Thinking With the Wrong Head or, Richard Dawkins on Altruism


As many of you are well aware, the existence of genuine love or altruism is often leveled against the naturalistic worldview as evidence of its implausibility.  But those who buy into such pathetic argumentation simply don’t understand the richness of the Darwinian perspective.   You may be surprised to learn that the New Atheists, especially Richard Dawkins, are actually romantics at heart.  I dare say that the conception of altruism explicated so eloquently in his acclaimed work The God Delusion would move even the hardest of hearts to start composing Shakespearean sonnets! 

Like many great romantics, Dawkins begins his discourse on love with a rousing passage on the ontological foundation of love itself:       
“The most obvious way in which genes ensure their own ‘selfish’ survival relative to other genes is by programming individual organism to be selfish.  There are indeed many circumstances in which survival of the individual organism will favour the survival of the genes that ride inside it.  But different circumstances favour different tactics.  There are circumstances – not particularly rare – in which genes ensure their own selfish survival by influencing organisms to behave altruistically.”
In this stirring piece of prose Dawkins skillfully uncovers the underlying foundations of naturalistic anthropology.  Through it we learn that man is but a passive composition of matter blown and tossed by the mindless and purposeless wind of biology (please note that you should ignore the teleological language he employees; words like “tactics” and the like).  We see that, at its core, altruism is rooted in pre-programmed instincts involuntarily thrust upon us by our “selfish” genes.  From this foundation he weaves a beautiful tapestry of possibilities–sure to make many a fair maiden’s heart pound with passion:     
“We now have four good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral’ towards each other.  First, there is the special case of genetic kinship.  Second, there is reciprocation:  the repayment of favours given, and the giving of favours in ‘anticipation’ of payback.  Following on from this there is, third, the Darwinian benefit of acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness.  And fourth . . . there is the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity as a way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising.”
In order to fully appreciate the profundity of the kaleidoscope of Darwinian explanations offered here we must pause to consider exactly what kind of love is being presented to us. 

The Four Loves

Classically speaking, there are four kinds of love.  The Greeks distinguished between the different forms of love using four distinct words: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē.  Dawkins’ elaboration on altruism seems to fall within the realm of éros, and storgē–the forms of love that come upon us in waves of emotion entirely outside of our control.  For we undergo these forms of love as mere passive receptors.  They are the product of a diverse range of factors including our environment and, yes, even our biology.  Storgē is quite simply the feeling of affection that we have for our kin—e.g., the “fluttery” warm feeling experienced by a mother holding her child—and éros is the feeling of desire—e.g., a wave of sexual longing, or craving a succulent piece of steak.  While, according to the classical understanding, we can make choices that intentionally direct our lives toward things that engender these types of love, they are ultimately brought on by forces outside of our volition.  Thus, they stand in marked contrast to agápe (self-giving love), and philía (friendship) which are rooted in the will.
 
But Richard Dawkins, in a stroke of poetic genius, turns away from the classical veiw and paints a picture of a world in which true agápe and philía are but an illusion.  For him altruism can only be explained in terms of éros, and storgē: 
         
“What natural selection favours is rules of thumb, which work in practice to promote the genes that built them.  Rules of thumb, by their nature, sometimes misfire.  In a bird’s brain, the rule ‘Look after small squawking things in your nest, and drop food into their red gapes’ typically has the effect of preserving the genes that built the rule, because the squawking, gaping objects in an adult bird’s nest are normally its own offspring  The rule misfires if another baby bird somehow gets into the nest . . .”
He goes on to explain:  
“I am suggesting that the same is true of the urge to kindness – to altruism, to generosity, to empathy, to pity.  In ancestral times, we had the opportunity to be altruistic only towards close kin and potential reciprocators.  Nowadays, that restriction is no longer there, but the rule of thumb persists.  Why would it not?  It is just like sexual desire.  We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce).  Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes:  blessed, precious mistakes.”
In other words, true acts of love are glorious (?) mistakes; accidental properties of nature brought about by instincts and passions mechanically instigated by our genes.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this moves me to tears every time I think about it.  If you don’t feel the same, stick with me and I think you’ll change your mind.    

The Blessedness of Darwinism

Contrary to what some might think it’s clear that Darwinism, with its robust foundation of unintentional self-edifying desire, warm fuzzy feelings, and brute instincts, is a powerful platform upon which to build and explain deep, meaningful, expressions of love.  Take, for example, the Catholic priest in North Africa who is currently harboring nearly 700 Muslims in his church.  He’s literally risking his own life to protect them from an extremist group attempting to eradicate the Muslim population in their country.  Thanks to Dawkins we now understand that he is not intentionally laying down his life for his fellow man because they are made in the image of God and therefore intrinsically valuable.  And he is surely not acting in accordance with the virtues of courage or fortitude.  Rather, and I say this in the most beautiful and uplifting way imaginable, he is undergoing an evolutionary misfire.  Just dwell on that notion for a moment.
You see, in a strange and (to use the adjectives so aptly employed by Dawkins) blessed and precious quirk of fate this priest is mistakenly extending charity to Muslims.  Mind you, this is ultimately a meaningless and quit unintentional happening in the life of the universe–and I really don’t have to explain to you how heartwarming that fact is—but we can all appreciate the beauty of this utterly futile event!
Herein lies the real magic of Darwinism.  No matter how meaningless our actions are, we can make them sound nice by attaching uplifting adjectives like “blessed” or “precious” to them.  This is especially helpful when considering a variety of seemingly “self-less” acts performed my people every day.  Consider the gentleman who cared for and eventually married his invalid fiancé.  We all know the real reason he tenderly cared for her, after she had that unfortunate fall and became paralyzed from the waist down, is because of an irresistible sexual impulse built into him by his “selfish” genes.  You see, his brain mistakenly thought he needed to preserve her to bear children and preserve his genetic code (and possibly do his laundry).  The folk way of viewing love might have mistaken his actions as being actual acts of self-giving and service; sacrifices he intentionally chose because he valued her and recognized her personhood.  The folk way would even have us thinking he was acting in accordance with the virtue of charity.  But, in truth, he was just thinking with “the wrong head”—as my grandfather’s drill sergeant might have described it.  Now this might sound crass but there is really no need to despair because if we close our eyes and click our heels . . . we’ll soon see that this evolutionary misfire is the stuff of poetry.        
     
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What Would Jesus Do? . . . You Don’t Want to Know Because It Would Freak You Out


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From time to time I hear complaints about the content or tone of some of our articles here at the Christian Watershed.  It’s true that we’ve been known to write with passion and a strong sense of “righteous indignation” (and, to be fair, even unrighteous indignation).  It is also true that we regularly critique popular evangelical Christian beliefs and practices.  Sometimes we openly question mainstream denominations like the SBC (for a recent example of this please refer to Joel’s article on homosexuality).  One of the complaints leveled against us has been that writing against other Christian groups is inappropriate and unloving.  The impetus behind this complaint is the notion that a believer should never criticize the beliefs or practices of other Christians in public.  One reader actually suggested to me that it is sinful to publicly shame another believer-which is, I suppose, what some people perceive we are doing when we engage in such diatribes.

I think the people who have shared such complaints mean well.  Furthermore, I’m positive we have written with sinful motives and made brash uncaring comments in the past–and I’m certain we’ll make such mistakes in the future.  Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if these critiques, which sound very pious and humble, well . . . actually are?  What if the kind folks raising these concerns about our writing are in fact unwittingly espousing our societies confused notion of tolerance and political correctness?  In our culture, it is commonly perceived that to question someone – i.e. to assert that their ideas are flawed or their behavior is wrong – is synonymous with hating them.  Could this be why some Christians feel our writing is mean spirited or hateful?

When faced with such a dilemma it is important for a Christian to stop and ask another, more fundamental, question:  what would Jesus do?  Well, that’s exactly what I did and what I discovered is that, He would really freak people out.  You see, many of the things Jesus did and said, out of perfect Divine love, would ruffle our feathers.  In point of fact, some of the things He did and said in public to other “believers” would greatly disturb and deeply offend modern evangelicals; especially if He showed up in their churches doing and saying such things.  I’ve chosen three examples which, I feel, make even our most vehement Watershed post seem generous and heartwarming . . .

I. Jesus Shames a Pharisee In His Own Home In Front of Dinner Guests . . . Then He Shames the Dinner Guests (Luke 11:37-54):

“While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner.  Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?  So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honor in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces.  Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it.”

One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.”  And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them.  Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your ancestors killed.  So you are witnesses and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them, and you build their tombs.  Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’  so that this generation may be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be charged against this generation.  Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.”

II. Jesus Publicly Denounces, Humiliates, and Shames the Scribes and Pharisee’s in the Temple (Matthew 23:1-36):

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.  They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi . . .“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.  For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’  You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred?  And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.  So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’  Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets.  Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors.  You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell?  Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.  Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.”

III. Jesus Takes a Whip and Drives People Out of the Temple (John 2:13-17):

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

I would like to stress the point that everything Jesus says in these passages is rooted in love–because I realize this is extremely difficult for many in our culture to understand.  Why?  Because we have fallen for a dubious lie: that it is unloving to tell someone they are doing or believing the wrong thing.  This is because we confuse true, deep, eternal love, with mere kindness.  Kindness may often accompany true love but is not a necessary component of true love.  I will write more on this topic soon–for now, let it be enough to say that love sometimes involves unpleasant – non fluttery butterfly in the stomach -feelings.

Let me further point out that in each of these passages Jesus is publicly shaming other “believers” – more specifically religious leaders.  He is not sinning when he does this because He is acting out of love and compassion and with the goal of justice and righteousness.

Now, clearly (painfully so) Joel and I are not Jesus.  However, when we write articles for the Christian Watershed our desire is to be like Him.  I’m not claiming we actually achieve this.  I’m saying, we strive to be like Him.  We desire to promote love through our writings and sometimes this means being what some might consider “unpleasant.”  Sometimes it means challenging the beliefs, practices, motives, and attitudes of other Christians.  This does not mean we hate other Christians – even really sick and twisted ones (e.g. Westboro Baptist) – rather, it means we love truth,  justice, sincerity, and holiness and hate hypocrisy, dishonesty, and judgmental attitudes.

We Leave Christ Naked, Hungry, and Alone


Jesus once taught His disciples about the final judgment, when all men will stand before God and answer for the things they have done.  He said this:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:31-46). 

Many of us (and I include myself in this statement as perhaps the chief of all sinners) confess Christ with our lips but deny Him through our actions because our hearts are far from Him.  We say we believe, but our faith is dead; it is lifeless; it is stale.  We say Christ came to save the world, to usher in the Kingdom of God, but we live as if He never rose from the grave—and for this we shall be held accountable.  For, “as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me,” He says.  Herein lays the disturbing and profound truth of this statement:    

When we ignore the little children being kidnapped or sold into the commercial sex industry and monstrously abused and neglected by hordes of foul men, we are ignoring Christ.  When we fail to provide assistance for the teenage mother, abandoned by her friends and family, without hope and alone, we are failing and neglecting Christ.  When we sit back quietly as the same single mother, out of fear and shame, has her unborn child executed, we are driving the very nails through His hands on the cross.  When we stand by in silence as transgendered teenagers are bullied to the point of suicide we are bullying and murdering Christ.  When we scoff at the homeless drug addict begging for cash on the side of the road we are scoffing at Christ.  When we laugh at, make fun of, or speak hatefully towards homosexuals we are mocking Christ.  When we leave millions of abandoned or unwanted children to rot and die on the streets or in some orphanage, we are abandoning Christ.  When we look at pornography, thus objectifying other human beings in order to satiate our own perverted lusts, we objectify Christ.  When we cling to our wealth, our comfort, our pleasures, our freedom of speech, our liberties, our country, and our homes—failing to help those who are hurting, lonely, hungry, lost, and in need–we  leave Christ naked, hungry, and alone.

Go Therefore and Wage a Political Cultural War, Legislating In the Name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!


The Battle for Chick-fil-AIt is time for Christians to stop thinking like politicians, to stop attempting to effect change in our culture through political legislation and activism, and to start loving people.  If the values in American society are crumbling it is because people have turned away from God and embraced Secular Humanism—and this problem, the hardening of man’s heart against God, will not be solved through polemics and legislation.  We can rally together at Chick-fil-A, draw a line in the sand, and fight for our rights to free speech; but even if we “win” this battle, it is only a temporary solution.  We are dealing with a deep sickness and attacking the problem with political activism is as ineffective as trying to heal cancer with a band-aid.  The real problem is not a political one but a spiritual one.  The real problem is that people are lost and, in consequence, held captive by vain, irrational, dehumanizing forms of worldly thinking.  While we puff ourselves up, stomp our feet, and scream about our “rights’ as American citizens, lost souls are desperately searching for meaning and love and finding it in all of the wrong places.

The truth of the matter is:  we have lost our youth.  They do not accept objective moral values, they don’t understand what truth is, and they are not interested in the Christian worldview.  They are impulsive, emotionally driven, materialistic, superficial, and have absorbed Secular Humanistic, nihilistic, thinking without even realizing it.  In about twenty years, when these kids in our illustrious high schools are doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians and entertainers, we will find that all or our political grandstanding was ultimately a waste of time.  The very democratic system that we are currently relying on to fight the “cultural war” will be turned against us in the end; because this was never a political battle in the first place—and, more to the point, truth is not determined by a vote.  So, we are faced with a choice: we can drum up huge crowds of evangelicals to eat at Chick-fil-A, to fight for our right to free speech and “take a stand for marriage;” or, we can start focusing our efforts on loving people.

When I speak of loving people I don’t mean having a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.  I mean loving them with the same self-giving, sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross.  I mean that we start truly caring for the left out, down hearted, misunderstood, people in our society.  That we stand against hate crimes against homosexuals and alongside hurting families who have had loved ones commit suicide because they were gay; that we stop drawing a line in the sand and start opening our arms.

This is not to say that we give up our values or compromise our beliefs.  It is to say that we value people more than our own right to free speech.  The fact is, Christians in America are simply scared of persecution.  Much of the political posturing we participate in is simply done out of fear:  fear of losing our right to free speech, fear of Secular Humanistic ethics dominating our legal system.  Fear, however, is contrary to the teaching of Jesus who explicitly told us not to fear and who said shocking things like: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).

How many of you considered it a blessing when the media lashed out at Dan Cathy for simply making the statement that he believed in the Biblical definition of marriage?  How many of you rejoiced and were exceedingly glad when the mayor of Boston stated that Chick-fill-A was not welcome in his city?  Or, were you simply indignant, angry, and fearful?  It’s difficult for us to wrap our heads around Jesus’ teaching on persecution because, quite frankly, we have it so easy.  We are not really persecuted in America; but one day we might be if we continue waging a hopeless political battle.

A culture is made up of people; we, therefore, only effect change within a culture if the people who give life to a culture have a change of heart and mind.  People are changed by Christ, not legislation, and this only happens when Christ’s people die to themselves, start demonstrating His love to the world, and make true disciples.  Jesus said it best: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  Please note how non political sounding Jesus’ final command to his followers was.  The kingdom of God is brought about through His people bringing the gospel to the world in a tangible way; not through manipulating the democratic political system.  Only love, the self-giving, self-sacrificial, love of the cross can change hearts, renew minds, and ultimately revive a culture.

The Trinity, the Incarnation and Divine Love


In striking contrast to the solitary, self-absorbed, impersonal picture of god we see in Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, the distant and uninterested god imagined by Deists, or the utterly transcendent and semi-tyrannical dictator espoused by Islam, Christians have always maintained that God is Love.  St. John so beautifully states this in his first epistle:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)

From this passage we can discern at least three things about the One True God:  (1) that He can be known, (2) that He is personal, and (3) that love is a fundamental aspect of His existence or being.  To fully understand these three things, however, we must take a closer look at the two most important teachings of the Christian faith; namely, the Doctrine of the Trinity and the Doctrine of the Incarnation.

It may strike you as odd that I maintain these doctrines are the most important teachings of the Christian faith; after all, many people today question whether or not it is necessary or even relevant for Christians to believe in the Trinity or the Incarnation.  Some say these doctrines are impractical abstract concepts which have no bearing on everyday life; others suggest that these doctrines are rooted in pagan ideas and simply demonstrate the influence of Greek philosophy on the Early Church Fathers.  As we shall see, both of these assertions are entirely false.  The Trinity and the Incarnation are not only practical but, diametrically opposed to the Greek conception of the Divine Nature.

For, it is when we examine the Trinitarian explication of God’s existence and  look closely at the Incarnation of our Lord that we come to understand what sets Christianity’s vision of the Divine Nature apart from all others.  Only through these doctrines do we see that God is love, and, therefore, both personal and knowable.

The idea that God exists as three distinct persons who share one Divine Nature is absolutely necessary if we wish to maintain that God is both personal and loving.  After all, personhood is, in part, understood through relationships—that is through an individual’s interaction with other rational beings.  If God is the solitary enigmatic figure depicted in other forms of monotheism, we must therefore question whether or not he is personal at allConsider that a perfect being must be complete in and of Himself and must depend upon nothing or no one for its existence.   It stands to reason that if God is a perfect being (as Theists almost universally affirm) His personality must be grounded within Himself and should not be contingent upon the existence of other finite rational agencies.  This, however, presents a problem for non-Christian forms of monotheism that depict God as a monad—that is, as one solitary self absorbed consciousness.   In the absence of other distinct rational agencies it becomes difficult to understand how such a deity could be understood as personal or loving without sacrificing his perfection and transcendence; and this is reflected in their teachings about the Divine Nature.  While they sometimes speak of God as one might speak about a person, their theology unavoidably leads to an unapproachable, disinterested, distant, and fundamentally impersonal Deity.

In contrast, the Doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God has eternally existed as a plurality of personalities– the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—and it is from this that we derive our understanding of God as a personal and loving being while, simultaneously,  maintaining his perfection and transcendence.

It is in virtue of the perfect cooperation which exists between these three distinct personalities that we are able to discern that God is love:  for the Father and the Son, and the Spirit all give of themselves to each other, and work in unity and harmony with each other.  There is no struggle; no conflict.   Everything the Father has he gives to his Son and, likewise, the Spirit shares in everything that is of the Father and of the Son.  From this we learn that the Divine Nature is not narcissistic, self-obsessed and disinterested, but rather, a communion of perfect self-giving—self sacrificing–personalities.  Through this principle of self-giving we come to understand the heart of true love.

We see this beautiful self-giving love spilling out into Creation in the most profound way through the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus, the eternal Word of God by whom all things were created, humbled himself out of love and became a mere Man for our salvation.  Thus, the beloved St. John says: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins” (I John 9-10) . . . and earlier in his epistle he says, “by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (i John 3:16).

God’s self-giving love is made known to the world through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the eternal Word of God.  In stark contrast with other monotheisms, Christianity proclaims the God of love—the personal being who, although transcendent and mysterious, sacrifices everything and reveals Himself to us His most treasured creation.

Magic Mike and the Search for True Intimacy


I was reading a review of Steven Soderbergh’s new film Magic Mike which, much to the excitement of thousands of undersexed (or, perhaps, oversexed depending on your point of view) desperate housewives around the country, chronicles the story of several male strippers as they scrape their way from blue collar jobs to fame and fortune.  As I read Mr. Buckwalter’s thorough review, one aspect of the films plot really stood out to me: namely, the romantic yearnings of the lead character (and successful stripper) Mike who falls in love with the one girl who refuses to jump into bed with him.  Mr. Buckwalter explains in more detail:

“Mike takes Adam — a shy young screw-up he meets at a construction job — under his wing, shaping him into a dancer in his own image, much to the consternation of Adam’s sister Brooke(Cody Horn), who inevitably becomes the one girl Mike can’t immediately charm into bed. She’s a symbol for the something more Mike wants out of life, the something that’s always frustratingly out of reach.”

We see this same theme in many great romance stories:  the flirtatious sex  magnet who sleeps around with any woman standing within a twenty yard radius suddenly realizes he’s madly in love with the one girl who never gives him the time of day; as he pursues her he realizes the one thing he’s missing in life is true intimacy.  This goes to show that all too often we confuse our sexual appetite with our deepest and truest human desire for real, meaningful, lasting intimacy–the one thing which always seems, “frustratingly out of reach.”

Our sexual appetites pressure us into believing, if only subconsciously, that the most satisfying or exciting relationships in life are erotic ones.  The media preys upon this weakness in our character and proceeds to add fuel to an already blazing fire.  This erotic desire, however, is one completely self focused and detached from the thought of others–a form of narcissistic lasciviousness whose only goal is the satiation of one’s lusts.  “It’s just business,” they say, “it’s not personal”–and thus we come face to face with the tragedy of it all:  we endlessly seek after impersonal forms of sexual gratification in our desperate attempt to satisfy our true desire for intimacy.

For our souls desperately cry out to be intimate with the One who truly satisfies our deepest longings.  We are all like the maiden who has lost her beloved:

“Upon my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer . . .” (Song of Solomon 3:1).  

We feel lost and alone and impersonal, self-centered, erotic love will never give us the type of personal loving intimacy that our souls long for.  In fact, a fundamentally impersonal erotic love will always leave us empty and alone because it is built upon the shifting sands of a finite vacillating reality–mere biological processes and chemical reactions.  Sensual pleasure, devoid of the spiritual, becomes mechanistic and degrading.  Your senses, so strong, so vivid, so powerful today will deteriorate and when they are gone you will be alone and the work of your hands will seem meaningless.  As the Preacher learned so many thousands of years ago:

“whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.  Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun . . . so I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me . . .” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11, 17)

We may deny ourselves no pleasure, but without the true intimacy we long for, without ultimate meaning saturating our lives, everything indeed is vanity–for if we embrace a world of heartless, impersonal erotic love as the end of our existence then we are no different than a soulless dying flame hopelessly flickering on top of a melting candle . . . just waiting to be extinguished.

Let this not be our end.  Let us set our hearts affection on true intimacy with the Lover or our souls, the One who holds all things together, the One who bled for us.  Only then will we find lasting contentment: spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and, yes, even erotically.

Are You a Free Spirit?


A question for you to dwell upon tonight: are you a free spirit? Nietzsche argued that the greatest human beings were free spirits—those rare individuals who transcend mankind, who break free from the shackles of value systems, who no longer follow the herd, who fully embrace what it is to be human (all too human), creating their own values and making their own meaning; rising above what their culture or religion has determined to be right and wrong or beautiful. Does this sound like the type of person you strive to be?

People often tell me that they desire freedom from the constraints of organized religion or from puritanical moral systems, which they believe bring about oppression and unnecessary limitations upon mankind. Some perceive that religion imposes overwhelming intellectual limitations—that is, they believe that religion stunts their intellectual growth or somehow disengages their rational faculties. They want the freedom to believe whatever they deem to be true. Others perceive that religion brings about suffocating ethical limitations—they want sexual liberation, they want to lie and cheat and steal from time to time without feeling guilty about it.

Perhaps the most common form of freedom that people speak about is the freedom to make meaning. Have you ever heard someone say, “life is what you make of it” or “my life has meaning because I make it meaningful”? Statements like these illustrate the type of freedom that I’m referring to. It’s the idea that we have the freedom to make meaning for our lives apart from any standard or universal meaning which applies to everyone. We see this in art as well. There’s no longer a standard for what qualifies as art—art is simply an expression of someone’s inner feelings or emotions. Thus, anything can be art. A jar of urine is art if you feel that it is and attribute to it some form of meaning. There is a real resistance among modern artists to placing any definition, label, or limitations on art. There is a desire for freedom—an unlimited freedom to express whatever one wants however one wants to express it (whether that be through urine in a jar or oil on canvas). There is also a tremendous resistance to the idea that beauty is objective—that something can truly be said to be beautiful. We want the freedom to make that determination for ourselves.

I wonder, however, if Nietzsche’s free spirit is truly free? I wonder if those of us who strive for this type of freedom are actually placing ourselves into bondage? What if, in our desire to be free spirits, we have actually enslaved ourselves to one of the most tyrannical and destructive dictators of all? The dictator to which I refer is of course self love. By self love I do not mean having a healthy self image (something we all should have); rather, I mean the placing of our pleasures and our needs as the very end of (i.e. the purpose of) our existence. When we direct our lives in accordance with our unbridled passions; when we make decisions solely based upon what is beneficial to our own wellbeing or to what brings us the most pleasure or satisfaction–this is self love. Self love is all about fulfilling any sexual urge or fantasy we might have, expressing ourselves in any way we want (without recourse to the good, the noble, or the beautiful), and about living life to feed the ego. The free spirit, in her desire to break free from values, from universals, from absolutes, ends up in bondage to her own arbitrary emotions; to her own ego. Rather than being a rational human being, the free spirit is more akin to a horse following a carrot on a stick—wherever the carrot goes the horse goes.

A free spirit, enslaved to self love, ultimately brings bondage and enslavement to others as well. In the eyes of the free spirit, people become simply a means to an end—objects to be used for personal gain. This happens whether the free spirit is aware of it or not. For example, you begin to think–perhaps only in your subconscious–of your girlfriend as a sex object; of course she is a person, but in practice she is nothing but a means to satiating whatever sexual desires you might have. She, in turn, is obligated to fulfill your sexual desires no matter how uncomfortable or dirty it might make her feel if she wants to keep you. You degrade her (maybe you don’t even think of it this way); you reduce her to a mere tool for masturbation and whether you realize it or not, she has become your slave. But, perhaps, she has enslaved you too. Perhaps she knows–even subconsciously–she can get something she wants out of you (money, power, respect, companionship . . .) if she gives you the sex that you want? In this case, you are ultimately her slave–not unlike the lab rat that won’t stop pressing the button which gives it sexual stimulation (to the exclusion of the button which dispenses food) and, in the end, dies of starvation.

St. Paul spoke of this type of self love in his second letter to Timothy:

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self,       lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (II Timothy 3:1-4)

This type of self love, which is the root of all sin, leaves us in bondage. We become slaves to sin–slaves to our unbridled passions, slaves to our ego, and slaves to each other. The freedom that we so long for turns out to be nothing but an illusion.

Freedom, true freedom, can only come through Christ. Jesus not only brings us forgiveness for the pain and suffering and oppression we bring into the world, but offers us an escape from the tyranny of self love. Jesus gives us the freedom to love what is truly beautiful and truly good–the Creator and sustainer of life Himself; and to love others who have been made in His image. This, in fact, is the essence of Christianity: to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

The follower of Christ, imaging God Himself, makes love the end or, the purpose, of his existence. By love I do not mean some fluffy sentimentality or warm sensation that one experiences in his stomach. I mean the act of sacrifice–of self giving. St. John said: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). Later he states: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). God is love, not in some abstract way, but his very nature is love. Within the blessed Trinity we see the existence of three persons, joined together by nature and eternally pouring out themselves, sharing themselves, submitting themselves to each other. We see true love. In the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ we see this love, this self-giving, spilling out into creation–we see the Divine Logos humbling Himself, giving of Himself, even unto death. We see true love.

The true free spirit is the one who embraces this love, who breaks free from the chains of self love and into the liberating arms of self-giving. So, the question remains: are you a free spirit?