningfully created man with purpose then God’s existence does lend itself to man having intrinsic value, meaning, and purpose. On the other hand, if there is no God, and man is a product of time, chance, energy, and matter evolving through time into the human being then our value and purpose are only that which we give ourselves. There is not a rooted foundation for valuing our lives over any other sentient being or non-sentient being. We value ourselves, because we live and want to be valuable.

There is nothing that would say that we cannot declare ourselves valuable and give ourselves purpose. But there also would be no foundation for our intrinsic value, meaning, and purpose. Therefore, the reality of God’s existence does provide such a framework—a framework that gives intrinsic value to all humans from the most accomplished to the hermit living in the woods or the homeless man on the street. Notwithstanding, we could have only self-proclaimed value and we need to learn to accept the inevitable reality of having no intrinsic meaning and purpose. We may need to ignore the signs of design of our difference to the rest of creation and accept our lot in life.

If our belief in God is merely an illusion then humanity still has only self-proclaimed value and purpose. But if God really does exist and really did create man separate from the beasts, He is the Author of our existence and has endowed us with His special creative purpose and value. This would then be true, no matter who believes it or not. Thus, our worth would not be a matter of what intellectual proposition we adhere to nor what illusion we maintain, but what is really real.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Substance of Faith

Faith involves content not nothingness. Many people errantly characterize faith as a leap in the dark; a blind faith. Faith is often seen as that which one employs when no evidence is available. It is seen as something unsubstantiated, unwarranted, unintelligent, and completely unreasonable. For it is argued that if there was substance, warrant, intelligence, and reason faith would not be required.

However, let us consider this further. Maybe some employ such blind unswerving faith without evidence, substance, and reason. We have encountered such people. Sometimes their faith may be in the right end, but we aren’t so content about their means to that end.

There is another option often unconsidered that faith is a substance of hope in things unseen. This means that while we might not have exhaustive complete knowledge of a thing, we have a substance of faith in its reality because of the evidence, reason, intellect and experience pointing in that direction. Lacking exhaustive knowledge and full apprehension of the thing we still gain a surety of its truth by exercising substantive faith.

The Scriptures speak of Abraham. An old man with no children who God spoke to and told he was going to make his decedents a mighty nation. The Bible records that Abraham believed God and his faith was accredited to him as righteousness. Now, the thing here is that Abraham’s faith rested on hearing God speak to him and give him a promise. It was not blind faith, it was faith substantiated by a divine encounter with God. Abraham didn’t suddenly wake up one morning and say God exist and He is going to give me children in my old age. He didn’t believe this in blindness, but in substance. God spoke to Him and he believed God.

True faith then has content. It has substance, not blind nothingness. A three year old who jumps in a pool in front of his dad doesn’t do so in blind faith, but in a substance of experience that dad will protect him. He has faith in his father’s protection and love. He takes the risks not blindly, but because of experience. The child uses faith, but it isn’t a leap in the dark.
In fact, well placed faith is a walk into the light of truth. When you have that faith that involves content, substance, it is noteworthy and not an unintelligent blind floundering around in the dark. And if you jump in the direction of this kind of faith you land with a surety of footing rather than a sink into quicksand or a plunge into nothingness.

The walk of faith may at times have doubt, uncertainty, lack of clarity, but it grows in time with knowledge and experience gain a greater substantialness then when the walk first began. We can learn to feed faith when the faith has substance rather than doubt. If our faith lacks substance we need to examine the foundations of our knowledge to find that which has content of substance. Whichever direction one goes in their knowledge they will reach an impasse that requires faith to proceed. Each will have to choose the path they will walk aided by faith no matter which path they take. But those whose faith is ensconced in substance will see the truth unveiled as they walk building even greater faith in their hope of that which is unseen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Morality Revisited

The nature of morality seems to be an ever present hot topic of discussion especially amongst the philosophical bloggers. I have addressed this subject often on this blog, but I feel the need to unearth it once again as I have been talking with bloggers outside of this forum regarding this topic. I am still encountering a lot of misconceptions regarding the Christian view of morality and so I hope to untangle the web of misconstrued ideas to provide some clarity. For those who have discussed this topic at length with me already, please excuse my return to the subject. What follows will be from the Judeo-Christian worldview regarding this subject, at least as best as I am able to represent it and communicate it herein.

All people of all cultures, tribes, nations, societies, have a moral infrastructure within their nature. Everyone has what Francis Schaeffer terms “moral motions” and C.S. Lewis often calls “the moral ought.” We all feel obligatory to some form of ethics and morals even if it is subjectively our own system of what we think or feel are the best course of conduct. Granted while there are great similarities the world over in particulars there are also many variances between cultures and within cultures. Even between families and down to differences between individuals. We all have different particulars of what we see as right or good.

In addition to this, we have the revealed laws given from God to man as recorded in Scripture. Some of these would be in line with what was already figured out by man naturally, but others are somewhat different to what would seem natural and yet often we see the goodness in them and sometimes we just have to trust that it is good. The Scriptural revealed morality is not exhaustive and it is not intended to be. The Old Testament law had a purpose in helping men through an external law to do what is good for them and it had a primary purpose of showing mankind our fallen state and our need for God’s salvation by grace. The law was setting the stage for the next phase of humanity that would soon open the door to freedom from a life in subjection to external laws. God was providing a way to heal the heart so that the laws become unnecessary for out of the heart a man acts if the heart is restored to righteousness the actions will follow.

Let us go back to discussing morality outside of a revealed law. Let us consider the people who have never seen any revealed laws or do not seek them for their moral instruction. These people still have a moral understanding. They feel they know the difference between right and wrong and know they “ought” to do what is right. Their idea of “right” may be skewed, the particulars may be wrong, but the idea that one “ought” to do what is right if only we can figure out what is right is universal. No one says they ought to do what is wrong. They may do what is wrong willingly, but they know they ought not to. The problem consists in figuring out what is the good, the right. The second problem is how to accomplish it for if we think a certain action right we struggle to do that which we think is right despite our convictions of its goodness. So even if we can be certain that A is the right course of action rather than it’s opposite we still encounter the struggle to do A. And even if we succeed several times at doing A, we might not the next time.

So in our natural understanding of morality we have a struggle to do what we think is right as well as having uncertainty regarding what is right. The only thing we really know is that there is a right/good and we ought to be doing that. However, I do realize that there are those who do hold the position that there is no right and wrong, but few if any seriously live out that philosophy in their daily life. Seldom do I meet an atheist who doesn’t think that there is a right and wrong even if our apprehending of the particulars is wrought with subjectivity. Moreover, I understand that atheists argue that morality is arrived at by agreement of a people group or by evolutionary progress of humanity by which our moral understanding mirrors what is beneficial for our survival.

This could naturally explain the moral obligation, but I do not think it satisfies our knowledge of the attainment of the good. We all seem to have this understanding even if we do not philosophically accept this that there is a right, good, true ideal of sorts by which we want to use to measure what’s right and good. However, when we try to actualize this without a God construct it eludes us. Plato spoke of good as being rooted in an abstract form, but his form had no being, no personality. It was just this allusive abstract thing with nothing real from which good could flow.

I present to you that there is this good true right absolute is not an abstract form, nor a subjective collective of humanity, but is found in a real ever present personal holy and eternal being; God. We strive to do what is right because we were created in the image of God. We were made good in a good world by a good God. But something happened that actualized evil and corrupted the good creation. Our struggle between good and evil and even attaining some semblance of certain knowledge of what is good has been brought on by this corruption. We still see glimmers of good, we have moral motions to attain what is good and yet we fall short of the goodness of God for the corruption of creation and our own sin that is in our beings separates us from God. We can see enough to lead us to the path of righteousness, but our efforts are futile without accepting His aid which He has given freely through the work Jesus did in our place to bring an end to the corruption thus bringing restoration to a path of fruition.

Through faith we accept the gift of grace from God to step out of a world of corruption and into the normal good world found only in Him. The real, the good, is rooted in His being and when we step into Him we find what we are looking for. The reality of our being is changed in an instant giving us complete and perfect righteousness free from any performance, work, duty, or moral obligation. It is a gift of grace. Then we start day one afresh walking a new life being born into righteousness and learning along the way how to actualize the reality of our new restored condition awaiting with eager expectation the day when all who are in Him and all of creation will see the full and complete restoration of all things. The glory and goodness will be free from all corruption, sin, death, and decay and it will all shine in the perfect goodness we sometimes see glimpses of when we see a sunrise, the birth of a baby, or some other magnificent beauty of nature that captures our hearts in wonder.

So where does this bring us regarding morality? Morality then becomes obsolete for we don’t earn moral goodness we are given it by the grace of God. We are given righteousness. Our identity changes from one who is unrighteous and struggles for the elusive good to one who has been made righteous and learns to live a new life. Just as when we are naturally born into this world we have to learn how to live this new life. We don’t instantly know how to live it, it is a process being worked out in us. We are not alone in this process, we journey with God’s presence aiding us each step of the way as we go from learning to sit up, to crawling, to walking, and onward as we grasp the reality of this new life. Our transformation is from the inside out; our restoring heart produces new actions that are in line with truth and goodness. We journey as a community helping and encouraging each other in our walk with Jesus. So morality then comes from the inside from our new being as righteous people and not from obedience to laws. The right actions then follow truly from our righteousness in Christ instead of from futile moral obligation to rules that only lead to guilt. Christ sets us free from this guilt of moral failure and gives us the goodness we once sought through obligatory duty to what is right. He makes us right and then shows us how to live right in freedom.

I know this is a whole lot of information, but I attempted to give a thorough treatment of the topic. Each paragraph could easily be an essay or a chapter in a book in and of itself and I am willing to discuss any aspect of these thoughts in further depth in future posts. To those of you that read here regularly and have repeatedly given me your positions on this subject please don’t feel the need to reiterate as this post is more for those who are new here and to those I am conversing with in other forums. However, if you do have any questions or things you want me to expound on I am always willing to hear what you have to say. Thank you for your patience and time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The World: Reconcilling What Is And What Ought To Be

I think it is safe to say that just about anyone can look at the world and know it ought to be different. It ought to be in harmony. It ought not to have suffering. We look at the impoverished and say this shouldn’t be this way. We look at a starving child with flies buzzing around him and our hearts cry for justice. We look at an abused animal and we have disgust against the one responsible. Our minds cannot even comprehend the massive numbers of casualties of war over the centuries.

Recently China published the overwhelming numbers of deaths incurred by earthquake last year. We all remember the massive devastation and loss of life of the tsunami. The world over mourned the loss of life that occurred on September 11th.

We see an unjust world and yet even though we are in this world we seem to know there is a justice from which it falls short. We struggle between what we experience and what we can imagine. Why can we imagine a world with no crime, war, famine, pestilence, hate, discrimination, and poverty? Why can we imagine a utopia when we obviously don’t have one?

Whether it be expeditions for a fountain of youth, or political revolution to create a classless society, or attempts to purge evil and embrace good, or find harmony in the balance of the two, many have sought to find paradise. Many have sought the ideal life, but none have succeeded to create a utopian community.

It seems we can apprehend a reality we have not experienced that tells us that things ought to be good. That people ought to get along and love one another. That war ought not to be waged. That poverty, hunger, and thirst, ought not to exist. That crime should not prevail in this world. I will be so bold as to say we know this as true while at the same time we are very much aware that we see a world that is not in align with our ideal.

Now I do have a reason to suggest of why we can imagine a better world and yet see historically that the world is full of pain, suffering, crime, war, and overall injustice. Of course, we also see a world that does have joy, peace, love, kindness, goodness. We see generosity, we see people who exhibit the good in many ways. We see great achievements. There is good in this world and we know that too.

Every great movie or novel pits good against evil depicting the very real battle between the two in a struggle for the good to win. Some stories bring about the triumph of good over evil whereas some leave off with the continual struggle between the two. Still others conclude with a sobering evil being played out without being averted. I recently watched such a film where the main character died in the end, an accidental victim of the concentration camps. I was dismayed for we do really think movies, as well as life should end well, but it doesn’t always. We live in the real world no matter how much we want it to be different.

Just the same, to get back to the reason for the cosmic tension between good and evil with the ideal of the perfect actualization of the good in the world harkens back to the Judeo-Christian story of creation. God created a good world that became corrupted by the experiential actualization of evil by man and is now topsy-turvy yet on a course to have paradise regained. This gives explanation for the good we idolize in the world with the corruption still mixed in while having the knowledge that it ought to be otherwise. We were created good for a good world and yet we live in a corrupted world with knowledge of the incorruptible.

Our knowledge even of what would be the best good is also corrupted, but we know enough to know it ought to be better. We may disagree on what that better is, but we all agree it ought to be better. That idea of there being a better gives credence to the proposition that there is an objective good by which to judge something as not measuring up or as accurately reflecting the good. Just because our mental apprehending of that objective good is often subjective does not mean that the objective isn’t there behind the veil and that we see glimpses of what could be made manifest in this world.

Personally, I think that the Christian worldview does a good job of explaining why there is a struggle between the evil we see and the good we know is possible. I know not everyone will agree with me and that’s okay. I’m just offering an explanation to consider, not an exhaustive one, but a partial one for we only know in part as we see those glimmers of truth and realize their reality. We are all learning how to take those glimmers and bring them into fruition in this world. I think the more we work together, knowing that no one sees fully, but that we all see in part and together can see in a greater part we can make manifest that which we behold.

The Christian explanation also provides the substance of hope that all of creation will enter into paradise regained. We are not doomed to always struggle with the existence of evil for it will one day be purged and that which walks in the good which is God, Himself will remain and be reborn incorruptible.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dreaming of Living to Work

I often hear people ask another in casual conversation “what is it you do for a living?” I think while this question encompasses the common mentality that we work to live; it fails to reflect the way things should be of living to work. This statement may create many to think why in the world would I want to live for my job? Work is often seen as something we want to be liberated from. Many of us trudge along in our jobs working for money. We go to college, not to understand the world better, but to become trained in a skill or a trade that will lead to gainful employment. Then we become employed and cannot wait to get home after work or have our weekend of freedom. Work then becomes a manner of necessity to acquire the freedom to do what we really want to do with our time.

However, what if we looked at it another way, the way artisans look at their life. Artists whether musicians, writers, painters, sculptors, etc. seek to make manifest their desire to create. Some succeed and bring in money to live by that allows them to continue to do what they love.

I think we can find that thing that we would most enjoy to do with our life by asking ourselves, what is it we would do if money and time were not a problem? If we had all the time in the world and money couldn’t hold us back what would we give our time to doing? To put it another way, what is it we dream of doing with our life?

Once we know what that is, and I would wager that many have known for years but haven’t thought its attainment possible, we can look at how we can achieve that end. Obviously we need money to live in this world so that which we do would most likely need to provide an income to support ourselves or our families. If we look at that thing we desire to do as possible to attain we may be able to see how it could be manifested.

For me, that thing is writing. I love to write. I could write hours upon hours each day. Writing though is something I could get paid for if I did freelance journalism or some other manner of employment. So I could use what I most desire to do to bring in an income to sustain its reality. This would be an example of living for work instead of working to live.

I think many of us would be much happier in life following that deep dream of ours then working because it’s a responsibility we must bear for whatever reason. Now of course there is nothing wrong with hard work and supporting one’s family. What I am discussing doesn’t negate that, I am just redirecting that to join it with doing what we desire to do and accomplishing both ends.

I wonder often how many attorneys practice law because they love justice versus it being a lucrative career. How many in the medical profession serve because they love to help people rather than needing a good job? How many people working in customer service jobs actually like people versus needing to make some money? I am sure some do. I have met attorneys who love justice and want to help those in need of legal services and do their job because they love it. I have met nurses and doctors who truly care for their patients. I have met those in customer service that love people and are happy serving the needs of others. But there are many more that can’t wait to escape the working world to something else. What if it didn’t have to be that way? What if we could work at what we love? What if we could follow our dreams and have the time and money necessary to see them come true? I think we can. I think our dreams are there to be followed.

I recall a scene in the Adam Sadler movie Mr. Deeds. Deeds is speaking at an assembly of board members and stock holders of his deceased uncles company. He is seeking to remind these people all consumed with the bottom dollar what is important in life. He asks them what they wanted to be when they grew up. People began to answer him, first tentatively and then jubilantly. One said, a fireman, another said a veterinarian and others chimed in with their childhood dreams. The scene captured that desire in us to follow our dreams and their realization that they were on a different path than that which would fulfill them.

One last thing, I think some people are in their dream job and have forgotten that with the day to day drudgery of work. What was once a goal in college to be such and such and do a particular thing became forgotten when it became a responsibility one was tied to instead of a dream one was living. If that’s you take time to remember why you embarked on this career path to start with and see if it is still true for you today. If it isn’t, is that because your dream has changed, or your realization that you’re living it has been lost and needs to be regained?

We can all find that dream of our hearts and it is never too late to enter into it. Lost time can be quickly restored once we step into that dream bringing the desire of our hearts into a reality we can live. No dream is too big. If you dreamed it and it has been in your heart just waiting to come to fruition it can be made manifest. Consider your dream. Pull it down off the shelf, dust it off, and dream about it. You might be surprised what you can come up with to start living it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Book Review: American Creation by Joseph Ellis

I have determined to read more books of history this year. My favorite historical time period to study is colonial America, specifically the years from its colonization through the formative years of the Founding Fathers. Therefore, I selected Joseph Ellis’ book American Creation from the shelf at Borders to purchase and read.

Ellis wrote a magnificent book recounting several key events and players in the formation of the revolution, constitution, and executive powers. He spoke of how many a historian has written the story of the foundation of America. However, he claimed, most take a side either spinning a tale of Founders who were exempt from any failures of character or taking the side of characterizing the Founders as deplorable due to their handling of the Native American’s, slavery, and the rights of women.

Ellis seeks to present another view of the Founders that is neither naively esteemed nor unfairly deplored. He presents both the successes and the failures of the Founding Fathers and advocates that this is not only to be fair, but in reality most that have great successes also have great failures and we can learn from both. I found the book a fascinating read and thoroughly enjoyed his eloquence of style in his retelling of the events and notable people of the Founding era.

I will soon read Heroes by British historian Paul Johnson. Also I will read, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea, a history of Protestantism by Alister McGrath. I also may read Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis as well. But first I am going to read a book by Francis Schaeffer and then maybe one by A.W. Tozer.