categoryBeing Human

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

The Recalcitrant Imago Dei

Go

Materialistic naturalism has, for some years, been the received wisdom in philosophy, as well as amongst much of the educated public. Many serious philosophical arguments have been brought against this ideology, but usually in a series of separate controversies. Professor Morelands great service is to bring all these objections together, whilst adding his own original contributions, in a very effective anti-naturalist polemic. He shows us that the materialist world picture cannot accommodate the most basic phenomena of human life: It has no place for consciousness, free will, rationality, the human subject or any kind of intrinsic value. Materialism does not disprove these human realities, it is simply incapable of accounting for them in any remotely plausible way. I would add to the list of its failures that naturalism lacks even a coherent account of the physical world itself. Professor Moreland makes a very good case for saying that, as a serious world view, naturalism is a non-starter: more traditional, theistic philosophies fare much better in the face both of the phenomena and of argument. ~ Howard Robinson, Central European University

Charles Taylor on Moments of Fullness

Go

Somewhere, in some activity, or condition, lies a fullness, a richness; that is, in that place (activity of condition), life is fuller, richer, deeper, more worth while, more admirable, more what it should be. This is perhaps a place of power: we often experience this as deeply moving, as inspiring. Perhaps this sense of fullness is something we just catch glimpses of from afar off; we have the powerful intuition of what fullness would be, were we to be in that condition, e.g., of peace or wholeness; or able to act on that level, of integrity or generosity or abandonment or self-forgetfulness. But sometimes there will be moments of experienced fullness, of joy and fulfillment, where we feel ourselves there.

N.T. Wright on the Echo of a Voice Calling

Go

We glimpse, for a moment, a world at one, a world put to rights, a world where things work out, where societies function fairly and efficiently, where we not only know what we ought to do but actually do it. And then we wake up and come back to reality. But what are we hearing when we’re dreaming that dream? ¶ It’s as though we can hear, not perhaps a voice itself, but the echo of a voice: a voice speaking with calm, healing authority, speaking about justice, about things being put to rights, about peace and hope and prosperity for all. The voice continues to echo in our imagination, our subconscious. We want to go back and listen to it again, but having woken up we can’t get back into the dream. Other people sometimes tell us it was just a fantasy, and we’re half-inclined to believe them, even though that condemns us to cynicism. ¶ But the voice goes on, calling us, beckoning us, luring us to think that there might be such a thing as justice, as the world being put to rights, even though we find it so elusive. We’re like moths trying to fly to the moon. We all know there’s something called justice, but we can’t quite get to it.

Alan Jacobs on Doing Bad Things

Go

Any moderately perceptive and reasonably honest observer of humanity has to acknowledge that we are remarkably prone to doing bad things — and, more disturbingly, things we acknowledge to be wrong. And when we add to this calculus the deeds we insist are justified even when the unanimous testimony of our friends and neighbors condemns us — well, the picture is anything but pretty.

Ronald D. Moore on the Message of Battlestar Galactica

Go

And this is the key moment of the finale, [Baltar] realizing the connections. Baltar is the man who has been thinking about and talking about God from the very beginning. Since the moment that Caprica Six said “God is Love” and Baltar dismissed her belief and mocked her belief. There is a direct connection between that moment and here where Baltar in the finale realizes, truly realizes, there is a different, there is another hand at work here, that there is something else going on, that there is a greater truth, that there is really something to this idea of destiny, that there is really something to this notion that he is a player in a grander play, and that he has to fill that role. I was really intrigued by that and I really wanted that to be a part of what happened at the end…

Eric Reitan on Sam Harris and Equivocation

Go

In The End of Faith, Sam Harris raises equivocation on the meaning of "religion" to a high art, wraps the ambiguity in mellifluous prose, plays up our fear of religious extremists, launches stinging attacks on Christian fundamentalism, and then lets the force of rhetoric do the work of implicating all religion in the impending demise of human civilization. His message is simple: humanity is headed towards Armageddon, and the blame lies as much with your Aunt Ruth, who faithfully drives to her United Methodist Church every Sunday to sing hymns and pray and listen raptly to Pastor Jim, as it does with Al Qaeda fanatics.

Eric Reitan on Schleiermacherian Piety

Go

By "feeling," Schleiermacher didn’t mean some rush of emotion, but rather a kind of primal experience — or, perhaps better, a way of experiencing. He called it the feeling of piety, and in the Speeches he tried to describe it as the awareness of "the Infinite in the finite." … Sometimes, instead of "feeling," he used the term "self-consciousness," although it is clear that what we are conscious of in our experience of piety is not our isolated ego but the self in relation to something beyond us.

How People Poison Everything

Go

Right out of the gate, Christopher Hitchens’ god is not Great is at once colorful and poignant, a great pleasure to read. It’s also clear that it benefits from the accounts and extravagant details of Hitchens’ many assignments as a journalist in exotic ports of call. Before I read any further, I’m recording how I now see the problem Hitchens addresses: the pervasive ugliness and evil in the name of God and religion. As I read, I want to consider how well my current take on this undeniable reality can bear the weight of Hitchens’ experiences, insights, and arguments. The title (God is not Great) and subtitle (How Religion Poisons Everything) of Hitchens’ volume are immediately provocative. If, in the end, I’m going to be persuaded that religion ruins everything it touches, is it then rational to conclude that God is not Great? Or, just that religious people suck? Is there a non-sequitur here? And, is all religion malignant? Or, might there be some rare strains of benign or even benignant religion? As it stands, if I had tackled the subject in book form, I’d have titled it: Humanity is not Great. How People Poison Everything. Considering the evident fact that human evil, both the trivial and the atrocious, is found in all places and at all times, I’m inclined to think that the blame should be pinned first and foremost on me, myself, and I… and on you as well. The problem with people manifests itself in every human context, whether religious or irreligious. I believe that any judgment on the impact of religion, for well-being and ill, hinges crucially on one’s appraisal of the human condition more generally. So, let’s begin there…

The State of Humanity

Go

This book provides a comprehensive and balanced assessment of the state of the Earth and its inhabitants at the close of the twentieth century. More than fifty scholars from all over the world present new, concise and accessible accounts of the present state of humanity and the prospects for its social and natural environment. The subjects range from deforestation, water pollution and ozone layer depletion to poverty, homelessness, mortality and murder. Each contributor considers the present situation, historical trends, likely future prospects, and the efficacy or otherwise of current activity and policy. The coverage is worldwide, with a particular emphasis on North America. The State of Humanity is a magnificent and eye-opening synthesis of cultural, social, economic and environmental perspectives. It will interest all those – including geographers, economists, sociologists and policy makers – concerned to understand some of the most pressing problems of our time.

Alvin Plantinga on God and Personhood

Go

According to classical theistic belief — classical Muslim and Jewish as well as Christian belief — first of all there is God, the chief being of the universe, who has neither beginning nor end. Most important, God is personal. That is, God is the kind of being who is conscious and enjoys some kind of awareness of his surroundings (in God’s case, that would be everything). Second (though not second in importance), a person has loves and hates, wishes and desires; she approves of some things and disapproves of others; she wants things to be a certain way. We might put this by saying that persons have affections. A person, third, is a being who has beliefs and, if fortunate, knowledge. We human beings, for example, believe a host of things… Persons, therefore, have beliefs and affections. Further, a person is a being who has aims and intentions; a person aims to bring it about that things should be a certain way, intends to act so that things will be the way he wants them to be… Finally, persons can often act to fulfill their intentions; they can bring it about that things are a certain way; they can cause things to happen. To be more technical (though not more insightful or more clear), we might say that a person is a being who can actualize states of affairs. Persons can often act on the basis of what they believe in order to bring about states of affairs whose actuality they desire. ¶ So a person is conscious, has affections, beliefs, and intentions, and can act… First, therefore, God is a person. But second, unlike human persons, God is a person without a body. He acts, and acts in the world, as human beings do, but, unlike human beings, not by way of a body. Rather, God acts just by willing: he wills that things be a certain way, and they are that way. (God said “Let there be light”; and there was light.)

Philip Yancey on Pain as a Design Feature

Go

Theologians blithely attribute pain to the Fall, ignoring the marvelous design features of the pain system. Every square millimeter of the body has a different sensitivity to pain, so that a speck of dirt may cause excruciating pain in the vulnerable eye whereas it would go unreported on the tough extremities. Internal organs such as the bowels and kidneys have no receptors that warn against cutting or burning—dangers they normally do not face — but show exquisite sensitivity to distention. When organs such as the heart detect danger but lack receptors, they borrow other pain cells (“referred pain”), which is why heart attack victims often report pain in the shoulder or arm. The pain system automatically ramps up hypersensitivity to protect an injured part (explaining why a sore thumb always seems in the way) and turns down the volume in the face of emergencies (soldiers often report no pain from a wound in the course of battle, only afterwards). Pain serves us subliminally as well: sensors make us blink several times a minute to lubricate our eyes and shift our legs and buttocks to prevent pressure sores. Pain is the most effective language the body can use to draw attention to something important.

Jason Mraz on This Beautiful Mess

Go

And what a beautiful mess this is ¶ It’s like picking up trash in dresses ¶ Through timeless words, and priceless pictures ¶ We’ll fly like birds, not of this earth ¶ And times they turn, and hearts disfigure ¶ But that’s no concern when we’re wounded together ¶ And we tore our dresses, and stained our shirts ¶ But it’s nice today, oh the wait was so worth it.

Os Guinness on the Secularization Thesis

Go

The salience of religion in our times is a massive stumbling block to much educated opinion in Europe, the United States, and the Western world at large — to what was once called the republic of letters, and which Peter Berger calls "the international faculty club." For one of the cardinal assumptions of intellectual orthodoxy since the Enlightenment, expressed canonically in the secularization theory, is that modernization means secularization, which in turn means that, like Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat, religion will slowly disappear from sight as the world modernizes, leaving behind only a vacant grin. ¶ This presumption translates practically into three attitudes that are widely prevalent in educated circles in the West: that religion in the modern world is irrational, archaic, retrograde, and on the way out; that what remains of religion is the leading source of evil and conflict today; and that a central task of politics is to curb the illiberal power of religion, above all in the public square. In short, the idea that religion is a wild card in human affairs is admissible, but the idea that it could play a central and constructive role is absurd. ¶ For any thoughtful student of world affairs who understands the role of religion in American and Western history, or in international affairs today, this view is preposterous.

James K.A. Smith on Original Sin

Go

Mulhall persistently takes it that the doctrine of original sin specifies that the desires of humans are sinfully perverted “by virtue of their very condition as human.” In a favorite turn of phrase, Mulhall repeatedly emphasizes that humans are “always already” errant, corrupted, and misdirected. To be human, then, is to be “essentially” sinful, “sinful simply by virtue of being human.” But this is decidedly not the orthodox doctrine of original sin. Rather, what Mulhall give us is an all-too-common Gnostic rendition of it (one which, admittedly, evangelical Protestants are sometimes prone to confuse with the real thing). This is to read the Bible as if it began with the third chapter of Genesis. The paradox is that an orthodox understanding of original sin does not posit sin as properly “original”; that is, it does not regard sinfulness as coincident with being human and finite. And when such a misunderstanding of original sin is coupled with some hope of redemption, we find the contorted philosophical acrobatics that Mulhall finds in Heidegger and Wittgenstein: redemption from this condition of fallenness requires redemption from being human. What is consistently lacking in these secularized or formalized versions of the Fall is the distinct nuance of the Christian vision, viz., the ability to imagine the world otherwise. Without the prior goodness of creation, there is no Fall. Our present condition is “not the way it’s supposed to be,” as Cornelius Plantinga so aptly put it.

A Conflict of Visions

Go

This latest work by Sowell examines two competing visions which shape our debates about the nature of reason, justice, equality, and power. These visions are the &quot;constrained&quot; vision, which sees human nature as unchanging and selfish, and the &quot;unconstrained&quot; vision, in which human nature is malleable and perfectible. The book builds a convincing case that ethical and policy disputes are ultimately based on the differences in these visions. It covers a wide variety of political, philosophical, and economic thought. Although occasionally abstract, this volume is an important contribution to our understanding of current social issues. Recommended for large public and all college and university libraries. ~ <em>Library Journal</em>

Andrew Sullivan on Making Distinctions

Go The reason I find fundamentalism so troubling — whether it is Christian, Jewish or Muslim — is not just its willingness to use violence (in the Islamist manifestation). It is its inability to integrate doubt into faith, its resistance to human reason, its tendency to pride and exclusion, and its inability to accept mystery as the core reality of any religious life. You find it troubling, I think, purely because it upholds truths that cannot be proved empirically or even, in some respects, logically. In that sense, of course, I think you have no reason to dislike or oppose it any more than you would oppose my kind of faith. Your argument allows for no solid distinctions within faiths; my argument depends on such distinctions.

The Lost Virtue of Happiness

Go

Starting from the American "pursuit of happiness," Moreland (a philosophy professor at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University) and Issler (a Christian education and theology professor, also at Talbot) connect with a widely felt desire. Yet they immediately take readers into deeper reflection of the very content of the happiness we pursue, arguing that our consumerist culture has replaced the more satisfying content of true happiness with a poor substitute. Moving smoothly into a discussion of discipleship, they focus on spiritual disciplines as the key to true happiness in life. Subsequent chapters explore how the spiritual disciplines can be used to improve many areas of our lives–emotions, thoughts, risk taking and the development of a more mature faith during difficult times. They end with a convincing chapter on the importance of spiritual friendships. Although exploring some deep topics, this will still be accessible to most readers and very useful for study groups, particularly with the excellent discussion questions at the end of each chapter. The practical suggestions and creative exercises throughout will be particularly helpful for those new to spiritual disciplines. ~ Publishers Weekly

The End of Faith

Go

Sam Harris cranks out blunt, hard-hitting chapters to make his case for why faith itself is the most dangerous element of modern life. And if the devil’s in the details, then you’ll find Satan waiting at the back of the book in the very substantial notes section where Harris saves his more esoteric discussions to avoid sidetracking the urgency of his message. Interestingly, Harris is not just focused on debunking religious faith, though he makes his compelling arguments with verve and intellectual clarity. The End of Faith is also a bit of a philosophical Swiss Army knife. Once he has presented his arguments on why, in an age of Weapons of Mass Destruction, belief is now a hazard of great proportions, he focuses on proposing alternate approaches to the mysteries of life. Harris recognizes the truth of the human condition, that we fear death, and we often crave “something more” we cannot easily define, and which is not met by accumulating more material possessions. But by attempting to provide the cure for the ills it defines, the book bites off a bit more than it can comfortably chew in its modest page count (however the rich Bibliography provides more than enough background for an intrigued reader to follow up for months on any particular strand of the author’ musings.) Harris’ heart is not as much in the latter chapters, though, but in presenting his main premise. Simply stated, any belief system that speaks with assurance about the hereafter has the potential to place far less value on the here and now. And thus the corollary — when death is simply a door translating us from one existence to another, it loses its sting and finality. Harris pointedly asks us to consider that those who do not fear death for themselves, and who also revere ancient scriptures instructing them to mete it out generously to others, may soon have these weapons in their own hands. If thoughts along the same line haunt you, this is your book. ~ Ed Dobeas

Who Are We?

Go

Since the dawn of human history, people have exhibited wildly contradictory qualities: good and evil, love and hate, strength and weakness, kindness and cruelty, aggressiveness and pacifism, generosity and greed, courage and cowardice. Experiencing a sense of eternity in our hearts–but at the same time confined to temporal and spatial constraints–we seek to understand ourselves, both individually and as a species. What is our nature? What is this enigma that we call human? Who are we? In Who Are We?, esteemed author Louis P. Pojman seeks to find answers to these questions by exploring major theories in Western philosophy and religion, along with several traditions in Eastern thought. The most comprehensive work of its kind, the volume opens with chapters on the Hebrew/Christian view of human nature and the contrasting classical Greek theories, outlining a dichotomy between faith and reason that loosely frames the rest of the book. Following chapters cover the medieval view, Hindu and Buddhist perspectives, conservative and liberal theories, Kant’s Copernican revolution, Schopenhauer’s transcendental idealism, and Karl Marx’s theory. Freud’s psychoanalytic view, the existentialist perspective, the Darwinian view, and scientific-materialism are also discussed. Pojman concludes with a discussion of the question of free will, ultimately asserting that each one of us must decide for ourselves who and what we are, and, based on that answer, how we shall live. ~ Product Description

Erik J. Wielenberg on the Dark Heart Within Ourselves

Go

One does not have to be a theist, much less a Christian, to recognize that the tendency toward selfishness is at the same time one of the most entrenched as well as the most pernicious features of human nature. Naturalist and theist alike should acknowledge that one of the greatest challenges we face is the dark heart within ourselves. To combat this heart of darkness, Christianity recommends surrender to God; Mill recommends developing a sense of unity with mankind; Kant recommends making the requirements of morality our top priority; Singer recommends devoting oneself to the reduction of suffering; I have recommended putting science to use in the Platonic quest for a reliable way of making people virtuous. These are all forms of a common struggle – the struggle against the selfishness inherent in human nature. Perhaps, then, this is one struggle in which we are all on the same side. Long live the ethical revolution.

Sam Harris on Religious Moderation

Go

The only reason why anyone is “moderate” in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought… The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among nonfundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is, rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt.

Donald W. Shriver, Jr. on Silent Screams

Go

The agents of atrocities have a self-interest in keeping their acts invisible, buried, and publicly forgotten. The Nazis meant to plough under every death camp, and Himmler once consoled his SS cohorts that, while the German public would never know the full scope of their service to racial cleansing of the nation, they should always take pride in their work. In South African torture cells, the torturers taunted their victims with the prediction that, just as no one could hear their present screams, no one would remember them in the future either. The moral damages of amnesia are multiple: to victims, whose final indignity in survival or in death is to have their suffering forgotten; to perpetrators, whose moral health cannot be restored without confrontation of their immorality; and — not least — to a public that has every prudent self-interest in knowing enough about an evil past to be put on alert against its repetition.

The Blank Slate

Go

In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker, one of the world’s leading experts on language and the mind, explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits-a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century-denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses of social problems with feel-good slogans, and distorts our understanding of politics, violence, parenting, and the arts. Injecting calm and rationality into debates that are notorious for ax-grinding and mud-slinging, Pinker shows the importance of an honest acknowledgment of human nature based on science and common sense. ~ Product Description