Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Mythos versus Logos

 Exactly 20 years ago to the month I wrote the essay included in this document. It was a response to my reading of the book Surprised By the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere. Deere started out as a reformed evangelical but as a result of contact with John Wimber (and also I think the notorious Paul Cain) he converted to charismatic evangelicalism; so, in some ways he is representative of both sides of the  logos vs mythos dichotomy, a dichotomy I explore further in the essay referenced here.

This essay really focuses on the contemporary vulnerability for what in the jargon of today is an “encounter” expression of Christianity. Here’s a recent and very typical example I came across:

“Pray for the Encountering God for all of us. How we need so much more of the Holy Spirit and to truly encounter God to be totally transformed”

Notice the implicit valued judgement here; Viz that without these mystical encounters  Christians are unlikely to be transformed. This version of Christianity places a premium on deep intuitive and indescribable experiences of the divine. Sometimes this includes what appear to be altered states of consciousness: Viz Swoonings, trances and ecstasies. When these experiences are formalized and articulated using doctrinal formulae such as “Baptism of the Spirit” or “in the Spirit” and then used as identifying markers for a kind of elite spirituality the whole thing starts to look very like Gnosticism.

By 1997 evangelicalism, especially in its fundamentalist Reformed and Charismatic manifestations, had lost a lot of my goodwill; as various evangelical sects engaged in very human looking mutual slagging-off matches I was left wondering what really identified Christianity as authentic. Adding fuel to my fire was the rampant anti-science doctrines found amongst Christian fundamentalists in both the reformed and charismatic traditions. If these Christian fundamentalists could be so wrong about science what credit could be given to their highly affected devotional language and their loud claims to be anointed into the Truth? Such claims had become dubious. And it remains so today. As far as I’m concerned these Christian subcultures have lost the right to be taken seriously and must re-earn that right, although I don’t hold out much hope of that. In the final analysis I will probably just have to accept that beyond the Open Gospel partisan and naive expressions of Christianity are very much the natural state of human affairs.  

Reading through my essay of 20 years ago I feel that I’d be much more hard-cop if I wrote it today: The Christian community Deere represents have learnt very little about reciprocity; but then neither have the reformists.

T. V. Reeves April 2017

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Holy Bad Mouthing

Most Christian colleges, even in America, don’t subscribe to the philosophy of Young Earthism – this is confirmed even by a fundamentalist as fanatical as Answers in Genesis theme park boss, Ken Ham. See here and here as evidence of this. For good measure here’s another more recent affirmation by Ham along these lines (My emphasis):

With the increasing erosion of biblical authority even within most Christian colleges, it’s never been more important for your student to attend a college that stands firmly on the Word of God. (See Ham’s post at this address  https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2016/11/01/college-expo-one-stop-christian-college-shop for the above quote)

By “erosion of biblical authority” Ham is most likely to have in mind those Christians who do not interpret Genesis 1-10 using a Young Earthist world view, a view upon which the rationale of the AiG theme park is based.

Recently Ham’s outraged denunciations of his fellow Christians has reached a crescendo. Although he has always questioned the quality of the faith of those who don’t go along with Young Earthism there has been a recent spate of posts by Ham expressing his righteous indignation with those Christians who reject his Young Earthist philosophy. Rather than let this recent flurry of bad mouthing slip by I’m using this post to note it and store it for the record so that I can access it in one place for future reference. But why exactly this outburst of holy censoriousness has occurred of late I can only guess. Is it because regime change in the US has boosted his confidence? Does he now see a chance to screw down on those Christians of the academic establishment who are of a more liberal frame of mind than himself?

In the following quotes I underline the bits where Ham is engaged in the activity of accusing Christians of the most heinous of sins. As I have said before, fundamentalists tend to go for the spiritual "nuclear button" straight away probably because:
a) They are convinced of the divine authority of their opinions and believe those opinions are being willfully rejected. 
b) They believe they act in the name of the Almighty. 
Having studied fundamentalists for many years I find I am all too familiar with what follows. Ken Ham typifies the fundamentalist mental complex; an outcome of that complex is that in attempting to justify the security and certainty of their position they are forced to go out and lay charges of compromise and/or heresy on other christian communities. My experience tells me that as a general rule fundamentalists genuinely believe that the world around them is a nasty place of conniving hypocrites (Christian and non-Christian) who deserve every censure they (the fundamentalists) can hand out; a bad conscience is not one of their faults! More's the pity!

1.      Christians accused of attacking the Character of Christ
See https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2017/01/16/christians-who-accept-millions-years-undermine-gods-word/ for the following quotes:

Can Christians believe in millions of years? Yes, inconsistently. Christians who believe in molecules-to-man evolution and millions of years are undermining biblical authority and thus are undermining the Word of God. Of course, salvation is conditioned upon faith in Christ alone, so you can be a Christian without holding to a young earth. But an old earth undermines God’s Word!
Those Christians who say God used evolution are actually saying God calls death and disease (e.g., cancer as seen in fossils) as “very good.” Death is an intrusion because of our sin. God describes death as an “enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). God didn’t use death to create—death is the judgment for sin.
Christians who believe evolution are really attacking the character of Christ by blaming Him for death, suffering, and disease! Sin is to blame, and our Creator Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sin (death) by dying on the Cross, rising from the dead, and He now offers the free gift of salvation.

My comment:  I’m not going to answer Ham’s criticisms here: My purpose in this document is to expose and record Ham’s tendency to lay the most extreme charges at the door of other Christians. Like an interrogating inquisitor he does this by thrusting his straw man reasoning, his twisted logic and his words into the minds and mouths of other Christians. Ham is too suspicious an operator to accept that the case against his “logic” is anything other than deceitful pleading by those he is accusing.  He really seems to believe that Christians who reject his Young Earthist world view are secretly as persuaded by his logic as Ham is himself and they must therefore be covering up bad consciences. True to the fundamentalist personality Ham just can’t accept that other Christians (like for example Denis Alexander) can hold an intellectually sophisticated contrary position with a clear conscience. The fundamentalist mind can’t but help believe there are dubious motives lurking behind the scenes of the Christian academic establishment. Given this almost paranoid behaviour one can see why fundamentalists are such fertile ground for conspiracy theorism.

2.      Christians accused of attacking God’s word and undermining the Gospel.
See https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2017/01/21/join-me-bob-jones-university-free-conference-series/  for the following
God’s Word is under attack, not just by secularists and the media—many Christians (and particularly many church leaders and those in Christian academics) attack God’s Word when they compromise the clear teachings of the Bible with man’s ideas. We see this especially in regards to Genesis and issues such as the age of the earth, Creation, and the global Flood of Noah’s day.
Biblical creation is being rejected even within the evangelical church, and secular and atheistic philosophies about earth’s origins are taking its place. This is undermining the foundation of our doctrines—including the gospel—and opening the door for more compromise.

My Comment: Yes, many, many evangelical Christians are definitely undermining the foundation of the alleged divine authority of Ken’s opinions! But I don’t see these evangelicals having any less faith in God and his word than does Ken! To recycle a well-known saying: Same Biblical facts, different interpretation! What Ken thinks of as Biblical facts, are actually interpretations.

We can see from the second sentence in the above quote that “compromise” is a term Ken largely uses of those Christians who reject  his interpretation of Genesis chapters 1 to 10, an interpretation based as it is on a world view which posits the dichotomy God did it” vs. “natural forces did it. In particular notice also the reference to Christian leaders and academics who in the main reject the Young Earthist philosophy. Ken’s rejection of the Christian establishment has parallels with Donald Trump’s campaign against the political establishment, so perhaps, as I have already submitted, Ken’s recent focus on bad-mouthing Christians has been spurred on by Trump’s recent accession to the presidency. After all, it is quite likely that the more reasonable evangelicals, especially evangelical academics, would not be Trump supporters. So perhaps Ken is trying to hit them while they are down. What seems to have completely passed Ken is that his holy-than-thou censoriousness is not the way to win friends and influence people! But having said that Ken’s threatening spiritual language will be welcomed by his followers.  

3.      Christians accused of attacking the Gospel and totally undermining scripture.
See https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2017/01/22/adam-myth-get-answers-new-resource/  for the quote below:
One of the most attacked biblical figures of our day is the first man, Adam—the head of the human race. Increasingly secularists and, sadly, even many Christians (including seminary and Bible college professors), claim there never was a literal Adam. But a historical Adam is foundational to the gospel!
An attack on Adam is an attack on the gospel. You see, if there never were an Adam, there was no first sin and there was no original sinner. And if there were no first sin and original sinner, then why did Jesus have to come as a man and die to pay the penalty for our sin (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:22)? After all, if man evolved over millions of years, death and bloodshed existed prior to sin, so why did Jesus die? Believing in millions of years of bloodshed and death before sin totally undermines the Scripture which says, “Without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).
The gospel is grounded in literal history!

My comment: Notice once again how Ham, like an inquisitor, projects  his perverse  logic and thinking into the minds of Christians who disagree with him: He just can’t believe that Young Earthism is anything other than the plain teaching of scripture and therefore to his mind those Christians who disagree must be harbouring ulterior motives and/or bad consciences.  Ham questions the faith of those who question his world view.  But let me reassure him that from my observations the Gospel of Grace is quite safe in the hearts of those evangelicals who don’t view scripture through his Young Earthist lens.  They therefore don’t construct the logic in quite the same way that we see in Ham’s quotes!

4.      Christians accused of turning the Gospel into myths and lies
See https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2017/01/24/genesis-myth-or-history/ for the following quote:
It’s becoming increasingly popular among many Christians to claim that Old Testament characters, especially Adam and Eve, and events such as the worldwide Flood weren’t literal people or historical events. They claim they were just figures or stories created to teach some kind of theological lesson. But does biblical revelation support this position?
Well, the writers of the New Testament, or those whose words are recorded in it, certainly wouldn’t agree with these Christians. Paul, writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, clearly speaks against biological evolution and the idea of a nonliteral Adam and Eve when he states,
For Adam was formed first, then Eve. (1 Timothy 2:13)
In 1 Corinthians he again confirms the Genesis account of Eve being made from Adam:
For man is not from woman, but woman from man. (1 Corinthians 11:8)
The New Testament writer Jude, in his short epistle, lists Adam as an historical individual:
Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam. (Jude 14)
Others claim that the account of Noah and the Flood is not history but was borrowed from ancient Near Eastern cultures to teach a theological truth about God. But if that's true then the Apostle Peter, the author of Hebrews, and Jesus Christ—the Creator God in the flesh!—all lied because they taught that Noah was a historical individual and that the Flood really happened (Matthew 24:37; Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 3:5–7).
If Genesis is myth then the gospel—as it's foreshadowed in Genesis 3:15 and 21—is myth also. The gospel is founded in Genesis and grounded in a literal Adam who literally sinned and brought literal death into creation as the penalty for sin. If Noah is a myth, then so are all those listed in Hebrews 11, such as Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and others. Genesis is literal history!
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.

My comment: Yet again Ken is slandering Christians by placing his quite outrageous logic in the heads of his Christian detractors: Viz …they are making the gospel writers liars and the gospel fiction!   In Ken’s illogical head it seems to follow quite logically that if Genesis is a myth then so are the NT gospel events! Ken’s coup-de-grace is his attempt to manoeuvre those who disagree with him into the position where they are saying the apostles all lied! This is a familiar fundamentalist tactic I’ve recorded before: Viz A certain Andrew Holland, a fundamentalist of whom I’ve quoted on this blog before,  tries to  make out that those who disagree with him are making God a liar:

….the historical parts of the Bible, such as Genesis, should be taken at face value, otherwise it is tantamount to calling God a liar! Thus the account of creation, Noah's flood and Jonah's adventures are accurate and can be completely trusted. They are all verified in the New Testament. (Andrew Holland, my emphasis)

5.      Christians accused of recommitting the original sin
See https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2017/01/25/choosing-to-resist-genesis-3-attack/ for the quote below:
The very first attack, what I call “the Genesis 3 Attack,” was on God’s Word: “And [Satan] said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said?’” (Genesis 3:1). Satan used the ploy to get Eve to question God’s Word, thus creating doubt that ultimately led to unbelief. That same attack on God’s Word has never let up and continues each day.
Sadly, many Christians accept evolution and millions of years, the foundation of the secular religion. This evolutionary religion attacks the Word of God by undermining what God plainly told us. It’s like Satan is whispering in our ears once again: “Has God indeed said . . . ?”
Compromising Genesis with evolution and millions of years undermines the authority of the Word, because this involves taking ideas from outside of Scripture and forcing those ideas into Scripture. When they do this, Christians are making themselves (fallible man) the authority over God’s (infallible) Word! Basically we’re saying that we know more than God and that we can reinterpret and edit His Word to adjust it to man’s ideas. But a Christian should never knowingly compromise God’s Word.
How should Christians view God’s Word?
Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” (Psalm 119:89)
For I trust in Your word. (Psalm 119:42)
I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word. (Psalm 119:16)
Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. (Psalm 119:67)
And remember how important it is to preach the Word with authority:
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)
You see, man’s word (like evolutionary ideas) changes nearly every day, but God’s Word never changes. We need to choose to trust God’s Word and ignore the lie of “Has God indeed said . . . ?”
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.

My comment: Ham continues to stuff his perverse logic into the heads and mouths of other Christians thereby justifying to himself why he can dish out the utmost censor on them. In his attempt to avoid looking like a common-or-garden Christian cultist Ham is often at pains to stress that he’s not saying that belief in Young Earthism is a salvation condition. But I think this is just a piece of lip service; in the final analysis he’s certainly making Young Earthism a very stringent faith test and goes as far as he possibly can in rubbishing the faith of other Christians who fail it; so much so, in fact, that the question of whether he actually considers them to be Christian is academic. For example, in the quote above we find Ham going as far as to suggest that those who contradict him are listening to Satan and repeating the devastating sins of the fall! As usual he more than hints that he believes these Christians to be knowingly compromising God’s word. This is the language of character defamation and is exactly the kind of thing one gets from the Jehovah’s witnesses  when they are talking about ex-witnesses. So in my books Answers in Genesis, unless it should be headed up by a less bullying leader, classifies as all but cultic in ethos. As I have said before I don’t recommend Christians have contact with fundamentalists; they are spiritual empire builders who do not shy away from using spiritual pressures to build their social network. See also his comments I've recorded in this post where Ham makes it clear that he regards anything other than young earthism to be an "attack on the cross" and effectively preaching a "Jesus different from the Jesus of the Bible"

The Bible is “God’s word” in as much as it is a conduit for information about God’s personality and salvation; it is part of the divinely managed signalling medium through which revelatory information passes to the recipient and takes root in his/her psyche. As I have pointed out before natural language, such as we find employed in the Bible, doesn’t contain meanings; rather it delivers meaning by way of connotation. That is, it triggers meaning in the neural association complex of the reader, an association complex that is a function of its cognitive traits, culture, and history. Thus the whole process, if it is to deliver theological truth, only has a chance of doing so if it is under immanent divine management from start to finish. Unfortunately as a rule Western fundamentalists often have a “natural forces” vs “divine interventions” view of God’s relation to his world. They therefore find the immanence of God difficult to take on board. Because of God’s intimacy with his created order the Bible is organically jointed to the rest of creation and transmits and delivers information like any other signalling medium in God’s world.

Of course, the process of Biblical information delivery can, and clearly does, go wrong (as does any other signalling system) at any stage along the transmission line especially at the destination where interpretations are generated. Therefore the Bible doesn’t deliver certainty. Trouble is, the insecure conspiracy theory touting fundamentalist mentality is liable to feel that anything less than 100% truth equates 100% uncertainty – a position which we know to be untrue. Information carrying signals need not return the statistics of certainty to convey information; e.g. we can’t be absolutely certain when we board an aircraft that it won’t be involved in a major crash, but nevertheless we consider the safety statistics of air travel to convey information about high reliability, and this we regard as useful information.

We can see that Ken Ham is light-years away from understanding just how natural language works when he says this (See above):

Compromising Genesis with evolution and millions of years undermines the authority of the Word, because this involves taking ideas from outside of Scripture and forcing those ideas into Scripture. When they do this, Christians are making themselves (fallible man) the authority over God’s (infallible) Word! Basically we’re saying that we know more than God and that we can reinterpret and edit His Word to adjust it to man’s ideas. But a Christian should never knowingly compromise God’s Word.

What Ken fails to see is that meaning is ultimately sourced in the recipient. i.e. the reader.  Meaning doesn’t exist inside the symbols of the transmitted Biblical text: Meaning is an extrinsic rather than intrinsic property of the Word. As such the Word is a trigger of meaning and therefore it is fallible (wo)man that assigns meaning – but it is an infallible God who manages this highly complex process of meaning delivery. The irony for Ken Ham is that in a sense meaning always comes from the reader, the reader who must be correctly initiated in order to make the right interpretation. Of course I don’t expect someone as lacking in subtlety as Ken Ham to ever understand this.  Ken Ham doesn’t live by faith; he lives by what he estimates to be certainty.

Some links on the nature of language:

It's worth reading this AiG article by Ham:
Ham's righteous anger at Christian acdemia is plain to see in this article. In many ways it's encouraging that he paints such a bleak picture of what to his recriminating mind is rampart "compromise" among Christian academics. Obviously Ham's futile fulminations aren't going to hold much weight with Christian academics. But they will have weight with other fundamentalists, who are assured by Ham that they will be on the  receiving end of divine displeasure should they be tempted by "compromise". Ham is almost shaping up to be classified as a cult leader; compare the Watchtower who control their publishers, like Ham, using character defamation and the threat of divine displeasure to intimidate their followers. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Chaoskampf and The Problem of Suffering and Evil

Premier Christianity magazine contained a very moving article about a couple whose son died of a brain tumour. Inevitably, given the Christian context, the problem of suffering (and evil) reared its enigmatic head. The following quote from the article tells us how the boy's mother, Jessica, coped with the challenge to her faith:

For most of her life, Jessica had been taught what she calls the “blueprint view” of why God allows suffering. According to this understanding, God wills everything that happens, history is a working out of his meticulous divine blueprint and there’s a specific good behind even the most extreme suffering. She says this theology is expressed in clich├ęs such as ‘everything happens for a reason'.

Long before Henry’s diagnosis, Jessica began to question this traditional view of God’s role in suffering. As she listened to podcasts of Greg Boyd’s (Senior pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Minnesota) sermons, she heard another view expressed which she calls the ‘warfare view’. This theory posits that God is not the only force in the universe and all evil originates in wills other than God. Suffering is therefore ultimately caused by Satan, and not God.

Jessica spent many months listening to and considering both of these positions. After a two year period of wrestling with these opposing ideas and looking at relevant biblical verses, she landed on the warfare view, explaining it made her mind and heart line up with each other.

As Jessica explains, “To think God isn’t designing my pain but rather doing everything possible to maximise good and minimise evil within the constraints of the world he created – that’s exciting!”

Jessica had already adopted this warfare view before Henry’s health deteriorated. She says it made a tremendous difference. It may have even saved her faith.

“It was unbelievably freeing to walk through this nightmare and not say, ‘Am I being tested, taught a lesson or punished?’ I didn’t have to think this person we love and trust would cause a nightmare in our lives. I didn’t have to feel betrayed by God in the midst of this horrible event. So my crisis wasn’t compounded by a crisis of faith.

“It was incredibly freeing to know when we saw beautiful things happen, when people were coming to the house with casseroles and gifts – we could say, ‘This is from God. God is doing everything possible to maximise good.’ And when we saw our son suffer and the pain and death, I could say ‘this is not from God'. That meant I could maintain a passionate faith in the midst of such terrible loss.”

As I read through this for the first time it looked to me as if it was going in the wrong direction; for at first it seemed as if Jessica was taking on board the old gnosto-dualist solution to the problem of pain. This solution envisages good and evil as opposite forces fighting it out, sometimes evenly matched. In classical Gnosticism evil is believed to be rooted in the material world from which an initiation into "gnosis" (that is, a kind of "inner light" experience) allows the believer to rise above this evil world and find salvation. In fact in classical Gnosticism the material world is thought to be the work of a dimiurge rather than God. Gnosticism of this kind side steps the difficult questions which arise if God is postulated to be a loving sovereign creator; for if God is sovereign creator why did he create a world with the propensity for suffering and evil in the first place? Why did he create sentient beings with the propensity to fall?  But if as gnosticism maintains God didn't create the world He cannot then be held responsible for the imperfection which generates suffering and moral falleness; all of this can be blamed on the "free will" (sic) of demons and humans. 

However, what saves the day for the above quote is that Jessica is reported as saying that God will "minimise evil within the constraints of the world he created ". That sounds like an acknowledgement of God's position as sovereign creator; but it leaves open the question of the inscrutable Divine purposes behind the perverse logic of this world (=constraints?) which, for unknown reasons, has been given divine permission to play out. At one level Jessica's solution may help: God is seen as a contender for good in a battle of good vs evil and where God has tied his hands behind his back. In effect God is playing by rules he has ordained in advance. One of those rules, presumably, is that God has chosen to create a world of personal agents with the propensity to defy divine morality and "fall".  But as God is responsible for creating beings with this flawed propensity  then on the higher level the problem of suffering and evil remains untouched; why did He create beings that so easily succumb to the temptations of sin? Surely omniscient omnipotence could do better?

As a rule I don't comment on the problem of suffering and evil - after all there have been many hundreds of years of deliberation on this subject and I don't think I'm going to make much impact on the problem. However, I will risk airing the following thoughts, thoughts which have been on my mind for many years.

Let us assume that a model cosmos can be represented as a string of characters; of course for any significant cosmos this string will be of enormous length, a length which we will quantify by L. If the string employs a character set of C characters then the number of possible strings which can be constructed will be CL. The quantity CL is enormous but finite. If we think of this string as a book, then the Cpossibilities will contain all the books there can be of size L; that is, among the Cpossibilities we will find the story of every possible cosmos. But as it stands these CL cosmic narratives don't exist outside the unreality of platonic space, a space of possibility and potential but not of reality. By far and away most of these unreal cosmoses will be random nonsense but many will tell of significant things. These significant, but materially non-existent cosmic stories, can only be reified by an omnipotent sovereign deity, perhaps in some corner of His infinite mind. But which cosmos will it be that comes up for reification? 

In one sense the platonic existence of the CL worlds gives them a kind of independence from God. Those worlds are to God as the story in a book is to its author; the author of a book is bringing forth something that has always existed in the platonic realm and the author is sovereign over all that appears in the book. God, like an author, is a sovereign facilitator whose job entails reifying the particular cosmos which emerges from platonic space into material reality. This cosmos, in having an an independent platonic existence may well have its own logic which has features contrary to the nature of God himself, just as a human author may introduce features and characters in his story which do not reflect his nature. We perhaps can glimpse in this something of that good vs evil contention which Jessica is talking of: God has chosen to be contender in one of these cosmic stories. 

But in spite of all that, at the highest level the question of suffering and evil remains intact: Why would divine omnipotence translate suffering and evil from the platonic world to material reality?  If we are theists who believe in the absolute creative sovereignty of a loving God this remains a mystery. We may even feel that mysterious divine motives for reifying our particular world could never justify some of the suffering and evil we see. After all, it is one thing to write a book of pure symbols about a wayward world, as does a human author. but it is yet another thing to "write" this book using the qualia of real actors, actors who have a conscious experience of this world; best leave it in the unrealized spaces of the platonic realm, it may be felt.

Do we say "Yes" or "No" to our cosmic story given the suffering and evil we see (and experience) around us? I'm personally left with a dilemma. My existence is organically and inseparably joined to the cosmic story; if this world of suffering and evil didn't exist then neither would I. So, do I consider my existence worthwhile in spite of the pain and evil of this world? Because of this dilemma I bulk at the thought of saying "No" to life; I'd rather exist than not exist, pain or no pain. But it easy for me to say that: My life, by all accounts, has been comfortable and privileged, so I'm hardly a qualified person to say "Yes" to a cosmos of suffering and evil on the basis of this dilemma alone; all I can do is leave it as a mouth stopping dilemma. Hence, I avoid pronouncing on the subject. 

There are two types of suffering: Firstly there is suffering which may be the a result of impersonal forces such as natural disasters and instabilities in socio-economic systems over which no one has full control. Secondly, there is suffering brought about by intentional sentient beings whose willful and culpable actions cause suffering. Frequently, fundamentalist Christians ignore the serpent of Genesis 3 and trace back all suffering, whether of personal and impersonal forces, as consequences of the culpability of Adam and Eve. In fact, sometimes this Adamic culpability is proposed as a theodicy: "Suffering is due to man and not God"*. This solution not only fails because it ignores the serpent but also ignores the question of why a loving sovereign God should permit the emergence from the platonic realm of beings with the propensity to sin; for He is no doubt capable of bringing out of those huge platonic spaces responsible beings who do not choose to sin; but this He hasn't done.

One of my favorite quips is "Sin is the word with the 'I' in the middle"; that is, sin is a state of being which puts priority on self at the expense of other sentient beings; serve self first and hang the consequences to others. That's sin in a nutshell and we all indulge in it from time to time. Rebellion against God is a consequence of sin - see Genesis 3; man predicated himself first and then in order to maintain this predication necessarily rebelled. Many fundamentalists see sin expressing itself as highly organised covert conspiracies of many agents (i.e. Conspiracy theorism - e.g. Tim LaHaye). I suggest that in maintaining such ideas they don't really understand the disrupting effects of sin: Sin decentralizes and disconnects desire and motive from its surroundings. In consequence it leads not to highly organised movements of agents (which would requite too much selfless morality) but exactly the opposite - it leads to chaos and randomness. A universal perception of this understanding may perhaps be found in the chaoskampf mythology. This mythology depicts the fight with evil as a struggle with chaos (or chaoskampf), often symbolised by the leviathan from the deep; it is a mythology that is hinted at in both the Bible and other cultures. Evil degrades cooperation in favor of self and thereby leads to chaos, randomness and ultimately meaninglessness. So in the final analysis the problem of evil boils down to a struggle with the void of meaninglessness and emptiness. It is the war with the chaos beast which is the most general form of the struggle between good and evil. (I discuss this matter further in the introduction and epilogue of my book on randomness)

The search for meaning in darkness. Who would have anticipated the 
incarnation? See Philippians 2:6-11

God has an inside experience of suffering


Further study.  
The following links, which I have yet to study closely, look as though they might contain some useful material. 

* The fundamentalist over-statement of the consequences of the fall is probably down to a confluence of causes: Viz: Fundamentalism selects for personalities which favour a paranoiac perspective of an elite religious remnant locked into an embattled and belligerent sectarianism. This perspective may in part be down to the social marginalization of fundamentalists; they seek a satisfying rationale to engage in forthright condemnation of the world that has rejected them and which they therefore hate with deep hatred. Their spiritual pride is such that they identify the slight against them as a slight against the Almighty. They therefore have little trouble in seeing the world which has rejected their message as utterly evil and wicked. They also have a small minded view of the cosmos and its profound mystery of purpose; simplification of the cosmic narrative in gnosto-dualist terms suits the anti-intellectual culture of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism's obsession with hell as the destination for the wicked world actually exacerbates the problem of suffering and evil; it also renders void any attempt to use Romans 8:18 as the basis of a theodicy. In the fundamentalist view suffering this side of the grave  (unless you're one of them - i.e a small remnant) is just a prelude to something even worse - the eternal suffering of hell. Since fundamentalist communities are small it follows that in their view the overwhelming majority of people are destined for hell (even Christians such as myself!). This view makes the creation seem even more pointless than ever: For, according to fundamentalists, the life of the large majority of the world's inhabitants has been reified by the Almighty only to have them eventually sent into eternal suffering; their sin?; rejection of the highly proprietary doctrines of the minority fundamentalist sect! Of course, this is no problem to the vindictive fundamentalist mind because it hates the world and sees its rejection of their message of salvation as evidence of a world that is utterly evil, full of wickedness and therefore deserving of eternal punishment. That's the fundamentalist mindset for you!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Path to Radicalisation

Radicalisation: getting yourself thoroughly hot and cross is all part of it 

This post on PZ Myers blog has proved worthy of adding to the VNP record: Myers quotes various researchers who have studied the process of radicalization. Myers' post is, in fact, a very useful source of incisive commentary and well worth reading. Some quotes:

…he [Scott Atran] argues, young people adrift in a globalized world find their own way to ISIS, looking to don a social identity that gives their lives significance

Sarah Lyons-Padilla writes:

Researchers have long studied the motivations of terrorists, with psychologist Arie Kruglanski proposing a particularly compelling theory: people become terrorists to restore a sense of significance in their lives, a feeling that they matter. Extremist organizations like Isis are experts at giving their recruits that sense of purpose, through status, recognition, and the promise of eternal rewards in the afterlife.
My own survey work supports Kruglanski’s theory. I find that American Muslims who feel a lack of significance in their lives are more likely to support fundamentalist groups and extreme ideologies.
What we really need to know now is, what sets people on this path? How do people lose their sense of purpose?
My research reveals one answer: the more my survey respondents felt they or other Muslims had been discriminated against, the more they reported feeling a lack of meaning in their lives. Respondents who felt culturally homeless – not really American, but also not really a part of their own cultural community – were particularly jarred by messages that they don’t belong. Yet Muslim Americans who felt well integrated in both their American and Muslim communities were more resilient in the face of discrimination.
My results are not surprising to many social scientists, who know that we humans derive a great deal of self-worth from the groups we belong to. Our groups tell us who we are and make us feel good about ourselves. But feeling like we don’t belong to any group can really rattle our sense of self.

Abi Wilkinson identifies the drift toward the extreme right as form of radicalisation:

No, not the bit you’re thinking of. Somewhere far worse. That loose network of blogs, forums, subreddits and alternative media publications colloquially known as the “manosphere”. An online subculture centred around hatred, anger and resentment of feminism specifically, and women more broadly. It’s grimly fascinating and now troubling relevant.

In modern parlance, this is part of the phenomenon known as the “alt-right”. More sympathetic commentators portray it as “a backlash to PC culture” and critics call it out as neofascism. Over the past year, it has been strange to see the disturbing internet subculture I’ve followed for so long enter the mainstream. The executive chairman of one of its most popular media outlets, Breitbart, has just been appointed Donald Trump’s chief of strategy, and their UK bureau chief was among the first Brits to have a meeting with the president-elect. Their figurehead – Milo Yiannopoulos – toured the country stumping for him during the campaign on his “Dangerous Faggot” tour. These people are now part of the political landscape.

None of the above is a surprise at VNP (See links below); the search for meaning, purpose, fulfillment, a feeling of worth and a tribal sense of belonging & community are all deep human motivations.  Add to this the hankering to replace flaky & "faith"** based epistemic heuristics with authoritarian certainties and you've got a mix of emotions which readily finds fulfillment in the group think of fundamentalist communities of one kind or another. Myers is unlikely to admit it, but atheism, although not necessarily a problem in and of itself, is part of the pyschological complex: As I've said before, atheism is less a world-view than it is an absence of a world view. So unless liberal atheism can somehow construct purposes and meanings sufficient to satisfy the yearnings of the human heart, atheism is liable to leave a nihilistic vacuum which may by slow degrees be filled with some form of fundamentalist certainty. 

PZ Myers himself gives an example of that nihilistic hole being filled with tribal certainties:

Speaking of introspection and examining ourselves, here’s someone else who was radicalized by a social movement — in this case, the dark side of atheism. Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Thunderf00t, Christopher Hitchens…these guys are gateways to the normalization of hatred.

Myers goes on to quote Lyons-Padilla:

I was curious as to the motives of leave voters. Surely they were not all racist, bigoted or hateful? I watched some debates on YouTube. Obvious points of concern about terrorism were brought up. A leaver cited Sam Harris as a source. I looked him up: this “intellectual, free-thinker” was very critical of Islam. Naturally my liberal kneejerk reaction was to be shocked, but I listened to his concerns and some of his debates.

This, I think, is where YouTube’s “suggested videos” can lead you down a rabbit hole. Moving on from Harris, I unlocked the Pandora’s box of “It’s not racist to criticise Islam!” content. Eventually I was introduced, by YouTube algorithms, to Milo Yiannopoulos and various “anti-SJW” videos (SJW, or social justice warrior, is a pejorative directed at progressives). They were shocking at first, but always presented as innocuous criticism from people claiming to be liberals themselves, or centrists, sometimes “just a regular conservative” – but never, ever identifying as the dreaded “alt-right”.

For three months I watched this stuff grow steadily more fearful of Islam. “Not Muslims,” they would usually say, “individual Muslims are fine.” But Islam was presented as a “threat to western civilisation”. Fear-mongering content was presented in a compelling way by charismatic people who would distance themselves from the very movement of which they were a part.

Atheism has inherent problems in satiatiing the hunger for meaning: Within an atheist framework from whence comes that meaning? And who arbitrates it? If atheists try to fill in these gaps they are plagued by the same dilemma as religious fundamentalists; namely, the gap between practical heuristic epistemologies and the aspiration for authoritative, comprehensive and definitive answers.

Some relevant links:

** I understand "faith" in the very general sense of believing that our world has a basic epistemic integrity which means that by and large it's evidential signals are not misleading. e,g, The signals from distant objects in space and time, such as fossils and star light, are evidence of real objects. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Gnostic** Guru Declares British Evangelicals Dead.

The Power to  declare other Christians dead: Humility? Is that what some people call it?

The August issue of Premier Christianity has published an article by a Christian leader called  R T Kendall. Kendall was one time minister of Westminster Chapel in London.  To cut a long story short he is a charismatic fundamentalist who, according to Wiki, has been associated with the notorious Paul Cain and the Kansas City prophets. He has also endorsed the bizarre Toronto Blessing

It is a rule of thumb of mine that for every fundamentalist you will find at least one (probably a lot more than one!) anti-fundamentalist and this is no less true of Kendall. The straight laced reformation identifying evangelicals, themselves very committed "obey to the letter" fundamentalism would likely consider Kendall, with his gnostic version of Christianity, a dangerous heretic. The people of London's Metropolitan Tabernacle probably fall into this category.  Moreover, the group I have called the "Reformo-Charistmatics" would also want to disown Kendall's antics. See here for an example of a reference to Kendall from the point of view of the London Tabernacle:

So, there is the list of Pastors. Dr Masters makes some interesting comments about the history of the church, especially from the Second World War onwards. Many ‘stalwarts’ who returned after the war found the church very different – Dr Scroggie being quite Arminian and strong on Keswick ‘holiness’ teaching. Many of these believers left and went to other places where there was sound expository preaching. One such place was Westminster Chapel, under the ministry of Dr D Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Indeed, a young Tabernacle deacon, named Henry C Todd, crossed the river to sit under Dr Lloyd-Jones, and later became his church secretary. At the end of his life, in the 1970s, Henry Todd returned to the Tabernacle as the pendulum swung the other way again. The sad decline of Westminster Chapel into the charismatic extremes of today was begun even then. (See the Rev Iain Murray’s comments upon RT Kendall’s ministry here). [The link at the end there is now orphaned - ed]

Fundamentalists place a huge stake in the divine authority of their opinions; this is usually a consequence of what they will claim to be the "plain reading" of scripture; that is, how they interpret its meaning. Upon this reading they will attempt to load the epistemic responsibility of their beliefs, telling us those beliefs are based not on their opinions (which in fact they are)  but on the say so of the  Almighty Himself,  i.e.  "the Authority of God's Word", as if there is some non-contentious agreed reading of scripture which means its interpretation is as uncontentious as the translation of Morse code.  But as I have said before, scripture is like a recipe; to get the cake right we also need a competent cook and the right ingredients. The generation of meaning from scripture is organically joined to the reader and his environment. The reader is epistemically proactive, responsible, accountable and cannot off-load his opinions onto the Almighty.

But fundamentalists whose epistemic arrogance means they know they've got  it all right  have boxed themselves into a corner. If fundamentalists think they've got God's very word taped then they are committed to declaring those who criticize their version of fundamentalism as at best of an inferior and unclean spirituality or at worst blaspheming heretics. The fundamentalist's world is one of black and white, so, when it comes to evaluating a fundamentalist guru like Kendall it helps to remember that one fundamentalist's esteemed prophet is another fundamentalists emissary from hell. If you disagree with a fundie their epistemic arrogance means that they just can't accept that this can be done with a clear conscience; after all, from their perspective disobeying their word is to disobey the writ of the Almighty God. This is one reason why I do not recommend getting involved with fundies; unless you are prepared to eat out of their doctrinaire hand the relationship with them is soured from day one.

So, we can see why fundamentalists like Kendall fights fire with fire and he can give as good as he gets from fellow fundamentalists like the Metropolitan tabernacle. But Kendall, in his eyes, has something extra that these "reformation" Christians don't have; namely, as a gnosto-charismatic he believes he has a spiritual anointing, absent among the "reformists",  an anointing which gives his words a super-charged authority that the "reformist" can't, and, to give them credit, wouldn't make claim to.  In fact Kendall fell out with his predecessor at Westminster Chapel, namely the formidable Martin Lloyd Jones, the lionized doyen of the traditional non-charismatic fundamentalists who think of themselves as the one and only true torch bearers of the reformation and charismatic Christians as dangerously deceived..

But let me get back to the article.  In this article Kendall brings to bear the authority of his guru status (among some Christians!) in order to condemn another a set of Christians. But he doesn't tell us who those Christians are or what they've done wrong. Kendall only vaguely identifies them by voicing his concern for the drift of British evangelical Christianity and claims they are crossing over a line he never dreamed they would cross. Now, Kendall can't be referring to the buttoned up "reformed" evangelicals of, say, the Metropolitan Tabernacle variety since they have been around a lot longer than Kendall and his Toronto blessing culture. My guess is that he perhaps is referring to the general reflective and self critical drift in the evangelical church which, ironically, may well be a reaction against the kind of  authoritarian and polarized excesses of Christian fundamentalists such as we see in both the likes of Kendall and his doppelgangers in "reformed" Christian communities.  Many moderate and reasonable evangelicals have had enough; in fact, they may see in fundamentalists an ugly reflection of what they themselves might look like to outsiders. This may even be the sort of process moderate evangelical William Dembski has been through.

Polarization among evangelicals has been going on for a long time now. In fact I remember a telling incident when I was at the faithfully evangelical Surrey Chapel, Norwich in the late eighties, during the days of its then minister David Middleton.  David Middleton and Surrey Chapel were and still are traditionally evangelical and yet during a meeting I remember David Middleton complaining about the polarization he was observing between the fanatically "reformed" Christians and the fanatically charismatic wings of the church.That  wasn't the days of the internet, but I think Middleton was the recipient of a large post bag which, along with his many ministerial connections, put him in a strategic position to assess the way things were going.

With the coming of the mid 1990s Toronto Blessing which came on top of the authoritarianism of 1970s restorationism,  things got worse.  In consequence many evangelicals began to feel they had had seen enough and didn't want to be identified with the kind of ugly fundamentalism that Kendall and his doppelgangers stands for. The upshot of this was a more reasonable smooth edged nonabrasive evangelicalism. Very recent evidence that moderate evangelicals are rebelling (on both side of the Atlantic)  is perhaps seen in the William Dembski story. But I suspect that it is not just the outbreak of reasonableness and a liberal leaning tolerance among evangelicals that troubles a hardened fundamentalist like Kendall. My guess is that what most offends him is that some evangelicals have started to accept  homosexual  relations - but then this acceptance is also found among the emerging church movement which isn't just a British phenomenon. So, I have to admit that I'm not quite sure what fuels the fire of Kendall's fundamentalist ire.

However, what I would like to focus on here is how Kendall tries to deal with these "erring" Christians. Does Kendall use passages from the Bible where God's people have erred (like we all do at one time or another) such as seen in the stories of Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, St Peter or perhaps even David's catastrophic sin? No, not at all! That is far too measured for a fire breathing fundamentalist! So, like all good fundies Kendall's instinct  is to go nuclear straight away and engage in the grossest possible condemnation that actually makes even Ken Ham look quite mild. Kendall likens these despised Christians to one of the most reviled figures in the Bible, a figure who failed to make it to the annals of faith, namely King Saul, a man who usurped the priesthood,  massacred eighty five priests  (1 Samuel 22:18),  consulted with a medium and was intent on murdering the Biblical hero, David. (Actually Saul was probably suffering from some form of mental illness and his written history may have been influenced by a very disgruntled priesthood!). Perhaps rather peeved that some of the evangelicals he's condemning still seem to be pulling the Christian crowds Kendall uses a another form of excommunication which I've seen among Christian gnostics; he simply implies these speakers to be spirituality dead. Viz:

Any layman or church leader can be at the height of their popularity and usefulness, and yet be yesterday's man or woman....today's man or woman can be dead and still 'speak' like Charles Spurgeon, Martyn Lloyd Jones or John Stott.

This means that there is no chance these speakers, in the eyes of Kendall, can justify themselves with a good ministry - to the likes of a gnostic like Kendall  they are declared beyond the pale by his self-styled authoritarian spiritual "discernment", so there is no hope of redemption for their ministries via content - Kendall declares them be far worse than just erring; they are, he implies , spiritually dead. Content is nothing to Kendall, but only sublime anointing - that is, his opinion of what constitutes sublime anointing.

The followers of gnostic gurus like Kendall have been known to defend such gurus against criticism with a quote from scripture: "Touch not God's anointed".  It is used as a spiritual threat to stop accountability and criticism in its tracks. Often in mind here is the passage surrounding 1 Samuel 24:6. This is ironic because that passage is about David's unwillingness to kill Saul when he had the opportunity to do so*. You will note then, that Kendall himself is clearly not inhibited about "touching" what he thinks of as the "Sauls" of  our day!  However, I've got to give credit to the old traditional reformation identifying evangelicals (such as we find at the Tabernacle) - they wouldn't dream of using such intimidating language in order to defend their leaders!

Fundamentalists like Kendall are entirely genuine in their belief. True, they are not always the most easy going of personalities and they have personal traits which draw them to authoritarian epistemological claims. But they believe what they say; they aren't self seeking liars. The same is true of even types like John MacKay. In fact it is their unshakable self-belief which makes them dangerous. My opinion, however, is that they are effectively exploiting the inherent epistemic weaknesses and ambiguity of our cosmos when attempts are made at world view synthesis. And yet in the face of these weaknesses the fundamentalist personality is such that they passionately commit themselves to a world view without doubts; they do not accept the inherent uncertainties inevitable in the big picture analysis of world view synthesis. Since they are so sure of the manifest truth of their world view it leaves them with no choice but to impute bad consciences and heinous sin to those that disagree with them; as we see above.

Disclaimer. Although at the world view level the same evidences can admit more than one solution, I don't accept that this can be true, without gross rational violations taking place, when it comes to basic science such as the spherical Earth, and its position in space and time. In the case of flat Earthism, geocentrism and young Earthism etc. the fanciful world view is filtering down to the basic science level and corrupting it.

* 1 Samuel 24:6 is actually not referring to criticism of Saul, but of doing him physical violence. David, although highly critical of Saul, withheld his hand from killing him.

** By "gnostic" I'm not referring to the particular manifestations of gnosticism such as the early Gnostics or the Cathars of the late middle ages, but a more general concept cluster which constitute a dualistic world view. This view partitions the world using a set of dichotomies; Viz: God vs. natural forces, supernatural vs. natural, heart vs. head, intuition vs analysis, revelation vs. reason, spirit vs. matter etc. Althougth there are some elements of a gnostic perpective in much evangelical Christianity,  above all gnostic Christians tend to place a premium on mythos over logos. This is seen in the prestige value of inner light revelations of the divine and deeply intuitive encounters with God. Those Christians who don't share this world view are likely to be considered spiritually inferior.  See here