So Many Voices: A Need for Vision

As I sit here, listening to the voices swirling in my head, I realize the need isn’t for more information. An enthralling podcast. A good sermon. An even better book. The most experienced of us out there know those things can only take us so far. No, what’s needed is vision. We’re like victims of a shipwreck, jumping from life raft to life raft, thinking this one has better supplies or more comforts. What we need is a ship. A ship with a destination. We treat so much of our Christian life like we’re simply getting by – each church service is like a cold drink on a hot day. But then the hours and days, months and years go by and that frosty Coke, even if it comes in a cool-looking retro glass bottle, isn’t enough. Jesus constantly talked about the kingdom and what it looked like. He asked people to pursue it with all their hearts. He knew where He was headed. Do we?

A lot of us are tired of denominational squabbles, and we should be, scripture makes as much plain. But could it be there’s something to it, despite the disparagements and divisions? I’m not talking about a movement. I’ve grown to hate that word. A “movement” is a counterfeit vision. Something that plays on ill-informed biases and loyalties. It transcends for about 2.2 and then the emotions fade and your left with, what? Policy? Yuck. Nostalgia? Even worse. People don’t realize it, but I think we treat sermon series in this way. Or small group curriculums written by our best gurus. Those things aren’t bad, but what are they aiming at? Is there something bigger? Something that we live instead of digest and then…? You get the idea.

I guess what this amounts to is a plea to God – help me out here. I don’t live on dry land. My shipmates and I are out to sea, shipwrecked, floating amongst the jetsam of denominations and movements. We need a ship with a Vision. Destination: Kingdom of God. I’m thinking of becoming a shipbuilder. But I need some help. Can’t do this one alone…

As a side note – perhaps to continue with the theme: I’m putting up a flare. Hopefully the light will expose some dangers in the water, or help others see where we really are. Better yet – can I offer some food to stave off the delirium? Nothing is more counter-productive to the kind of vision I’m talking about than bad eschatology. You know, the kind that finds itself on the big screen. Nothing says, “I love you” more than “Man, can’t wait to leave my clothes behind while the rest of you perish in flames!” If people see we have nothing more to aspire to other than disappearing then the world may in fact call us out on cheap magic tricks and some cool fireworks at the end of the show. We need to convince the world that the offer is life in Jesus Christ, not Nicholas Cage. All satire aside, this is where we must start.

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Well Needed Humor

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A Question of Ethics?

Do ethics have an ontological status? Is there such a thing as metaethics? Regardless of the answer ethics cannot be informed without referring to experience. In other words – ethics is meaningless without the people we love and love to hate.

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Political Musings

Secularism is not anything in itself per se, though some challenge the assertion that secularism has no “position.” I take this to mean that they believe secularism itself is a stance, that is has substance in both a political and philosophical sense. But this obscures what secularism really is – it is a vacuum. It is a political and moral vacuum into which fly all sorts of ideologies and moral systems. The danger is that this secular vacuum takes the form of, morphs into, whatever zeitgeist holds sway. At one point it is a mostly homogeneous, Protestant, and white America; the next it is a heterogeneous, spiritually nebulous, and diverse America. The only meaningful way to talk about the failure of secularism is if the vacuum, the messiness of what we call the American experiment, takes a permanent form. And it does not matter if the permanence is theocratic or totalitarian – they are the same thing.

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Controversy in Texas

A strange convergence of medical ethics, the debate over abortion, and family rights has people talking in Texas. The New York Times is reporting the story of Marlise Munoz – a 33 year-old woman who is now brain dead after collapsing due to a blood clot in her lungs. Unfortunately she was pregnant at the time of the incident, but remarkably the baby is still alive, and is now being kept alive because Marlise is on life support. You can read the story for yourself, but here is a quote from Munoz’s father:

Mrs. Munoz’s father, Ernest Machado, 60, a former police officer and an Air Force veteran, put it even more bluntly. “All she is is a host for a fetus,” he said on Tuesday. “I get angry with the state. What business did they have delving into these areas? Why are they practicing medicine up in Austin?”

The complexity of this situation leaves one with more questions than answers and I feel for the family caught in this horrible situation. That being said I’m honestly shocked by the family’s stance on this – their grandchild, the only connection they will have left to their daughter is alive, yet they wish to end the pregnancy by taking their daughter off life support.

Despite my shock the issue is better left to the family to resolve. But does the state of Texas have a right to interfere is what is clearly a delicate and complicated family affair? In a state where abortion politics are a hot button issue it will be interesting to see what public opinion is on this horrendously sad situation.

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Are All Positions Faith Positions?

At the end of my last post I mused openly about the nature of metaphysics (and the limitations therein), but I also mentioned something about revelation – which needs a bit more explanation.

Essentially (at least in my mind anyway) the gist of my argument is that all positions are essentially faith positions. But I add this caveat: some positions are more faith-based than others. While Coyne has to put some sort of faith in the legitimacy of his theory on altruism, so too does Douthat with his own justification (God as the explanation). But knowledge of God rests on revelation. I’ve noted that it’s secondhand. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It’s just that, for me, there is too much tension between revelation and more rational epistemological systems. Presuppositional apologetics have much to say on this subject (it’s been discussed here before) but in my humble opinion presuppositionalism rests on rationalism while at the same time expounds on its inadequacy.

For me faith is more existential, perhaps in a Kierkegaardian sense (without denying the importance of scripture).

This is a back-and-forth for me. I think openly and I’m not afraid of criticism. Whenever I try to adopt a system (theological or otherwise) I feel like I’m adopting an ideology, but I have too many questions to keep myself in a self-imposed box. So I’m just not going to do it anymore – the name of this blog is WaughThinks. I like to think about things, to explore them. I like to explore ideas and possibilities – and if it takes me off the reservation sometimes, so be it. At least I’ll be honest with myself and with others.

I think I need to change my theology page…

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Metaphysical Malpractice

An interesting back-and-forth between evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne and New York Times columnist (and Catholic) Ross Douthat has garnered attention on-line. It started when Coyne, who has become a star player on the team of the New Atheists, wrote a piece for The New Republic. In it Coyne provides a plethora of reasons why Douthat’s Christmas musings in an earlier piece were, let’s just say, lacking sophistication when it came to his criticisms of secularism. Coyne flies through many of the traditional atheist tropes, but (per usual) avoids the harder arguments made in favor of biblical Christianity. Much of what was said had a lot to do with metaphysics (familiar ground for theists). Coyne states:

As for where altruism comes from, who knows? My own suspicions are that it’s partly genetic and partly cultural, but what’s important is that we feel it and can justify it. I can justify it on several grounds, including that altruism makes for a more harmonious society, helps those in need, and, as a selfish motive, that being altruistic gains you more respect. None of this justification has anything to do with God.

Douthat, for his part, responded with a little bit more sophistication than Coyne probably thought possible. In a word he simply devastates Coynes’ glib and rather smug article. Douthat writes:

Again, if this is the scientific-materialist’s justification for morality, then the worldview has even more problems than I suggested. Coyne proposes three arguments in favor of a cosmopolitan altruism, two of which are circular: Making a “harmonious society” and helping “those in need” are reasons for altruism that presuppose a certain view of the moral law, in which charity and harmony are considered worthwhile and important goals. (If my question is, “what’s the justification for your rights-based egalitarianism?” saying “because it’s egalitarian!” is not much of an answer.)

Essentially Douthat proves that Coyne is guilty of metaphysical malpractice. What Coyne considers as self-evident is really without any justification whatsoever. It seems that most atheists, not just the “new” ones, don’t realize the weight of this argument. Or perhaps they do, but don’t give much credence to metaphysical assertions. According to Merriam-Websters dictionary metaphysics is  a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology.

Forgive the teaching moment.

The force of theistic arguments come from metaphysics (the Kalaam cosmological argument would be one example). One could even say that theology itself is built on metaphysics (I know I’ll get arguments on that one). But here’s the thing: metaphysics aren’t falsifiable. So while Coyne is guilty of not proving his burden, Douthat may be in more trouble. How do you test a metaphysical standard established by a God that neither side can prove? It seems to me that any field you can think of, say ethics, has to be founded on some form of empirical knowledge. Appealing to some standard won’t work: how do you know which standard to chose? The Judeo-christian notion of revelation doesn’t help either – revelation is always secondhand, unless you’re a Mormon.

So in the end, who is right? It could be that we can’t answer these questions, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t real answers.

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