ON A TANGENT

As I noted in RESTORING THE BALANCE?, Tony is one of our more persistent and interesting commenters. Thus, when challenged, he left us a very interesting comment.

While I’m on a tangent.

You say that religion is the moral basis for government, and there is some truth to that point, enough so that many people, maybe even most people, just sort of take it as a given. However, the truth about morals and government is far more subtle and indirect than most of us realize.

In order to properly deal with this issue we would have to have an endless discourse on what morality is. I’m just going to try to give you my very inadequate quick opinion.

Morality is the mythological norms that are repeatedly wired into the neural pathways in our brains throughout our lives by those closest to us and by our culture. We hear the same morality stories over and over again in new and different ways constantly so that we each get enormous emotional satisfaction from our ability to both anticipate how the story will go and by our delight in being surprised at the new and interesting variations that our culture constantly generates on these same themes. For a good analogy, think music. (continued here)

Since we are in the middle of the Republican presidential primary, and Virginia’s congressional primary season is just getting started, I suppose I should not let myself be distracted. However, when it comes to politics, Christianity is not actually a distraction. Until we are reborn in Christ, instead of neighborly, our political beliefs will tend to be self interested. Even when we seem to mouth all the right words, we will find some excuse to justify the vote that gives what we want regardless of how we ought to vote.

When Tony says that we derive our morality from mythological norms, there is just enough truth in what he says to confuse the issue. We in fact do learn from the stories we are told. Consider the number of hours you have spent as a child and as an adult listening to stories, reading stories and watching movies that tell stories. Even the Bible, because it contains history, is to a large extent a story book. Therefore, what Tony is doing is repeating the theories of some psychologists, and these psychologists equate God with mythology. That is, all Peoples have myths, and Christianity is just a myth that Western cultures have adopted.

So why does Tony call himself a Christian and even attend church? Even though we supposedly derive our morality from our myths, all cultures supposedly share similar myths. Therefore, Tony (and some of the psychologists who concocted this theory) suspect God is behind the myths.

So is Christianity a myth? No.

What is Christianity? Christianity is a relationship, a relationship with Jesus Christ, our Savior, our King, and our God.  What the Bible tells is the story of our redemption. The Bible explains how and why God created us, and the Bible explains our fall from grace. Then the Bible tells what God has done to restore us to His grace.

Can we prove whether the story the Bible tells is true? Not easily. There is no simple straightforward proof. What there is is amazement. Study the Bible with a desire to learn, a desire to know God, and you will be repeatedly amazed. You will wonder:

  • How it is the Jewish people still survive.
  • How it is the Bible still survives.
  • How so many prophecies have proven true.
  • How so many could have died believing Jesus Christ is God.
  • How God could ever forgive you or me.

Consider what it means to be born again. What being born again means is that you have accepted Jesus’ offer of redemption. You have repented for your sins, and you have accepted God’s offer of forgiveness.

How does God forgive us? That is what makes Christianity most unique. Here is a link to a short sermon that provides the best explanation I have heard to date, Is Christianity Arrogant?

Is Christianity Arrogant?

Christianity claims absolute truth. It claims that a relationship with Christ is the only way to God. Is it arrogant to proclaim your truth as real and all others as false? Michael Ramsden addresses this topic this week on Let My People Think.

During his sermon, Ramsden mentions Isaiah Berlin and this quote.

The enemy of pluralism is monism — the ancient belief that there is a single harmony of truths into which everything, if it is genuine, in the end must fit. (from here)

Monism is of course related to monotheism. What Tony’s doctrine does is provide a peculiarly indirect defense of pluralism as Isaiah Berlin defined the term. However, as Ramsden notes, the definitions that Berlin uses for monism and pluralism will not exactly coincide with what we find in the dictionary.

When Christians say there is One God, One Savior, and One Path to Salvation, the Pluralists reject that assertion as arrogant. What Ramsden does is explain why the Pluralists make this claim wrongly.

Of course, Ramsden’s sermon is not exactly free. It begins with a short commercial for a book, but it sounds like an interesting book. I am considering ordering it.

16 thoughts on “ON A TANGENT

  1. “Instead of Jesus being someone who actually did die and rise from the dead, there is just this ‘wonderful book of profound truth and morality’.”

    “Actually” is such an interesting and confining word for the unfathomable. For example, the Nicene Creed says that there is a God the father (why only male?) and that Jesus is God’s only begotten son. Does that mean that God has sperm and DNA, and that Jesus shares God’s DNA in some new “actual” scientific way, or is it just the same old “actual” scientific way? Perhaps, but who knows? Who will ever know? Would it shake your faith if we could somehow find evidence that Jesus did not have a God gene, but that Jesus had regular human DNA? Doesn’t this just give rise to endless and fruitless theological debates on the level of “How many angels can God fit on the head of a pin?”

    Like your doubting namesake, is it necessary for you to rationally theorize and seek such rational scientific evidence of Jesus’ divinity? Does such literalist materialism really get you any closer to comprehending what cannot be rationally comprehended, or would the rationalist St. Thomas have been more blessed if he could have believed with his heart rather than his head?

    You are a scientist by training Tom, and we are all creatures of the age of rationalism. In our time, far more than the past, we demand objective material evidence over the mythological and the spiritual. However, I don’t believe that a statement of the incomprehensible in the form of a rational materialist formula like the Nicene Creed is necessary to my faith. Instead I find it to be a materialist attempt at anthropomorphizing, and thus idolizing, the sacred and the unimaginably mysterious into a limiting rational statement of fact and principle.

    I’m not making a moral judgement of the need for such a formulaic statement, or even about its ultimate truth. I don’t claim to know. I’m just saying that for me I find such materialism to be more of an unnecessary distraction than it is helpful to my own faith and enlightenment. On the other hand, if it helps you and others to formulate the infinite into such a statement and pin it on the wall like a honey blond blue eyed Jesus then who am I to condemn it?

    What I do condemn is when someone tries to substitute these substitutes for spiritualism for government.

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  2. “Here is a question for you. If you think Jesus is God, what makes you think the Parable of the Good Samaritan is merely a story?”

    Are you just trying to be obtuse here brother so as to avoid the issue? A parable, by definition, is a “story”, a narrative rather than a declarative, a metaphor rather than just a list of dialectic principles or facts. The moral truth of a “story” is inherrent in the story, and that the story is historically acurrate can be taken on faith as a given because empirical proof is not necessary – the profound psychological truth and the moral of the story resounds through regardless. That is why for Christians the “story” of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, resounds with truth, and we take it’s historical accuracy on faith without proof and even without perfect or divine understanding of the mystery. That is why it is to us “the greatest STORY ever told.”

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    1. Tony – That’s funny! You go off on a tangent, play word games, and I am trying to avoid the issue? Are we sure we still know what the issue might be?

      As near as I can tell, the “issue” is whether the Bible tells the story of our redemption, whether Jesus Christ is our savior and the source of our salvation.

      When I recite the words of the Apostle’s Creed, I believe those words summarize the truth of the Bible, expressing events that actually did occur. I do not think that is what you believe. What I think you are trying to do is spiritualize the Bible. Instead of Jesus being someone who actually did die and rise from the dead, there is just this “wonderful book of profound truth and morality.” However, it doesn’t seem like you think we should actually do anything with this “wonderful book of profound truth and morality.” After all, it is just a collection of myths designed to guide our “mythologically shaped minds.”

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  3. Here is an example of the poppycock. You wonder why we grew up with a picture of a blue eyed, honey blond Jesus. There are basically two reasons.
    1. I will rightly acknowledge that parents pass on their errors to their children. In fact, the Bible says as much about sin. Hence, when Europeans who had never visited Israel tried to visualize Jesus, they visualized someone who looked like one of them.
    2. I will rightly acknowledge that parents pass on their errors to their children. In fact, the Bible says as much about sin. What is so hard to understand about White Europeans wanting to believe that Jesus was White? Yet that is not what the Bible says.

    Here is a question for you. If you think Jesus is God, what makes you think the Parable of the Good Samaritan is merely a story? Jesus did not say it was a story. He said “there was once a man”. Has it occurred to you that the man who asked “who is my neighbor” may have been one of those who walked passed that man who the robbers left to die?

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