Christian Porn is not Dead or, This Post Isn’t About Sex


School of Athens

School of Athens

Pornography has a reputation for creating unrealistic expectations and having horrendous acting. A man comes over to fix the cable and a scantily-clad model answers the door and, well, you can imagine where it goes from there…he fixes the cable. (Sorry, I’ll try not to be so fatuous). Essentially, it creates some false reality where sexual fantasies can be lived out; porn creates a type of “strawman” concerning sex itself, putting in unrealistic expectations and scenarios. At its base, porn isn’t so much about sex as it is about false self-affirmation, about putting one’s self in a mental state of imagining the impossible and ridiculous. Overall, even the “secular” media realizes that porn is a bad thing that desensitizes people to actual sex. Or to put it in hipster terms, porn is a chemical additive to the natural and organic act of sex, thus ruining the act.

Of course, porn doesn’t have to be sexual. There is a popular term called “disaster porn,” wherein the media blasts images from a disaster into people’s heads 24/7 until the public is immune to that disaster (or to disaster itself). Often times, the real news of the event is lost in the narrative that the media wants to shape. There is violence porn where television shows engage in too much violence, which then desensitizes the audience to violence in general. There’s even a new Superhero porn, where the plots of every single superhero movie out since 2003 are exactly the same, but hey, explosions, so why not? Christian culture, or more appropriately American Christian culture, is not immune to a type of porn; Christian porn, or the Christian cultural attempt to fit in.

Christian porn is whenever Christian culture attempts to ape the world in music, products, television, style, or movies, but does so in a mediocre, “Not the cool kid but really want to be” way. Instead of Hootie and the Blowfish, in the 90s Christian porn produced Third Day. Instead of hip hop, Christian porn produced DC Talk. Somewhere around the early 2000s, MercyMe evolved the whole copying aspect of Christian music and said, “Hey, why not just create an entire genre?” Thus, since 2000 Christian porn has evolved its own genre of music, where lyrics and chords sound almost the same across “artists” and bands. Not to be outdone, Christian porn also gave us apocalyptic fiction via the Left Behind series, gave us Christian television in various, beautifully bad forms, and of course who can forget the Christian movies?

The latest product from Christian porn is God’s Not Dead, a movie that opened up to church groups movie theaters everywhere this past week. As someone who lives in the Bible Belt, I can say confidently that churches went full-force at this movie. The local movie theater didn’t have a single parking spot available on Sunday. Restaurants emptied earlier than normal on Sunday and weren’t busy that night as the theaters took all the business.

For those not in the know, you can watch the cringe-worthy trailer with the Newsboys (them?). Or, you can see that Rotten Tomatoes has it around 40%. To put that in perspective, Sharknado is around 82% and Noah is around 76% (but hey, at least it’s not Catwoman bad). The film deals with the typical Christian view of a philosophy professor; a man angry at God who doesn’t believe in God because of some personal tragedy and decides to indoctrinate all the students into believing that way. To further this trope, we’re led to believe that anyone not a freshman at this university no longer believes in God. I mean, the professor makes his students sign a pledge saying they don’t believe in God (academic freedom?), the professor gets angry when one, just one student, states a belief in God. Within the trailer we’re taken from some mysterious/probably unnecessary skeptic in Dean Cain (Superman is trying to eliminate the competition) while Hercules mocks God possibly for perceived daddy issues over abandonment (not realizing that Zeus and the Judeo-Christian God are different).

Of course, there are other subplots within the movie. A muslim girl converts to Christianity and is kicked out of her house by her father (just short of an honor killing I’m assuming), a vegan journalist discovers veganism causes cancer (or something like that), and somehow people end up at a Christian concert with the Newsboys (them?).

And the whole thing is really Christian porn. It presents an incredibly unrealistic scenario with bad acting where the plot doesn’t matter, but allows Christians to fulfill their fantasies and see those fantasies played out in “real life.” We always hear about the big, bad, dangerous atheist professors who are just waiting to destroy the faith of college students. Of course, most students lose their faith in college not because of what they learn in the classroom, but because of what they learn in the dorm room; their faith isn’t lost by reading Friedrich Nietzsche or David Hume, it’s lost when the Christian cultural bubble collapses and they’re exposed to a world unlike anything they’ve ever seen. If anything else, a more accurate description would be a hostile atheist student – whose sole education in the subject consists of a few YouTube videos and Reddit – yelling at a Christian or theistic philosophy professor. In fact, Quentin Smith laments the rise of theism within the field of philosophy a la Alvin Plantinga. Not to mention that Oxford University Press, Harvard Press, Philo, and other academic press agencies and journals regularly publish peer-reviewed pro-theistic/pro-Christian books/articles.

The movie God’s Not Dead simply serves to confirm biases and present a watered-down, emotional, and useless faith. Hercules’ Kevin Sorbos character asks about a God that would allow a 12 year old to have cancer, and we’re met with a song by the Newsboys (them?). We’re then confronted with the idea that the ONLY reason this professor could show such hostility to God is that he has personal issues. Of course, the idea of a 12 year old dying of cancer ought to cause us to question God; that’s not a lack of faith, that’s called being a decent human being. The Bible is full of its main characters questioning God in the face of evil, there’s even an entire book dedicated to such a thing (Job). Even Christ, God incarnate, while on the cross shouted out Eli, eli, lama sabachthani (“my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”). The point being, the movie allows for a very real question, but this provides a fluff answer.

Christianity has a very rich heritage of providing rational and solid responses to critical questions. The first philosophical defense of Christianity is found in the book of St. John, when the Apostle uses philosophical language to describe Christ, showing that Christ is an answer to the questions of Greek philosophy. In Christianity’s recorded history, however, St. Paul serves as the first philosophical defender. While the account of Mars Hill in Acts is a summary, St. Luke (being a genius), refers to Paul’s refutation of two competing philosophies (Epicureans and Stoics) and showing how Christianity served as a solution to their problems. Anyone versed in Greek philosophy who reads Acts 17 sees that Paul is refuting their claims while finding common ground; but most importantly he is giving substance and rational replies to their critiques.

Even outside of Biblical tradition there are great Christian thinkers who defended the faith while also raising questions. Justin Martyr gave a strong philosophical defense of Christianity with arguments so solid that they are used today. St. John of Damascus gave a summary of the faith, providing a defense for the existence of God (this after he wrote a work on logic and philosophy). After experiencing the Russian revolution, S.L. Frank wrote The Meaning of Life where he openly questions if life has any purpose and goes on seeking a purpose. Of course the other famous Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, gave the best argument against the existence of God via evil in The Brothers Karamazov, and he did this while being a devout Christian. Some of the greatest music, greatest ideas, greatest art masterpieces, greatest scientific discoveries, and so on for the past 2,000 years in Western history have been accomplished by Christians. How did we go from the Sistine Chapel to Thomas Kinkade?

The problem is that many Christians feel they have to be countercultural in their artistic endeavors while equally being overly spiritual. There can’t be a subtle message, there can’t be any mystery, rather it has to be an in-your-face, moment by moment display of the Christian message. Gone are the days where Lord of the Rings is appreciated as a great epic and in are the days where Jesus is seen as Gandalf and Kirk Cameron should star as Aragorn.  Gone are the days where a Christian can have great dialogue over the question, “If God is dead, then what?” and in are the days where when faced with the question of if God is dead, we answer with Hercules, Superman, and the Newsboys (them?).

Christians need to wise up and realize that they are deserving of better. Instead of supporting low-budget, low-quality productions, they ought to support good stories that are well-done. No one is saying the Christian message cannot be overt in a work of art done by a Christian. The Christian message is incredibly overt in Dostoevsky’s Brothers, but it’s also a beautiful work of art. Dante’s Inferno is blatantly Christian in its message, as is Milton’s Paradise Lost, but you can’t get through an English major without having to read both of them due to their artistic beauty. While subtlety is preferred in today’s market, it’s okay for Christian art to be overt in a Christian message, but it must be done well. Movies like God’s Not Dead are not only a disservice to living Christians, but also to those who helped develop the Western-style of art that is so abused and neglected by today’s Christian “artists.”

We live in a world where Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams, and others are considered innovative directors because of explosions and light glare on a lens. Our culture’s idea of music is Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus. Art, true art, is more and more being confined to museums, the rich, and The New Yorker. As our culture degenerates more and more, as it succumbs to the entropic hole left by the collapse of postmodernism, it is in desperate need of an artistic voice in the wilderness. Before, during, and after Rome’s collapse, Christians stood tall as the saviors of civilization. Christian monks preserved the works of the pagan Greeks even though the pagan Vikings sought to destroy anything not of value to them. Christian iconography allowed for art to continue, even outside the church. The Renaissance was a Christian affair. Christians didn’t just have a voice in the formation of Western art; Christians formed Western art. It’s high time that Christians moved back to such a position, producing quality and supporting quality. After all, we’re made in the image of God, who is the Creator. This means that we ought to be creative. If God isn’t dead then neither should we let our creativity die, we should give up our taste for Christian porn. Christians don’t need to become countercultural and watered-down in their artistic endeavors; they need to lead the culture and become the pinnacle of artistic standards.

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Hypocrisy and Belief


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We all have friends who profess a major obstacle to belief in God and Christianity because of the sinful behavior of the people that do believe. Who wants to associate with hypocrites and liars? How could God? This is truly a scandal, a road-block, for onlookers and outsiders. The quick rejoinder is, thank the Lord they are in the Church (or one of its traditions) or we’d have to suffer their true wrath divorced from any transcendent restriction and duty. This is of course a wisecrack, but perhaps more wise than it appears.

The first thing to be said is that belief in God and belief in Christian Revelation are two quite distinct things. God, the omnipotent, omniscient, un-moved mover and bedrock of all reality has been found a necessary inference by some of the brightest minds on record. This is first of all a philosophical question, which is to be considered by reason divorced from the specifics of the faith of Christianity, just as we would infer a quark based upon the observational data we collect in physics. To explain existence as we know it a first (highest) principle is required.

God is not thought to be a physical being, or a substance like water or fire or rock, a combination of chemicals, or even an old man in the sky. That idea is absurd, and every atheist who professes to not believe that the spaghetti monster exists is quite right in his suggestion. If that is absurd, then this is a question of a reality that we cannot see. To accept this should not be as difficult as it has become in our physical-science drenched perspective. We try to solve every quandary by measuring it and cutting it up, and if that doesn’t work, we deny it because we already think the real is always physical.

This is a seriously questionable position, which philosophy throughout recorded time has treated as such. Problems concerning universals, the mind or soul, propositions, mathematics, and morals cannot be resolved nicely into a material principle without damaging our raw data: we cannot explain them along physical lines without explaining them away. One must deal with Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas and Descartes, and many, many, many others in the great tradition before floating away blissfully on the materialist’s river. For they suggest that river ends in quite a spectacular fall. Otherwise, one is prematurely closing themselves to protect their desired preconception. How could absolutely brilliant and sober minds believe the invisible world is quite real and that it’s ultimately incoherent to disavow it? Simply because they couldn’t fly to the moon or study cellular biology? We should shudder at avoiding this profound question.

Philosophy in its essence is not some specialized, arid, desert where only oddball hermits should wander; in short, it is not its current academic face. Philosophy is simply the orderly attempt to make explicit and coherent what we know about allof reality, and it uses as its primary data our common and full experience. We would not be good scientists if in the study of all we pre-screened part of the allout of our purview. In philosophy we come to a determination about man and the universe. The praeambula fidei are the foundational propositions about reality that reason can attain, if considered carefully and patiently (to be clear, no one has said that understanding these is easy, or even attainable for everyone; consider, is understanding quantum physics attainable for everyone??). It is in the least true that, via reason alone, it is not absurd, illogical, patently false, or unreasonable to affirm the existence of that which we cannot see or sense and ultimately of God.

It is from this platform that one must begin to consider the possibility of revelation and the God of the Bible. Divorced from clear thinking about reality, how could we possibly undertake an examination of the essence of Christianity? If we do not have the truth about man from a natural perspective, how could we possibly grasp what it means to the “new man”; if we don’t have a good understanding about creation, how could we possibly come to understand the “new creation”; if we do not even understand the meaning of the word God, how possibly can we come to grasp (ever so slightly) the Trinity? Would it shock anyone to learn that faith per se, far from revolving around the existence of God, properly pertains to the promises of Christ about himself, the Father, the Holy Spirit and the eternal life we might attain a share of? We don’t have faith that God exists, but that God is three persons in one divine nature. And certainly, even with the clearest rational eyes, we cannot fully comprehend the transcendence of the revealed truth. While robust reason is necessary, it’s not capable of exhausting the mysteries of the faith because they are in their essence beyond our capacity to understand. A mystery is not wholly incomprehensible: we can know God is a Trinity, but we cannot know how this works or how this is. Our term “Trinity” is a flimsy sign to a deeper reality that we cannot articulate but is used by necessity for the sake of communication.

Belief in the Christian Revelation means one believes that God has reached out to man. In fact, it’s the more incredible Creator “coming down” to the level of man to rectify his seemingly impossible separation from Him. As Peter Kreeft says, it’s a divine rescue mission. It’s completely and utterly gratuitous, and done simply because of God’s love for mankind. To believe this, one must have some very good evidence; and in this case, it is primarily historical evidence that one must examine. To “believe” anything is to mean that you accept the testimony and the message of someone else’s knowledge; I believed my astronomy professor’s testimony about whatever physical principle he told us in class that day; and he believed his professors’ on and on until the discoverer of it “saw” it. One must judge the evidence to determine if Jesus was a credible witness, and if so accept his revelation about the divine.

Now on to the issue about hypocrisy. Man is a sinner. The Church is man’s seafarer to redemption, but there are rough waters until the very end. People in the Church are not sinless, and that is not apart of the content of revelation. They are obligated to seek perfection, and that means through grace to attain virtuous behavior like being just, prudent, humble, patient, etc. and to have faith, hope and charity. They will not, however, be without sin no matter how well they respond. The Catholic Church, acting in the person of Christ, offers the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession), precisely because man is going to be with sin even after he is in the Church. Being a Christian is an act of the will, to accept the grace that God has offered and to offer one’s self back in light of the incredible gifts one has received (starting with life itself). It is not a magical ticket to immediate reform of one’s behavior.

In the end, the scandal of believers’ sin should not be a real obstacle to faith, because if one is honest in examining the situation, one will see even more the need for relief from it. We have heard many telling us that sin is illusory, or that it can be cured by better education, or a more loving and prosperous home life etc. Ultimately, sin resides at the heart of man, the very center; the divide is so deep that it reaches the depth of his being; and there is no relief except through Christianity. Nothing proves original sin more clearly than the horrible behavior of people, within or without the body of Christ. Chesterton memorably stated that original sin is the only tenant of the Faith that can be proved by simply looking at the newspapers.

Further, if one only sees the hypocrisy of believers, then one is not looking at the full picture. There are saints among us and people selflessly forgoing comfort and even the “American dream” to spend their time in effort to help those least among us. Love, honesty, virtue, faith, compassion, sacrifice, suffering etc. These all exist here and now in believers. If one mistakes tenets of traditional Christian moral teaching as being “hate speech”, then they are regrettably confused about its true nature and true meaning. Christ absolutely never wanted us to hate another person; but he absolutely did want us to hate sin and evil behavior. If one denies the existence of sin and evil, then they are going to have quite a hard time understanding the Christian revelation. If, on the other hand, one doesn’t believe in the full veracity of that revelation (e.g. in some of its moral teachings), then they have a different issue altogether.

I will quote someone much more learned than I in nature of the human heart at length:

All your dissatisfaction with the church seems to me to come from an incomplete understanding of sin. This will perhaps surprise you because you are very conscious of the sins of Catholics; however what you seem actually to demand is that the Church put the kingdom of heaven on earth right here now, that the Holy Ghost be translated at once into all flesh. The Holy Spirit very rarely shows Himself on the surface of anything. You are asking that man return at once to the state God created him in, you are leaving out the terrible radical human pride that causes death. Christ was crucified on earth and the Church crucified in time, and the Church is crucified by all of us, by her members most particularly because she is a Church of sinners. Christ never said that the Church would be operated in a sinless or intelligent way, but that it would not teach error. This does not mean that each and every priest won’t teach error but that the whole Church speaking through the pope will not teach error in matters of faith. The Church is founded on Peter who denied Christ three times and couldn’t walk on the water. All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful. Priests resist it as well as others. To have the Church be what you want it to be would require the continuous miraculous meddling of God in human affairs, whereas it is our dignity that we are allowed more or less to get on with those graces that come through faith and the sacraments and which work through our human nature. God has chosen to operate in this manner. We can’t understand this but we can’t reject it without rejecting life.

Human nature is so faulty that it can resist any amount of grace and most of the time it does. The Church does well to hold her own; you are asking that she show a profit. When shows a profit you have a saint, not necessarily a canonized one. I agree with you that you shouldn’t have to go back centuries to find Catholic thought, and to be sure, you don’t. But you are not going to find the highest principles of Catholicism exemplified on the surface of life nor the highest Protestant principles either. It is easy for any child to pick out the faults in the sermon on his way home from Church every Sunday. It is impossible for him to find out the hidden love that makes a man, in spite of his intellectual limitations, his neuroticism, his own lack of strength, give up his life to the service of God’s people, however bumblingly he may go about it…

It is what is invisible that God sees and that the Christian must look for. Because he knows the consequences of sin, he knows how deep in you have to go to find love. We have our own responsibility for not being “little ones” too long, for not being scandalized. By being scandalized too long, you will scandalize others and the guilt for that will belong to you.

It’s our business to try to change the external faults of the Church — the vulgarity, the lack of scholarship, the lack of intellectual honesty — wherever we find them and however we can… You don’t serve God by saying the Church is ineffective, I’ll have none of it. Your pain at its lack of effectiveness is a sign of your nearness to God. We help overcome this lack of effectiveness simply by suffering on account of it.

To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness. Charity is hard and endures I don’t want to discourage you from reading St. Thomas but don’t read him with the notion that he is going to clear anything up for you. That is done by study but more by prayer. (Flannery O’Connor, December 8, 1958)

I Lost Faith in Myself . . . Now I Have Hope


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It occurred to me the other day that Nietzsche is right.  The only thing I could possibly have faith in, if God is dead, is me.  This thought, I must confess, is rather unsettling (namely, because I know myself far too well).  But, if there are no transcendent values, if there is no meaning, what else is there to put my faith in?

I suppose I could put my faith in “science” or in some abstract notion like “humanity” or “the universe”—but these things are only meaningful, in a world devoid of intrinsic value, if I consider them meaningful.  In such a world, I, the subjective knower, am the arbiter of truth, meaning, and value.  It is clear, therefore, that, in actuality, “I” (and not some objective reality outside of myself) am what I truly have faith in.  I have faith in my beliefs, my intentions, and my desires (e.g., my affection for science is the source of my trust in science; for science in and of itself has no objective meaning or value).

This, however, is truly a miserable, and hopeless, state of affairs.  I am finite; I am mortal; I can be (and will be) destroyed.  My existence is a temporary blip—a shifting shadow like the shadows on Plato’s cave wall.  I am merely the byproduct of cold, impersonal, meaningless, physical processes which blindly, and uncaringly, march on without direction until the final death and collapse of the universe.  In such a world, I am not a subject; but, merely, an object—a passive object.  All of my thoughts, longings, desires, and emotions, as well as my ability to reason, are merely physical happenings—unimportant, undirected, predetermined, events.  Thus we see the sickening irony of the situation: there is no “I”—at least, not in any traditional sense of the term.

To make matters worse, I am unreliable.   I fail to understand or to comprehend or to communicate effectively.  I am forgetful and can easily be deceived.  I fail to keep my promises.  I tell lies and cheat and steal and have pity parties.  I lack self confidence and lack the power to change anything about the laws of nature which completely hold sway over my fate.

As I ponder these things I realize that, in the absence of God, there is no hope; because I am my only hope . . . and I have no delusions of grandeur.

When we recognize that placing total faith in ourselves is utterly useless and ultimately futile, we are finally in a position to understand the paradox that Truth presents us with:  “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25).

“I” is an absurdity—a meaningless illusory object—operating under the delusion that the world has value.  Life is hopeless; the universe is impersonal; I will end; I can’t save myself.  This is because I live in a fallen world disconnected from Truth and estranged from the Giver of Life.  I remain in this despairing state so long as I worship “self”; so long as I pin my hopes on a temporal, finite, feeble, dying blip in the universe.  This is why Truth tells us to deny ourselves and to follow Him.  Only He can give us life; only He can restore meaning and value.  Apart from Him, we remain in the void, in the darkness, and held captive by death.

Previously posted on Truth is a Man.

A Hope Beyond Cynicism or, the Resurrection and Evisceration of Nihilism


Icon of the Resurrection

Icon of the Resurrection

It is in the fashion of the times for popular television scientists, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, to explain how science is leaving little room for God’s existence while in the same breath stating that we humans are insignificant, and that it is good we realize this. Such scientists do not seemingly see the irony in their thinking: Materialism, which believes in a large, yet finite universe, teaches that humans are insignificant, while Christianity, which believes in an infinite, incomprehensible God, teaches that humans are significant.

Such pondering tends towards materialistic pantheism, that we are great because we are made of dead stars. We are all physically connected to each other and to the universe we see. While true, what real moral impact is there in this statement? The CEO is connected to his poor worker because both are composed of atoms, but what of it? Stating such a scientific truth may seem deep and profound, but it is no more profound than saying the earth rotates around the sun or that one apple plus another apple equals two apples; all are mere statements of fact, nothing more.

These modern anti-philosophers – men who decry philosophy, yet act as philosophers – act as though they are speaking deeply by saying there is no purpose to life, but we are to act as if purpose exists. These English-speaking scientists think they have broken new ground, while blindly waving away the cigarette smoke from the French who have been here for quite some time. As in true historical fashion the English follow the trends of the French, claim it as their own, and the French are left cursing the ignoble English all the while denouncing the English rendition of French fashion. The philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus already struggled with a materialistic worldview leading to no purpose. Of course, in following true European fashion, the French must surrender the origins of their fashion to Germany (with Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Hegel, and others). The Germans, in turn, would bashfully admit that their existential and materialistic heritage was stolen from the Rome they sacked, mostly from Lucretius. Yet, the Romans would have to admit that their philosophy came from the conquered Greeks, from the Epicurean teachings. Our modern scientists who think they are quite progressive in their atheistic existentialism would be dismayed to discover that they are not moving forward, but backward to a theory that is older than the Christianity they so detest.

Facing the dark emptiness of the universe is nothing new; it is not something modern science has forced us to undertake. Facing the darkness of this world, facing a life without God, is something that humanity has seemingly always faced. Atheism is not the result of Darwin’s theory of evolution and advances in science; rather, atheism is the result of man’s rebellion culminating in wanting not only to be like God, but also to erase Him from our very existence. Even the Psalms speaks of the foolishness of those who deny God’s existence, but it acknowledges that such people exist. The idea that the world we live in is all that exists is as ancient as religion itself. Neil deGrasse Tyson has discovered nothing new, but has stumbled upon an ancient conundrum.

Even St. Paul recognized the issue of nihilism, that is, on the purposelessness of life. What makes Christianity so distinct is that we acknowledge that this life actually is without a purpose. We recognize that this world is truly empty and pointless. The difference, however, is we can explain why this is the case and why it need not be the case. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is quite adamant about the importance of the Resurrection, stating that without the resurrection of Christ and of our own bodies, there is no point to this life. He goes so far as to say that if there is no physical resurrection then there is no point to living like a Christian, that we should “eat and drink” for tomorrow we may die.

Within Christianity, we do not disagree that if God does not exist, this life is pointless. We go even further – much to the dismay of our Theistic co-belligerents – to say that even if God does exist, without the resurrection there is still no point to this life. We can claim to drink in the fullness of this life, to milk the enjoyable sap from every second we exist, but in the end we are simply fooling ourselves. If there is no resurrection, then we are hapless souls wandering a desert who happen upon an oasis only to discover it is a mirage. The soothing shade and cold water were quite convincing, but in the end it was nothing more than sand. All the while, the vultures fly overhead, awaiting our inevitable end.

Without a resurrection, there is no meaning to this life and we fool ourselves if we think otherwise. We may pretend that our meanderings have meaning, that it somehow matters that we are physically connected to ancient stars, but in the end, we still cease to be. Those who remembered us will cease to be. 4.5 billion years from now the sun will swallow up the earth as entropy takes its full effect and all that we have ever known will burn up. Everything we work toward, all our struggles, our happiness, and history will wash away like a sandcastle at high tide.

Yet, there is hope that reaches beyond the cynicism of nihilism. That hope is found in Christ, who has given meaning and purpose to all things that exist. That hope stems from His resurrection. In a poetic paradox that only God could accomplish, the emptiness of the tomb besieges the nothingness of nihilism, and this emptiness is full of so much that it simply wipes away the nothingness. When Christ hung on a cross and was placed in a tomb, nihilism reigned supreme. The shrouded Jesus faced the pointlessness of this life as He lay dead in the tomb. Yet, the death could not hold Him, for death is the absence of hope and Christ is Hope. As the darkness consumed Jesus, it choked on Light Himself, and unable to contain this Light surrendered to Him. The hopelessness of this world could not contain the Hope for the world.

The resurrection provides real hope and real meaning to this world rather than the empty platitudes of scientific existentialism. The resurrection acknowledges that in our physical body we are certainly linked to dead stars, but in the entirety of our being we are linked to the living God. When we die, what we have done will have meaning because it will reverberate and ripple into eternity. When one dies we sing “Memory Eternal” not just because it is a beautiful sentiment, but also because it is the truth; one is remembered eternally by the Eternal One. Only in the resurrection, where life continues for eternity, can there be any meaning to this present life. The more we learn about the universe and its vast expanse, the more we ought to turn to its Creator in order to find the meaning for all things

 

Debating Atheism: Five Common Mistakes


The point of this post is to promote meaningful dialogue between Theists and Atheists.  I’m neither attempting to prove the existence of God nor trying to disprove good arguments in favor of Atheism.  Rather, my aim is to examine several statements Atheists have made to me, on several occasions, which demonstrate they do not fully understand where I’m coming from.

I’ve labeled them “common” because, not only have I had these statements said to me, but I have read or heard them repeated by many Atheists (even several academics can be found making these assertions).  I call them “mistakes”, not to belittle the people who make them or to say that Atheism is false, but to point out that these assertions do not actually respond to what Theists are trying to communicate.  They are “mistaken” primarily because they are shots fired at straw men—they are, essentially, irrelevant to the discussion—they make unwarranted assumptions, or, because they prevent meaningful dialogue about the actual issues at stake.

Furthermore, I’ve presented each mistake in the form of a statement rather than trying to classify them with some cool designation.  I’ve done this partly because I couldn’t be bothered trying to come up with a fancy label for each mistake; but, primarily, because these statements, I think, simply reflect how many Atheists respond to Theists in every day conversation.

So, without further introduction, here are the five common mistakes or, misguided statements, Atheists make when debating Theists:

I.  “Atheist’s are not inherently immoral people; you don’t need God to do good things.” 

To my surprise, several books (see: Epstein and Armstrong) have recently been published by noted Atheists which focus almost entirely on this point—a point which virtually every Theist would agree with.  Hardly any Theist would deny that Atheists can do good things or can be morally responsible without believing in God.  This is especially true of Christians, who believe that all men are made in the image of God (whether they believe it or not) and are, thus, capable of having knowledge about moral truths and making good decisions, that is, of doing something morally right.  Furthermore, Christians believe in the concept of Natural Law—they believe morality is objective and woven into the very fabric of reality—and that all men are capable of comprehending moral truths regardless of whether they’ve read the Bible or believe in the Holy Trinity.

When Christians argue that moral values do not exist if God does not exist they are speaking about objective moral values—that is, moral values which exist and are true independently from observers.  Stated more precisely, moral values which exist and are true whether you, or I, or society believes in them or not.  This is significantly different from arguing that Atheists are inherently immoral people or are incapable of doing anything good.  It is also different from arguing that you must believe God exists in order to be ethical.

The Christian argument might start off like this: “so, you (the Atheist) and I both believe it is evil to rape and murder a ten year old child–surely, we can stand in solidarity on this point.  However, I as a Christian have solid philosophical reasons for believing this is objectively evil and you do not . . .”

II.  “Atheists believe many things in this world have value—people, in general, find the world to be full of value—hence, you don’t need God to believe that values exist.” 

Once again, we must distinguish between objective values verses subjective values.  Objective values are ontologically grounded outside of the human mind—they are real in the sense that they are said to exist whether individuals acknowledge their existence or not.  Objective values may be discovered through our subjective experience of reality but are not ontologically grounded in subjective experiences.   Understanding values objectively, one could make the following statements consistently:  “human beings have intrinsic value, dignity, and worth”, “men and women have inalienable rights,” or “one ought not rape and murder a ten year old child.”

Subjective values have no existence apart from the human mind—they are rooted in and relative to the observer or the community.  They are merely accidental properties.  In this sense values are not said to truly exist in an ontological sense—they are simply social conventions, or feelings, or mindless products of evolution.  Understanding values subjectively, one could never make the value statements we made in the preceding paragraph.  We certainly couldn’t make the statements, “X is valuable” or “one ought not do X”.  We could only say things like, “X has value to me”, or “society considers X taboo”.

The reason I’ve gone through such great lengths to explain these terms is because they so easily get muddled in conversation.  When a Theist argues that values do not exist if God does not exist, she means that objective values do not exist.  So, when an Atheist responds to such an argument with the statement, “people, in general, find the world to be full of value—hence, you don’t need God to believe that values exist” he is completely missing the point.  The Theist would agree that values become subjective if God does not exist, in fact, this is the very thing the Theist has a problem with.

III.  “I don’t believe in God because I believe in science.”

I’ve heard this line more times than I care to remember.  This assertion is usually thrown out as a conversation stopper—that is, it is usually intended to show that religious belief is outdated, simplistic, mythical, irrational, opposed to scientific discovery, and hence not worth talking about.  However, the statement carries with it many underlying assumptions which are typically never supported by anything like coherent argumentation.

First of all, it creates a false dichotomy—it suggests that one must choose between “belief” in God and “belief” in science.  It assumes, without supporting argumentation, that the acceptance of one belief necessarily excludes belief in the other.  Furthermore, those who make this statement often fail to explain what they mean by “I believe in science.”  If this statement means “science provides the only valid path to knowledge” then one must provide good reasons for holding this epistemological view (which, by the way, is self refuting).

The Theist, on the other hand, often holds science in high regard and, in fact, many Theists are scientists.  Historically speaking, modern science grew out of a culture which primarily accepted the Christian worldview—in point of fact many of the greatest scientists were Christians or at least Theists of some sort.  Don’t simply throw out this statement and call it a day—open up the doors for a deeper, more nuanced . . . more rational discussion.

IV.  “I don’t need any arguments to justify my lack of belief in God; it’s up to you to prove that God exists.”

Sure, you don’t need arguments . . . if you’re not interested in holding your beliefs rationally.  Consider this example:

If I came up to you and forcefully asserted that the past is not real and that history is just an illusion you’d respond by saying, “prove it, and give me a reason why I should believe you”.  Would you take me seriously if I simply replied, with a smug look on my face, “I don’t have to prove anything; it is up to you to prove me wrong”?  I must have reasons why I believe history is an illusion (even if they are bad reasons) and I should share them with others if I want them to agree with me or, at least, take me seriously.  If, however, I have no reason to accept this outlandish premise, why should anybody give me the time of day?

So, unless the thought “God doesn’t exist” irrationally popped into your head one day and you just decided, without reason, to adopt it as a fundamental truth, you have reasons to justify your lack of belief in God.  Please don’t be afraid to share them—open them up to critique or reevaluation.  Give the Theist a reason to accept that God is dead.  The burden is on you as well; don’t be intellectually irresponsible.

V.  “I’m not having a discussion with you about God; people who believe in God are delusional and probably psychopathic.  It is impossible to have a rational discussion with someone who is delusional.” 

Frankly, statements of this sort are just an excuse to avoid critical thinking and indicate that you are a narrow minded bigot.  If this isn’t a mistake I don’t know what is?

What Problem of Evil?


The problem of evil is only a problem if God exists.  More specifically, it is only a problem if the God of Classical Theism exists.  The moment we deny the existence of God we dissolve the problem of evil entirely.  Why?  Because without God there are no moral absolutes, no objective values, and hence, no evil to “cause a problem.”  Ironically, by removing God from the equation, we also remove any grounds we might have had for holding real moral indignation (by “real” I mean something more than our personal dislike for a given set of circumstances but, rather,  a true moral outrage in the face of true evil).

This is what I find so fascinating about the current arguments against Theism.  Those who hold that “God is dead” claim to be the most horrified and the most incensed by the existence of  evil in the world, yet, oddly enough, they adhere to a worldview which teaches that evil is merely a feeling, an evolutionary accident, or a social convention and not an objective reality.  For example, I recently entered into a dialogue about creaturely pain and suffering with the popular Atheist blogger John W. Loftus.  He seems truly dismayed by the overwhelming number of people who have suffered excruciating deaths at the hand of various pandemics throughout history.  In his eyes the amount of pain that, for example, the millions of people who contracted the bubonic plague endured was a tremendous evil.  The implicit assumptions standing underneath his moral outrage are clear: (1) that human beings are inherently valuable and deserve to live a good life, free from horrendous amounts of pain, suffering and loss and (2) that death is a bad thing.

Now this is a very curious state of affairs.  From a worldview perspective, Atheism doesn’t allow for the existence of objective evil or objective goodness.  According to Atheisms grand metaphysical story, human beings are meaningless, temporary, bits of matter with absolutely no intrinsic value or purpose.  If this is true, however, then the pain and suffering regularly experienced by humans is normal and valueless. The subjective meaning that individual human beings ascribe to life is merely an automatic, predestined, physical event (because all mental phenomena are ultimately explainable in terms of the laws of physics). Furthermore, there is no hope of ever escaping death–for there is no afterlife and no escaping the reality that we shall forever be finite, limited, dissoluble beings.  Death, therefore, is a normal physical process—in fact, death, is a crucial aspect of evolution.

Thus, in a strange turn of events, Mr. Loftus, and those like him, find themselves emotionally at odds with their own metaphysics.  They feel sorrow and even outrage at the idea of human suffering, while simultaneously advocating a worldview which denies the implicit assumptions underlying their indignation.  Namely, they feel upset about evil but maintain, philosophically, that human beings are not inherently valuable (and do not deserve to live a good life) and that death is fundamentally not a bad thing.

This, however, brings us right back to the original problem.  For, it is only when we posit the existence of the God of Classical Theism that we have grounds for believing human life is intrinsically valuable and that death is a horrendous evil.  It is only then that a “problem of evil” arises because it is only then that evil is said to actually exist.

This, of course, forces us to make a choice (that is, if we do not wish to live in a state of internal conflict or inconsistency):  we can embrace Atheism, deny the existence of evil or any objective value—thus eradicating the so called problem of evil—or we can embrace Classical Theism.  If we embrace the former, we must be prepared to accept the fact that life is utterly futile and that pain and suffering are ultimately vain physical happenings.  In the words of Pavel  Florensky, “all of reality becomes an absolutely meaningless and insane nightmare.”

If we embrace the latter, however, our distain for pain, suffering, and death, is valid.  For our distain becomes more than a predestined feeling or mindless automatic physical response to stimuli but becomes a proper reaction to real evil.  Beyond this, if we accept Christianity, we also have hope for a future free from pain, suffering and death and filled with Divine love and meaning.

Even More Evidence Christians Just Don’t Think . . .


The other day I posted a response to an article written by John W. Loftus, the author of several books on atheism and the incendiary blog Debunking Christianity.  To my surprise, he was very quick to reply to my post, leaving several comments, and eventually writing a full length response on his blog entitled More Evidence Christians Just Don’t Think.  The evidence, of course, being me.  It is not often that one has the opportunity to participate in a meaningful dialog with someone he disagrees with.  My hope is that, through this conversation, John and I (as well as our readers) might develop a better understanding of our respective positions.  So, with that in mind, the following is  my response . . .

To begin with, I noticed that Mr. Loftus, neither in his original comments nor his blog post, addressed my concluding paragraph which reads as follows:

The Atheist, however, does not have a foundation upon which he might build the argument that anything is intrinsically evil.  A physical event–such as the movement of atoms, or the falling of an apple from a tree, or bodily death–has no inherent value.  Physical events simply happen; they just “are.”  Any value judgment that an Atheist makes about a physical event is totally subjective—for, ultimately, values amount to nothing more than statements about one’s inner feelings (which, by the way, are merely physical events that he has no control of).  When Mr. Loftus laments over the death of millions of people—as if death were an objective evil—he is merely sharing his personal feelings.  He has no grounds to claim that death is “evil’ in any real sense at all.  Furthermore, the Atheist, unlike the Christian, has no ultimate hope.  No matter how much power man gains over nature through science, he will never be able to change the fact that he is corruptible, dissoluble, finite, limited, contingent, and mortal.”

I would be interested to hear why Mr. Loftus finds creaturely pain and suffering morally appalling.  More precisely, I’d like to know if he believes pain and suffering are intrinsic or objective evils?  If so, I’d like to understand how, on Atheism, he justifies this belief?  As of now, he has failed to comment on this rather important piece of the puzzle.

I argued that Christians, unlike Atheists, have a reason to believe death is a horrendous evil and hope for a new life and the restoration of all things.  I’d like to take a moment to expound upon this.  It is because Christians believe human beings are made in the image and likeness of God that we are justified in our belief that human life is intrinsically valuable.  It is because Christians believe everything which has being (or existence) is good, in virtue of the fact that God made it, that we have grounds for believing that movement towards non-existence or non-being (i.e. physical death) is a great evil.  It is precisely because Christians believe  in the resurrection of the dead and in the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth, that Christians have hope.  Sadly, none of this can be said for the Atheist.

If God is dead, then human beings are meaningless, temporary, bits of matter with absolutely no intrinsic value or purpose.  The pain and suffering we regularly experience is normal and amoral.  The subjective meaning that individual human beings ascribe to life is merely an automatic, predestined, physical event (that is because all mental phenomena are ultimately explainable in terms of the laws of physics).  Furthermore, there is no hope of ever escaping death–for there is no afterlife and no escaping the reality that we shall forever be finite, limited, dissoluble beings.

Do you get this?  Mr. Loftus claims I, and all Christians, “dismiss the pain and death of millions,” while touting a worldview which ultimately teaches us that the pain and death of millions is a normal, amoral, meaningless, physical event and that human life is not intrinsically valuable.

Mr. Loftus states that, “Christians just do not care that people die when their faith is at stake,” but I wonder why it is that he cares that people die?  I care because people are inherently valuable (being made in the image of God), and were made to exist and flourish.  Death, therefore, is a terrible evil.  He cares because . . . well, I’m hoping he’ll tell me why.

Now, there are a host of other interesting things in his article we could talk about.  For instance, Mr. Loftus seems to have a limited view of the atonement–assuming that Penal Substitutionary Atonement is the only valid interpretation.  Accordingly, he fails to understand why the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ are so important in this discussion.  At present, however, I think it best to focus on the above topic.  Before we can move any further in this conversation, we need to understand why, on Atheism, anyone should be concerned about the pain, suffering, and death of others?