Over a decade passed now, but it was then I made a surprising discovery. Much of what I had been taught in public schools is not true.
How did learn of the deception? I began reading what people call the classics and historic works. When we study history, many of these great works serve as primary source documents for historians. Therefore, I have listed a small number of historic documents in Citizen Library.
If we want to know why the American colonists fought so long and so hard during the American Revolution, then we must read The American Crisis and Common Sense.
What led me to read so many seeming long and sometimes difficult works? My long commute to work was driving me batty; I needed a distraction. So I decided to listen to classic works I would otherwise never read. Because my wife and daughters are Christians, the Bible was at the top of my list.
I have since read the Bible several times by listening to it, and I have read many other far less significant historic works. I have learned there is a crucial difference between reading about history and reading historic documents.
Consider the Bible. Will what someone else says about the Bible be true to that work? Is reading what someone else has said about the Bible the same as reading it for ourselves? No and no.
Pick your favorite dessert. How could you ever describe the taste? You cannot. That’s why we are always willing to share a small sample of our pleasure with someone we love. We have no other way to share our pleasure except to help them taste it for themselves.
The same that is true of the Bible is true of any other historic work. Unless we study the great historic work of history for ourselves, instead of being informed we risk being propagandized. Instead of learning what historic men and women had to say, politicians will tell us what they want us to believe.
Why is it important to learn the truth? What is wrong with being propagandized? In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith spoke of our desire both to be respectable and to be respected. He spoke of a choosing between two roads.
We desire both to be respectable and to be respected. We dread both to be contemptible and to be contemned. But, upon coming into the world, we soon find that wisdom and virtue are by no means the sole objects of respect; nor vice and folly, of contempt. We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent. To deserve, to acquire, and to enjoy the respect and admiration of mankind, are the great objects of ambition and emulation. Two different roads are presented to us, equally leading to the attainment of this so much desired object; the one, by the study of wisdom and the practice of virtue; the other, by the acquisition of wealth and greatness. Two different characters are presented to our emulation; the one, of proud ambition and ostentatious avidity. the other, of humble modesty and equitable justice. Two different models, two different pictures, are held out to us, according to which we may fashion our own character and behaviour; the one more gaudy and glittering in its colouring; the other more correct and more exquisitely beautiful in its outline: the one forcing itself upon the notice of every wandering eye; the other, attracting the attention of scarce any body but the most studious and careful observer. They are the wise and the virtuous chiefly, a select, though, I am afraid, but a small party, who are the real and steady admirers of wisdom and virtue. The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers, and, what may seem more extraordinary, most frequently the disinterested admirers and worshippers, of wealth and greatness. (from here)
If we want our children to be both truly respectable and to truly respected, they must study wisdom and the practice of virtue. Yet the public school system is a secular institution. When proper wisdom is Godly wisdom, we have little reason to hope our children will be taught Godly wisdom in the public school system.
Because the study of wisdom and the practice of virtue must be based upon the Truth, the study of wisdom and the practice of virtue is therefore highly controversial. As Pontius Pilate said: “What is Truth?” (John 18:38). Then he had the Truth crucified. Thus, to avoid controversy, the public school system focuses our children’s minds on the acquisition of wealth and greatness.
The Means of Persuasion — Ethos, Pathos, and Logos
I suppose Rhetoric by Aristotle is another one of those classic works I should have carefully studied a long time ago, but I did not. So now, to discover and try to fill the gaping holes in my education, I blog.
Rhetoric is a skill. “Aristotle defines the rhetorician as someone who is always able to see what is persuasive.”
Rhetoric is a tool, one that can be used for either good or ill.
Rhetoric is what we use to persuade on those many occasions, a public speech for example, when we need to persuade an audience, and we cannot provide our audience an exact proof based on the principles of a science (even if they could understand).
Rhetoric involves three modes of persuasion: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.
Ethos involves establishing credibility. That is establishing with your audience that you are the kind of person they can trust and respect.
Logos involves an appeal to reason. If we can convince our audience our proposal makes sense, it is what they would do, they are likely to accept it as their own.
Pathos involves appropriately arousing the passion of an audience. When we want people to do something, we have to make them care enough to act. Our arguments have to make them angry enough, fearful enough, sympathetic enough, or…..to act.
With a simple example, this short little video explains the application of these modes of persuasion.
What is most relevant to this post is what that delightful little video leaves out, the frangible nature of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. Let’s reconsider the meaning of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.
ethos: the fundamental character or spirit of a culture; the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society; dominant assumptions of a people or period: In the Greek ethos the individual was highly valued.
What we give credibility depends upon our cultural beliefs. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, and so forth all believe and value distinctly different things. Consider the issue of women’s rights, for example. In some cultures, the notion that women are the equals of men still goes over like a lead balloon.
Over time cultural beliefs can change significantly. Although we take the right of women to vote for granted today, women’s suffrage did not start to take off in western nations until the late 19th century.
What we tend forget about changing cultural beliefs is that changes are not always positive. In fact, cultural change tends to follow a cyclical process. Given current trends it appears that the United States and many other western nations are experiencing a decline moral standards. Thus, our ethos often gives credibility to the wrong people.
The Book of Judges in the Old Testament illustrates the cyclical rise and fall of moral standards. This book takes up the history of Israel following the death of Joshua (see the end of the Book of Joshua). Instead of continuing the conquest of the Promised Land and driving out the Canaanites and their vile gods as God directed, the Israelites turned away from the Lord. That included taking up the gods of their enemies, the Canaanites. That got the Israelites into big trouble. That is, they became so corrupt God turned His face from them and allowed their enemies to conquer them. Even after they cried out for mercy and God raised up judges to bring them back to Him, after each judge died they soon forgot their lesson, turned away from God, and turned back to the corrupt gods of the Canaanites.
The last part of Judges (chapters 19-21) is the low point in the book. It describes the near extermination of Tribe of Benjamin by the other eleven tribes. The moral state of the Tribe of Benjamin had apparently reached the nadir once achieved by the cities Sodom and Gomorrah. Hence, the other eleven tribes felt compelled to do something. Unfortunately, those tribes had drifted from God too. So they did an extremely poor job of consulting with God. Hence the book ends with this verse.
25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Some have taken Judges 21:25to mean that Israel needed a king. However, 1 Samuel 8 makes it clear God disapproved when Israel insisted upon having a king. What the verse is observing is that everyone just did what they thought right. They did not obey either a king or God.
What happens when we discard God and just do what is right in our own eyes? What happens when God is dead to us? For those interested in extra credit, Ravi Zacharias has a couple of sermons that explain.
logos: the rational principle that governs and develops the universe.
We are steadily moving toward what some would call a postchristian society.
A postchristian world is one in which Christianity is no longer the dominant civil religion, but that has gradually assumed values, culture, and worldviews that are not necessarily Christian (and further may not necessarily reflect any world religion’s standpoint, or may represent a combination of either several religions or none). Post-Christian tends to refer to the loss of Christianity’s monopoly, if not its followers, in historically Christian societies. Postchristian societies can be found across the global North – for example, though the 2005 Eurobarameter survey indicated that the majority of Europeans hold some form of belief in a higher power, fewer point explicitly to the Christian God. (from here)
Note the irony. Many say that America and the nations of Western Europe never were Christian nations. Yet by definition the term postchristian assumes that they were. Thus, by using the term postchristian, many of very people who once claimed we never were a Christian nation now brag we are no longer a Christian nation.
What is happening? Are we a postchristian nation? Are we guilty of the same sin the people of Israel once committed? Well, our sin is similar. Whereas the people of Israel neglected to teach their children about Yahweh and/or adopted the gods of the Canaanites, we let our government provide our children a secular education, one that is becoming more and more devoid of anything except material values. So now instead of celebrating Christmas and Easter, the U.S. Department of Education wants children to celebrate Character Day.
Therefore, we now judge a successful primary and secondary education as admission into a good college. And what do we expect from a good college?
“No idea has had more influence on education policy than the notion that colleges teach their students specific, marketable skills, which they can use to get a good job,” writes John Cassidy in The New Yorker, examining the current college “calculus,” or strategy, of higher education. A college education now offers better job prospects, a good investment for future earnings, but a college education was once understood to include a broad education in the liberal arts and sciences. Employers would be assured that the prospective employee had achieved a certain level of “cognitive competence.” (from here)
Our society once educated children to prepare them for life — to think so that they would know how to live an honorable life. Now we prepare children for a job. If we are lucky, some employer will not interchange our child with a sophisticated robot.
An appropriate education helps children form healthy consciences. To help their charges form good consciences, good teachers make it their object to provide the correct reactions (or responses) to the words and deeds of their students. When their students do well, good teachers react with approval. When their students do wrong, good teachers react with the disapproval of someone who knows and cares.
Parents, not politicians, know how to choose good teachers.
Think again about that definition of logos: the rational principle that governs and develops the universe. If we believe God exists, then He is the rational principle. What we think reasonable depends upon what we believe about God. Would He approve? If we do not believe God exists or we give God no consideration, then what we think reasonable is whatever seems right in our own eyes.
Pathos: the quality or power in an actual life experience or in literature, music, speech, or other forms of expression, of evoking a feeling of pity, or of sympathetic and kindly sorrow or compassion.
I got this quote from one of those to audio links produced by Ravi Zacharias.
What breaks our heart and makes us laugh tells God who we are.
Imagine you are watching a James Bond film. You look at the actress. What a hot body! You see Bond eyeing her. The film progresses. Soon Bond has that hot body in bed with him, and both Bond and the hot body are laughing. Do you laugh or weep?
What makes us laugh depends upon what we believe and what we care about. What is our attitude towards casual sex? That determines whether we consider this Bond film with pleasure or disgust.
Is sex merely entertainment, or is there something sacred about it? Would you want your spouse to engage in casual sex? How about your teenage child? Yet Hollywood and the rest of the mass entertainment sells casual sex — pornography too — as wholesome entertainment. Not too long ago, that would not have been allowed, but Hollywood has convinced us that the vulgar is entertainment. What once we regarded sacred is worthless, just an obstacle to pleasure.
Unfortunately, the moral degradation of our society does not involve just sex or Hollywood. Much of what appeals today would have disgusted people a mere hundred ago. Today we have a vast welfare state, for example, that would shock earlier generations. If they were here today, many would see the waste, point out that charity is a personal responsibility, argue that handouts just discourage people from working and trying to improve themselves, and then they would immediately set out to dismantle the whole damned thing.
On the other hand, even when unconstitutional and unneeded portions of the Federal Government shut down we weep. Some civil servant isn’t being paid! He doesn’t have any work! Just the same, we know this guy is going to get his paycheck anyway, just late and for doing nothing.
The Need For A Common Understanding
Here we have the conclusion of this post.
To have a “Law of the Land,” we must have a common understanding. The vast majority of people must be able to agree upon what the “Law of the Land” exists to do. Unfortunately, no longer share a common Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. Once the people of our nation could have pointed to the Declaration of Independence. Once they agreed the ideas in that document unite us, but that no longer seems to be the case. Therefore, instead of uniting us, what we call the “Law of the Land” now divides us.
It seems to me that you are tarring all atheists by claiming that they hold beliefs that I think apply to a vanishingly small percentage of them. I cannot say “none of them,” not in a country that has high single-digit percentages of believers in Elvis alive, 9/11 was a Bush plot, the moon landing was faked, and so on.
But your assertions in every one of your “If there is no God” paragraphs is simply incorrect, it seems to me. It reads a bit like arguments you’ve seen made or implied elsewhere: “Since they are not loving, tolerant leftist liberals, all conservatives are racists.” (continued here)
I am not surprised by Keith’s comment; just a little disappointed. I very much enjoy Keith’s blog and his comments here. He has a sharp mind, and he strikes me as thoroughly honorable.
The “If there is no God” paragraphs in GOD-GIVEN RIGHTS AS OPPOSED TO “THERE IS NO GOD” may seem harsh, but if we believe there is no God that belief will affect our behavior. Otherwise, why believe such a thing? And if there is — as I believe — a God, what good would it do to sugarcoat that Truth?
However, note what I said about Keith. Because some atheists are hostile to Christianity, Keith calls himself a non-theist. That is, Keith does not believe God exists, but he is quite willing to live peaceably with those who do believe God exists. So how do I explain Keith?
So what would ameliorate our behavior? Why are most men usually willing to respect the rights of others? Is it the fact most people believe in God, or is each one of us the embodiment of reason? Have we logically deduced the problem that arises when we harm the interests of our neighbor? If we don’t respect our neighbors rights, no one will respect our own? Or is it the moral law, that sense of right and wrong that each of us carries in his heart? Do we recognize in each other a being akin to our self? Don’t we know how we would feel if someone abused us?
Whatever we are, almost none of us come close to being the embodiment of reason. Catch any of us by surprise, especially when we are tired, and almost all us will react angrily if someone irritates us. Who hasn’t cursed a driver who cut him off? Who hasn’t burst out in anger at a friend just to realize a moment later that his or her friend didn’t mean what we for a moment thought he meant. Even when we knew it was wrong, who has never done anything that latter caused them to feel ashamed? Who hasn’t….., but that’s not the point. So let’s get back to it.
As Keith observed latter in his comment, the simple fact we believe in God is not alone sufficient to control our behavior. So what does control our behavior? To react appropriately and choose good over evil, don’t we need a well-formed conscience? How we form our conscience is something Adam Smith explained in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. For an appropriate excerpt from Smith’s book, please read FOR THOSE WHO EXALT THEMSELVES WILL BE HUMBLED.
You are back from that diversion? Good. So what was the point? Why the adamant condemnation of the behavioral implications of Atheism in GOD-GIVEN RIGHTS AS OPPOSED TO “THERE IS NO GOD”? What we believe about God makes a difference in how we form our conscience. As Adam Smith observed, we each first began to form our own conscience by copying and reacting to our perceptions of others. Eventually, unless we chose to be hypocrites, our conscience matured, and our behavior in private began to match our public behavior. That’s especially true if we believe God is watching.
On the other hand, if we were raised by and among people who think nothing of God, we may not worry whether God is watching. Instead, we have to base our code of conduct on something else, probably human reason, and human reason doesn’t have a good track record.
In America, we still have what remains of our Christian heritage. That includes a moral code derived from what forebears understood about the Bible. Because of a decadent mass media and a secularized education system, many of us are replacing a Christian moral code with something that does not include God. If that trend continues, then over time the consequences for our society are predictable. Too many of us will replace God with idols, behave hypocritically, and determine right and wrong based upon what we think we can get away with.
So does that mean that we get to judge someone just because he calls himself an atheist or a non-theist? No. To determine how well another person’s conscience works takes more than just a label.
7 “Judge not, that you be not judged.2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
Behavior matters more than a label. If we can see that someone behaves like rabid dog or feral pig, there is no point in giving them our love and friendship. It doesn’t matter what they call themselves. On the other hand, if someone behaves as a friend, then we should treat them as friends.
Essentially my assertions that God doesn’t exist is a conclusion. I have stated this openly in the discussion. And although I cannot disprove God, no one can sufficiently prove God either through objective, non-testimonial, falsifiable evidence. Simply because I cannot conclusively disprove God does not make my position untenable. All it means is that people can reach different conclusions.
Furthermore, I actually have studied the Bible, and the claims that I discount are mostly unfalsifiable. That some of the claims have proven true do not reach the question of whether or not there is divine anything in the universe. I addressed that specifically in the post above.
Third, I am a former Christian. I have studied the Bible, and I am quite familiar with the claims it makes. The points I raise do not come from a lack of understanding. Because I have studied it, new evidence will be required to warrant giving it different weight. If you have it, I shall be more than willing to consider it.
And finally, the Bible serving as the foundation of our culture’s morality is a statement that needs evidence in order to be debated. In short: you will need evidence to back up that assertion. (from here)
Here is my reply.
There is a word that is much abused: pragmatism. We Americans often take pride our pragmatism. Because we do what works, we think ourselves pragmatic, and therefore, effective and efficient. Yet we do everything we do — everybody does everything they do — based upon limited knowledge. Because we don’t know enough to prove anything beyond the question of a doubt, we do everything we do just because it works. Or do we?
That’s point of an assumption, believing some things because they are self-evident. Should we examine our assumptions? Yes? Yet at some point we must believe some things, have faith in some truths, just because we know they are true.
If we do not want to believe, no one can prove anything to us. Without the faith to believe what we know to be true, we cannot prove we exist, that we are born, that we breath, that we die, and that we go back to the dust and ashes from which we came.
So how can we believe God exists? We must have faith that the evidence of our senses and the longing in our hearts mean something, that the universe did not create itself, that we exist for a reason.
How can we believe God does not exist? We can declare in “faith” everything pointless and random, that it has been so for all eternity. That I exists for me. We can discard our concern for eternity as meaningless babble. That now is the moment that matters.
You say you were a Christian, that you have studied the Bible. At best, as Colorstorm observed (here), we have only begun.
You say I must provide evidence that the Bible serves as the foundation of our culture’s morality. In recent years, that connection to the Bible has become weaker. Unlike the early generations of those who settled this nation and past generations of Europeans, we glory in secular wisdom. We do not do our best to make certain our young men and women learn Biblical wisdom, eternal wisdom. But how could I quantify the difference that makes? With statistics? When you refuse to believe that God exists, how I can show you the difference a belief in Jesus Christ makes in the heart of a human being?
In an earlier time, Europeans did not argue about the existence of God. They argued about the meaning of the birth, life, and the death of Jesus Christ. When Adam Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments, he accepted as given the fact he wrote to other Christians.
Did such a widespread belief in Jesus Christ make a difference? Have you listened to the music of 3 Bs? Have you read the Declaration of Independence? Have you ever compared what Christians believe with what people believed before the birth of Christ? Do you understand why Christians promoted scientific progress? They believed that God is not the author of confusion, that His creation is orderly.
Have you considered the irony? You speak of your rights. Yet in past ages most men were slaves. Don’t you know why? Perhaps you would just explain it away with a word, “progress.” Can you define progress? Without God, when me and now are all there is, how can we define progress in any meaningful way? (from here)