Wednesday

Dualists lack spirit

If dualism is true, how would it affect human nature?

Dualists believe that there are “two different types of reality: material and mental” (225). The material, which is represented by the body, takes up three dimensional spaces and the mental, or the mind, does not. Physical bodies have shape; “mental entities” do not (226). At some point the physical and the mental must interact in response to stimuli or physical events; this is called “dualistic interactionism” (226).

Philosopher Rene Descartes’ concluded that he (meaning his being) was essentially a mind (229). “According to Descartes, three kinds of objects or substances exist in the universe: (1) the eternal substance, God; (2) his creation in terms of mind; (3) his creation in terms of matter.” Human beings are made up of the last two elements.

What this theory lacks is the essence of the individual. If human beings are merely “minds” from where do our personalities come? What makes us unique? If Descartes thought that humans are comprised of only of body and mind and that “the mind interacts only with the brain,” what happens when a person commits an act and feels that what he or she did was wrong (230)? Is this guilt feeling part of the mind or the body? In the incident, the mind told the body to perform the offensive act. From where does guilt come? Can the mind be divided into subsections or is there a third party, a conscience or the spirit of a person, involved? Can we truly have free will if the body merely follows the commands of the mind? Is this why humans are depraved according to some of our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Pojman used the example of the mind and body interacting when a person steps on a nail. If the person is merely reacting to the stimulus of pain (or the C fiber reacting) then why do some individuals use expressions in the vernacular. Typically, if one is just reacting with the mind to pain, one would probably just grunt or cry. What causes someone to scream curses or obscenities and to berate the person who left the nail on the floor in the first place? There must be a third “party” involved. This “party” is the spirit. We are not a bunch of minds reacting to bodily stimuli. If we were then we would be no better than animals. As humans we feel complex emotions; we feel pain, anger, hurt, love, affection and joy.

If dualism is true then the human race is no better than the animal world. We could not think for ourselves, we could not feel opposite emotions in the face of negative stimuli (such as love for enemies). If dualism were true God would not be able to reward us or punish us because we would not be in control of our actions.

God and the universal morality

What is the relationship between God and the universal morality? What should our relationship be to universal morality (the universal)? What should our relationship be to God? How does this relate to the teleological suspension of the ethical? What does Kierkegaard mean when he says that the individual has transcended the universal? How is this related to Abraham? What does this say about human nature?

The relationship between God and the universal morality, or the universal, in Kierkegaard’s book “Fear and Trembling” is one of tension at times. The will of God, if I understand it correctly, is part of the universal, or the ethical, but God’s will can rise above the ethical as in the case of God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Our relationship to God should be such that we reconcile with the universal and “abrogate (or abolish) our particularity (or individuality) so as to become the universal” (62, parenthesis mine). “Whenever having entered the universal, the single individual feels an urge to assert his particularity, he is in a state of temptation, from which he can extricate himself only by surrendering his particularity to the universal in repentance” (62). This is the telos, or purpose, of humanity, to align oneself with God.

Once an individual has entered the universal, he or she “now sets himself (or herself) apart as the particular above the universal” (63). I believe that this means he or she can become an example of faith like Abraham. In raising the knife to sacrifice his son, Abraham entered into the “teleological suspension of the ethical” by obeying God over set ethics. He could be called a murderer, as Kierkegaard said, but instead he was a man of faith because he obeyed God instead of doing what was ethical in his situation. “In (Abraham’s) action he overstepped the ethical altogether, and had a higher telos outside it, in relation to which he suspended it” (69).

Abraham transcended the universal by not doing what was ethical, in this case not sacrificing Isaac was a temptation for him to not do what God required, and instead doing God’s will, or his duty (69 – 70). The rightness of his act, according to Kierkegaard will be judged by the outcome (73). Abraham became a hero “by virtue of the fact that he began” (74) not because he knew the outcome.

It takes faith for a person to step outside the universal in order to do God’s will. For those who do this, they are considered extraordinary in light of human nature because the natural tendency of human nature is to assert its own individuality. If it were not so, Adam and Eve would not have plunged the entire human race into this mess of sin and self-aggrandizement. Does this mean that individuality is wrong? When it goes against God’s will, yes. But individuality when it concerns our own uniqueness and personality is not wrong. Our unique traits are to be used for God’s glory. Kierkegaard wrote that in God’s kingdom a person “should not push himself shamelessly forward and thrust upon them his kinship with them, he should feel happy every time he bows before them, but be frank and confident and always something more than a cleaning woman” (75). As Christians, our confidence should be as children and friends of the King, rather than feeling like we were a lowly servant.

Tuesday

"Virtuousness"

Aristotle’s and Christian views on virtuous living differ on who can receive happiness through living a virtuous life and in what the virtues are. Aristotle said that the “happy life seems to be a life in accord with virtue …” (Nicomachean Ethics [NE], 163). Virtues are what is “fine and right”. The virtuous person aims toward excellence in what he or she does and toward what is “fine” and “right” in their moral conduct. The virtuous person is able to perform the right action at the right time in the right amount, because virtue is infused into his or her character (Bankard & NE, 353).

Christians would agree that aiming toward excellence and toward what is “fine” and “right” is synonymous with virtuous living. In my study, the closest term I can think of that is compatible with Aristotle’s definition of the term virtue is holiness. One of the differences is that Aristotle said that pursuing a life of virtue is close to living as the gods and being loved by the gods (NE 167, 331-332). The Christian’s pursuit of a life of holiness is to imitate God. Christians do not become God; they strive to be like God. God loves human beings whether they strive to be holy or not.

Aristotle distinguishes between two types of virtues: the intellectual virtues and the moral virtues. The difference between the two is that the intellectual virtues are gained through reason alone. These virtues lead to moral virtues, which are action derived from reasonable thought (NE, 87, 353).

According to A Handbook of Theological Terms by Van A. Harvey, Roman Catholics distinguish two types of virtues: those that can be gained through education, repetition and infusion into the soul supernaturally through “sanctifying grace” (natural virtues) and those that can only be gained supernaturally (theological virtues). The natural virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The theological virtues are faith, hope and charity. Roman Catholics believe that “faith (for instance) is a ‘habit’ and that good deeds performed by the faithful merit further graces” (Harvey, 248 – 249). Aristotle also felt that habit was essential in developing virtue (NE, 52). The more one practices the virtues, the easier they become. Perhaps the Roman Catholic view is more simplistic and includes some of what Aristotle listed as the virtues in its definitions of the natural virtues. Faith, hope and charity are not in Aristotle’s list.

While Christians are taught that everyone can become virtuous (or holy), Aristotle tends to be aristocratic in his opinion on who can be truly happy. “…But no one would allow that a slave shares in happiness …” he wrote (NE, 163). Only those who reason and who study can be happy. In Christian thinking, reasoning and studying is a result of the life of faith. Loving God and one’s neighbor as oneself is the central goal in Christianity, not happiness.

Source
Harvey, Van A., A Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: Touchstone) 1964.

Thoughts from just after the DNC in August

I wrote the rough draft for this last night after spending the entire day at the Democratic National Circus … Convention. :0) Before going to the convention I read Aristotle’s thoughts on the Political Person in “Who Are We?” by Louis Pojman, so the wheels were turning throughout the day.

Aristotle said: “Legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them” (60). Then Pojman wrote: “The legislator who fails to accomplish this task has failed in his task as legislator” (60).

How can a legislator make citizens good and, if he or she can and fails, can society actually say that they have failed? After watching events yesterday I thought that legislators can set a good example through honest and careful reasoning. Thousands of people were in downtown Denver yesterday protesting the Iraq War. They feel that President Bush lied to them and that the United States is over in Iraq to take over their supply of oil. While I disagreed with some of the things they wrote on their signs, I recognized that democracy was at work in a positive way.

Both Aristotle and Plato dismissed democracy. They held that certain people were better than others and that because of this the people who were better had the right to rule over people who did not fit into this category—“we should not let the ignorant masses rule the state,” they said (Pojman, 60). In Plato and Aristotle’s view, what happened yesterday—the march of thousands down city streets that blocked traffic, stopped commerce and used the taxpayer’s money because of the necessity of bringing in more police than I could count—would have been ludicrous. The protestors were not very well reasoned in some of their views. They wanted revolution, wanted to impeach Bush, wanted to “funk” the war, wanted an end to police brutality and wanted to decrease police. Because I was caught in the middle of the march a few times (that was a little scary), I could tell that several had been drinking and had been smoking marijuana. I even saw one person “shooting up” in the bushes, so perhaps in Plato and Aristotle’s view these people did not deserve a voice because they could be considered immoral or without virtue according to the standards that we have set in our society (I am not sure what our two philosophers thought about drugs).

In view of spiritual formation, we could bring all of this to the church level. Do we keep outsiders and younger Christians from having a say, or from doing things in our churches, just because the more “mature” Christians consider them less equal or because the “mature” consider their views immature. Aren’t we all equal in Christ? This is one view from Aristotle and Plato that does not fit in our society or in the church.

Off the main subject, here are our photos from the convention:

Denver and the DNC

Protest march

Police at the protest

Some leftovers

On 'philosophizing'

To philosophize, Woodhouse says that the act is more like learning to become a surgeon or a racecar driver (50). Like those activities, to philosophize takes practice in order to fine tune your skills. Personally, this reminds me of my experience in learning how to make bread. First of all it took a desire to learn how to do it. Secondly, it took several attempts before I learned how to feel what properly kneaded dough feels like. As in philosophy, learning how to make good bread involved caring about the process and the end result. It also involved some study and some apprenticeship. The process of philosophy is to care about discovering truth (Woodhouse, 51). The end result is finding truth and in order to be effective, we must care about truth and be willing to practice our pursuit.

Woodhouse’s suggestions on preparing to philosophize apply to theological discourse. These suggestions are having the courage “to examine one’s cherished beliefs critically, “a willingness to advance tentative hypothesis” and to react to philosophical claims, no matter how ridiculous they seem, and to have “a desire to place the search for truth” above “winning” or “losing.” There must also be a desire and “an ability to separate one’s personality from the content of a discussion (50). This involves a degree of humility that must be present in any effective discussion whether it takes place among married couples, friends or in a Bible study.

For instance, if we are in a Bible study in which the topic is creation, not everyone is going to agree that God created the world in six 24 hour days. An effective teacher will not squelch opposing views, but will encourage reasonable discourse. He or she should allow students to arrive at their own conclusions rather than accuse those who disagree of a lack of faith or condemn them to hell. If the teacher believes a literal interpretation, that is fine. He or she should present his or her view logically and let the class discuss the issue. “Philosophy (and even theology) is not about winning points or arguments…it is caring about truth…” (51).

The statement “’I like this view’ is never a good reason in philosophy” especially applies to theology. One should never base Scriptural opinion on a good feeling because feelings can deceive. The pursuit of truth, the examination of the context of Scripture and of the writings of people who have studied deeply, and study of opposing views are paramount to good theology. Again, this takes humility. We do not know everything. It is important to remember in philosophy and in theology that life and God are bigger than our own point of view.

Monday

Nietzsche Offers Help to the Church

Alasdair McIntyre said that the works of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche have greatly influenced western culture (NG, 1). Therefore, if the church is to respond to western culture, then the church “must understand Nietzsche” (NG, 1). Nietzsche, who was brought up in the Christian church and later became an atheist, has criticized the church, calling Christianity a “slave morality” (NG, 1). Though the church does not deal well with such criticism, a wise church should listen to Nietzsche’s commentary rather than disregard it, and try to understand what the criticism means in order to reevaluate its efforts. In this paper, I will evaluate Nietzsche’s work “Madman,” discuss how his life experiences deeply affected his view of God and the church, and explore how Christians can approach those who think like Nietzsche.

In his work “Madman,” Nietzsche wrote: “God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! (Pojman, 186). “What are these churches now, if they are not the tombs and monuments of God?” the Madman cried (Pojman, 186). “Nietzsche's thesis was that striving, self-centered man had killed God …” (Time). Nietzsche held that God played “no vital role in … culture—except as a protector of the slave morality, including the idea of equal worth of all persons … Nietzsche believed that the world was void of intrinsic value or meaning … In place of God and intrinsic value, we must create our own value” (Pojman, 186). Recently, I heard a pastor say that most of what the church does has very little to do with God; in this respect, what Nietzsche said about God is true. The church kills God whenever Christians fail to seek God’s wisdom concerning its plans. God is dead to the church and to others whenever we are more concerned about the lost souls around the world than we are about the people who live in the neighborhoods surrounding our buildings.

What Nietzsche fails to do in “Madman,” is to explore how humanity might revive God once more. For some reason, he assumes without question that God is dead. Nietzsche reminds me of many people that I have spoken with who have been seriously hurt by Christians or who blame God for tragedy. After reading about his life in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy I believe that hurt and misplaced blame were a strong possibility for Nietzsche’s views. Nietzsche came from a strong Christian background and studied theology and philology (a discipline that analyzed classical and biblical texts) at the University of Bonn. At the University, he became an atheist. During his childhood, Nietzsche experienced the death of his father and of a younger brother when he was only four years old. Because his father was a minister, Nietzsche and his family had to move from the parsonage to another house. These types of experiences, while stressful for adults, are even more so on a child who is unable to articulate his or her feelings. Devastating events like these can affect a child in ways that are not realized until much later. Nietzsche also experienced poor health as a result of service in the Army and from a possible syphilitic infection, which later led to a complete mental breakdown about ten years before his death (Wicks). All of these life experiences caused Nietzsche to wonder how a good God can allow such terrible tragedy. Nietzsche did not receive the answers he needed from the church and then became disillusioned. Influenced by the Enlightenment and advances in science, such as Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, Nietzsche felt “’the loosing of the world from religious and quasi-religious understandings of itself, the dispelling of all closed world views, the breaking of all supernatural myths and sacred symbols.’ Slowly but surely, it dawned on men that they did not need God to explain, govern or justify certain areas of life” (Time). The disillusionment Nietzsche may have felt toward the church caused him to feel that he was being treated as a “slave.” As a result, he began to believe that humans could not experience true freedom unless God or the “myth” of God was dead.

Can men and women experience true freedom if God is dead? This depends on our view of God. Protestant theologian, Karl Barth, said that “God is a ‘wholly other’ being, whom man can only know by God's self-revelation in the person of Christ, as witnessed by Scripture. Any search for God that starts with human experience, is a vain quest that will discover only an idol, not the true God at all” (Time). In other words, if we base our perception of God on our experiences, whether positive or negative, we will not have a true picture of God. For example, if I, like Nietzsche, have had negative experiences, my view of God might be that God is cruel, sadistic and condemning. If I have had an easy life in which I have everything I want, I might view God as a “cosmic Santa Claus.” If my understanding of God comes from Scripture, I will believe bad things happen not because God is out to get us, but because we live in world cursed by sin. This curse was brought on by humanity’s decision to follow after the self. What humans should be freed from is not God, but their negative perceptions of God.

A world view based on Scripture, and belief in God, will affect one’s view of morality, truth and human nature. Because he was an atheist, Nietzsche viewed “Good” as “all that enhances the feeling of power, the Will to Power, and the power itself in man.” The “Bad” stemmed from all that was weak (Pojman, 188). He believed that “the weak and the failures shall perish. They ought even to be helped to perish” (Pojman, 189). Nietzsche despised Christianity because Christians had “practical sympathy and pity for all the failures and the weak,” which is more “harmful than any vice” (Pojman, 189). His view of morality was that there was no right or wrong since “life itself is violent, rapacious, exploitative and destructive” (Pojman, 188). This is certainly a dismal view of life.

To speak to those who share Nietzsche’s view of life, Christians must offer hope. In John 10: 10, Jesus said that he had come so that men and women could have abundant life. Our joy and hope in a real and personal God can be a witness to those who feel that their lives have no aim because of the accidental nature of life’s origin (Pojman, 188). We can offer this hope in how we live our lives, how we deal with crisis, through one on one communication and through prayer. As we speak with people on an individual level, we will avoid “pat” answers, as we genuinely search with them for answers.

In conclusion, though Nietzsche’s views have influenced Western culture, it is not beyond the church’s ability to offer hope. Depending on a Scriptural understanding of God, rather than upon an experiential understanding skewed by human nature, will help us reach people who believe that life has no purpose and that God is cruel and unloving. Through his writings, Nietzsche offers the church help in understanding what nonbelievers think so that we might reach them with the message of the gospel.

Sources

Matthew 5: 45, New International Version, (http://bible.cc/matthew/5-45.htm) accessed October 2008.

Naturalistic Genealogy: Slave Morality versus the Morality of Power,http://online.nnu.edu (accessed September, 2008).

Pojman, Louis P., Who Are We? Theories of Human Nature, (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.) 2006.

Toward a Hidden God, Time Magazine, April 8, 1966, http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,835309,00.html, accessed, October 2008.

Wicks, Robert, "Friedrich Nietzsche", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/nietzsche/.

Sociobiology and Altruism

Sociobiology is the application of evolutionary theory to social behavior (Holcomb). “Sociobiologists claim that many social behaviors have been shaped by natural selection for reproductive success, and they attempt to reconstruct the evolutionary histories of particular behaviors or behavioral strategies” (Holcomb).

The discipline was introduced by E. O. Wilson, who believes that the human mind is a biological instrument that has evolved by way of natural selection (Wilson, 2). As a result, our ability to make “esthetic judgments” and our religious beliefs evolve by the same process (Wilson, 2).

Critics of sociobiology contend that it explains the nature of animal behavior better than human nature. They say that sociobiology ignores the influence of art and culture on the mind and that there is little control over human behavior because human nature is genetically determined (Holcomb). There is merit in their complaints. From a Christian perspective, sociobiology falls short because it diminishes religion or humanity’s attempt to know God, as an “enabling mechanism for survival,” (Wilson, 3) and altruism, a cornerstone of the Christian faith, as nothing better than mixed motives (Wilson, 149). Wilson’s theory falls short in relation to altruistic acts as influenced by religious belief or otherwise.

“In evolutionary biology, an organism is said to behave altruistically when its behavior benefits other organisms, at a cost to itself” (Okasha). Altruistic behavior presents a problem for Social Darwinism and for sociobiology because both are founded on the principle that organisms (from this point instead of using the word “organism,” I will use the terms “human” or “people”) will act in ways that benefit themselves and their own chances of survival and reproduction (Okasha).

Wilson wrote that acts of altruism in nature are common. For example, birds who call out a warning to other birds of a nearby hawk are putting themselves in mortal danger for the benefit of the group (Wilson, 150 – 151). However, this act of what might be called “instinctual” altruism cannot be compared to an act of altruism on the human level.

Altruism from a human perspective involves moral choice. An example of this is when soldiers sacrifice themselves to save others. In the movie Flags of Our Fathers, which depicts the battle of Iwo Jima from the American perspective, a young medic leaps on top of a live grenade in order to save his patients. Wilson says that this behavior can be explained away by the response to the “excitement of battle” or giving into the “ultimate luxury of not giving a damn anymore” (150). But how could the “ultimate sacrifice” benefit the giver? In the case of the soldier, who is healthy, the giver is blown to bits while the injured stay alive. He or she must be considering something larger, something outside the self. Certainly, no one would choose to leave families and loved ones behind voluntarily; however, love for one’s country, one’s neighbor or a desire to protect one’s family could negate compulsion and therefore make the act truly altruistic.

In New York City a man left his two young children on the platform and dove onto the tracks to shield a man who, while having a seizure, had fallen onto the tracks. Both men survived, but what caused the father of two young children to do this? The New York Times article titled, "The Nation: Why Our Hero Leapt Onto the Tracks and We Might Not," gives several reasons. First, the author wrote that the man who dove onto the tracks, Mr. Autrey, “later chalked up his actions to a simple compulsion to help another in distress” (Buckley); second, Mr. Autrey was predisposed to quick thinking because of his military background; third, his spontaneous reaction was a result of either genetic disposition or childhood/cultural training; and fourth, because of his attachment to his own children, Mr. Autrey may already feel predisposed to act altruistically toward others. A sociology professor from Humboldt State University found from interviewing Holocaust rescuers and 911 responders that there is “no single factor that explains heroism” (Buckley).

People who have acted heroically often came from nurturing families and were “imbued with an ethic of caring, empathy and compassion” (Buckley). While this article recognizes biological factors behind altruism, most of the reasons cited are environmental in nature. Wilson recognizes this by saying that “human social evolution is obviously more cultural than genetic.” His point is, however, that “underlying emotion, powerfully manifested in virtually all human societies, is what is considered to evolve through genes” (Wilson, 153). In this case, Mr. Autrey’s acts were not moralistic, they were genetic. Where is the choice then? Why did not more people jump in front of the train?

Even though Wilson said that he feels optimistic about human altruism, I found that his response to Mother Teresa negative. He wrote: “Mother Theresa is an extraordinary person but it should not be forgotten that she is secure in the service of Christ and the knowledge of her Church’s immortality” (165). When he wrote that in 1978, Mother Theresa’s private writings had not yet been published as Come Be My Light. In that book, the saint of Calcutta writes about a longing for God that is “terribly painful” and about an ever-increasing darkness (Kolodiejchuk, 174). Her only desire was to “satiate the thirst of Jesus on the cross for love and souls (Kolodiejchuk, 41). Without regard for her comfort, Mother Theresa led a ministry that ministered to the downtrodden and oppressed. She entered places in which many Christians would not go. Her willingness to do this rather than follow the temptation to live behind the walls of a secure convent, show that her actions were altruistic. What Wilson is missing is the comfort and courage that belief in God and in eternal life can provide. If one is afraid of death, or anything else, one is unlikely to perform altruistic acts.

Because Wilson has an obvious disdain for religion, I cannot expect him to understand that when Christ truly comes into one’s life that person becomes a “new creation.” This newness does not happen all at once for most people, but happens over a period of time as the self is given over to God. As one gives his or her self to Christ, acts of altruism increase.

One of my favorite Christian books is The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom. In the book, we watch Corrie mature as a Christian in occupied Holland and in the horrors of Nazi Concentration camps. Her crime was hiding Jewish people from the Nazis. In one part of the book, Corrie is in solitary confinement worrying about the Jewish people who were hidden in the secret room during the Nazi raid that resulted in her imprisonment. A short time later she received a package from a sister. While looking at the package, Corrie noticed that her sister’s writing, which was usually straight and precise, was slanted upward pointing toward the stamp. Corrie lifted the stamp and saw these words: “All of the watches in your closet are safe.” At this point she begans to cry from joy. I can’t help but think that her resolve to put human lives over her own comfort was renewed. That is altruism.


Sources

Buckley, Cara, The Nation; Why Our Hero Leapt Onto the Tracks and We Might Not, The New York Times, January 7, 2007 http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html accessed September 27, 2008.

Flags of our Fathers, directed by Clint Eastwood, DreamWorks Home Entertainment, 2006, landing on Iwo Jima.

Holcomb, Harmon and Jason Byron, "Sociobiology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/sociobiology/.

Kolodiejchuk, Brian, M. C., editor, Mother Theresa: Come Be My Light, (New York: Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group), 2007.

Okasha, Samir, "Biological Altruism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/altruism-biological/

Ten Boom, Corrie, The Hiding Place, (United States: Bantam Books) 1971.

Wilson, E. O., On Human Nature (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press) 1978.

Rational Debate Helps the Church Reach the World

The Church must face an unpopular debate within itself and the world at large if it is to become a place where society will seek answers to serious spiritual questions. Debates about evolution and the value of humanity are constant issues in our time and the Church is failing to address these issues satisfactorily. If the Church expects to reach the lost and to enter serious dialogue with society about issues such as personhood and evolution, it must seriously consider the theory of evolution and arguments on dualism and materialism rather than engage in thoughtless, emotionally heated debate. In this paper I will briefly explore the theory of evolution, dualism and materialism and will then explain what positive and negative implications these ideas have on the Church and its view of human nature. I will also explore how the Church should interface with society on these matters.

In 1871 Charles Darwin wrote: “It is, therefore, highly probable that with mankind the intellectual faculties have been gradually perfected through natural selection …” (Stevenson, 164). According to Darwin, natural selection is the process of change and growth for humans and animals in relation to environment. “The lower animals … must have their bodily structure modified in order to survive under greatly changed conditions” (Stevenson, 163). The weak do not survive and the strong thrive, thus creating a stronger species as that species propagates (Pojman, 204-206). The theory of evolution as a scientific explanation for the origin of life branches into Social Darwinism, which essentially holds that “the strong and intelligent survive over the weak and stupid (and that) the infirm or stupid should be sterilized so that their genes are not passed on” (Pojman, 212). Darwin also recognized that compassion was a strong force and that altruism was naturally high toward those close to us. He said that it was humanity’s duty to expand its “circle of concern” to those outside of family and friends (Pojman, 219).

Though not as easily identified as Darwin’s theory, the idea of dualism is also an issue in the Church and society. There are many types of dualism, but because of space, I will simply write about the most common—dualistic interactionism. The term dualism, by itself, means that the body and the mind are separate. The body consists of all that is physical and occupies space. The mind consists of the non-physical—our soul, mind, emotions, consciousness—and does not take up space. These two entities, though separate and different, constantly interact and work together (Pojman, 226). French philosopher Rene Descartes reasoned that the soul could exist apart from the body because of the soul’s ability to think. Descartes wrote: “…(I)f I had merely ceased thinking, even if everything else I had ever imagined had been true, I should have had no reason to believe that I existed. From this I knew I was a substance whose whole essence of nature is simply to think, and which does not require any place, or depend on any material thing, in order to exist” (Stevenson, 86). Dualism holds that the mind can cause physical events and that the body can cause mental events (Pojman, 227).
Materialism is “the theory that matter and the law of physics constitute ultimate reality (Pojman, 228). In other words, everything is physical. There is no division between the mind/soul, and the body. All types of materialism—metaphysical, reductive, and eliminative—basically deny mental events. Beliefs, pains and desires merely happen on a physical level and can be described as brain activity (Pojman, 227). “The mind is simply a function of the body” (Pojman, 227). A division of materialists, called idealists, say that the body, or matter, is purely illusion. “Both idealism and materialism are monisms, (which reduce) all reality to one underlying substance” (Pojman, 227).

In March, 2009, the Vatican will host a conference on the theory of evolution. According to the article Vatican Defends Theory of Evolution, “a spokesman from the Vatican said the theories of evolution and the message of the Bible are not incompatible, and scientists, philosophers and Catholic and Protestant theologians will attend the discussion …” (Religion News). This is good news on the religion front because the Church has treated people who believe in evolution—whether they believe in theistic evolution or not—with utter contempt. I wonder what will be addressed at this conference. Will both sides be presented? It is not beyond my imagination to believe that God could have used evolutionary processes to create the world; however, if we accept evolution, we will have to guard against devaluing fellow human beings by classifying them as “strong” or “weak.” No one apart from God is truly strong, but in human terms it is easy to classify people. The Church will have to make sure that the results of the theory of Social Darwinism are rejected by helping the “weak” (humanly speaking) become part of the “strong.”

Devaluing people is at the crux of the debate of materialism and dualism as well. On the one hand, when Christians adopt strict dualism as their mantra, they devalue the physical and therefore forget that Jesus came to save the entire person. As Christ and the early Christians demonstrated, care for the physical body is just as important as care for the soul, since eternal life begins upon acceptance of Christ (Christian). Yes, one day our physical bodies will die, but they will also one day be resurrected. We are holistic beings (Christian). Because of dualistic interactionism, care for the physical body is essential. Since the mind can cause physical events and vice versa (Pojman, 227), it is necessary to care for the entire person for their spiritual well-being.
To reduce life to a completely physical entity, as materialism does, may lead one to believe that since we are only matter, what value is there to human beings? Those who follow a materialist mindset may struggle with issues about when life begins. They may ask, what is wrong with abortion if the fetus is a blob of cells (Bankard)? They may not think twice about euthanizing a terminally ill patient in order to end suffering.

A disturbing trend of devaluing people who have different opinions has gripped the Church. For this reason, Southern Baptists feel they can remove a magazine that features women clergy from their store shelves because it disagrees with their doctrine, or there may be underlying tension in a church body when groups of people with differing views of ministry and theology coexist. We see evidence of this trend in churches within the same town where believers ignore one another, or when two Christian people who used to get along visibly turn away from each other when out in public. I have witnessed all of this as a journalist who writes about religion and as a church member. My fear is that the Church will not allow itself to embrace those with whom we disagree. Embracing someone does not mean that we have to accept someone’s view; this means that we listen and try to understand life from someone else’s perspective. This act of love will break down barriers that are between Christians and between non-believers and Christians. It will open dialogue so that the Church can discuss issues like evolution, dualism and materialism. Through discussion and a deep commitment to love one another, the Church can develop rational positions in society and gain respect so that people will search for God once again through us.


Sources

Bankard, Joseph, Lecture on Dualism, accessed September, 2008.

Christian, Charles W., Practical Applications of a Holistic Anthropology, Or, What
Pastors Can Say at Hospitals and Funerals: A Paper Presented to the Annual Meeting
of the Wesleyan Theological Society, March 13 – 15, 2008,
(wesley.nnu.edu/wts/43_annual_meeting/papers/what_pastor_can_say_paper.pdf)
accessed, September, 2008.

Pojman, Louis P., Who Are We? Theories of Human Nature (New York: Oxford
University Press, Inc.) 2006.

Religion News: Vatican Defends Theory of Evolution:
http://www.norwichbulletin.com/lifestyles/spirituality/x993966708/Religion-News- Vatican-defends-theory-of-evolution, accessed September, 2008.

Stevenson, Leslie, editor, The Study of Human Nature: A Reader, Second Edition (New
York: Oxford University Press, Inc.) 2000.

A Call for Reexamination of Augustine’s Theology

The sinfulness of Augustine’s adolescence heavily influenced his view of human nature; therefore, the Church needs to reexamine its position on issues like human depravity and celibacy. In his book Confessions, Augustine wrote about his struggle with lust and his desire to sin for sin’s sake, as shown in the event of the pear tree. Because of these issues and because of the influence of his environment, Augustine concluded that he was depraved in nature. From this view of his own character, Augustine developed a theology of human nature that continues to influence the world today. In this paper I will examine first who Augustine was, briefly explore his view of human nature, discuss his youth, and show how first harsh and subsequent lack of discipline, added to the abuse his mother suffered, may have helped lead him down the road toward base adolescent behavior. Finally, I will explore how Augustine’s view of human nature has affected the Church and will argue that a better, more positive, theology is needed.

At the time that Augustine wrote Confessions he was the Bishop of Hippo. Born in North Africa in 354, Augustine lived until 430 C. E. and is known for merging Greek Philosophical traditions with the “Judeo-Christian religious and scriptural traditions” (Mendelson). Augustine was born into a household in which his mother Monica was a faithful Catholic and his father, Patricius, was not a believer until much later. During his youth, Augustine was schooled in the art of rhetoric and later became a renowned teacher of the subject. His book Confessions centers on his experiences as a young man before coming to faith and tells how he finally came to rest in God: “Thou dost so excite him that to praise Thee is his joy. For Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless till they rest in thee” (Sheed, 3).

Augustine viewed human nature as depraved and capable of doing nothing good. Anything good comes from and through God: “For my good deeds are Your act and Your gift, my ill deeds are my own faults and Your punishments” (Sheed, 175). He believed, like Plato, that the flesh is wicked (Sheed, 24). He also believed that humanity was only in God’s image once men and women underwent spiritual birth. He did not believe that humanity was created in God’s image at creation. Added to this view of depravity, Augustine believed that God has to “break into” a human’s life in order to save him or her from depravity and despair. An example of Augustine’s thinking is Plato’s analogy of a cave. Human beings are prisoners to the world system (symbolized by the cave) and God must “break” into the cave to save them and bring them into the light. Once they are free, humans are told to return to the cave in order to give other prisoners a way out (Bankard). In Plato’s metaphor, the prisoners resist being taken into the light. They are chosen by their deliverer and have no choice in the matter. This reflects Augustine’s view that humans do not have free will and are predestined either to salvation or damnation.

In Confessions Augustine writes about his youth and through his writings we can see how Augustine may have been primed by his surroundings to head down a path toward base behavior. As a child, Augustine was subject to harsh discipline and did not have a strong male role model to follow. His life was to be filled with study and he was not allowed to play: “But in spite of my terrors I still did wrong, by writing or reading or studying less than my set tasks. It was not, Lord that I lacked mind or memory … but the one thing I reveled in was play; and for this I was punished by men who after all were doing exactly the same things themselves” (10). Like his teachers, Augustine’s father did not set a good example. Monica, his mother, was a victim of spousal abuse: “For she bore his acts of unfaithfulness quietly … he had a very hot temper…” (Sheed, 162). Augustine wrote that his mother told her friends when they complained about their own abusive husbands, that “from the day they heard the matrimonial contract read to them they should regard it as an instrument by which they became servants; and from that time they should be mindful of their condition and not set themselves up against their masters” (Sheed, 162).

In her book Secret Survivors, E. Sue Blume wrote that people who have survived abuse are often compelled to become sexually involved in order to receive love (Bryannon). In Confessions, Augustine writes that his “one delight was to love and to be loved” and that “the muddy concupiscence of the flesh and the hot imagination of puberty steamed up to becloud and darken my heart so that I could not distinguish … love from … lust” (Sheed, 23). Augustine reports that his father did not care about his sexual practices or his relationship with God as long as he “grew in eloquence” (Sheed, 25). Because his family lacked the financial resources to send him to school one year, Augustine spent that year at home. During that year he robbed a pear tree with a group of friends and threw the pears to the hogs. “The malice of the act was base and I loved it,” he wrote (Sheed, 27). Later on after his conversion, Augustine became celibate and tried to free himself from the demands of his body in pursuit of spirituality and even saw sexual relations as evil. This is also common among people who have suffered abuse (Bryannon).

It is clear from reading about Augustine’s life that his theology is heavily influenced by the negative experiences of his childhood and adolescence. His writings have influenced the Church for centuries. Because of his influence, a large portion of the Church believes that humans are depraved and that they are predestined either for heaven or hell. Another portion of the Church believes that higher spirituality is attained through celibacy. I am not saying that the latter is a completely negative because the apostle Paul wrote about the advantages of celibacy in Scripture. However, the regard to celibacy as a higher spiritual goal has led to the neglect of teaching about joyful sexual behavior within the bonds of marriage to our young people because deep within we believe that sexual behavior is embarrassing and crude. Because of these results, it is my suggestion that the Church reexamine some of its positions. This is not to say that we should forget Augustine’s writings completely, because in doing so we would throw out his positive contributions. However, if one’s theological viewpoints are based on abnormal behavior, or if one’s theological influence is causing negative or sinful behavior in others we should reexamine our position.

In light of this, the Church should examine and consider Eastern Orthodox positions on Scripture like John Wesley did. The Church should emphasize the role of free will and should concentrate on practices for spiritual formation. Before it can do this, however, our concept of human nature should emphasize that humanity is created in the image of God and that what God created is good. Christ’s death and resurrection gives humans hope and the power to become more God like in our behavior. Through this, we will then be able to offer a salvation and spiritual experience that humanity craves.


Sources

Bankard, Joseph, Lecture on Augustine. Accessed during the week of September 7, 2008.

Bryannon, Laura, Dancing in the Shadows,
(http://homestar.org/bryannan/checklst.html), accessed Sept. 13, 2008.

Mendelson, Michael, "Saint Augustine", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall
2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL =
.

Sheed, F. J. Translator, Confessions (Indianapolis, Indiana: Hacket Publishing Company,
Inc.) 1993).

Original sin and human nature

The fall of humanity and the beginning of original sin is told in metaphorical form in Genesis 1 – 3 of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. The story of the first human couple shows the love that God has for humanity and helps us understand ourselves as we are today. By studying the account in Genesis we see what original sin is and how it started. We see the concept of free will and choices can either result positively or negatively. As we understand the concept of original sin and free will in the Biblical sense this leads to the practice of spiritual disciplines which help us keep our corrupted nature under control. The disciplines also provide an avenue through which God can become directly involved in our lives, as God was in the act of creation, to help reshape us.

The first human couple came into existence in a lush, primordial garden full of delicious food and friendly animals. They were created by a loving God who wanted companionship. The one stipulation for continuing in this primordial bliss was that the couple refrain from eating the fruit from one tree—the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They could eat from any tree, except this one, on pain of death. Deceived by a serpent, the couple ate the fruit and was condemned forever. They were cast out of the Garden and made to live a life of hard physical labor and painful childbirth. Before this, their nature was perfect in innocence. But now, with the knowledge of good and evil, the couple and all of their descendents would struggle with a corrupt nature. As their descendents gave into that nature they committed murder, adultery, theft and other crimes against humanity. They also struggled to remember the loving Creator, who continuously sought companionship with the created.

The account of creation as written in Genesis 1 and 2 is not to be taken literally in light of scientific evidence. The writers of Genesis 1 and 2 write about a loving God who carefully fashioned the world through the spoken word. The ancient writers do not give great detail because they did not witness the creation firsthand; however, the underlying foundation is that God created everything and that God thought everything was good. This is emphasized by repetitive use of the phrase “God saw that it was good.” The writers of Genesis use metaphorical language, probably derived from oral tradition, which is stories, poems, memories that were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, to communicate important truths in a memorable way (Tullock, 6). “Oral law (which “carried equal weight with the written law”) consisted of traditional interpretations which had been handed down from teacher to pupil. In the course of the passing on of the tradition, further explanations of basic principles were added” (Elwell).

The concept of original sin comes from the philosopher and theologian Augustine who believed that original sin was not a psychological state, but a metaphysical one. “Man’s fall was a fall in the order of ‘being.’ Once having fallen, therefore, (humans) cannot by (his or her) own efforts regain his (or her) former status in being (Harvey, 222). As a result, Augustine believed that Adam’s sin corrupted the entire human race. By this, humans not only “inherit a tendency to sin but that he (or she) inherits guilt” (Harvey, 222). Therefore, original sin is passed down as a spiritual state from generation to generation, not a genetic state.

An interesting feature about the creation narrative that I hadn’t noticed before is how quickly corruption takes hold in the first couple. Could it be that humankind’s nature was flawed before they decided to disobey God’s command?

The “flaw” is the presence of free will. The tree in the middle of the Garden symbolizes humanity’s choice, to follow God’s commands or to do what they want. “The angels and Adam were created with a will that permitted a free option between good and evil. They chose the latter and thereby limited the choice of all succeeding human beings. When the will ceases to adhere to what is above itself, its source (God), and turns to what is lower (itself or created objects), it becomes evil, not because it is itself evil but because of the improper valuing of things” (Pojman, 74). God’s choice to create humanity with free will was not a flaw. It was an act of love by a Creator who wanted voluntary allegiance. Unfortunately, the consequences of disobedience far outweigh any temporary pleasure derived from the initial act.

The metaphor of Genesis 1 – 3 shows us that human nature was first made in the image of God (imago dei). Humans have the “breath of life infused by God … Being made in God’s image, humanity has intrinsic worth. Human beings alone, among all of God’s creation, have the breath of God blown into their nostrils” (Pojman, 5, 6). Evil came when the first couple exercised their free will poorly, “the falling away from the unchangeable good of a being made good but changeable” (Pojman, 74).

The concept of original sin is still strong even though the story is metaphorical. First of all, the concept of God as creator is seen in other oral traditions outside of Judaism and Christianity. Creation itself also displays that there has to be a mastermind behind the design because of the intricate detail in every creature. This detail shows that the world is not here by accident and if creation itself proves God’s existence, then the concepts in the Bible have merit. Human nature itself shows that the species is capable of great good and great evil. The more we give into either side, the easier it becomes to perform either good or evil. Consequences then follow as proof. Every act, whether good or evil has positive or negative consequences for those committing the act or for those on the receiving end. The story of the first couple shows us that choices matter.

The concept of original sin helps us understand ourselves and also points to a loving, powerful God who will help human beings realize their potential as created in God’s image. Understanding that our nature is corrupted is helpful in spiritual formation. To help keep our corrupted nature under control and to reshape it, measures must be taken. These measures include practicing spiritual disciplines such as confession, fasting, prayer, etc. We have a loving God who wants an intimate relationship with the created. God is there to aid us in our efforts to practice goodness and morality; God is there breathing new life into us as God did to the first man. We do not have to depend on ourselves to try to be good alone. God can help us reshape our desires so that we can do the right things (Bankard) and not further the corruption caused by sin.


Sources

Bankard, Joseph Supplemental Lecture on Aristotle.

Berlin, Adele, and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Study Bible. New York: Oxford
University Press, Inc., 1999.

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Baker encyclopedia of the Bible. Map on lining
papers. (2094). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

Harvey, Van A., A Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: Touchstone) 1992.

Tullock, John H., The Old Testament Story, Second Edition (Englewood Cliffs, New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.) 1987.

Aristotle and Christian Education

Aristotle’s theories on the telos, or end, of humanity and on acquiring the virtues should play a major role in modern Christian education. In this paper I will show how Aristotle’s view of human nature works with Christian teachings, how his writings on the virtues are fitting in a Sunday school environment, and how his writings are useful in shaping our students.

Three hundred to four hundred years before the first Christian missionaries began telling the “good news,” Aristotle and his students were contemplating human nature. Human nature, Aristotle concluded, makes humans distinct from animals and plant life in their ability to make deliberate choices and to inquire theoretically (Runes). The telos of all humans then is to reason and to contemplate the truth (Runes). From the Christian perspective, Jesus is the truth, or the fulfillment of all truth. Our primary task as Christians is to contemplate the truth so that we can give reasonable answers about what we believe. First Peter 3: 14 – 16 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have …” (Bible Gateway). The main task for Sunday school teachers, therefore, is to not only provide Biblical instruction, but to develop their students so that they will be prepared to give an intelligible answer for what they believe rather than just giving “pat” answers such as “the Bible says so.”

As a Sunday school teacher, I have heard several complaints about how boring Sunday school is from people who have not attended church very much. Because I grew up in the church and enjoyed Sunday school, I wondered how this could be and began to think about how the adult Sunday school classes were taught in several of the churches that I have attended. The successful ones were full of discussion where not everyone agreed. The teacher, or someone in the class, was able to pull all of the arguments together and weigh them against each other and against Biblical truth. People responded well to the challenge of thinking and coming together in making reasonable decisions about their faith. The less successful classes, the ones where I can honestly look back and say that I was bored, depended heavily on preset curriculum. The members of the class tended to agree on everything that was presented and class commentary revolved around regurgitating what was presented in the curriculum. Each type of class has its place in the schema of Christian education because there are those who only want to reconfirm what they already believe. However, the class filled with rational discussion will probably appeal to those who are trying to apply their faith to the world in which they live. Aristotle’s writings can be used in this setting.

Because of a Christian’s desire to be holy before God, application of Christian faith fits with Aristotle’s exploration of the virtues. Aristotle’s definition of virtue is “wider than moral virtue” and so is that of Scripture (Irwin, 353). A virtuous person, to Aristotle, would show excellence in his or her craft (Irwin, 353). In Colossians 3:23, Paul encourages Christians to “do everything with all of your hearts as working for the Lord and not for (people)” (Bible Gateway). This Scripture and thoughts from “Nicomachean Ethics” can be used to encourage our people to perform their work with excellence so that they can show the love of Christ. Small group discussion could follow concerning how each person could show Christ’s love relative to the work they do. Class members could pray for each other on these matters. A class could also discuss moral issues that arise in the workplace and how they might address those issues in a virtuous way.

“(Aristotle) distinguishes being good at something from being a good person; the good person is the person who has the virtues aiming at fine and right action” (Irwin, 353). In reference to the virtue of generosity, Aristotle said that the virtuous person will “give to the right people, the right amounts, at the right time” (Irwin, 50). To perform any virtue in the right amounts at the right time is characteristic of a virtuous person; it should also be characteristic of a Christian. Christians are called to “be holy as God is holy” (Leviticus 11: 44) and Christian virtue is considered a part of holiness. In his paper on Christian Virtue: John Wesley and the Alexandrian Tradition, David Bundy defines Christian virtue as “that structure of desirable behavioral patterns developed to be congruent with the professed religious values … virtue is not contributory to, but is reflective of human divinisation (the process of becoming like God in total experience) or sanctification (the process of becoming conformed to God in this life)” (Bundy, 1).

Thus, contemplation and practice of the virtues as defined by Aristotle can be part of our curriculum for a vital Sunday school.

In the Sunday school environment, it is not enough to simply read the Scripture about being a “cheerful giver” in 2 Corinthians 9:7, for example, accept it and move to the next passage, the teacher must encourage the class to think rationally about what a “cheerful giver” is and how a cheerful giver gives so that the class can begin practicing that virtue effectively. The section on generosity in Nicomachean Ethics gives a clear outline of what a generous person is. Questions could be tailored in the Socratic sense in order to help students arrive at Biblical conclusions. Scriptures such as the story of Jesus and the widow who gave two mites in the Temple and the aforementioned verse about cheerful giving, fit well with Aristotle’s theme of generosity.
In contemplating the virtues, Sunday school classes must also measure virtue against Scripture by asking questions about what God or Jesus is like and drawing conclusions from their observations. Many Christians might hesitate at the thought of using a Greek philosopher who did not know Christ as a reference in the classroom, but Catholic theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas thought that Aristotle’s writings were useful for Christian education. Aquinas reasoned that “something could be learned from any author, if only mistakes to be avoided” (McInerny). Fortunately, Aristotle’s writings are not full of mistakes from a Christian viewpoint. They are full of useful instruction and methods for teaching.

Emphasis on practicing the virtues as Aristotle understood them is a much needed ingredient in our Sunday schools today. Contemplation of the virtues must be weighed against Scripture and their practice in daily life should be encouraged. Discussion about the virtues that is based on real life experience will help shape our students into people who follow Christ effectively and will help prepare students to give reasonable answers about what they believe. Nicomachean Ethics can be used as a guide in our discussions because of its compatibility with Christian virtue as found in Scripture.


Sources

BibleGateway.com, keyword search “answer,” http://www.biblegateway.com (accessed Aug. 30, 2008).

Bundy, David, “Christian Virtue: John Wesley and the Alexandrian Tradition,” http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/theojrnl/26-30/26-5.htm (accessed, Aug. 30, 2008).

Irwin, Terence, translator. Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, Second Edition. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1999

McInerny, Ralph, O'Callaghan, John, "Saint Thomas Aquinas," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/aquinas/ (accessed, Aug. 30, 2008).

Runes, Dagobert D., ed. Dictionary of Philosophy: Ancient, Medieval, Modern.
http://www.ditext.com/runes/a.html, 1942 (accessed Aug. 30, 2008).

A disagreement with Plato's view of 'a priori' morality

Plato’s theory of a priori knowledge is different from Paul’s view that God’s law is written on the hearts of people. Plato’s theory rests on the fact that people’s souls are reincarnated into different bodies with prior knowledge that must be awakened in order for recollection to occur. Paul’s view, on the other hand, is that moral law is written on people’s hearts. Humans are awakened to that law as they “use their faculties correctly” (Pojman, 44), or as they follow their consciences. Rene Descartes referred to this as the “natural light of reason.” As people follow what they innately know to be correct, they become more moral. Perhaps this light of reason will eventually lead human beings into a relationship with God as they walk in the light that they are given.

Soren Kierkegaard said that humans “have innate knowledge of God’s existence, free will and immortality” (Pojman, 44-45). One can see this innate knowledge of free will in the behavior of a two year old as he or she struggles against authority to get his or her own way. The innate knowledge of God’s existence is also demonstrated in the openness of a child’s heart to God’s love as it is made known to them. An innate knowledge of immortality is evident in the hopes expressed when a loved one dies. “He/She’s in a better place,” people will often say.

I find it difficult to believe Plato’s theory based on the experience in geometry with Menos’ uneducated slave. Just because a person is uneducated does not mean that he or she is incapable of grasping a concept when guided by a series of questions. In this case Menos and Plato (Socrates) are assuming that the slave has no intelligence because he was uneducated. They assumed that his intelligence had to come from something obscure like a prior life. Plato’s theory assumes that human beings are not equipped with distinct gifts and natural intelligence. This against the Biblical view of human nature, that humans were created in the image of God intelligently, morally and spiritually. Because of this, humans are able to reason, to worship and to choose between right and wrong.

If humans have God’s law written on their hearts, then they would have a priori morality. Because Paul said in Romans 2 that even Gentiles had a law written on their hearts, every human being would possess a priori morality. This would mean, as Professor Bankard said in reaction to my CAP paper, that every human has the ability to act in a moral manner. By choosing or not choosing to do so, human beings display free will. Plato’s theory makes it sound like human beings have no free will. They can possess only that to which they are awakened. This, then, puts the responsibility of morality outside of free will. We can easily put the blame for our actions on someone else like a parent, a teacher or even Satan.

Living a life of virtue

By living a life of virtue, we are living a life for others. This does not mean that we live our life for the approval of others but for their welfare. In "The Hiding Place" Corrie ten Boom and her family were placed in a German concentration camp for hiding Jewish people. Corrie's account shows the spiritual growth she experienced while in the camp through the example of her sister Betsy. Though frail, Betsy was happy and tried to help others and love God in the midst of horror. After Betsy died, Corrie was released and traveled the world telling others about Jesus. She had some hurdles to cross in her own experience as she sought to forgive and to help others, but the Lord truly blessed her for living a virtuous life. Do you think the Lord also blesses non-believers when they seek to live a virtuous life?

The prophets and morality

God is constantly trying to restore relationship with humankind and the prophets were another attempt. The priestly system was not working; worship and sacrifice were not drawing the Israelites hearts to God as was originally intended. Instead they practiced the ritual in order to assuage guilt over immoral behavior. The prophets were needed to try to bring Israel back on track; they became God’s spokespeople. “Here for the first time ritual takes second place to the moral law” because the ritual, which was supposed to help shape community morality was incomplete (Pojman).

Moral failure is breaking covenant with God (Pojman) and the Israelites were guilty of this. Because of their moral failure, the nations around them also suffered from moral failure. Israel’s job was to be a light to the nations around them, that is why they were placed in the midst of two major trade routes that linked the east and the west (“That the World May Know” video series). This is because God loves all of humanity and wanted to use Israel to draw the nations into relationship. The prophets recognized God “as the father of all humanity, not just the Jews, the implication being that we are all brothers and sisters of one another” (Pojman).

Prophets are needed in the world today, but I am not sure that the American church as it stands right now is ready to take this role. From what I have seen there is a lot of good, but there is also immorality. People come to church on Sundays, but live as they want throughout the week. They have their careers and allow themselves to be shaped by their careers rather than allowing their faith to help them shape what they do (Bankard lecture on Aristotle). In many churches there also seems to be a lack of concern for the lost. Many churches seem to be inwardly focused and would rather concentrate on what their church building looks like (beyond the functional) rather than reach out to the surrounding neighborhood. They are comfortable in the fact that their eternal future is secure. Some of our leaders seem to be more concerned about hurting feelings rather than doing what is needed and right. Just like “oppression and violence (were) destroying the people” in the Old Testament prophet’s day, the things that I mentioned above are destroying churches in America (Pojman).

Humans were created in the image of God, but because of the Fall our basic nature was corrupted (Pojman). Because of this we are in need of a Savior. We also need a loving prophetic community to help keep us on track. We need mentors who will help us form spiritually and we need to practice spiritual disciplines. The disciplines help us “reshape our desires” so that we want to do what God wants (Bankard lecture on Aristotle). We need to embrace Christ’s teachings and let them become part of us through practice, mentoring and discipline.

Augustine and "depravity"

Augustine views human nature as depraved and this affects his attitude toward his sins and his natural development as a human. Because of his view of human nature, he equates the foolishness of childhood with sin and depravity. Using a quote from Job, he equates original sin found in an infant with known transgressions of the law of God: “Who shall remind me of the sins of my infancy: for in Thy sight there is none pure from sin, not even the infant whose life is but a day upon the earth?” by comparing an infant’s squalling for its mother’s milk to adult gluttony. He qualifies this by saying that no one holds an infant responsible because he or she will grow out of this behavior. “As we grow older we root out such ways and cast them from us … for no man engaged in removing evil would knowingly cast out what is good” But comparing the acts of an infant with an adult is, in my opinion, overdramatic.

Indeed, anyone who raises a two-year old finds the carnal nature alive and well; however, this view of ultimate depravity makes me wonder why Augustine bemoans the sins of his youth. If we are completely depraved then we will sin and sin gloriously. We cannot help it. If that is our nature why worry about it? Is God fair in expecting us to be good if we are depraved by nature?

Infants who seem self-absorbed and carnal, are really subject to the inbred will to survive. As we grow as humans this inbred will must be shaped into a will to do what is right rather than always looking after self. A human becomes accountable once he or she realizes the difference between right and wrong. Augustine does not seem to distinguish the difference because he states that his immoral acts continue through his childhood. As he grows we see childhood foolishness equated with sin. This is evidenced by his unwillingness to listen to his elders in school because he wanted to play: “But You, Lord, by Whom the very hairs of our head are numbered, used for my good the error of those who urged me to study; but my own error, in that I had no will to learn you used for my punishment—a punishment richly deserved by one so small a boy and so great a sinner”

I guess I have trouble with this because I am a parent who really tries to evaluate the motive behind my child’s behavior. If it is a first time offense then the disciplinary action and my opinion of my child is not as severe as it would be with a second offense. Augustine does not seem to factor in maturity or growth in grace.

Wednesday

Is humanity worthless?


"You do not belong to yourselves, because you were bought with a price; therefore, honor God with your body."
I Cor. 16: 19b - 20.

I grew up in the church and I can't tell you how many times I have heard that people are worthless in comparison to God. Maybe that is true to a certain extent. In comparison to God's holiness we are not holy, that's for sure. In comparison to God, human beings are nothing. Were we there when God created the world? Do we have control over the tides and the phases of the moon? But, because of our sinful nature, humans have great potential to commit evil acts should we let the sinful nature go unchecked.

What I don't like, however, is when we refer to humans as worthless without the above qualification. Human beings are not worthless. Scripture says that we were "bought at a price." Would anyone in his or her right mind go out and purchase something that was worthless? Every object we buy at the store has some worth to the buyer, otherwise we would not purchase it. For example, I might go to the store and purchase a piece of costume jewelry. The jewelry itself does not have much worth, but I am glad that I bought it, especially if it goes with the clothing with which I wanted to wear the jewelry.

Did Jesus think we were worthless when he hung on the cross in sheer agony?

As I have thought about this, I realized that there is a big difference between recognizing that I have a sinful nature and in seeing myself as worthless. The word worthless is very strong and it is no wonder many Christian people suffer from self-esteem issues. There are several parables in the gospels that illustrate the way God feels about humanity. Luke 15 has several: the lost sheep (verses 1 -7); the woman who lost a coin (vv. 8 - 10) and the parable of the Lost Son (vv. 11 - 32). All of these parables illustrate how God looks for us when we are lost and I'm sure he still pursues us like this once we are found. Does that sound like we are worthless?

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only (or only begotten) Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3: 16 - 17 (NIV).

Thursday

Building a church website




Here is an article that give some basic information about putting together a website for your church, cheaply and painlessly:

Building a church website


Monday

Could the Church wipe out poverty?

"Happy are those who consider the poor; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble." Psalm 41:1

When I was in college I majored in Sociology and Youth Ministries because I wanted to save the world. Shortly before graduating, I realized that social programs do not help people who do not want to change. I also learned that people often fall prey to circumstances beyond their control and suffer grievously despite any help they receive.

I became disillusioned and forgot about working in the realm of social work. I told myself, "social programs do not help people. Only Jesus can help people." Because of this, I put my full effort into the church and later changed my previous thinking to, "social programs do help people, but only Jesus can meet the deep needs of people."

The latter is true. I have found that issues are not black and white, like I once thought they were.

I recently attended the "Bridges out of Poverty" seminar hosted by the Department of Social Services. The content of this seminar, and of a book I am reading called "What Every Church Member Should Know about Poverty" by Bill Ehlig and Ruby K. Payne, Ph.D., have opened my eyes to some of the prejudices I have felt about the poor. These resources have helped me view life from a different perspective.

Social programs are necessary to reach people. As James said, faith without works is dead. However, the problem comes when we, as Christians, think that social programs are the crux of our faith. They are not. Jesus, and his sacrifice, is what our faith is founded upon. Social programs should naturally flow from our churches because of our gratefulness to God for what he has done, and because of our desire to share God's love with other people.

From this perspective, I wonder what would happen if churches forgot their doctrinal differences and united with each other and with various programs in our community in an effort to help? The church is already helping in many ways, but what if the effort were concerted? Could we wipe out poverty in Otero County with God's help? Are all things possible with God? I think that God will bless us if we try to find out.

China and the Olympics

As a kid I remember the years that America spent preparing for the Olympic Games. I remember the slogan "Proud sponsor of the (year) U. S. Olympic Games." I also remember watching the games on television and talking about favorite athletes with my friends in the church youth group.

The fact that I could go to church during that time was taken for granted. Christians in China aren't so fortunate, however.

In June 2008 Christian Solidarity Worldwide and China Aid published a report entitled "China: Persecution of Protestant Christians in the Approach to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games." Apparently, the Communist Chinese government is cleaning house before the Olympic Games by imprisoning undesirable people. Undesirables in China include Christians, especially targeted are leaders in the house churches that have revolutionized the Christian movement. The report says that 415 house church leaders were arrested in 2007.

There is no way to accurately measure how many Christians there are in China. Internal sources say that there are 130 million Christians. This number includes 20 million Catholics. Most of these Christians choose to worship in unregistered house churches because the churches sanctioned by the state are highly regulated. The price is high though. The report says that "those belonging to unregistered, and therefore illegal, groups can face many difficulties, including being harassed, humiliated, fined, tortured, imprisoned and subjected to forced labour. Physical assault has left Christians injured, hospitalized and disabled ... members of unregistered churches come under particular attack when they are accused of being part of a cult. As their faith is not recognized as belonging to an official religion, house churches can be classified as cults ... and be subjected to harsh penalties" (3).

Nice, huh? My question is, why is the U.S. still participating in the Olympics? The recent Chinese 'intervention' in Tibet and the continued persecution of Christians is only the latest in a long history of offenses by the government that brought us the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. It is no secret that China is guilty of horrendous violations of human rights. Their policies will not change if we simply ignore them.

China isn't the only nation to persecute those who believe in Christ. Release International, the voice of the persecuted church, said that "according to the World Evangelical Alliance, over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith." Release International defines Christian persecution as "a situation where Christians are repetitively, persistently and systematically inflicted with grave or serious suffering or harm and deprived of (or significantly threatened with deprival of) their basic human rights because of a difference that comes from being a Christian that the persecutor will not tolerate." This is much more serious than what many American Christians call persecution, for example being made fun of or disagreed with.

Let's remember our brothers and sisters throughout the world in prayer with special attention to China as the Olympics draw near.


Sources
http://www.releaseinternational.org/pages/find-out-more/christian-persecution-faqs.php

For information on the report: http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=press&id=739

Friday

The Church needs to turn things around

As I was growing up during the seventies and eighties it was not beyond my vocabulary to refer to homosexuals in a negative light. At that time the negative view was in the culture around me. Though I grew up in the church this negative attitude was not actively promoted by my church; we just didn't talk about it. The attitude mostly came from friends and family members.

As I was growing up, there was no expressed outrage over homosexuality. It was more like an attitude that they were "oddities" or "subhuman." They lived in San Francisco or Hollywood.

After I went to work for a leading Christian organization, I began to witness and partake in the outrage that Christians felt over the issues of equal rights for homosexuals and gay marriage. "Marriage ordained by God is between a man and a woman," was the mantra.

While I still agree with the mantra; I do not agree with the outrage. After all, homosexuals are people created by God. In fact, to even label people with this term alienates them and makes them look less than human. I think that nowadays many Christians would agree with me on that.

While researching the Senate Bill 200 issue for Faith & Church, I came across an interview with Jonathan Rauch done by David Masci, senior research fellow of Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Rauch is a columnist for The National Journal and wrote a book called "Gay Marriage: Why It is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good For America," and his interview gave me some insight into the conflict between Christians and gays.

Rauch said that gays wanted to marry because like straight people it is difficult to live as an unmarried person. He said that they were asking to be part of the social contract--to be able to care for one another so that society doesn't have to. He also asked why gays were the only group in America that had to follow biblical law. This is where the interview became telling. He said, "If you do biblical marriage, then you're talking about polygamy. It's there in black-and-white. Or, you're talking about, for heaven's sake, no divorce. Jesus himself had nothing to say about homosexuality, but he's very clear on divorce. You can't do it. And what I don't understand is why gay people are the only people in America who have to follow biblical law. I don't think that's fair. We could also have other debates about what the Bible does and doesn't mean, but I think what it boils down to is that gay people should deal with the same standards as straight people. And when straight people start upholding biblical law in civic culture, then maybe gay people should consider it, but not until then."

Rauch is right. We could debate what the Bible does and doesn't mean. Just last Sunday in my discussion group at church, we discussed why God hates divorce. It's not that God prohibits divorce, it's that God hates the things that cause divorce. Jesus said that the reason divorce was allowed was because of hardheartedness (Matt. 19). From the beginning, men and women were supposed to stay together in a loving relationship of mutual respect. Divorce happens because people are basically mean to each other (Dallas Willard). All Rauch is saying that since religious people can't get it right the nation should give gay people a chance.

We could also debate polygamy, but that is beside the point. It's a shame that Christian marriages (or non-marriages as the case may be) are the laughing stock of the nation. What is wrong with us? Jesus said that everyone would know that we are disciples by the way we love each other. Why don't our relationships and marriages reflect that? Why do gay people and straight people alike label Christians as homophobes and hatemongers?

Something is wrong. The Church needs to turn things around.

Source: http://pewforum.org/events/?EventID=179

http://www.biblegateway.com/

Why I like the Evangelical Manifesto

On May 7, evangelical leaders from several organizations signed what has been called An Evangelical Manifesto. This document was written by the Evangelical Manifesto Steering Committee and seeks to delineate evangelical identity and public commitment. What I like is that it moves evangelicals away from the fanaticism of both the far right and the far left and puts us on middle ground.

The word evangelical means good news, yet today, many do not see evangelicals as bearers of good news. They see us as people who stand against this and that. They see us as picky; they plainly see that we don't deal with real issues. For example, I read a news story today that was about Christians calling for the boycott of Starbucks because of a mermaid logo on its cups. Mark Dice, leader of a group called The Resistance, said that the logo "has a naked woman on it with her legs spread like a prostitute." Hmmm...the woman is a mermaid and has no legs. The modern version of the logo has the mermaid's breasts covered by her hair. The 1971 version showed her nipples. Which one is more decent?

As a side note, I'd say we church people had better start taking care of our own problems first before picking on Starbucks--a company that has not declared itself to be Christian.

The statement I really like in the Manifesto states that "Just as Jesus did, Evangelicals sometimes have to make strong judgments about what is false, unjust and evil. But first and foremost we Evangelicals are for Someone and for something rather than against anyone or anything. The Gospel of Jesus is the Good News of welcome, forgiveness, grace and liberation from law and legalism. It is a colossal Yes to life and human aspirations and an emphatic No only to what contradicts our true destiny as human beings made in the image of God." Like I said above evangelicals are seen as negative and condemning. This statement from the Manifesto tells me what I am all about. Life! Abundant life and freedom from sin. Now that is something I want to share with others.

Another thing I like is the call to a "civil public square." This is a "vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too." At this point, some may accuse me (and the writers of the Manifesto) as believing that pluralism is utopia. That is not so. Pluralism is reality in our culture. It is not a utopian condition but it is the condition. Who am I to rant and rave about it? I want to be able to engage people in intelligent conversation about faith and hope and life while at the same time respecting their right to disagree with me. Isn't this what God did in the Garden of Eden? He put the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the garden and gave humans a choice to worship or to go their own way. That must be our way too if we expect to win the world through love.

Some Christians see the Manifesto as exclusive and fear that the timing of the document will cost millions of evangelical votes in the upcoming election. These people say that those who are pro-life are excluded especially. From reading the Manifesto I cannot see why they think this way. On page 18 it says: "we repudiate all who believe that different values are simply relative to different cultures, and who therefore refuse to allow anyone to judge anyone else or any other culture. More tolerant sounding at first, this position leads directly to evils of complacency; for in a world of such evils as genocide, slavery, female oppression and assaults on the unborn, there are rights that require defending, evils that must be resisted, and interventions into the affairs of others that are morally justifiable."

"We do not claim that the Evangelical principle--to define our faith and our life by the Good News of Jesus--is unique to us," the Manifesto says. "Our purpose is not to attack or to exclude but to remind and reaffirm and so to rally and to reform. For us it is the defining imperative and supreme goal of all who would follow the way of Jesus." This is not a statement of "in your face" Christianity; it suggests a lifestyle, one in which my life, through the power of Christ, makes a difference in the world around me. Now that is something I can live by.

Starbucks
http://www.startribune.com/nation/18969709.html?location_refer=$sectionName

Evangelical Manifesto
http://www.evangelicalmanifesto.com

Thursday

Opening Pandora's Box: Clergy Porn Addiction. Is help available?

My first exposure to the problem of clergy and pornography came at a ministers and wives retreat a few years ago. After squaring with the hotel where we stayed, our denominational leader told me and my husband that the clerk made an interesting comment about other pastor groups that came to the hotel. He said that whenever a religious group came in they had several requests for adult movies. The clerk was surprised (and glad) that none of our pastors had requested any. I was a little shocked after hearing this, but the magnitude of the problem didn't really hit me until I took a course on Spirituality and Ministry in my master's program.

I decided to write about this because the subject came up again a few days ago in a conversation. It seems like these days I talk to a lot of people who don't go to church for some reason or another, but want to talk about the church. Most of these people have been hurt by the church in some way. In this conversation some of the recent clergy scandals, like Ted Haggarty, came up. This person, and other people with whom I have spoken, want to know why these things happen.

My reply? "Pastor's are human beings just like us."

"Yeah," said my friend, "but we expect them to live a little above us."

Isn't this what people expect anyway when someone announces that they are choosing to live by a certain religion? This happens especially to Christians, I've noticed. The bar is set particularly high for clergy.

The discussion continued along the same vein of Ted Haggarty's scandal and then it went to clergy pornography use in general. "That's a big problem," I said. "We just talked about in in my master's course."

My friend made a mildly sarcastic remark about it being no big deal. "All you have to do is pray for two weeks and you are healed," he dryly noted. I nodded. Oftentimes we say: "Just pray, you'll be fine."

Now I'm not knocking prayer. God's power is exercised through prayer. What I am against, however, is our impatience. Like my friend said, we often think that two weeks of prayer will do it. I'm sorry to say it, but this thinking at best is a farce. Anyone who is involved in sexual sin has some deep issues that need to be resolved. Counseling and a clear accountability system are needed. And freedom is possible, it just takes work.

I can't pretend to be an expert on the matter of clergy addiction to porn. After learning in my class that one-third of all pastors struggle with Internet pornography, I wondered if we might be dealing with Pandora's box. For more insight, I would highly recommend the book we read in class called "The Pornography Trap: Setting Pastors and Laypersons Free from Sexual Addiction" by Ralph H. Earle, Jr. and Mark R. Lasser. In it the authors write:

"The combination of birth, family, childhood trauma, and pastoral challenges may leave a mammoth vulnerability in the earthen vessel--the pastor. All of us are susceptible to such a fall. Frequently, the pastor who is most certain that he or she would never transgress God's will discovers that such thinking is a seductive trap" (23).

One of the first things I realized as a pastor's wife (I was one for eight years) was that the pressures are intense. People expect you to be perfect. And many do not want to hear that a pastor has problems. You are expected to rise above your problems and if you can't, well then maybe you should just move on. Meanwhile there are people who love their pastor and recognize that this man or woman has been given the position to lead them in the ways of Christ. These people are great, but the negative ones, in combination with the stresses of home, unresolved past conflict and low self-esteem can make the ministry a very stressful place. Unfortunately, some pastors find relief in pornography. By doing this they risk their ministry, their families and their relationship with Christ.

It is not my aim in this article to suggest that we go on a witch hunt and check histories on all of our pastor's computers. What I am suggesting, however, is to give pastors the encouragement they need. Galatians 6: 6 says: "Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor." If your pastor helps you in some way, share it with him or her. Don't wait until Clergy Appreciation Month in October. If the pastor does not receive positive reinforcement during the year any recognition during this month may seem hollow and contrived. Most of all pray for your pastor and his or her family. If you have a problem with something he or she has done, talk to him or her about it. Don't participate in the gossip that runs rampant in our churches.

If you are a clergy member struggling with this issue, get help. Http://xxxchurch.com is a good place to start. Focus on the Family also offers ministry to pastors and their families. Call their pastoral care line at (877) 233-4455 for counseling, or visit their Web site at http://www.parsonage.org for more information. There is a link entitled "Internet Pornography Help." The important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are people who want to help.

Source: Leadership Magazine: (http://www.ctlibrary.com/le/2001/winter/12.89.html)

Christ's resurrection frees us


"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:9-11

Because I have chosen to follow Christ, I am more aware of Christ's sufferings during this week--Holy Week. I read a little extra in the Scriptures so that I can think about what he went through on each day. I watch "The Passion of the Christ" or the "Jesus" film to help me remember. When Easter comes we celebrate with our church family and then with our immediate family. It's fun to watch the little ones run after hidden eggs.

However, the resurrection stays with me all year round. Because of it, there is power to live as Christ wants. The above verse is one that I selected for my life's verse one year while we were struggling. It's a touchy verse. It starts off great and then the writer, Paul, gets into subjects like suffering and death. Those are not fun subjects.

At first glance, this verse is shocking. Are we supposed to suffer on purpose? Are we supposed to recklessly abandon all and seek martyrdom in every way that we can? I don't think so. Paul uses the phrase "like him." In response I ask, "How did Jesus suffer?" "How did he die?" The two answers that come to mind are lovingly and willingly. Christ was submissive. He did what God wanted him to do because God wanted him to do it--not for any glory that he might receive as a result.

Only a great love would cause someone to die for a world full of sinners. As one who has accepted God's grace through Christ, I must love others to the point of suffering. This, however, is not a doormat situation; nor is it justification for abuse. This love is a willingness to love others regardless of their actions. It means to forgive when wronged. It means to be patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, rude or self-seeking. It means to not anger easily or to keep record of wrongs (see I Corinthians 13).

Like Jesus, I must face the challenge of loving everyone around me. Sometimes it's easy, other times it isn't. It is the power of Christ's resurrection that frees me to do this.

Wednesday

The Catholic Spirit

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 has intrigued me increasingly throughout the years that I have been in ministry: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”[1] With so many doctrines, theologies and personalities, how will this every happen?

In my discussion group at church, we frequently talk about differences in theologies. One day my pre-Christian lady exclaimed, “That’s what frustrates me about this whole Christian thing. There are all of these different theologies. What are you supposed to believe?” After thinking about my answer, I said that yes, there are many differences in opinions, but we all believe that Jesus is the one to whom we go for salvation. The rest is just doctrine.

I empathize with her frustration, and hope that we have not deterred belief. However, while there are all of those differing opinions within Christianity, I believe that it is possible for all of us to get along if we learn to drop our “black and white” thinking about non-essential matters and to rid ourselves of pride. Wesley expressed his frustration with the situation well: “But although a difference in opinions of modes of worship may prevent an entire external union; yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, thought we are not of one opinion?”[2]

Wesley believed that believers could be unified. He encouraged people to realize that even though they believed their opinion to be correct, that it was possible to make a mistake, to be wrong.[3] It is difficult to imagine in our day that this could possibly be so as we argue with one another about creation, evolution, who’s going to heaven and who isn’t, etc.

“Every wise man, therefore, will allow others the same liberty to thinking which he desires they should allow him; and will no more insist on their embracing his opinions, than he would have them to insist on his embracing theirs. He bears with those who differ with him, and only asks him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question, ‘Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?’”[4]

Unfortunately, it seems that within Christianity, if someone offers a dissenting view (or even if they have a different way of expressing the same view) that person is looked down upon and deemed a heretic. If the brand of heretic is not acknowledged out loud, bitterness and anger simmer below the surface of a conversation and is let out through gossip and backbiting. This should not be.

I recently dealt with a situation in which this happened. My husband, Mike, is very sensitive to how Christians should express their beliefs and took to task a respected minister within the Ministerial Association by writing an opinion letter in response to a devotion that the minister wrote. Mike did not disagree with the minister he just disagreed with the delivery and said so. The response to this was one of anger. They felt that since Mike wrote for the newspaper occasionally that the paper should not have printed his article. They felt that it was a personal attack on them by the newspaper. Two ministers pulled out and will not write any longer and the rest are considering whether or not the Ministerial Association should continue writing devotionals. Another minister, not in the Association, wrote a letter to the editor saying that my husband was self-righteous and un-Christian. The fact that Mike is not paid to write editorials does not matter to these ministers. They are angry about being challenged.

Wesley said that the heart of a person with a catholic spirit will be enlarged toward all humanity “those he knows and those he does not…catholic love is a catholic spirit.”[5] When Christians have this attitude the Church can be a beautiful place—a place of friendship and love; a place that will attract those outside. Have we forgotten Christ’s words: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”?[6]

The reason I shared the above example is because it is an example of what is going on in Christianity. You can see it on the evening news from time to time or on Christian talk radio. You see it in the local church whenever someone can’t get their way. We seem to have the idea that everyone is out to get us. This may be the case in other parts of the world, such as China and other countries where Christianity is outlawed, but I fail to see how that thinking applies to us in America. Any persecution we suffer does not come close to meeting secretly in a basement and expecting at any moment for guards to beat the door down. These Christians are hauled off to jail and even murdered. We do not experience that in America. Why do we spend so much time arguing and in turning the culture against us? We are in a position to help others, but we are shooting ourselves in our collective feet, so to speak.

A culture of love is needed in the church today. Wesley said that “a (person) of a catholic spirit is one who…gives his (or her) hand to all whose hearts are right with his (or her) heart: One who knows how to value, and praise God for, all the advantages he (or she) enjoys…”[7] The one with a catholic spirit loves people for who they are and accepts them where they are. They seek to celebrate everyone in the body of Christ and also value them as God’s children. The only way I know how to do this is to ask God to rid me of any anger I might have toward other Christians and then refuse to let it return. I must pray for my fellow believers and choose to concentrate on their good points. If there is disagreement, I must calm myself and choose my words wisely. In this way, I will hopefully be able to live at peace with my fellow Christians and enjoy a catholic spirit.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 17:20-21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Wesley, John, The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 5 (Kansas City, Missouri: Nazarene Publishing House), 493.

[3] Ibid, 495

[4] Ibid, 495

[5] Ibid, 503

[6]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 13:35). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[7] Wesley, 503