religion

Utopian Soft Tyranny

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Ameritopia mark levinThis is just a note prior to my review of Ameritopia by Mark Levin, which I would like to share. The more I think of this book and the Utopian philosophy that is growing and blooming in Liberalism (I think especially the atheism blatantly exposed at the Democratic National Convention when Jerusalem and God language  was reinstated into their platform), I cannot help but think that Utopian idealism serves as one source of “salvation” for humanity and will be at least one root of the coming persecution of Christians. As Peter Kreeft writes,

“Every orthodox Christian apologetic, from Paul…to Augustine…to Aquinas…to Pascal…to Kierkegaard to Chesterton to C.S. Lewis, has always circled around these two foci, rotated around these two poles: sin and salvation… In the past, the difficulty in accepting Christianity was in its second point, salvation. Everyone in premodern societies knew sin was real, but many doubted salvation. Today it is the exact opposite: everybody is saved, but there is no sin to be saved from. Thus what originally came into the world as “good news” strikes the modern mind as bad news, as guilt-ridden, moralistic and “judgmental”. For the modern mind is no longer “convinced of sin, of righteousness and of judgment” (Jn 16:8).”

Sin is personal to each of us, something that we must deal with personally. While there are environmental factors that can influence our lives, that can never negate our own free will to choose good or evil. I think the more the government becomes the solution to social problems and crime, for to the modern mind crime is only acting out against social injustice (and implies moral innocence), the more Christianity will be a stench, this bad news. Instead of Christ, there is faith in Utopian government.

Ameritopia, by Mark Levin

In Ameritopia, Levin presents his argument that the U.S. is in a post-constitutional period and heading toward the soft tyranny of the Utopian vision. For me, it has put a name and philosophy behind progressive Liberalism. As Kierkegaard wrote in The Point of View, “an illusion can never be destroyed directly, and only by indirect means can it be radically removed… A direct attack only strengthens a person in his illusion and, at the same time, embitters him.” This book is excellent in that it comes up from behind the illusion that government can perfect humanity, exposing this philosophy and its advance into our modern government.

In the first section, the Utopian visions of Plato, More, Hobbes and Marx are discussed and shown to clearly advocate despotic governing bodies to achieve their ends of human perfection. I really did not understand the nature of utopianism, and was shocked by the control and uniformity proposed by these philosophers. The utopian dream relies heavily on the benevolence of one man, or a small group of men, to rule selflessly for the benefit of all people….and pure dream that is. As Lord Acton wrote in 1887, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” And as Montesquieu observed, “in a popular state there must be an additional spring, which is Virtue.” That only comes from within the citizen.

Locke’s and Montesquieu’s influence on the centralized government is explored, in regard to liberty, form of government and the separation of powers. The observations of Alexis de Tocqueville in the U.S. are explored as well, as to the virtues of the people and the almost hidden and unobtrusive quality of the government. He also addressed the form of despotism that most endangers a free society, one that creeps into “soft tyranny”. “It is the gradual imposition of and acquiescence to radical egalitarianism, which is disguised as democratic and administrative utilitarianism. It is the belief in the infinite ability and capacity of elected officials to perfect life and in a vast, neutral administrative state to ensure its proper regulation.”

Levin explores the writings of Woodrow Wilson, unveiling his vision of the governments as “living things and operate as organic wholes” and “have their natural evolution and are one thing in one age, another in another.” In his writings, Wilson exchanged our inalienable rights for privilege granted by government. He argued that federal courts are not bound to the Constitution. Levin reveals in Roosevelt’s writings contempt of the constitution’s limits on federal power, and his proposed “Second Bill of Rights” as mere disguised tyranny.

The last chapter is a tour de force revelation of the extent of the tentacles of the government, which totaled 81,405 pages of federal rules in 2010, amounting to $1.752 trillion (in 2008) in private sector regulatory costs. With regard to entitlements and “social insurance”, Levin traces this concept to Henry Seager, who believed “individualism” was the greatest obstacle to social reform and the entrusting of all our needs to the common government. Yet, Social Security and Medicare are proving unsustainable, as will be centralized control of healthcare, which “must, must redistribute wealth from richer” and “establishes more than 150 new bureaucracies, agencies, boards, commissions and programs”. Of the soft tyranny of utopianism, De Tocqueville writes, “such a power…compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people who are reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Therapeutic and Conditional Forgiveness

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Last week I was challenged to think about the ideas I have on forgiveness. There were a few things in this post by Kevin DeYoung (which I was directed to from this post) that made me pause and consider my ideas, ask a few questions, and then spend some time studying the Bible.

Therapeutic & Conditional Forgiveness?

 “Many Christians, influences by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. But if we start with a biblical notion of God’s forgiveness, we see that such a view falls short.”

First, I thought “therapeutic” was a very interesting way to view forgiveness. I had never even considered it, and I truly wondered what I do. I know that I am to forgive others, and that I want to be forgiven. I know that God expects me to forgive, and that my own forgiveness depends on it (Mt 6:12-15). I wondered, since I don’t really pay attention to how or why I forgive, what is my motive for forgiving others? Is it with a motive of self-preservation, with a grumpy ‘Fine, I’ll forgive’ but only because I myself want forgiveness? Is that my deepest motive? I had to consider whether I forgive “therapeutically”, with my motive being just to get my emotions under control, jettisoning my offended feelings so I can move on with a very happy day. Or, is it that, when I look at all those ugly emotions swirling in my mind and heart, I get rid of them because they make me ‘look bad’ to God? Do I just take a “breather”, compose myself, looking at all those toxic feelings of anger and bitterness scattered throughout my mind, the elevated fight reflex coursing through my blood, and ffoorrggiivveeee…. Ah, I feel much better.

DeYoung was commenting on a selection from “Unpacking Forgiveness” by Chris Brauns. Brauns writes:

“In the therapeutic line of thinking, forgiveness is a private matter that means shutting down anger, bitterness, and resentment. In other words, Christians should always forgive automatically. Because therapeutic forgiveness is based on feelings, it posits that people may even find it necessary to forgive God.”

The other part of this article that made me pause was this:

“The offer of forgiveness is unconditional (for God, and it should be for us), but forgiveness itself is conditioned upon repentance. We must always be open–and even, in God’s grace, become eager–to extend forgiveness, but we (like God) can only forgive the truly penitent. No bitterness either way. No revenge. But forgiveness, and the reconciliation that should follow, is a commitment to those who repent. (emphasis mine)

Chris Brauns explains:

This book has argued that forgiveness should be defined as a commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated.”

Conditioned upon repentance? Those words really took me off guard. Is that true? At this point, I was becoming very aware of how fuzzy my knowledge is on forgiveness. Is this true? Or, since I try to distance myself from church divisions, is this controversial and debatable? I scrolled down to the comments section to see what other people were thinking and saying. Some were saying things like “finally Biblical teaching”, while others were asking for scripture and clarification. At this point, I decided that was where I should turn: to scripture.

Investigating Scripture

I spent some time studying the Bible to get at what God has said about forgiveness, and I discovered that is very clear that God does place conditions on Christians.

(1) Mt 6: 14-15 tells us that we must forgive in order to be forgiven. If we don’t, God will not forgive us. It seems that this condition is placed on us so that we recognize the seriousness of our own sin. The note in my Bible (Apologetics Study Bible, HCSB) states:

 “Forgiveness is an attitude that follows from recognition of the seriousness of our sin. A person with an unforgiving heart toward others shows that he does not take his own sin seriously and has not appropriated God’s forgiveness.”

(2) Within the church, the offended person must confront the offender. Mt 18:15-17 and Lk 17:3-4 are clear about this, and this has got to be one of the most difficult things to do. It depends a great deal on relationships. If you know the people well, it is much easier to bring something like this up. Then there is the gray area of church acquaintance, where you know people, but you really don’t know them well enough to confront them with sin. Or that they would confront me with sin, either. Honestly, I don’t really obey this, and it is just because I am a social coward. It is much easier to do the “therapeutic” part, scrub the ugliness off my consciousness until I ‘feel’ right, and then move on. But I if I am honest, I know that there is a barrier of varying thickness between me and that other person.

(3) Within the church, the offender must repent before receiving forgiveness. Mt 18:15-17 and Lk 17:3-4 are clear on this as well. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” I have to ask myself, do I do this? If I (or we) don’t act on the first command to confront the offender, will we ever hear the words ‘I repent’? It is almost as if, by being non-confrontational, we short circuit God’s plan for refining his people in the church.

And we don’t even need to see any action (repentance) at all to forgive. Just so we are all on the same page, “feeling sorry” is only part of repentance.  I grew up thinking this was all there was to repentance. The other part is “to be disposed to change one’s life for the better.” God expects penitence and a desire to change and make things right. Zaccheus repented when, to those he extorted money from, he paid back four times.

If someone came to me seven times in one day ‘repenting’ of sin, I would have to question his definition of repentance! God knows this, of course! That is why he tells Peter in Mt 18:22 to forgive seventy times seven, and then tells the parable of the unforgiving slave. It sounds ludicrous to accept ‘I repent’ that many times (490) and to forgive, but it must be exactly what God sees. He is the master and we owe him 10,000 talents1. The “actions” of repentance seems to be what God is looking for—not the work, not at first, but the humility to acknowledge our sin and speak about it to who we have sinned against. If I imagine myself sinning that many times in a day and having to progressively return to confess my sin, I see myself getting more and more embarrassed and alarmed at myself. This reminds me of Paul’s description of godly sorrow in 2 Cor 7 and how it leads to repentance. This alarm at myself, at my ineptitude and stupidity, though, mixed with pride can lead worldly sorrow, to giving up and, ultimately, to death.

(4) I also read the emotions and virtues associated with forgiveness. Eph 4:30 and Col 3:13 tell us to remove bitterness, anger, insult, slander, and to put on compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience—then forgive others as the Lord forgave you. Here I can see where a therapy mentality could develop. We are to scrub out the ugliness, we are to be kind, but it is from the viewpoint of our relationship to God. Utterly destitute, God forgives us based on an immaterial ‘I repent’, a promise only. This is the comparison, the condition: as the Lord forgave us.

(5) There is one point that Jesus forgave the mass of people that were executing him. He asks God to forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing. There is no rebuke, no conversation with them, no reconciliation sought, just a plea to God based on the offender’s ignorance and slavery to sin. If people are just mean to us, in whatever way, I don’t think we necessarily have a responsibility to ‘make it right’. I don’t think we can expect or demand repentance prior to forgiveness.

Concluding Thoughts

So, I think what I have discovered is that God does command us to get control of the ugly emotions we feel when offended, but it is not for us so that we can feel better. It is so that reconciliation can occur between Christians. Forgiveness is conditional and challenging and, once again, proves that man did not write the Bible. Our nature is to satisfy ourselves, and I think that is what DeYoung is getting at: “forgiving” others is not about an emotional shower. Instead, except in the case of those crucifying Jesus, forgiveness seems to be absolutely relational. The questions raised by DeYoung’s article and my subsequent study have given me much to think about, and much to practice.

Notes:

1I just finished a history of the Peloponnesian War, and one talent was enough to pay for the supplies and rowers for one Athenian ship for one month. Athens had ~6000 talents in their treasury, and they estimated it was enough to pay for 3 years war.

Pantheism is Beyond Good and Evil

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So, I have been on this journey of scholarship for about fifteen months now. A series of events woke me from a slumber of low personal expectations, and decided to embrace the concept of life long learning. But I am always seeing gaps and assumptions in my knowledge, or fuzzy definitions of words that I hold. Today I was struck by C.S. Lewis’s definition of pantheism in Mere Christianity (Ch1, Bk 2) and it has served to make the concept clearer.

 “People who all believe in God can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two very different ideas on this subject. One of them is the idea that He is beyond good and evil. We humans call one thing good and another thing bad. But according to some people that is merely our human point of view. These people would say that the wiser you become the less you would want to call anything  good or bad, and the more clearly you would see that everything is good in one way and bad in another, and that nothing could have been different. Consequently, these people think that long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the distinction would have disappeared altogether. We call a cancer bad, they would say, because it kills a man; but you might  just as well call a successful surgeon bad because he kills a cancer. It all depends on the point of view… The first of these views—the one that thinks God beyond good and evil—is called Pantheism.”

I had always held that pantheism was just a sort of universalism, that we all just sort of die and go into a blender of spirit and consciousness. I hadn’t really considered it with respect to its beliefs on good and evil. Lewis’s words really impacted me because I had just written here about the pantheistic ending of the movie Brave. I was thinking more of the final spiritual blending when I labeled it pantheistic, and then raised questions about it’s implications on any final judgment for humanity. This ending is absolutely pantheistic, according to Lewis. This movie is teaching us that, at a higher spiritual level, Mor’du was neither good nor evil.

If you have read Book 1 of Mere Christianity, you will have read Lewis’s case for the Moral Law that is installed in all of us.

“Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first.”

[…]

“You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built. Now, from this second bit of evidence we can conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness.”

He shows that we all have a certain sense of right and wrong that we can see working in our consciousness, a Moral Law, and that behind that Law is a Somebody. At this stage of the book, he has not addressed religion yet, just that throughout history there has been moral teachings seen in the writings of the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans.

The movie Brave is set in the highlands of ancient Scotland. Perhaps if it was William Wallace looking at the spirit of King Edward I of England’s ghost, rising from his corpse, would he have accepted that nod as Merida did from Mor’du? I wonder if these Highlanders, being so systematically oppressed over the years by the English, would ever really hold to this pantheistic worldview. If so, would Wallace have ever fought for Freedom?

Fruit or Nut?

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I haven’t really posted in a while as I have been quite busy with a lot of things. I do miss blogging, and often sometimes post in my head, if you know what I mean. I will follow a logic trail about some subject as I am driving, write out in my head what I want to say…and then get to work and…well, need to work. Sad face. No real post.

But I have been thinking about this article that was forwarded to me last week. I have been doing a lot of reading and studying on Christian worldview, and there was something about this article that just rang hollow to me. I is entitled “You Cannot Be Spiritual Without Being Religious” and is by Kevin DeYoung, a senior pastor from Michigan.

When I saw the bumper sticker at the top of the article, I immediately assumed that the post would address this statement and break it down. But, in my opinion, DeYoung stays within his Christian bubble and misses an opportunity to engage our culture. He chooses to focus on spiritual and religious, but fails to talk about fruit and nut. More importantly, I thought he was going to answer the question, “What is our culture saying to religious people through this sticker?”

DeYoung starts his discussion by pooling our impressions on what is considered spiritual.

 “When you hear the word “spiritual” certain images come to mind. You think of someone very quiet and contemplative. Or maybe you picture someone with hands raised in a demonstrative expression of worship. You may think of your spontaneous, free-wheeling, “Spirit-led” friend. The spiritual person in your mind may be the young woman deeply interested in miracles and mystery, or maybe the old man earnestly pursuing a relationship with a higher power. To be “spiritual” in our day is to be vaguely interested in the supernatural and loosely committed to practices like prayer and meditation.”

I agree with DeYoung here. These are common images and ideas about what is considered “spiritual”. I agree with him that these qualities are not spiritual, in and of themselves. They mostly have to do with an emotional state of being. DeYoung then presents an argument that left me sort of dumbfounded. He talks of a spiritual person accepting spiritual things. He then defines spiritual things as the message of the cross. If the person rejects the cross, they “forfeit the right to be considered spiritual.”

I get the doctrine behind this, but I think he should have return to the bumper sticker, because our culture is saying something about the Christian church that needs to be heard. Instead of engaging the culture, he claims that they just can’t understand spirituality at all. It’s just folly to them. But is that what this sticker demonstrates?

Consider spiritual fruit. This is a very Christian term, almost exclusively Christian. I don’t really hear or read it coming from other religious movements. This term is meant to actually call us back to the Bible, to Galatians 5:22-23, to “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control.” This is what biblical spiritual fruit is. These are the virtues that should be obvious in those who belong to Christ.

What is spiritual fruit contrasted to? Religious nuts. We could pool our collective knowledge here and list a lot of ideas and images of what religious nuts are. Are all Christians crazy? I don’t think this sticker is saying that. What I think our culture is telling us is, “we see you talking about Jesus, talking about the Cross, talking about a whole lot of things, but we want to see something real in your life. Real love, real joy, real peace, real patience, real kindness, real goodness, real faith, real gentleness, real self-control. Real spiritual fruit.”

Isn’t this fair to ask? When our culture sees a Christians that are just as materialistic, self-focused, pleasure-seeking, career-centered as anyone else. Where the church’s divorce rate is the same as our cultures. John Stonestreet of Summit Ministries quote a survey that found atheists scored better than Christians on biblical knowledge (a D- vs. an F). What are Christians without spiritual fruit? Religious nuts. All rules and no actions.

This reminds me of what Jesus said about the Pharisees. He admonished them because they washed the outside of their cup, but not the inside. That is what made them merely religious. The Pharisees were religious nuts, and what separates us from them? Spiritual fruit. Our culture has had their fill of Bible lessons and Sunday morning Christians. What they are challenging us to see is Christians with spiritual fruit in their lives.

It is really quite simple. Our culture, through this bumper sticker, is asking Christians to act like Christians. Instead of calling them fools, we should look inside our cups and check for fruit on our branches.