Monday, November 28, 2022

Never Growing Up

In short, the modern self is one where authenticity is achieved by acting outwardly in accordance with one’s inward feelings.

Just like a baby.

Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, by Carl R. Trueman

Carl R. Trueman (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College. He is a contributing editor at First Things, an esteemed church historian, and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

This book is presented as an approachable and concise version of Trueman’s book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution.  As you can see, I chose the concise version for my reading.

From the Foreword, written by Ryan T. Anderson, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (and author of the book, When Harry Became Sally – banned by Amazon):

The “self” that Western Civilization cultivated, up until just a few hundred years ago, was what Harvard political theorist Michael Sandel described as an “encumbered” self, in contrast to modernity’s “unencumbered” self.

The encumbered self was a being made with a purpose, a telos.  He was free to live in accordance with this purpose.  He was considered a creature of God.  He conformed himself to the truth, to objective moral standards.  He had in his vision eternal life.

The unencumbered self can’t be bothered with any of that:

Modern man, however, seeks to be “true to himself.”  Rather than conform thoughts, feelings and actions to objective reality, man’s inner life itself becomes the source of truth.

Just as we describe currency which is tied to nothing objective, that can be created at will out of nothing, “fiat,” so is the modern man, who is his own standard, who can create of himself anything he chooses.  Call him “fiat” man.

He is not accountable to theologians, but to the therapists who help him find his true self.  Of course, this leads to finding his deepest and most important inner truth of sexual desires, and being “true” to this as well. 

Meanwhile laws are passed, contrary to traditional family and sexual norms and requiring others affirm any and every new lifestyle.  Objecting to any of it – and especially the worst of it – is now illegal.

Summarizing Anderson’s foreword, quoting the Catholic (sic) Biden: “Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time.” 

And with this, Trueman begins chapter one:

Many of us are familiar with books and movies whose plots revolve around central characters finding themselves trapped in a world where nothing behaves in quite the way they expect.

Trueman offers Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Franz Kafka’s The Trial, and The Matrix series of movies as examples.  However, this is no longer confined to fiction:

Things once regarded as obvious and unassailable virtues have in recent years been subject to vigorous criticism and even in some cases come to be seen by many as more akin to vices.

Marriage is between a man and a woman, for example.  Yet, we once found slavery acceptable.  So why not continue this liberating evolution into all areas of life?  Trueman sees the underlying issue as the notion of the self.  And this self connects to three other concepts: expressive individualism, the sexual revolution, and the social imaginary. 

First, to define what he means by self.  In the common usage, he is Carl Trueman, and not Jeff Bezos or Donald Trump.  But Trueman means something else by self:

…the deeper notion of where the ‘real me’ is to be found, how that shapes my view of life, and in what the fulfillment or happiness of that ‘real me’ consists.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Man or Flesh?

The Christian Church began on the foundation of faith centered in the person of Jesus Christ…

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

What to believe of this Jesus?  The various communities, widely dispersed in a Roman Empire antagonistic to their faith, adopted statements of faith or belief – later called creeds.  One or another of these statements were taught to candidates for baptism and recited regularly in worship.  Despite being somewhat varied…

…they emphasized that Jesus Christ was the Son of God through whom men and women could have a direct access to God, and from the time the New Testament writings were in circulation they could point to them as apostolic transmissions in support of their exposition.

I have, on and off, been in conversation with someone who belongs to a religion that teaches that Jesus was a good man who lived a perfect life…but don’t call Him God or the Son of God.  This idea of Jesus as God was an invention of Church councils held under the authority of various emperors, and therefore, for some reason, this makes these councils invalid.

Yet we see in this passage from Samuel that this idea was in the various communities from the beginning, before any formal councils and certainly before any Christian Roman emperor.

Dr. Jordan B. Cooper is in the middle of an ongoing series on Christology, tracing this from the earliest Church through Chalcedon and beyond.  In the fourth video of the series, he specifically discusses Patristic Christology through Chalcedon.  Beginning here, he offers:

Just because it took that long [until Chalcedon] to develop what kind of language the Church was to use, that doesn’t mean that it took that long for the Church to develop the essence of the doctrine itself. 

He points to the earliest post-apostolic writers like Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus as all speaking the same truths; the issue is figuring out the best way to express this truth.  The essence of this teaching of Christ’s divinity and humanity was there from the beginning.

Returning to Samuel:

In clarifying the nature of the faith several attempts made during the second and third centuries were rejected by the Church.

Eventually, beginning in the second century, three broad streams of Christology could be identified: Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome.  However, controversies such as Arianism were dealt with and condemned in Nicaea in 325, supported by Athanasius of Alexandria and the Cappadocian theologians. 

…the Church accepted officially the affirmation that the Son who became incarnate in Jesus Christ was eternally and fully God…

It should be noted again that this was an affirmation of that which many in the Church believed (based on both Scripture and the teaching and writings of the earliest Church fathers, even from the first and early second centuries), and not something newly discovered or invented.

Nicaea resolved only one side of the equation – that of the divine nature of Christ.  How was this to be understood in regard to His humanity, His human nature?  And this without prejudice to the divine?

There were still some differences east and west. One leaning on the Cappadocians and the other on Augustine – although the west could better accommodate the Antiochene heritage more than the Alexandrine.  But this did not result in any type of split, as would happened after Chalcedon.  Despite these differences, all could accept the Nicene Creed.

Monday, November 21, 2022

I Am Responsible

This is the fifth and final post in this series, reviewing the conversation between Jordan Peterson (JP) and Peter Kreeft (PK): How to Combat Hedonism.  The last part of their conversation flowed through several different topics.

Kreeft explains what he saw when he compared Islam to the Christianity as lived in the West:

PK: It seems to me that when I look at Christianity in Western culture, Europe and North America, I see a kind of nice spinelessness; an absence of courage.

A man can be a woman?  Sure, we can ignore God’s plan for His creation.  Corruption in our institutions?  Romans 13 tells us to obey.  Diversity, Inclusion, Equity?  Rainbow flag, we are on the team.  Take the Lord’s name in vain?  Freedom of religion and free speech.

All spineless positions taken by spineless Christians.

PK: For all its mistakes and faults and violence and fundamentalism, at least Islam is a heroic faith. 

Rainbow flags or blaspheming the Lord’s name don’t go over very well in most Muslim countries.

[Addendum]: I wrote this post several days ago, but published today.  To highlight the reality of the above statement, Teams Abandon Rainbow Armbands For World Cup Matches After FIFA Threat:

In the latest World Cup Qatar 2022 controversy, FIFA has brought the hammer down on efforts of some teams and players from the West to highlight LGBT rights in the ultra-conservative Muslim host country of Qatar.

In total at least seven teams had planned to wear them during play despite the host country deeming homosexuality as illegal and against the moral teachings of Islam.

Not anymore.  Game officials will issue a yellow card to any player displaying such a symbol. 

It remains that in Qatar homosexual acts can be punished with severe sentences, up to and including the death penalty.

Of course, nothing in Christianity allows for this.  But, somehow (and we know why) it is Christianity that is the enemy ion the (non) enlightened West.

Returning to the Peterson, Kreeft discussion (and the content of the original post):

PK: [Islam] tends to be a bit too hard – spiny without flesh, but we are flesh without a spine.  I think we should exchange some of our pop-psychologists for some of their fiery mullahs – so we get a spine and they get some flesh.

Jesus had spine and flesh, but this required both the divine and human.  That doesn’t fly with Muslims; therefore, they do not have the possibility of gaining flesh as they reject God in the flesh.  While Christians embrace the divine and the human, they too often leave out the spine part – which comes to the next part of the conversation.

They discuss God ruling with two hands – one hand of mercy, the other of judgement (Peterson’s word, although I prefer the word “justice”). 

JP: In the west, we are making the case that the cardinal moral virtue is mercy and forgiveness, and forgetting completely about the fact that another cardinal virtue is judgement. 

After a discussion of several examples of the dysfunctionality when mercy and forgiveness are not balanced by judgement (justice), Kreeft offers:

PK: So, what has to be done then is to somehow combine this justice (Kreeft uses the proper word) and this mercy, this toughness and this tenderness, this patriarchal and matriarchal.  And isn’t the Christian answer to that precisely the crucifixion? Here is justice and mercy united.

And it is united in God.  God’s justice and God’s mercy are both on display, fully and maximally.  There is no higher possibility; there is no better story.  Many lessor stories have tried, none have worked.  Iron Man snapped his finger and gave his life to save the universe, but he wasn’t God sacrificing Himself / His Son – yes, Iron Man did sacrifice, but not the biggest possible sacrifice.

Peterson then talks about artificial intelligence and something he understands from Elon Musk, wanting the benefits of AI to be placed in the hands of individual people and not conglomerates like google.

JP: If a huge conglomerate like google gets its hands on artificial intelligence first, this will turn them into something approximating the world most imaginably effective dictator.

Fascism turned upside down, with the corporations making the rules for the state.  In any case, why wouldn’t the “individual” with the best imagination become the most imaginably effective dictator?  AI communism, like the communism before, will still end up in the hands of the most corrupt.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Framing the Controversy

The council was opposed by a great part of the Christian east.  Led by some of the ablest theologians of those ancient times, this movement gained strength despite persecution and disabilities of various kinds.

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

Samuel begins by offering some background: the players, the issues, the obstacles – but first, the views of most present-day scholars (and keep in mind, these are not necessarily the views of Samuel – he is presenting the generally accepted history and narrative):

Traditionally, it has been held that Nestorius who presided over the see of Constantinople from 428 to 431 was a heretic as he had taught the foul doctrine of ‘two Sons’, and that on this ground he was condemned by the Council of Ephesus in 431.

This point will be of importance as Samuel proceeds in his examination.  Nestorius was also opposed the use of the title Theotokos (Mother of God) for the Virgin Mary.

To give some flavor regarding those who taught according to Nestorius, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Two things are certain: first, that, whether or no they believed in the unity of the subject in the Incarnate Word, at least they explained that unity wrongly; secondly, that they used most unfortunate and misleading language when they spoke of the union of the manhood with the Godhead — language which is objectively heretical, even were the intention of its authors good.

But, demonstrating it isn’t so simple (or maybe it was just “unfortunate and misleading language”):

Nestorius, as well as Theodore, repeatedly insisted that he did not admit two Christs or two Sons, and he frequently asserted the unity of the prosopon.

To clarify the term prosopon:

The word person in its Greek form prosopon might stand for a juridical or fictitious unity; it does not necessarily imply what the word person implies to us, that is, the unity of the subject of consciousness and of all the internal and external activities.

Returning to Samuel: the extreme opposition to Nestorianism exposed another heresy, that of Eutychianism.  Eutyches was an abbot in Constantinople who could exert much influence on the emperor’s court through his relationship with the emperor’s nephew.

Eutyches maintained that Godhead and manhood were so united in Christ that after the union the manhood became absorbed in the Godhead.

He was condemned as a heretic in a synod held by Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople, in 448.  Yet Dioscorus of Alexandria, desiring to dominate the see of Constantinople, took advantage of the monk’s political support and condemned on a charge of heresy many of the orthodox prelates.  Among these were the patriarch Flavian of Constantinople and Eusebius of Dorylaeum. 

In his highhandedness Dioscorus went so far as to prevent the reading of the Tome of Leo which the pope of Rome had composed and sent to the east with the specific intention of offering a clear directive in the doctrinal dispute.

These charges were accepted at Chalcedon in 451.  Eutyches was condemned and Dioscorus was deposed. 

But the ‘monophysite’ party in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere refused to accept the council, and organized itself against the Church and continues to this day holding to varying shades of ‘heretical’ ideas.

And this presents the traditional description and understanding of the controversy.  I can say that to the extent I have heard it discussed, this conforms to what I have heard (albeit, not in the most scholarly of circles – which is why I am going through this book).

Yet, some modification of this narrative has already taken place – and it can be understood given the great complexity presented by Samuel.  For example, following the discovery and subsequent publication of Nestorius’ work, Bazaar of Heraclides, the theology of the Antiochene school which Nestorius represented has received an appreciative evaluation by a number of scholars.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Ordered Freedom

I will choose a path that’s clear

I will choose free will.

-          Freewill, Rush

Returning to Jordan Peterson (JP) and Peter Kreeft (PK), part four of my review of their conversation: How to Combat Hedonism

JP: Regarding the notion of free will: the universe is constituted such that it’s a greater good that evil can exist as a possibility, and that it’s a greater good that human beings have free will rather than compelled slaves.  And the downside of that is that we can freely choose evil.

Bad things happen to good people; bad people do bad things to other people.  The only way this could be avoided is if we were puppets on a string, in the hands of a god who controlled our every step, making sure nothing ever broke bad.

JP: But a world without that possibility involves pure subjugation and no choice and no voluntary assent would be a much lessor place.

When people blast God for allowing evil to exist, consider this alternative – that to be a slave.

PK (demonstrating the line which Peterson has not yet crossed):  That’s very good apologetics and theology, but it’s not yet religion.  That’s still: I am in the driver’s seat, I am making the roadmaps, I am travelling on this journey, I am making my life meaningful, and I am making my character honest.  And that’s all very good.  But that’s not yet Abrahamic theism; that’s Norse mythology.

Maybe our gods will go down in defeat, but we will go down with them.  Right is more important than might.   And that’s noble.  That’s the second-best thing in the world. 

“I am making my life meaningful.”  This is a well-known Peterson admonishment: Go do something meaningful.  But he doesn’t take the final, and necessary step.

PK: But then you have the resurrection.  Then you have the God who adds power to His goodness and His love.  But that has to come from God, not from us.

A problem since we killed Him, as Nietzsche’s madman noted.  Which explains the freefall that is certain when freewill is not aimed at man’s highest purpose, when value is not determined by something or someone outside of and above man’s reach.

JP: Nietzsche believed human beings would have to create their own values, as God was dead.  Freud believed this would be very difficult, as human beings have an intrinsic nature that is not subject to our arbitrary will. 

There is something objective in our nature, something that cannot be violated without consequence.

JP: Those values have to be discovered, not self-generated. 

“I have my truth” just doesn’t work.

JP: Plus, you just don’t live long enough.  You’re not wise enough to generate a whole system of universally applicable values out of whole cloth in the span of your trivial life.

It is fashionable to scream for diversity, inclusion and equity – to DIE.  But don’t be inclusive or equitable toward the diversity of the dead in that equation.  There is nothing to learn from them.  Those who choose not to remember the past are…condemned.

PK: In North America and in Europe we have this obsession with freedom and a misunderstanding of freedom.  We are not totally free.  Our freedom in every sense is limited; we are finite.  And we don’t like that.  We want to play god at least regarding freedom and autonomy.  That may be the biggest difference between modern western civilization and all others in world history.

There is no better freedom than being free to live according to our purpose – a purpose inherent in our design, in our being.  But our purpose limits our freedom.  We don’t like this, so we play god, as Kreeft suggests – we claim the freedom to invent our purpose, our telos, our reason for being.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

What Did We Learn?

Countless articles and videos on the red wave that wasn’t.  Gonzalo Lira sums up the situation well, in a short 145-second video:

·         With seventy-five percent of the US population saying that the country is on the wrong track

·         With a president with the lowest approval rating ever

·         With gas prices going through the roof, food prices going through the roof, energy prices going through the roof.

·         In a mid-term election [he didn’t add, but I will, where the incumbent’s party almost always loses seats, and more so given the above facts]

What happened?

·         Not one democratic governor lost his seat (at least so far)

·         Not one incumbent democratic senator lost his seat

Now I haven’t fact-checked this, but it is closer to be true than not.  And as of the time of my writing this, the balance in both the house and senate remain in question.

His conclusion?

They did it again. …The democrats just seem to defy electoral gravity.  Sorry, no.  No.  No.  I don’t have to look at the specifics to know this is not possible.

He then went there: “They did it again.”  You know what “it” is.  Admittedly, the result was not as bad as I wrote in my “Headlines” piece – not really a prediction of precise results, but more an indication of the direction I felt things would go.

Now, in the countless articles and videos on this nonexistent red wave, I have seen only one point to the root of the problem, and that is offered by Doug Wilson, entitled Red, Red Whine (blog post / video).  After giving his analysis of the situation, he concludes:

So remember the two principles outlined above. The people really do suffer when ruled by miscreants. And, following hard on the first principle, mortal men in their own name, no matter how much common sense they might have, cannot save us from the miscreants.

Why is that?  Is it because our side isn’t at good at vote counting as their side is?  After all, aren’t we “mortal men” just trying to outwit their “mortal men.”  No, not according to Wilson (and me):

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Developing Doctrine

Doctrine: a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government; a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject.

If only understanding (and agreeing to) Christian doctrine was so easy….

Matthew 28: 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20(a) teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

John 21: 25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

The dating of when the books of the New Testament were written is a bit difficult to nail down.  Suffice it to say, even if the earliest dates for each book are utilized, those to whom Jesus gave the Great Commission and the communities they reached would not have had access to these for many years, even decades. 

They would have had access to what these disciple-missionaries knew from the oral teaching by and the life of Christ.  They would have had knowledge of what the Apostle John mentions – the many other things Jesus did that are not in his book.  But they wouldn’t have had the book – or books.  No Gospels, no letters, no Sola Scriptura.

Yet we know, even after 2,000 years, that having the books does little to help resolve differences – even by the most honest and sincere and ecumenically-minded theologians.

Where did these first disciples go?  Many places, many traditions, many possibilities.  By tradition, James went to Spain, Bartholomew went to India and Armenia as did Thomas, Matthew to Ethiopia, Simon and Jude to the Parthian Empire, Matthias to the north shore of the Black Sea, Andrew to Crimea and present-day Ukraine. 

All points in-between were also covered by these and others.  Of course, different countries and cultures have their own tradition regarding which apostles, etc.  They don’t all agree….

As we know, they did not all go together.  They also did not have identical memories and understandings; they did not have a common memorized creed.  We see even Peter and Paul in disagreement in the book of Acts.

All of this commonality was yet to be developed, the doctrines to be worked out, the creeds to be memorialized.

Why all of this background?

The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined, by V.C. Samuel

Chalcedon resulted in the first long-lasting (and remaining) split in the Christian Church.  Yes, there have been other divides, but some lasted years or decades, maybe even a century or two.  But nothing like what happened after Chalcedon.  The split gave us what we today know as the Oriental Orthodox Churches – including Ethiopian, Armenian, and Coptic, among a small handful of others.