From Old Testament times and ancient Greece until this century, the good life was widely understood to mean a life of intellectual and moral virtue. The good life is the life of ideal human functioning according to the nature that God Himself gave to us. According to this view, prior to creation God had in mind an ideal blueprint of human nature from which he created each and every human being. Happiness was understood as a life of virtue, and the successful person was one who knew how to live life well according to what we are by nature due to the creative design of God.
Life can be beautiful, profound, and awe-inspiring, even without an irate god threatening us with eternal torment.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. ¶ Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privilege position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. ¶ The earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand. ¶ It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
What is the nature of the human person? A mere conglomeration of matter that consists of different levels of brain state or a being that is also endowed with a soul? In this final part of the series on Naturalism, Dr. J. P. Moreland exposes the philosophical inadequacies of physicalism and explains why the Christian message is more convincing.
One of the first things I ever said to you was that I’m old-fashioned where romance is concerned. "A dinosaur I think I called myself. Being a dinosaur, I made a huge exception to my own laws of survival when I started living with you. But I didn’t start living with you because I’d changed. I did it because I couldn’t help it. There’s a big difference. I never really thought we were living "in sin” (I’m not that Paleolithic.) But we were living with dangerously little definition by my standards, which standards are based, by the way, on my belief that romance isn’t just romance, that it naturally leads to love-making, which naturally leads to babies, who are naturally helpless creatures in a naturally beautiful but lethal world, so they naturally need as many pieces of the ancient Father-Mother-Shaman-Tribe-Home-hearth Paradigm as we are able to gracefully give them.
Window down, transmission in neutral, he was gliding along, exhausted, under stars and sinking moon, driving at swimming speed, otter speed, watching the same moon-silvered riffles and silent glides she’d navigated moments before. And when he pictured again the way she’d watched him — one small, rounded ear up, listening to his babble, the other ear down, listening to the world beneath the asphalt, crushed and alive, two worlds at once — it touched something in him, unlocked something, and he felt himself fall through a kind of false bottom, felt he was driving now, down, into a vast, dark pool. A pool of sorrows, it seemed at first. And not just his own, not just crushed otters and lost Tashas. The stuff of small and large losses, and of recent and ancient ones — poxed kakiutl and napalmed Asians, leveled cities and leveled minds, lost tribes and understandings, broken bridges between worlds — it was all somehow suspended here. Immense sadness on all sides, yet immense depth — there was room down here for all of it. And in his exhaustion he didn’t panic, didn’t try to escape, didn’t close his mind around any one hurt. He just kept easing the Olds down through it all, thrashing on a gurney, Natasha laughing in a cloudburst, the one good paw scrabbling at the road. No matter how much he saw, more kept coming. Sorrows were endless; he’d always known this. But so, he discovers as he kept sinking and sinking, was the spaciousness of this great black pool.
To describe in words makes the kingdom sound stark and empty, like the scrub desert of eastern Washington or something. But this is only because words can’t explain the feeling that everything had. The fullness of things only made you notice this feeling more. The air, for instance smelled something like sea air, but whereas sea air makes you hungry, kingdom air made you full, and it wasn’t a fullness like when you’re stuffed from overeating: it was more like foodless fullness you get at the end of a really good movie. Like when the Captured Girl is about to be killed because she won’t tell The Secret, and she takes a last look at the hills with tears in her huge brown eyes, and here comes The Hero you thought was dead, riding down out of nowhere with his sword flashing or gun blazing, making hamburger out of Evil while the music surges through you and the goose bumps shoot up and down you. That sort of fullness. Like I said, I can’t explain it.
Psychotherapists since Freud, in Doherty’s biting assessment, have overemphasized individual self-fulfillment while paying insufficient attention to the patient’s moral values, accountability and family and community responsibilities. The psychologist-director of the University of Minnesota’s marriage and family therapy program, Doherty draws on his own clinical practice in this important critique. Going against the prevailing wisdom, he proposes that therapists should consciously influence clients to change their behavior in light of the moral issues involved. Among the illustrative case histories are a recently divorced father who is considering abandoning his children; a depressed, anorexic, suicidal young man who needs emotional distance from his controlling, intrusive mother; and a couple coping with the strain of caring for their developmentally delayed, four-year-old daughter. Included are guidelines for those seeking a morally sensitive therapist. ~ Publishers Weekly
I’d never seen anybody drink except the bums down in Portland. But once you saw the bums you never forgot. They had eyes like mustard, mayonnaise and ketchup all stirred together; the skin of their faces was like Soap Mahoney’s hands; their teeth were bashed in or caramel-colored, if they had any, and their mouths dribbled tobacco or blood at the corners; they wore pieces of dead people’s old suits, wore greasy overcoats that flapped like mangled wings, wore sores instead of socks on their ankles; and after they’d drink a while they’d just sit or lie down right on the sidewalk, letting real people walk over them while they argued with people who weren’t even there. Once, while we were walking over some, Peter said to Everett that the bums had to listen to a whole sermon just to get a bowl of free soup at the Harbor Light Mission. Everett spat and said no wonder they stayed drunk. Then mama scared the hell out of us, and out of some bum too, by hauling off and slapping Everet so hard he almost fell down on a fat old Indian passed out against the wall there. Yet it was Everett who instantly said, “I’m sorry.” Because he knew, we all knew, that she didn’t hit him for any weird religious reason, or for spitting on sidewalks, or even out of nervousness at having to step around bums. She hit him because her father was a drunk. A mean one too. Died before any of us ever met him, but Mama still has dreams about him. And even dead he was the reason why drinking terrified her.
Consider this small sample of perennial human concerns. We are moral creatures with moral duties to one another, but we seem confused about the source of morality’s claim upon our lives, unsure of our judgements about what is right and wrong, and curiously impotent to consistently practice our morality. Though we are familiar with the brevity of life, and some of us even make a tolerably good show of accepting the finitude of our existence, we have an irresistible and uncanny hankering for permanence. We have no trouble relating to the ambivalence of Woody Allen’s confession, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” We ponder inconclusively the personal and cosmic significance of the many evils of human experience. And we are shocked to find the worst of human impulses lurking in that most unwelcome of places — the deep recesses of our own hearts. Even if we are fortunate enough to be spared life’s greater tragedies (war, famine, plague, and the like), we fret about the monotony that accompanies a life of relative ease and comfort — and we come full circle to wonder again what life is about.
Ask yourself, “What is a hippie?” I mean, this is an old word that has a lot of connotations. Remember, the sixties happened in the early seventies. That’s sort of when I came of age. So I saw a lot of this. A lot of it happened right in our backyard here. To me, the spark of that was that there was something beyond what you see every day. There is something going on here in life beyond just a job and a family and two cars in the garage and a career. There is something more going on. There is another side of the coin, that we don’t talk about much. We experience it when there are gaps. When everything is not ordered and perfect, when there’s a gap, you experience this inrush of something. And a lot of people have set off throughout history to find out what that was. Whether it’s Thoreau, whether it’s some Indian mystics, or whoever it might be. The hippie movement got a little bit of that and wanted to find out what that was. And of course the pendulum swung too far the other way and it was crazy, but there was a germ of something there.
This timely book retrieves an old awareness that has slipped and changed in recent decades. The awareness of sin used to be our shadow. Christians hated sin, feared it, fled from it — and grieved over it. But the shadow of sin has now dimmed in our consciousness. Even preachers, who once got visibly angry over a congregation’s sin, now speak of sin in a mumble. Cornelius Plantinga pulls the ancient doctrine of sin out of mothballs and presents it to contemporary readers in clear language, drawing from a wide range of books, films, and other cultural resources. In smoothly flowing prose Plantinga describes how sin corrupts what is good and how such corruption spreads. He discusses the parasitic quality of sin and the ironies and pretenses generated by this quality. He examines the relation of sin to folly and addiction. He describes two classic "postures" or movements of sin – attack and flight. And in an epilogue he reminds us that whatever we say about sin also sharpens our eye for the beauty of grace. ~ Synopsis
This is the self-image of humanity: …the sad clowns of Picasso — the frenzied monsters of his middle period — the defeated heroes and heroines of Hemingway and Sartre and Faulkner — the cosmic butcher shop (Whoa!) of Bacon — the homicidal nightmare of such arch-typical films as ‘Dead End’ and ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and ‘Chinatown’ — the bums and thugs and the endless succession of self-pitying and easily-defeated rebels in virtually all the novels and plays and films that claim to be naturalistic… the apotheosis finally achieved by Beckett: man and woman in garbage cans along with the rest of the rubbish.
Other animals have instincts to guide them, but man has learned to ask questions. “Who am I?” man asks. “Why am I here? Where am I going?” Since the Enlightenment, when he threw off the shackles of religion, man has tried to answer these questions without reference to God. But the answers that came back were not exhilarating, but dark and terrible. “You are the accidental by-product of nature, a result of matter plus time plus chance. There is no reason for your existence. All you face is death.” Modern man thought that when he had gotten rid of God, he had freed himself from all that repressed and stifled him. Instead, he discovered that in killing God, he had also killed himself.
Featuring works by Karl Barth, Martin Buber, Immanuel Kant, Albert Schweitzer, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Rahner, and others, these are the essential writings on religion by German theologians, authors, and philosophers, from the Enlightenment to the present.
The Christian religion, [Pascal] claims, teaches two truths: that there is a God who men are capable of knowing, and that there is an element of corruption in men that renders them unworthy of God. Knowledge of God without knowledge of man’s wretchedness begets pride, and knowledge of man’s wretchedness without knowledge of God begets despair, but knowledge of Jesus Christ furnishes man knowledge of both simultaneouosly.
In The Making of the Modern Mind historian John Herman Randall writes that the Copernican revolution “swept man out of his proud position as the central figure and end of the universe, and made him a tiny speck on a third-rate planet revolving abut a tenth-rate sun drifting in an endless cosmic ocean.” ¶ The implication is that Christians mobilized against Copernicanism to resist this shattering of their cozy cosmology, but the literature of the day does little to support this portrayal. It is true that medieval cosmology, adapted from Aristotelian philosophy, placed the earth at the center of the universe. But in medieval cosmology the center of the universe was not a place of special significance. Quite the contrary, it was the locus of evil. At the very center of the universe was Hell, then the earth, then (moving outwards from the center) the progressively nobler spheres of the heavens. ¶ In this scheme of things, humanity’s central location was no compliment, nor was its loss a demotion. In fact, in Copernicus’s own day a common objection to his theory was that it elevated man above his true station. In medieval cosmology, human significance was rooted not in the earth’s central location but in the regard God showed toward it. Hence, the idea that Copernican theory threatened the Christian teaching of human significance is an anachronism. It reads back into history the angst of our own age.
What, if anything, is it that makes the human uniquely human? This, in part, is the question that G.K. Chesterton starts with in this classic exploration of human history. Responding to the evolutionary materialism of his contemporary (and antagonist) H.G. Wells, Chesterton in this work affirms human uniqueness and the unique message of the Christian faith. He sees in Christianity a rare blending of philosophy and mythology, or reason and story, which satisfies both the mind and the heart. On both levels it rings true. As he puts it, "in answer to the historical query of why it was accepted, and is accepted, I answer for millions of others in my reply; because it fits the lock; because it is like life." Here, as so often in Chesterton, we sense a lived, awakened faith. All that he writes derives from a keen intellect guided by the heart’s own knowledge. ~ Doug Thorpe
It is almost irresistible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more or less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning. As I write this I happen to be in an airplane at 30,000 feet, flying over Wyoming en route home from San Francisco to Boston. Below, the earth looks very soft and comfortable — fluffy clouds here and there, snow turning pink as the sun sets, roads stretching straight across the country from one town to another. It is very hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe. It is even harder to realize that this present universe has evolved from an unspeakably unfamiliar early condition, and faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. … The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.
In conservative Christianity you are told you are unacceptable. You are judged with regard to your relationship to God. Thus you can only be loved positionally, not essentially. And, contrary to any assumed ideal of Christian love, you cannot love others for their essence either. This is the horrible cost of the doctrine of original sin.
The Good News means we can stop lying to ourselves. The sweet sound of amazing grace saves us from the necessity of self-deception. It keeps us from denying that though Christ was victorious, the battle with lust, greed, and pride still rages within us. As a sinner who has been redeemed, I can acknowledge that I am often unloving, irritable, angry, and resentful with those closest to me. When I go to church I can leave my white hat at home and admit I have failed. God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to him. I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness.
If we can conquer everything except ourselves, the result is that we do not hold the power. More and more power over nature is placed in hands that are weaker and weaker. Heredity, environment, the spirit of the times, “the inevitable dialectic of history,” the media, something is always in the driver’s seat instead of ourselves.
True, we are less courageous, less honest with ourselves, less self-disciplined, cruel, intolerant, snobbish, and inhumane than they were. They were better at the hard virtues; we are better at the soft virtues. The balance is fairly even, I think… When we act morally, we are better than our philosophy. Our ancestors were worse than theirs.
We need grace. We need God. We need to be loved despite our sin. This is infinitely more than what secular psychology says, that we need human positive strokes, that we are O.K. We are not O.K., and we know it, even as we repeat, for the millionth time, the most attractive lie the Devil has ever hooked us on, that sin is a superstition, that we are intrinsically good. Modernized Christianity, in it desperate attempt to be accepted by the world, compromises its bad news of sin and thus trivializes its Good News of salvation. This modernized Christianity will never get what it wants, the world’s acceptance. Even as it taunts us for Puritanism, it envies us for telling the truth that it knows, deep down inside, it has covered up. The patient likes to be told by the nice doctor that there’s nothing seriously wrong, but the patient knows all the time that both are fooling themselves. Dying people in America are usually told they’re going to be “just fine”, and they play along to spare the family the grief and honesty it cannot endure, thus plunging both into a conspiracy of lies. The same is true with regard to the greater illness of the spirit when we indulge in the conspiracy of lies that “everything’s going to be all right.” That’s the song people sing as they march to Hell.
This interpretation (of the Sermon on the Mount) naively assumes what all of history disproves, that we broken bricks can constitute an unbroken building if only we have an unbroken blueprint. Malcolm Muggeridge says, more realistically, that the most unpopular of all Christian dogmas is the one that is most empirically verifiable, the dogma of Original Sin.