The Problem of Naturalism

by Katelyn Ebert

Everyone has experienced pain.  Injury, betrayal, natural disaster, or the death of a close relative or friend all cause us to sharply recall the problems of this world.  During these or other tragedies, we tend to wonder, “why is there evil?” Many privately or publicly conclude that evil in the world is inconsistent with the concept of God as omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnibenevolent (all-good).  Formal arguments based on the problem of evil have been presented by influential philosophers such as Michael Tooley, David Hume, and John Mackie. Though these propositions cannot disprove the existence of a God, they call into question the classical concept of God.  To present a serious criticism, skeptics should use an internal critique to show that the theist’s theory fails on its own terms.  Gottfried Leibniz, a Christian philosopher, offers a defense of theism by proposing that evils are a means to higher goods.  His argument is even stronger if omnibenevolence is defined to include justice.

To define terms, empiricism is the view that the senses are the only means of acquiring unquestionable facts, not trusting knowledge by a priori reasoning.  A debatable result is Naturalism, which holds that everything is the result of natural processes and is made of material elements.  For example, the mind would be considered nothing more than the sum of electrochemical processes in the brain. An objective standard of morality as defined in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy posits that as an object, it “would be there, as it is, even if no subject perceived it” (Friend).  This seems descriptive of an eternal metaphysical concept.

With these definitions, it seems that the concept of evil cannot be objective if we assume naturalism.  Removing spirituality, humans and animals are the results of billions of years of chance and energy acting on matter.  We are here because of natural selection, so our cognitive and sensory faculties should be prime for survival; there is no guarantee that we are able to accurately perceive or understand objective morality.  By definition, objective morality seems highly discordant with empirically derived concepts of right and wrong. Though we pursue what we determine is good and worthy, the standards we develop for a good life come to naught under scrutiny.  Consider that once we die, the amount of pleasure or suffering we had in this life is irrelevant; what we do for others, for our family, or the betterment of society will be forgotten if humanity goes extinct; the universe itself will be left unmarked when it eventually dies a ‘heat death’ as energy reaches complete equilibrium throughout and change is no longer possible.  Nothing we deem good is eternal. Consequently, individual experience cannot present objective morality, which must be considered true at all times and in all places.

To clarify, pointing out the lack of objective morality is not the same as saying that people cannot recognize evil.  However, if evil is based only on our subjective experience, our value critique of God is proportionally subjective. Moral theories like Social Contract Theory (SCT) or Utilitarianism attempt to define evil beyond individual preference.  Within naturalism, it seems implausible that either theory could be eternal, which would imply the existence of a metaphysical concept. The burden of proof would remain on the proponent to show how natural laws could produce such. If the moral standard of Social Contract Theory is a brute fact but did not exist before Socrates, Hobbes, or John Locke developed the concept, then it requires a subject to perceive it, and would therefore not be objective.  Could anything less than fully objective concepts of good and evil be fairly applied to a transcendent God? Assumably not. Similarly, utilitarianism is a theory arising from the electrochemical brain processes of organisms on Earth (assuming we don’t make contact with Vulcans), so the jurisdiction of these moral theories are limited to humanity’s dominion.

Since there must be objectively evil events in the world for the problem of evil to be a legitimate problem, perhaps there is an underlying objective moral standard explaining Social Contract Theory and Utilitarianism.  If evil in SCT is defined as violating the moral obligations one accepted by choosing to live in a society where people determined such moral principles likely to form and/or maintain societal stability, one could ask why societal stability is good.  The answer could actually be utilitarian: such generally facilitates the survival and happiness of more human beings. So why are existence and pleasure good? If it is based on the cooperate testimony to this preference, why should it be authoritative?  All this revelation reflects is that it is competitively advantageous for survival to enjoy life. Or, if existence and pleasure are good in the same way that suffering and death are bad, perhaps these are the brute facts of morality. This moral law is not composed of atoms nor directly comparable to the laws of thermodynamics; it must be metaphysical.  This could fit within naturalism only by arising from natural laws. However, physical laws of natural selection and the processes of mutation lead to evolution, which entails suffering and death. How could natural laws produce a higher law that condemns itself? The existence of an unexplainable metaphysical concept itself refutes naturalism, but if we are the result of only natural processes, we would also have to evolve beyond the laws that produced us to claim comprehension of metaphysical morality.  Ultimately, this illustrates that evil from the naturalistic perspective cannot be objective.

For the problem of evil to be a legitimate philosophical problem, the critiquer must be able to point to objective evil.  An external critique is one based in the critiquer’s worldview, generally considering whether the idea is consistent with reality. Consider for a moment if the problem of evil was used externally and defeated the theist position.  Relying upon premises consistent with naturalism and an objective presence of evil, a non-theist argues against a transcendent theistic God. Hypothetically, the theistic perspective is defeated. Now the objective presence of evil, which is inconsistent naturalism, is assumed with the naturalistic critique.  Either the original objectivity of evil or the original premises based in naturalism (that form the external critique) were wrong. Of course, there would be nothing wrong with an internal critique.  This would be showing how the presence of objective evil is inconsistent with the theistic concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God.  However, to truly test consistency without introducing exterior restrictions upon the character of God, the nontheist should allow the theist to define their own terms.  

Within this context of internal versus external critiques, classical arguments for and against the problem of evil can be analyzed.  Dr. Michael Tooley’s Inductive Argument from Evil falls apart when it uses both naturalistic and non-naturalistic bases for his premises.  In his debate with Dr. William Lane Craig, he starts his opening statement with an inventory of evils in the world. Many of these are moral evils, such as the Holocaust (Ratio).  He does not justify the objectivity of these actions as morally wrong, and to operate upon such, as discussed earlier, is not naturalistic. Even more so is the point of alleged genetic evil.  This is a note about the imperfections of our biology that cause suffering. How could the suboptimal results of the unguided, morally neutral process of evolution have “wrong-making properties?”  And yet Tooley also makes external critiques that are consistent with his worldview, like the inclusion of natural evil, which assumes humans are innocent or at least morally neutral; this is not the case in the Christian worldview but is ignored here and when he discusses the genocides of the Old Testament.  So Tooley’s argument is trying to operate both from an internal and an external perspective, which does not work.

Even ignoring Tooley’s problematic approach, there are issues with the premises of his argument that make it unsound.  Primarily, one of his key premises states that “an action is morally wrong, all things considered, if it has wrong-making characteristics [both known and unknown] that are not counterbalanced by its right-making characteristics [both known and unknown]” (Ratio).  He likely points out the potential unknown evil in any given scenario in response to the common theistic claim that evil in the world is for a greater unseen good. The crux of Tooley’s argument hinges on there being events in the world where the known evil outweighs the known good, but by noting that there are two unknowns there inevitably ends up being almost nothing that can be concluded.  Even if on one side of the inequality you have 3,000,000 known evils plus X unknown evils, and on the other you have 3 known goods plus Y unknown goods, the probability of the evil outweighing the good is not necessarily high because we have no way of knowing the scale of X or Y. Y could be 3×10²⁰ and X could be 3 for all we know. This leads to an even more fundamental issue: how does one assign a numerical value to good and evil, even in one situation?  How many lives equal how much suffering weighed against how much pleasure? Rather than appealing to mysterious unknown goods, the theist like Leibniz may be pointing out that there are higher goods like benevolence. Virtues, vices, and freedoms make the good and evil of a scenario even more unquantifiable.

A very different approach to the problem of evil is by the philosopher David Hume, who develops an internal critique of the traditional concept of God.  Based on empirical a posteriori reasoning, he spends the bulk of The Argument from Evil arguing that there is, in fact, evil in the world.  However, the heart of his argument–that God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence are incompatible with evil in the world–is left largely undefined and unargued.  He merely asserts that if God is “willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he [sic] impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” (235).  This is a summary of Epicurus’s trilemma, and though it is presented as conclusive, the major premises are not argued. That being able but unwilling to remove evil makes one malevolent is not an explicit or formal logical necessity.  The many arguments offered in support of consistency must be ignored for Hume’s assertion to work because most are not responded to. At one point, Hume may be responding to the defense that good outweighs evil by attempting to show the opposite.  Yet, how can one measure good and evil in the world? Hume does not extensively define evil beyond example, although he does seem to assume a concept of omnibenevolence that theists may question.

When Hume engages with Leibniz’s theistic position, he claims that Leibniz denies the existence of evil, being “perhaps the first who ventured upon so bold and paradoxical an opinion” (233).  However, this misrepresents Leibniz’s view entirely, since Leibniz admits in his Theodicy that “it must be confessed that there is evil in this world which God has made” (238).  Leibniz’s actual defense is that “the evil is accompanied by a greater good” (238, emphasis his), and greater goods are intertwined with evil.  This is in response to the objection that God did not create the best possible world since there is evil in it.  Leibniz counters by using the analogy of a general who would rather win a battle that would have minor losses than neither win the battle nor incur losses.  An example not mentioned by Leibniz that could enlighten his point is that virtues like sympathy are intrinsically connected to suffering. So, higher goods like benevolence could not be achieved without some evil.  

In response to the Free Will Defense, the late Oxford professor John Mackie proposes that in the creation of morally free creatures, true omnipotence has been forfeited.  For a being to be truly free, it has to be ultimately uncontrolled. Mackie points out that there are two types of omnipotence: the power to control (O₁) and the power to create beings one cannot control (O₂), (Mackie, 210-212).  Since these inherently conflict with one another, God cannot have both O₁ and O₂ from an Aquinisinian perspective; (Aquinas’s view of Omnipotence will be discussed shortly).  Plantinga posits that God has O₂, which is why once God created significantly free humans, He was no longer able to interfere with their actions (309-310). Therefore, God is not responsible for moral evil, although not being able to hold to O₁ would compromise omnipotence from the classical perspective.  As a result, Mackie’s critique that the theist is redefining or rejecting one of the premises to solve the problem of evil seems valid.  

On the other hand, if God does not possess the ability to essentially thwart Himself as O₂ implies, one could avoid compromising classical omnipotence.  O₂ would be considered logically impossible if one accepts O₁, and therefore not necessitated by omnipotence following Aquinas’s argument.  Still, God could have the ability to create beings that He could allow to primarily act freely while maintaining fundamental control.  Unless God is compelled to always display O₁, God should be free to choose when to control His creation.  If God, as omnibenevolent, only actively intervened to produce virtue, humans would remain the cause of vice.  As far as natural evil, like tsunamis and earthquakes, an argument could be made that these are also the results of human free will since in the Judeo-Christian worldview they are the result of the Fall.  So the free will defense is a fair model for explaining the relationship between God’s omnipotence and humans’ freedom and responsibility.

However, the atheist may then object as to why a good God would allow evil.  Although Leibniz’s Theodicy to the problem of evil seems reasonable, it could be expanded and strengthened by the following.  Consider how if God’s justice is inseparable from His omnibenevolence, the necessity of evil as a means to good is more logical.  

  1. Premise 1- God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
  2. Premise 2- An essential aspect of omnibenevolence is justice.
  3. Premise 3- An omnipotent being can do all that is logically possible.
  4. Premise 4- Justice logically requires evil in the world.
  5. Premise 5- Therefore, God cannot demonstrate justice without creating a world with evil.
  6. Premise 6- It is good for God to express all of His attributes.
  7. Conclusion: Evil exists so that the fullness of God’s omnibenevolence can be expressed.

Premise 1 is presupposed in the deductive problem of evil so as to argue its inconsistency with evil existing.  The argument being presented here is that when Premise 2 is allowed as a theistic rendering of omnibenevolence, there is a rational explanation for evil.  Since justice is often considered a preeminent trait within the definition of goodness, the theist’s inclusion of this should be allowed to stand. This is especially the case considering the supporting prosyllogism from earlier was that an internal critique checks the coherence of the premises.  Premise 5 is validly deduced from Premises 1, 3, and 4, so it stands if 3 and 4 are also true. (P1: If x, then a, b, c. P3: If a, then y. P4: If y, then z. P5: Therefore, if x, then z.)

Premise 3 is the conclusion of Thomas Aquinas’s “Is God’s Power Limited?”  The well-known Christian theologian and philosopher wrote an explanation to many common objections to omnipotence, essentially claiming that God can do all things that are absolutely possible, meaning objectively logical and logically consistent with His nature (104-106).  This implies that Logic exists metaphysically distinct from God, and could problematically lead to God being subservient to the Laws of Logic as an outside force. Alternatively, Rene Descartes, in his search for an unquestionable fact in Meditations on First Philosophy, asks how he could know “that I am not deceived every time that I add two and three, or count the sides of a square?” (8).  Here, the Princeton professor of philosophy Harry Frankfurt infers that Descartes is operating upon a view of God’s omnipotence that means He can do both what is absolutely possible and absolutely impossible, including changing analytical truths (109).  This would present the opposite problem where God arbitrarily defines logic. Tomorrow 2+3 could equal 7 if that is what God decides. If the laws of logic are unstable, philosophy would be pointless, thereby destroying the means of even coming to the original conclusion.  Instead of either of these views, what if logic, truth, and other objectives were realities that flow from and reflect an aspect of God’s character and nature? That could be caused as God entered time and space, which would be why the premises of logic are taken sequentially.  So what if God were to enter time and space differently in order to display other attributes of His nature, would the laws of logic be different? Not if God is unchanging and had a divine purpose in creating the universe as it is. Logic being reflected as an aspect of God’s character is at most a passive way of God “creating logic,” and the resulting stability is what ultimately differentiates it from Descartes’ model.  A concept like this reconciles the assumed premise in any argument that logic is constant, but does not call into question God’s omnipotence by placing it ontologically above Him.

In defense of  Premise 4, it would be wise to mention that God is described commonly in the Old and New Testament as a judge.  Kant’s theory of justice separates the concept into two realms: the private and the civil (Pomerleau). Since God is the King and Judge, the characteristics of civil justice are more relevant.  Protective, commutative, and distributive justice all require some form of evil in the world. If a government is required to fairly maintain, manage, and distribute goods, there is an assumption that there could be a lack of resources.  Deficiencies in access to food, water, or medicine (or the diseases in the first place) lead to suffering in the world, a form of evil. Likewise, the need for protection requires either natural or moral evil. Furthermore, there is a distinct character trait within the broader definition of justice that can only be seen in the context of righteous punishment of wrongdoing, which of course implies moral evil.  No form of civil justice can be served without the presence of evil.

Upon similar logic, an analogy can illustrate the reasoning behind Premise 6.  Consider how a judge is deemed good when a criminal receives an appropriate sentence.  God could similarly be glorified in executing right judgment. Furthermore, even when a flawed person receives an appropriate honor, it is a good thing.  How much better would it be for God to receive due glory? Therefore, the best possible universe could be one in which God receives the most glory, assumably by demonstrating all of His attributes, which would include justice and necessitate evil.  

Though at first glance the problem of evil appears threatening to the traditional concept of God, its premises must still be argued. To remain consistent, skeptics must choose between an external critique of the traditional Judeo-Christian concept of God by naturalism and an internal critique of the concept of God by theology.  When theists specify the inclusion of justice as an aspect of omnibenevolence, there arises an explanation for why a good and powerful God would allow evil.  Lastly, the problems of this world must be considered in the context of temporality: God has a final plan of redemption for all of creation. As a diamond shines brighter on a dark background, so too will redemption for a broken world will be greater than an unfallen creation.  

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas. “Is God’s Power Limited?” Philosophy of Religion, edited by Michael Rea and Louis Pojman, no.7, Cengage Learning, 2015, pp. 104-106.

Descartes, René. “Meditations On First Philosophy.” The Philosophical Works of Descartes, translated by Elizabeth S. Haldane. Cambridge University Press, 1911, pp. 1–32.

Frankfurt, Harry G. “The Logic of Omnipotence.” Philosophy of Religion, edited by Michael Rea and Louis Pojman, no.7, Cengage Learning, 2015, p. 109.

Friend, Celeste. “Social Contract Theory.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, IEP, http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/.

Hume, David. “The Argument from Evil.” Philosophy of Religion, edited by Michael Rea and Louis Pojman, no.7, Cengage Learning, 2015, pp. 232-237.

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. “Theodicy: A Defense of Theism.” Philosophy of Religion, edited by Michael Rea and Louis Pojman, no.7, Cengage Learning, 2015, pp. 237-243.

Mackie, John L. “Evil and Omnipotence.” Mind, New Series, vol. 64, no. 254, Oxford University Press, 1955, pp. 200-212.

Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. Harper & Roe, 1974. “The Free Will Defense.” edited by Michael Rea and Louis Pojman, no.7, Cengage Learning, 2015, pp. 300–318.

Pomerleau, Wayne P. “Western Theories of Justice.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, IEP, http://www.iep.utm.edu/justwest/.

Ratio Christi. “Is God Real? William Lane Craig vs Michael Tooley (Part 1)” Online video clip. YouTube. 11 March 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdgBZKvDfaA.  

Review / The Hate U Give / Josh McGary

Review / The Hate You Give / Josh McGary

SYNOPSIS

The Hate U Give is a movie about a young girl named Starr who lives between two worlds. The first world is in the afro-centric Garden Heights where she lives with her family. Here she participates in a stereotypical, media portrayed “black experience.” In this life, she has witnessed many things at a young age, including drugs, general thugery, sexual promiscuity and ultimately the death of one of her best friends. Though her parents disagree about the need to ultimately stay in this environment when she is an adult, they decide to try to spare her anymore heartache and to give her a “leg up” in life. They do this by sending her to a “white school,” where she, by virtue of being black, is by default, cool. At Williamson Prep, Starr has a different persona whose seemingly entire existence, is secretly built around distancing herself from the truths of her Garden Heights life.

The movie begins when Starr is witness to, yet another friend being unjustifiably killed, this time by a police officer in Garden Heights. Starr’s secret life in Garden Heights becomes a subject of national attention and her two communities wrestle for her to have the courage to own one community or the other in the wake of it all. Caught between two worlds, the film focuses on the divide between Starr’s two worlds collapsing into each other, Starr’s inability to cope with the overflow, and each world’s mounting pressure to gain meaning and control in the senseless death.


SPOILER ALERT


THEMES

 

  1. Intersectionality must create dual identities

    From the first voiceover in the movie, we are told to assume that Starr’s dilemma of dual identities is the only reasonable personhood she can have and that people who don’t understand that are people who are too privileged to know better. This is best seen in her emotionally distant relationship with her white boyfriend. He is naively color blind to her, which she views as inappropriate because she is by default colored. Though there is no resolution, beyond their willingness to accept that he just doesn’t understand her, the movie is inconsistent in its treatment of this as Starr views her father’s suspicion of her white boyfriend to be inappropriate.

    MOSTLY FALSE.
    Though different aspects of a person’s life create different vantage points and therefore a diversity of worldviews, these do not have to remain at odds with each other. These can be married to synthesize a holistic understanding of self if there can be communication between the parts. Beyond this, the biblical model is to celebrate the differences as distinct parts of a single whole. Therefore the identity isn’t in the part but rather the whole. If Starr’s boyfriend cannot relate to her as a whole, it is because, on a systematic level, Starr chooses to keep herself a fractured person. This will be covered a little more in depth, below, when we talk less about identity and more about communication.

  2. Language is the most powerful tool one can use

    The title of the movie is the key to understanding the overall narrative of the film. The Hate U Give can be shortened to T.H.U.G., itself a shorter version of a Tupac lyric: The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everbody. This can be shortened to T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E., a satirical inversion of the Concept of “Thug Life,” a prevalent worldview in Garden Heights which is a savage form of social contract theory. Tupac’s lyric is introduced by her friend, Khalil, as a way to show that he viewed the system of oppression in Thug Life Mentality and Garden Heights as something that is both systematic and in need of leaving. Himself being caught in the Thug Life Mentality, he was determined to switch his thinking to the T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. thought process and escape the systematic oppression of Garden Heights. Immediately after introducing her to this new way of thinking, he was promptly killed, leaving the Tupac’s lyric a prominent bitter truth in her life.

    Tupac was calling people to speak differently and not perpetuate hate in the ghettos.

    The rest of the movie is spent with Starr wrestling with the passive call to action in the T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. ideology. She doesn’t know how to give her relationship with Khalil proper consideration as her two worlds fight to control her voice. Throughout the movie, she wrestles with what to say, what not to say and when to keep quiet. Throughout the many examples in the film of a systematic negative effect of language use in the film, none is more jarring than that of her elementary aged brother grabbing a gun and threatening to shoot the local drug dealer. It is here that we see the effect of T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. ideology played out. After calling all to stop perpetuating the violence with their words, every part sets down their weapons and peace is maintained.

    TRUE.
    The scripture calls us to control our tongue and to have our hearts be changed to those that love each other tenderheartedly. It does matter what you say. It does have a noticeable effect on the culture of the next generation.

  3. Success is defined by opportunity
    The world of Garden Heights is built on a lack of opportunity. It is this realization and the vocalization of it that serves to get Starr in trouble with the local drug dealers, the King Lords. Admitting the King Lord’s control of the city to a grand jury, in trying to excuse Khalil’s drug-dealing ways as an inescapable fact of ghetto life is a defining moment of the movie. It shows the nihilistic tendency of the culture and why Starr and others feel so trapped. The ideology is that because there is no opportunity in the ghetto that isn’t corrupt, all people are destined to a life of relative corruption. Khalil had to be a drug dealer. Any questioning of that truth is seen as not truly understanding, or even respecting the culture. In some cases in the movie, this was even expressed as racism.

    MOSTLY FALSE.
    Though our relative situations create something to rise above, the Scripture is very clear that our ability to rise above them doesn’t represent our success. Success is defined by how well we do two things: Our follow through of loving God wholeheartedly and man tenderheartedly. None of these things depends on any connection to station, gender, race or any other thing. By a biblical standard, Khalil would have been successful by simply denying the King Lord’s control in his life, and living, not by Tupac’s T.H.U.G.L.I.F.E. mentality, but by Christ’s two commands. This may have led to ultimate poverty or even death and still within his original situation, but he would’ve been viewed as successful before God. The biblical truth is that Khalil sold drugs because he didn’t trust God to take care of him and he wanted a different life than the one he was given.

    The truth of this is mirrored in the movie by Starr’s two Father figures. The first is by her biological father who learned the hard way that he had to leave the Thug Life. And her uncle who chose to join the police instead of the Thug Life. If it is true that Khalil had to participate in Thug Life to advance beyond the trappings of Garden heights, then the movie isn’t very consistent in giving these two male authority figures the choices they made. Even in the world of The Hate U Give, a choice is always an option. Beyond this, the Bible supports the idea that in Christ, we are now firstly a part of his Church. This is to be the culture that transcends all other cultures. This is what we rely on to move past where we started from.

  4. Privilege makes it impossible to communicate between different social statuses

    Throughout the movie, Starr wrestles with communicating her inner turmoil to those who don’t have the same cultural understanding as her. Even when she is true to herself and eventually speaks out, there is an ideology that understanding can only truly be achieved by giving in to the idea that her white friends cannot relate to her in a meaningful way. As the movie ends, it is seen that her best friend at the beginning of the movie is now no longer viewed as her friend. There are only a few points in the movie that drive a wedge between their relationship and in these times it is because her friend chose to ask for clarity on presuppositions that Starr held about intersectional differences or because she believed that there were two sides to the police shooting. In a moment of climax for the movie, Starr’s white friend questions her on why it isn’t possible that the police officer could have made a simple, though fatal, mistake about the hairbrush in his hand being a gun. Starr’s response is to use her friend’s hairbrush to illustrate that her friend is a racist. She does this by attacking her with that hairbrush and menacing her with it by shouting commands at her and hitting it with her. As her friend crumbles into a fetal position, Starr walks away feeling justified in proving the point that her friend sees her as a threat on the basis of her skin tone. The audience is left with the sense that any black person holding a hairbrush is, by default, a black person holding a weapon because every black person is dangerous and white people are by nature suspicious of them. This, therefore, nullifies, in Starr’s mind, any idea that policeman could be justified in shooting Khalil because there is no possible justified homicide when someone is racist.

    FALSE.
    This is tacitly false. Whether someone is racist doesn’t change the fact that they could be justified in committing homicide. Beyond this, racism is not the most reasonable conclusion to come to. This point is illustrated in a conversation that Starr has with her Policeman uncle. He sheds light on how difficult it can be to know what is a weapon when you are on the job. However, he does admit, when pushed by Starr, that he would not shoot first with a white person. This seems to be meant to illustrate that the systemic racism had infiltrated Starr’s uncle’s way of thinking. However, causation and correlation are different things. it doesn’t address the sheer statistics and data that imply that the behavior to shoot first with a black man is more reasonable than with white. Starr’s uncle has to make quick decisions based on general sets of data. It is both natural and prudent to generalize and act. It does not logically follow that racism is the deciding factor, even if race is a factor in the decision-making process.

    Furthermore, this racial profiling is exactly what Starr is doing to her white friend in assuming that she is a racist privileged white person, based solely on her level of intersectionality. Starr’s tantrum toward her friend did nothing to prove her point that her friend is racist. This point is simply unproven by that interaction. The fact that Starr’s friend collapsed into a fetal position was because Starr literally assaulted her with a hairbrush. Therefore, based on the evidence, Starr’s friend should view her as emotionally unstable at that moment and be scared of her. This is not because she is a black person holding a potential weapon. But because she is an unstable person using a hairbrush as a literal weapon.

    Beyond this, the idea that differences need to create a disparity in our high view of another person’s value is false. Christianity teaches that in Christ there is no gender, race or any other distinguisher’s in terms of ones value, or appropriate minimum level of treatment. Historically, this has been why many social services and missions of mercy can be traced back to Christianity. It is the Christian worldview which denies the view that minorities are innately different. When we allow our worldview to contain the idea that suspicion and privilege are foregone realities we must live with, we are denying the high biblical view of personhood.


IMPRESSIONS

The Hate U Give is a thought inducing two hours of dynamic content. It is well acted and well cast, though ultimately fails to provide any real solution or true hope to the problem presented in its title.

 

Review / Bohemian Rhapsody / Josh McGary

Review / Bohemian Rhapsody / Josh McGary

DISCLAIMER

Bohemian Rhapsody is based on a true story, but there are many details which are not accurate. To that end, I have chosen to write on the movie as if its presentations are true. The points below are written as if the movie is accurate.

I am a Queen fan. I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a self-respecting musician who is not. Queen is, in my opinion, the epitome of how the creative process can bring glory to God and be actively ignorant and sometimes defiant of him. In their music, the complex harmonies and intentful conforming of chaotic sound into a single masterpiece is something that only one made in the image of God can do. This, of course, means that their music is often the saddest from a Christian perspective and that Freddie Mercury’s story is ultimately a tragedy to us as believers.

This is, of course, the opposite of how the story is painted. By bookending the film with the recreation of arguably the best live performance in the history of concerts… the LiveAid Queen segment… we are led to believe that this moment is a worthwhile anchor with which to tell the story of how the band came to be Queen.

IMPRESSIONS

I genuinely enjoyed the film. The acting, led by Rami Malek, left the audience appropriately enthralled at the rise, fall, and rise of Queen. Incidentally, the casting was also superb.

 


SPOILER ALERT


THEMES

BoRap, as the song is eponymously referred to, does a decent job of trying to paint to clear a picture on any one theme. This is perhaps a good move for the director, given the extremity with which Freddie Mercury was said to have lived. That said, there are a few things I gathered in my viewing.

  1. Identity is not in family or religion but in self. This is displayed in everything from Freddie’s contrarian attitude to such mundane things as how to hold a microphone, what lyrics to sing, to even giving himself a new name. This is carried into the career of the band as they did things like experimenting with sound, abandoning touring for production and writing rock based on opera rather than popular trends.


    False.

    This idea runs contrary to what the Bible teaches in general. The family is meant to teach us about God, wherein we are supposed to find our true identity. This is not to say that experimentation in artistry is wrong, but this path should be one of bolstering and building up identity rather than tearing down the one we come to the table with.

  2. Identity cannot be altered in any way and must be sensationalized to be accurate. This is best illustrated during a pivotal scene in which his wife reacts to Freddie’s admission that he is bisexual. The context of this scene is that of desperation on his part to keep the relationship intact despite his appetites. He was not seeking to break up with her. In fact, he demands that she keep their wedding ring on. Nonetheless, he is unsuccessful at keeping the marriage going, instead pivoting the relationship into a full-blown homosexual lifestyle. This is the result of that one coming-out conversation wherein his wife’s response to him was not one of strengthening their failing relationship but instead of directing him into his appetites by telling him, “no, Freddie! you are gay.” Even after this, he continues to met with failed attempts to strengthen the relationship, culminating in his wife eventually getting married and having children with another man.


    Mostly False.

    This is true only when the context of our identity comes from God. There is a deep sadness in this movie as Freddie continues to beg attention and relationship from his wife. This “inclination” is ultimately presented as a negative thing to overcome and his acceptance of his homosexual lifestyle and her new marriage is presented as part of his healthy new mindset. Yet, a large portion of the debauchery and depression in Freddie’s life seems to have come, not from closeting his lusts, but rather from people repeatedly rathering to give him over to these lusts than to meet him head on and give him direction and sound advice. It is in the height of this state, high and drunk that a single expression of her love pulls him out of his depression. Truthfully, he had been begging her to do this for many years. But instead, he was left to develop Freddie Mercury while Farrokh Bulsara was ultimately lost.

  3. Family is those who understand your identity. Queen is family. From the beginning of the movie, Freddie’s father is depicted as unnecessarily over-bearing. This seems to be a cause of Freddie seeking to find his family elsewhere. He finds this in three main ways. The first is in the band. The second is in the music itself and the last is in the fandom. However, in every front, Freddie becomes frustrated that his true self is not being understood or respected.

    Mostly False.
    Family is repeatedly accosted to refer to the band. This definition expands as necessary. However, every definition ultimately fails Freddie. When he defined it as the band, the band easily broke up over simple confusions and lack of patience. When he defined it as the music, he ultimately became bored and sought to make his own music. When he defined it as the fandom, he became frustrated at the lack of ability for the fans to not relegate him to a cross-dressing homosexual poster boy. Even, the family that he wanted to have with his wife ended up letting him down, while at the same time claiming that it was so he could be truly free. Biblically, family is found in our mutual faith, wherein we lose distinctions such as gender, race and so on for the glory of adoption and oneness as Christ’s body.

  4. Everyone deserves a second chance. Freddie is a screw-up. He is a genius first, but after the genius comes a lot of grace. As Freddie continues to gain notoriety, he becomes less and less self-aware. This apex’s in a moment of lust where he tries to take advantage of a waiter at one of his parties. Jim, the waiter, shuns his advances, for the most part, and demands to be treated as a person. This moment hangs in Freddie’s mind until he finds his own self-respect and ultimately is able to reapproach the waiter with an interaction that, presumably creates a respectful relationship. The encounter with Jim created the impasse needed for Freddie to admit that he needed more of the band and less of himself.

    Mostly True.
    The concept of grace is a distinctly Christian concept. That said, its beautiful to see it played out in stories such as this. Unfortunately, and expectedly, it is a wholly inconsistent application. What could have been a true understanding of grace and redemption is instead a succumbing to social contract theory. Freddie realizes that he is worse without Queen and vice versa. This is called second chances, but in reality, Freddie has no such realization. There is no thought of reconciliation to those who had wronged Freddie… and there were many. Instead, these people are simply cut out for Freddie’s health. This surgery is painted as powerful liberation, but it is acutely one-sided and self-serving. Even Freddie’s reconciliation with his family is not a true reconciliation. It consists of a fairly open unveiling of who Freddie is as a homosexual but had his parents reacted worse, the likelihood would be that the family would’ve been cut off as well. This is not grace. It is merely social contract theory at the bottom of a barrel.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a fun movie. Its music is iconic. Its performances are captivating. But when our minds are honest about its ultimate emptiness, the movie should lead us to reflect on the sadness that one man could be so talented and so misunderstood and so in need of Christ.

Movie Reviews / Josh McGary

As a person in the 21st Century, we have more methods of consuming art than ever before. Everywhere we turn is a screen ready to deliver all sorts of useful knowledge to us instantly. The low cost of entry to information allows inputs of every type into our brains, but ironically, we are not a very conscious people of these inputs. With the advent of streaming services such as Netflix and buffet style movie watching such as Movie Pass, long-form storytelling is no longer relegated to the discerning consumer who waits for the next blockbuster as if it were an event but instead is treated as one treats an assembly line object… disposable. Because of this, our attention to the toll it takes on our lives to watch movies and television, both in monetary cost and psycho-emotional cost is now seen as archaic. We have become consumers of the worst kind. We indiscriminately fill our heads at the table of media as our brains become fat and lazy.

BE TRANSFORMED

This is a problem for those who believe in Christianity. In Christ, we understand that we don’t need to be doing a sinful action for our fantasizing of that action to be a sin. In Christ, we understand that we are to think on the things that are lovely and pure. In Christ, we understand that our minds are what need to be renewed for our lives to be transformed.  Every believer has to wrestle with the way in which he allows media to play a part in his sanctification.

IS THIS A SIN ISSUE?

Where the Bible doesn’t speak to it, it’s an area of Christian freedom that is best spoken of in terms of maturity rather than sin. That being said, to love God is to love his correction, his discipline and his personality. We do not need to be sinning to recieve these things. In terms of our maturity, the question that we have to wrestle with is, “Am I loving God with my mind when i call these things entertaining?”

MINDS ON

As Christians are minds ought to be always oriented toward God, especially when our minds are perceiving things which are purposefully meant as distractions from everyday life. There is no greater distraction in this day and age than that of visual media. Our minds must be on.

THINGS WE BELIEVE ABOUT ART

Where some might say that it would be better to become ascetic and purge visual media from our lives, we prefer to take the method of direction rather than restriction. At the Abandoned Initiative, we accomplish our minds being given wholeheartedly to God through focus. To that end, here are a few things we acknowledge:

  1. Any creative output is a demonstration of the image of God. This doesn’t mean it is a good demonstration. This doesn’t mean that God likes what he sees. It simply means that our ability to create a worshipful song about Satan is never going to fully extinguish the fact of God in that work. Satan is not bigger than God. We cannot remove God no matter how hard we might try. Everything we do stresses that he exists. This confusion and delusion is why it’s so sad when people’s creative works are wicked, gross or demonic in nature.
  2. All creative works are worth exploring to the degree that our consciences are moved to praise God. As stated earlier, a creative work can try to not praise God. It can do this by screaming blasphemies. But even these bear witness to God, simply on the basis of the complexities of the tongue they use to deliver them, the wonders of intellect which they use to deliver them and the unique voice which they use. Without God, they wouldn’t be able to dissent creatively or otherwise. Therefore, we can praise God when we see these creative works because what man intends for evil, God intends for Good. However, if in the storm, which God made, we begin to sink… it is because our focus is shifted off of him. At this point, it becomes dangerous and sometimes not even worth the cost of entry to our faith. There are certain works which have defined this high cost of praise for various generations. You can find God in films like A Clockwork Orange, Requiem for A Dream and the Exorcist, but is it a good use of your time? In most cases, I would argue no. Let me be also clear that the acknowledgment that God’s power shines through all darkness is not a good reason to treasure such a work. These works, though still having value, should be treated as sad works that demonstrate how deeply deranged a person must be to tell the story to others. Works that we should treasure are works that freely bring us to praise of our God, not the ones that do everything in their power to remove that praise, but fail.
  3. We should be well versed in media of all kinds. When people spout movie quotes as if they’re scripture, it’s time to know what the social narrative is. Jude, Paul and Jesus himself quoted the works of the day to better illustrate God’s glory and right teaching. We should be able to do the same. Though a social narrative is not Holy, it should be seen as sacred. Respecting these stories, but lowering them to their proper value under God will help to demonstrate for people how to allow their lives (all parts of it) to be renewed by God. 
  4. Works by Christians should not be viewed the same as works by non-Christians. We operate with different premises. Of course, a non-christian movie has liberal views on sexuality, relationships, and nihilism, syncretism, pantheism or other at its core. What would you expect? We can’t expect a non-Christian to preach Christianity. Christianity, though ultimately logical, defies the world’s sin-stained reasoning. We expect to have to find the value for believers. We expect that it won’t be in the areas of Christian Faith, Hope, and Love.

HOW WE REVIEW

  1. We review the mainstream. We don’t generally waste our time on Pureflix type produced titles… and if we do… we will be much harsher critics because they claim to be producing a Christ-centered form of entertainment. This is because a wolf in the wild may be majestic, but a wolf in sheep’s clothing needs to be put down.
  2. We review the themes of a media. What is the media trying to tell me about my worldview? It is amazing how many Christians have a worldview based on everything from the Matrix to the Wizard of Oz, but not the Bible.
  3. We review the consistency of those themes. Are those things consistent in the worldview of the movie or do they have to borrow from Christianity to make sense in everyday life?
  4. We make challenges based on the themes of the media. Does this apply to your life? What should we do with what we just allowed to be inputted into our brains?
  5. We compare and contrast the themes with those we should be holding from Scripture. This is not to say that we hold media by non-Christians to the same standards, but instead, we recognize that this media is always vying for a spot on the shelf of our hearts and minds. It’s important that we consistently remind ourselves of the difference between the sacred and the holy.

LETS WATCH STUFF TOGETHER

Our hope is that we can generate discussion about these forms of input. Our desire is simple. We hope to grow our filters for true praise and bring our minds wholeheartedly to God.

HELP US OUT

If you think you can follow these rules, we encourage you to bring your reviews on all kinds of media to the Abandoned Initiative. Contact us if you would like to contribute.

 

The Bible as Revelation / Josh McGary

The Bible as Revelation / Article / Josh McGary
Why a Postmodern Christian Should Know His Bible Intimately

A Postmodern Language for Absolutes

The Bible has always been a work of great contention. Whether belief in the Bible’s historicity or surety of the Bible’s claim to infallibility, believing in the Bible is a complex task. As Christians, it is a foundational task to our faith. The descriptions of God’s interactions with men over space and time have been foundational to that very faith. These stories have served to create a narrative understanding of the personality of the Judeo Christian God. To this end, countless cultures have embraced, accosted and sometimes pillaged the Holy Scriptures to be a defining aspect of their cultures.

        This is easily demonstrated in postmodern America, where the Bible serves as a social narrative in Christianity, but with many varying interpretations of that narrative, resulting in countless denominations and quasi-religions. Indeed, many Christians claim to include belief in the Bible as a pillar of their faiths but seem to lack a definitive understanding of that inspired work, or a drive to include understanding it into their everyday lives.[1] In this way, the Bible seems to be the constant New Year’s Resolution. For a book, so widely sold[2], it is a wonder that it is also so unattended to by those who claim it’s authority.

        Nevertheless, the Bible remains a work of authority in the Christian faith, even if by fame alone. This is due to its clear message of salvation for a broken humanity, an outline of the plan to make this salvation attainable and an introduction to the architect of mankind, and his salvation, Yahweh. Through the Bible, and it’s easy to understand message, countless people have come to put their faith in Jesus, have made radically positive changes in their lives and passed those changes onto the world. As with all powerful tools for change, men will distort and destroy with that tool what they can, despite this, the shear perpetual force for positive change found within Scripture is undeniable and invaluable.

        It is in this light that we ask how such a tool became so underutilized in a society that so clearly speaks the praises of it. How did it come to be that everyone bought the Bible, but so few have bought into it? As Christians what is our responsibility to this book and how is life affected by our lack of commitment to a relationship with it?

An Enlightened man finds his answers within

        If DesCartes were told that his works might outmode the Bible, he might have laughed. DesCartes was a Christian. He believed in the Bible. He believed in its authority in his life and believed that God could be proven. He believed that the ultimate proof of God lies in his own ability to disprove his own rational self and this sturdiness of surety gave him the springboard necessary to prove the rest of the natural world. It was on the basis of his axiom, “I think therefore I am,” that his Cartesian rationalism was developed. Science benefitted greatly from his legacy.[3]

        Yet, years later, philosophy often credits him as being a father of The Enlightenment era. This era, which employed DesCartes’ Cartesian Rationalism, was categorized by an extreme cynicism or doubt.[4] This system eventually detached itself from the biblical core of a sincere knowledge, that the God of creation was knowable, and within two hundred years was being touted by men who denied the existence of that very god. Baron Von Holbach, a well-known atheist, expressed his Enlightenment ideals thusly,

“Let us endeavor to disperse those clouds of ignorance, those mists of darkness, which impede Man on his journey, … which prevent him from marching through life with a firm and steady step. Let us try to inspire him … with respect for his own reason — with an inextinguishable love of truth … so that he may learn to know himself … and no longer be duped by an imagination that has been led astray by authority … so that he may learn to base his morals on his own nature, on his own wants, on the real advantage of society … so that he may learn to pursue his true happiness, by promoting that of others … in short, so that he may become a virtuous and rational being, who cannot fail to become happy.”[5]

Upon reading this conclusion by Von Holbach, it could be easily concluded that the Christian God has lost his place in a love of Truth, the morals of one’s nature, and one’s true happiness. How did such a paradigm shift take place?

Something Missing

DesCartes, along with other well-meaning and devout Christians had removed an essential element to belief in God, while seeking to bolster that very belief. What they had inadvertently removed was a recognition that universal truth is something men must have help to know. The idea of deep universal truth as unknowable was at the heart of DesCartes’ development of Cartesian Rationalism. While devout Christian philosophers that came before him, like Thomas Aquinas and Albert the Great extolled the virtues of nature, by appealing to the senses[6], DesCartes felt the need for something more. He could not reason past his own doubts about what he perceived. The outcome would be that knowledge of the world comes from a knowledge of oneself. Self, for DesCartes, is the lens by which all truth is viewed, because self cannot be doubted. As stated earlier, DesCartes assumed a relationship between self and God, presupposing that the idea of one’s self can only be derivative of God. Unfortunately, because doubt was the base philosophy, rather than a personal God, many who came after him did not.

Removing the glasses

        As the world progressed, Christianity became a relegated truth. The Bible which was understood to be a book of pure revelation from the creator of the universe became only that when viewed from a specific and antiquated lense. As society moved toward placing self as the lens by which to view the world around it, the lens by which revelation is viewed became murkier and murkier. Indeed, in this day the Bible is often no longer viewed as a work of inspiration at the hands of an almighty and personal being, but often as a mere fancy of man’s creation. It is, at best, nothing more than a mechanism produced by men to alleviate their fear of the unknown. Where Paul claims to Timothy that:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”[7]

The Men of Science and reason make claims to each other that:

“…the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries” [8]

Of Men or God?

When the Bible is known as the work of men, it can certainly not be known as the divine work of God. Paul spoke of this when he called the belief in Jesus “foolishness” if Christ’s resurrection did not occur in real space and time.[9] To Paul, the Scriptures had a bigger importance than their effect on today. They redefined our pasts and shaped our future’s in not one life, but two: This life and the next. But when the Bible was divorced from revelation and became the work of men, it lost its authority to shape the lives of men. This is not to say that the Bible lost its power. Vishnal Mangalwadi in “The Book That Made Your World,” states it well,

“The Bible created the modern world of science and learning because it gave us the Creator’s vision of what reality is all about. That is what made the modern West a reading and thinking civilization. Postmodern people see little point in reading books that do not contribute directly to their career or pleasure. This is a logical outcome of atheism, which has now realized that the human mind cannot possibly know what is true and right.”[10]

Despite its power to shape lives and culture, because the Bible is now seen as a work of man, it has become a book that struggles to find its voice above other works of men. Never before had the sacred scriptures had to vie for a place on one’s proverbial bookshelf. Its status in years past was a guarantee. This is attested to by a well-known fact of antiquity that Bible’s used to be chained to pulpit’s in the middle ages to keep them from being stolen. The Bible was the definitive voice on the knowledge of the physical and metaphysical. But, as a work of fiction in the minds of the post-enlightened, the value of the Bible would soon be taken for granted. This is because, for the first time in antiquity, the Bible had to be chosen. For it to be chosen, it had to be lifted beyond the realm of a literary work back into the framework it was presented in… as the very word of God. This is still waiting to happen.

How Christians view the Bible

Instead, Western Americanized Christianity has chosen to allow for the Bible to remain primarily a literary work. This too is a natural outworking of post-enlightenment thinking. For Christians who are born into this ontology, it is unsurprising that the Bible is sacred but without power. Instead, the Christian is left to find a place for the Bible amidst the cacophony of varying barkers in his life. Even if the Bible manages to come off a store shelf and into one’s home, placing its words and ideas out of the pages and into one’s heart is an even harder task. Even if a Christian is able to place the ideas in his heart, he has to peel back the filters with which he has come to look at his very being before he can begin to interpret those ideas into a meaningful application. Attempting to share those ideas and applications with a person who drastically needs that precious revelation is even more daunting. To convince a Christian that he should read his Bible as revelation is a herculean task in this light.

A Postmodern Argument

        There are many arguments that one could make from a postmodern vantage to a inspire a Christian to read his Bible. Here are a few:

  1. The Bible is a story about us and God. To not know this story is to be ignorant of ourselves.
  2. The Bible has had incredible effects on any civilization that sought to employ its wisdom. To not explore what it offers is to waste it as a resource.
  3. The Bible is the analog to today’s digital. It is the vinyl to today’s streaming. To know the Bible is to hear the authentic voice of the past.
  4. The Bible is the source work for the faith we have. To live as a Christian without knowing the source is to be fake and to have a poser/meta-faith.

However, arguments such as these, true as they may be, fail to communicate one simple, but important truth about the Bible; that it is a work of revelation. Without that fact in the argument, reading the Holy Scriptures is simply uncompelling when it stands against easier and more accessible, and quite frankly, less judgemental works. A rational person can reason away these arguments as relegated, non-compelling or even archaic and cliche. Quite frankly, they would be right to.

The Bible Demands an Audience

        The Bible doesn’t want to be read this way. Every book within is written with an expectation that the reader views it as revealing a truth once unknown, or shedding light on a truth previously revealed. Scripture is to be read, by its own telling, as the breath of God.[11] It is, by its own testimony, a work of nonfiction. To support this, where it speaks as a historical narrative, it gives real dates, times and facts by which its audience can check its veracity and it calls its audience to do so. For instance, the Bible calls for a Prophet who is wrong or out of line with previous prophecies to be murdered by the whole community.[12] Yet many Christian leaders today have a less than stalwart view of the Bible as historically accurate and actionable in its message to, even, Christian congregations.[13] The concept of revelation is left unaddressed as the banner of non-believing critical scholarship is taken up in increasingly insecure statements which present the Bible as ultimately a work of man. Questions about biblical inerrancy are raised and biblical transmission is called into question. The intent of the authors of the Scripture is seen as unknowable and his mindset is dismissed as unimportant. In this way, proper exegesis has all but ceased to exist. Scripture has become a work of culture rather than of God. This is a bastardization of the Cartesian Rationale applied to Scripture. It states that we cannot prove a revelation, therefore revelation cannot be assumed. Mangalwadi speaks of the short-sightedness of such arguments

Some friends maintained that the Bible could not be God’s book because it was the product of a particular human culture. Each of the Bible’s books bears the imprint of its human authors. Paul’s language, vocabulary, and argument are different from John’s. This argument seemed convincing until I paused to look at a lotus flower in our garden. It was gorgeous. It clearly depended on chemistry and climate. It was chemistry. It was also vulnerable to insects and humans. But could it also be God’s handiwork? Each of us wrote what our professors revealed. My notes were different from my friend’s notes, just as each lotus was different from the others. Yet what my friends and I wrote were words and thoughts from the same professor. Why couldn’t words bearing signatures of several authors be the words of one God.”[14]

        To ease the Postmodern mind, one can dive into the study of Scriptural Critique. Because the Bible is a relegated work that does not provide leisure or money for the Postmodern Christian, most will not. In this vein, the Bible can retain a semblance of its status as a foregone conclusion and available guide in the theological life of believers. To do this, it must simply pivot from a work of revelation to a personally inspiring work.[15] Many have tried to force the Bible to do just that. For them, the Bible is not a necessity for the day to day ethical practices of those who believe. This inevitably leads to moments where a Christian is called to stand, theologically with the Bible, though a postmodern mindset tells him to stand on the basis of self. To marry the two ideologies, he will hold the view that to be a Christian, one must make a Kierkegaardian leap of faith in the Bible’s validity, though it has not “earned” its status as valuable. In a pre-postmodern culture, the sacrifice of Isaac would be seen as an affirming act of revelation. Abraham would have, yet another, chance to prove that his faith in God was justified. However, in a postmodern culture, this would be seen from a wholly different perspective. Abraham would not know the mind of God as revelation. He would instead dread the experience. His obedience to God is an irrational state of mind which he developed in order to maintain his own love for God in the face of a culturally immoral act of murder. American Christians are not generally faced with as nearly substantial a crisis to bear in this day and age, but the choice is the same.

A Shattered Mind

To follow Scripture with the postmodern mind is to choose to bear the weight of, sometimes, culturally immoral commands. If one holds a postmodern premise but also subscribes to the Bible, this can be a very difficult state of tension. Christians believe their own nature to be derivative of God, therefore they cannot live without embracing his word. As a postmodernist, they cannot fully embrace his word as having any higher revelation or authority, so instead, they relegate it to the place of irrationality. The Bible becomes a guilty pleasure.  It has become the movie that everyone should see because it will, “change your life.” The informative power of the Scripture over a Christian’s life becomes tangential at best. The Scriptures no longer live and inform one’s life on a daily basis. They are like a good movie, once you have seen it, you have seen it.

        But this doesn’t ease the Postmodern Christian. Instead, it creates inconsistencies in the mindset of the believer which force him to drop into a state of despair. It is simply intellectually dishonest to, “keep quiet and just believe.”[16] A postmodern mind rebels against such a call to hide one’s doubt by looking away. This paradox is the Ouroboros of the enlightened man. The post-enlightenment man becomes so divested from revelation that he is forced to find all truth within himself. But since he knows himself to be incapable of finding the truth, or doubts his own ability, he must cling to revelation to have any truth. But since he cannot cling to revelation as truth, since he has removed that possibility, he rots away having no truth in revelation or in himself to rely on. His actions become meaningless gestures with endless interpretations and no true value. His sincere love for God or self is now irrational at best. The Bible speaks of this process clearly,

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man…”

[17]

Dropping the Scales

        Sincere men of God, resonating with the power of his word, but looking at it through a postmodern enlightenment filter, have preached the word triumphantly. There is no denying the power of God’s word to shape cultures and the hearts of men, despite their worst intentions.[18] But still, the love for God’s word as revelation, as actionable and as significantly necessary in the hearts, minds, and lives of believers continues to dwindle. This is a truth Paul, Peter and John warned about vehemently in the Epistles. They knew that one day, the true words of God would be mistaken for a lesser version of truth.[19] In this way, those of us who have seen God’s word but mistaken it for a lesser version are not unlike Paul who saw God in Judaism but fought God in Christ. For Paul, it was an undeniable revelation that resequenced his thoughts into admittance that Jesus was God. For Christians who hold the postmodern idea that the Bible is valuable, yet claim that it has no rational power or authority in your lives, is it possible that you are in need of the scales dropping from your eyes as they did from Paul’s?

A Return of Power

The Bible cannot be hidden away. If a Christian is to believe in the value of the Bible, a Christian must weigh the value of the Bible without the lense of postmodernity. He must treat the Bible how it demands to be treated and call it categorically true or false. And he must give weight to what he finds.

Heading to Damascus

        Tho Paul committed murder for his beliefs, he can be admired for the zeal with which he pursued the new Christian religion. It was on the road to Damascus, where he had intel of a Christian cell, and it was here that God intervened in his life to show him the truth. For Paul, the truth that he met on the Damascus road was, by his human power, inevitable. Paul was primed to see the truth because he was willing to pursue it at all costs. But it was God who reached into history, on that road, to give Paul what he had been looking for. God had to directly interact with Paul for him to recognize what he was seeing as Truth. It is a sad reality that many Christians still wait for God to reveal his truths to them as if God has not already spoken. This is not because God is not listening, or is not there. Unfortunately, though the truth has already been revealed to Christians and neatly packaged in the Bible, many Christians are simply uninterested in the authoritative truth that the Bible gives. Unlike Paul, they are unprimed for an encounter with any truth. They do not understand it philosophically, though they believe in it morally. Instead, they confidently believe that they have all they need to interpret any truth that presents itself, without a revelation from God. When the truth comes before them, they would not even acknowledge its presence, let alone seek to understand it. Mangalwadi states it like this:

They presumed that because we have eyes, we can see for ourselves without nonhuman aid. Our eyes are indeed as wonderful as our intellect. But to see, eyes need light. Why would eyes even exist if light did not? If intellect cannot know the truth, perhaps it needs the light of revelation. In fact, intellect can know nothing without revelation.** It seemed to me that the intellect’s existence required prior existence of revelation and communication. To a priori rule out revelation was putting confidence in eyes while excluding light…”[20]

Understanding the Bible first means understanding that you are not equipped to understand the Bible without using the tools contained within it. Even someone as trained as Paul needed a revelation to place his training in order. Even after this, he had to contemplate all that he had come to know, heading off into seclusion to study.[21] Revelation is present, but it is only appreciated by those who open their ears to hear it.

Be Not Just Hearers

        Though the Bible is present and speaking to those around, even those who accept its message have a hard time listening to it. What should be done? As a doctor becomes defined by his calling, so must a Christian become defined by the calling of the word of God. But this cannot be done by simply admiring the Scriptures. A doctor becomes worthy of his calling by discipline, accountability, and immersion in his field. As lives hang in the balance under his care, he does not have the luxury to view his medical books as a literary work with a special place in his heart. If, as a Christian, you hold that God is the creator of the universe and therefore the personal and infinite sustainer of all life, then you must treat your calling with similar bravado.

        Many Christians preach the Bible without such boldness. Labeling it as a precious treasure, they sincerely beg young believers and non-believers to hold their own Bible’s in such esteem. But when it comes time to practice the methods of the Bible, or to call upon its sage wisdom, that Christian would rather call to the gods of culture for advice or salvation. Christians would rather go to Facebook or Instagram than go to their Bible for advice. In their defense, they have not been taught better. To read the Bible properly is to enrich the lives of Believers with every principle that one needs to battle every sort of crippling issue life might throw at the Believer.

Man Cannot Live By Rules Alone

        In reading the Bible this way, we affirm a truth that is central to our Christianity. God communicates. He intends to be understood. He dynamically adjusts himself to our needs while remaining faithful to his character. He is consistent in his message and he intends what is best for us. Without understanding that the Bible is revelation, we are left with nothing but a rule book. This is a particular cruelty in that the Bible states plainly that its rules are ones which cannot ever be perfected. If God has a manual to follow rather than a message to reveal how we came to be here, than we will eventually outgrow his usefulness.

        For God to be really deserving of being God, his rules have to be a precursor to revealing a deeper truth about his person. And this truth must be capable of fully holding the weight of our moral and cultural selves and keeping us from sinking into despair. Believing that Christianity holds no real revelation but instead is a series of human ideas and, or, that these ideas are influenced not by an intentful relational being but instead by mechanisms of necessity throughout human history, leaves Christianity to be relegated to eventual nothingness at the most, and mysticism at the least.

        When a person understands the nature of Revelation in scripture, they are sealed in the knowledge that God is worthy of that title because he is personal like we are, but more. He has a plan for us that is much bigger than we have imagined for ourselves. He is active in providing for that plan regardless of our inactivity. In the name of relationship, he seeks for our commitment to that plan. He wants us. To be a Christian without understanding Revelation is to claim that you are the child of a machine; that a thing which is lesser than your ability to grow has sustained you. Logically, as you grow, you will have to come to understand that thing is not God or you will be forced to lie to yourself to keep it as God. If Christianity is what it claims to be, then none of these options is healthy. You may love God because he provided for you in your infancy, but in your adulthood, you will betray him rather than betray yourself. And not having an accurate understanding of Revelation has left countless Christians with a faith and a truth that is nothing more than a transitory beauty, filled with empty and powerless words. But with a proper understanding of Revelation at the foundation of Christianity, we can have an assurance of a personal relationship with a god that is capable of reasoning along with us.

Come Let Us Reason Together

         In the postmodern world, Reason reigns supreme. It is a self-governed reason, but it is a form of reason nonetheless. When a Christian reads the Scriptures as divorced from reason, he reads them wrong, no matter the sincerity behind his interpretation. The Bible read in this context creates an unsustainable philosophical minefield for a postmodern thinker. His only choice is to keep it locked and hidden away from his soul so that he might not accidentally destroy himself while exploring the richness of God’s graces that it guards. To know the Bible becomes debilitating at this point. Without accessing the depth of Scripture, life loses definition. Without a definition, life is meaningless. Having the feeling that the answer to life exists in front of you, but sincerely believing that the answer is a lie would be tortuous. For the watching world, it would be foolishness. Mangalwadi again speaks sadly of this truth when he says:

“Now, having amputated the Bible, the Western educational machinery is producing “strays,” lost like Cobain. It can make good robots but it cannot even define a good man. The postmodern university can teach one how to travel to Mars but not how to live in one’s home or nation…”[22]

This is in stark comparison to the biblical work of the Apostle Paul who boldly states:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”[23]

With such a tacit difference in ideologies, between the modern biblically amputated Christian and the Apostle Paul, is it any wonder that Christianity produces more strays than it does converts? If our faith is a true faith, then we must allow God to define himself. His word states that it is to be pursued as a useful tool for all things. This is not a sales gimmick, to get one in every household. This is a warning on a battlefield to take special heed as trouble comes our way. A Christian should familiarize himself with the Bible. He should immerse himself in the study of it. He should engrave it upon his heart. But most of all, he should allow it to redefine the way in which he perceives reality. To hold this function back from the Bible is to withhold the impasse for a Christian’s growth and well being. To do anything less is to remove the very reason why a Christian wishes to be saved. That Christian will end up disconnected, disjointed and confused about who God is and subsequently who he is as God’s creation.

Conclusion

If you are a reasonable person, you will presuppose that the Bible is the revealed word of God, before you treasure it as something less. If you believe it is the revealed word of God, then you will familiarize yourself with every sinew of its body so that you may better know who God is. Learn its transmission, its development, its cultures, its history, its effect on the world and its plan for you and me. Prepare yourself to find joy in understanding why the whole of the Bible is the Good News of God. As David alluded, carve God’s word in your heart. If you take on this task, your faith will bring you more enlightenment than your own understanding ever could.

 


“Best-Selling Book of Non-Fiction.” Guinness World Records. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2017.

Bristow, William. “Enlightenment.” (2010): n. pag. Web. 20 July 2017.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. 10th Anniversary Edition. Random House, 2016. Print.

Geiger, Abigail, and Posts. “5 Facts on How Americans View the Bible and Other Religious Texts.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 14 Apr. 2017. Web. 20 July 2017.

González, Justo L. A History of Christian Thought: From the Protestant Reformation to the Twentieth Century. Abingdon Press, 1987. Print.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Volume 2: Volume Two: The Reformation to the Present Day. Harper Collins, 1984. Print.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day. Harper Collins, 1984. Print.

Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Harper Collins, 1994. Print.

Mangalwadi, Vishal. The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization. Thomas Nelson Inc, 2012. Print.

Schaeffer, Francis August. A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture. N.p., 1985. Print.

Shelley, Bruce. Church History in Plain Language: Updated 2nd Edition. Thomas Nelson Inc, 1996. Print.

Starting Point Small Group Bible Study by Andy Stanley – Session One. N.p., 2015. Film.


[1] (Geiger and Posts)

[2] (“Best-Selling Book of Non-Fiction”)

[3] (González, Story of Christianity: Volume 2: Volume Two: The Reformation to the Present Day 186)

[4] (Bristow)

[5] (Shelley 312)

[6](Gonzalez 184)

[7] 2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT

[8] (Dawkins)

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:19

[10] (Mangalwadi)

[11] (Grudem 75)

[12] Deuteronomy 13:1-5

[13] (Starting Point Small Group Bible Study by Andy Stanley – Session One)

[14] (Mangalwadi 64)

[15] (González, A History of Christian Thought: From the Protestant Reformation to the Twentieth Century 370)

[16] (Schaeffer 140–141)

[17] Romans 1:22

[18] Isaiah 55:10-11, Philippians 1:17-18

[19] 2 Peter 2:18, 1 John 4:1-3, Galatians 5:7-12

[20] (Mangalwadi 65)

[21] Galatians 1:11-24

[22] (Mangalwadi 43)

[23] Romans 1:16


This article first appeared at The ABF Custodial Archive

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