judicialsupport

Legal Writing for Legal Reading!

Archive for the tag “culture”

As an Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Times (UK) which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

_______________________

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.

We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers – in some ways less so – but more open.

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. âPrivatelyâ because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

There’s long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: âtheirsâ and therefore best for âthemâ; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.

I don’t follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the âbig manâ and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

Anxiety – fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things – strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds – at the very moment of passing into the new – that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? âBecause it’s there,â he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It’s… well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary’s further explanation – that nobody else had climbed it – would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

By Matthew Parris and published in The Times on 12/27/08 and can be found here.

 

Feminism’s Self-Defeating About-Face on Porn

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Live Site News which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

_____________

“Pornography is the theory,” renowned feminist Robin Morgan once wrote, “rape is the practice.”

Indeed, feminists used to widely understand that pornography was, at its very best, dehumanizing and degrading, a product by men and for men that portrayed women only as objects of male desire. At its very worst, it was a gory celebration of the destruction of the feminine, with women being beaten, raped, humiliated, and otherwise assaulted for the perverse pleasures of misogynists who claimed that their woman-hating was a “fetish.”

Today, however, feminists are supposed to be “sex-positive,” which means they have to support pornography, because with over 80% of the male population viewing it, resistance is futile.

Those who oppose pornography are not anti-sex. They are simply wise enough to recognize that pornography is poison. When used as a substitute for love, it is the equivalent of giving salt water to a man dying of thirst—it will merely inflame the desire further without bringing any satisfaction.

I remember a debate on pornography in one of my first political science classes in university—out of the entire class, only myself and one other guy were opposed to pornography. Most of the guys sat quietly, trying to avoid contributing to the discussion, while a few of the girls were the most vociferous defenders of this filth—almost as if they had something to prove.

Pornography, our new sexual dogmas say, is harmless, if not beneficial. And when I asserted in a number of articles that pornography fuels rape culture, the backlash from guys who couldn’t stop looking at porn was quick and angry.

So I began contacting experts in the field, people who had studied the impact of pornography on men and women. The most revealing and chilling interview I conducted was with Dr. Mary Anne Layden, director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. I had cited her work on pornography and violence before, and wanted to see what sort of things her research had uncovered.

Why, I asked Dr. Layden, did you start researching the links between violence and pornography?

“When I started as a psychotherapist, just about thirty years ago, I started treating patients who were victims of sexual violence and felt a special call to the damage that sexual violence did to these patients,” she replied,

When I had been doing the work for about ten years, because I’m a little bit of a slow learner, it occurred to me that I had not treated one case of sexual violence that didn’t involve pornography… some were rape cases, some were incest cases, some were child molestation cases, some were sexual harassment cases – in all of these different kinds of cases, pornography showed up in every single one.

So I said there seems to be some connection here. Over time, I got interested in what is common in the perpetrators of sexual violence because I realized we were never going to solve the problem of sexual violence by treating victims who’ve been damaged by the problem and treating them one at a time and trying to put them back together. There weren’t enough therapists in the world. There were too many victims in the world. We couldn’t solve this by pulling them out of the river one at a time. We were going to have to go upstream and see who was pushing them in.

And as Dr. Layden discovered, it was the porn industry that was pushing people into the river. Men are not born rapists, she pointed out to me. But for some reason, many are increasingly justifying sexual violence. Why? Because pornography has turned the bodies of women and girls into a commodity. It is shaping the way men see women.

“It’s a product,” Dr. Layden said, her voice getting more emphatic.

This is a business and I think that a lot of pimps would stop doing this if there wasn’t any money involved, but it’s a business and as soon as you tell somebody it’s a product, as soon as you say this [is] something you buy, then this is something you can steal. Those two things are hooked. If you can buy it, you can steal it, and even better if you steal it because then you don’t pay for it. So the sexual exploitation industry, whether it’s strip clubs or prostitution or pornography, is where you buy it. Sexual violence is where you steal it – rape and child molestation and sexual harassment is where you steal it.

So these things are all seamlessly connected. There isn’t a way to draw a bright line of demarcation between rape and prostitution and pornography and child molestation. There are not bright lines of demarcation. The perpetrators are in a common set of beliefs, and when we look at the research we can see some of those common beliefs, so that we know that individuals who are exposed to pornographic media have beliefs such as [thinking that] rape victims like to be raped, they don’t suffer so much when they’re raped, ‘she got what she wanted’ when she was raped, women make false accusations of rape because it isn’t really rape, sex is really either good or great and there isn’t any other option other than good or great, no one is really traumatized by it.

All of these are part of the rape myth. People who use pornography accept the rape myth to a greater degree than others. So we have a sense that pornography is teaching them to think like a rapist and then triggering them to act like rapists.

Pornography, like all other products, has done to the female body what economics always does to any product: If you commodify something, you cheapen it. It’s really that simple. But when your marketing strategy is inflaming lust and appealing to power by degrading women, there are devastating results. As Dr. Layden pointed out to me, we even stop seeing each other as human.

“When you cheapen sex and you cheapen women’s bodies, when you treat people like things there’s a consequence and one of the consequences is sexual violence but one the consequences is also relationship damage,” she pointed out.

There’s an interesting series of studies that actually highlights a bit of the phenomena of how this works. They were showing people just mildly sexualized pictures. They were men and women in swimsuits, men and women in their underwear, sort of relatively mild sexualized pictures and they showed them either upside right or upside down and looked at the processing in the brain, because it will display a phenomena of which part of your brain you’re using to process that picture that you see.

What we see with men, when people look at men, and look at them in their swimsuits or in their underwear, they’re using the part of their brain that processes humans and human faces but when we look at women in their swimsuits and their underwear we use the part of our brain that processes tools and objects and when you process a woman as a tool or an object you use. The rules that we use when we deal with tools or objects is if it’s not doing its job then throw it away, get another one.

So the feminists years ago said these men are treating women as sex objects and we thought that was a metaphor. It wasn’t a metaphor. It was an actual statement of reality, that they’re using the part of their brain which they use to process objects and things and there’s a consequence in the society when you start treating sex as a product and women as a thing.

Those who point these things out, of course, and those who oppose porn, are condemned as old-fashioned, prudish, and “anti-sex.” When I reminded Dr. Layden of this, she was decidedly unimpressed.

The desire for love is built into us. [One of my colleagues] said, ‘The real damage is that it threatens the loss of love in a world where only love brings happiness.’ That summarizes what we are doing, that everybody is hardwired to love and be loved. That’s what feeds our hungry heart, and we have a generation who are starved and have hungry hearts and yet they are eating the sexual junk food and becoming sexually obese because they’re so starved they would eat junk food if that’s all that’s available to them.

And so partly we need to have people talk about the glory of good sex, the wonderfulness of good sex, of how it bonds committed couples together and helps them keep their promises to each other, that there is a thing called good sexuality that is enhancing and enlivening and is love-based, but all of this sexual junk food that is out there is not it.

In short? Those who oppose pornography are not anti-sex. They are simply wise enough to recognize that pornography is poison. When used as a substitute for love, it is the equivalent of giving salt water to a man dying of thirst—it will merely inflame the desire further without bringing any satisfaction. To Dr. Mary Anne Layden, this is self-evident. And she intends to make sure as many other people as possible see it that way, too.

“If I said to people, ‘I want you to eat healthy food and don’t go to McDonald’s,’ they wouldn’t call me anti-food,” she said. “They would say you just want to promote healthy food and you don’t want people to go see that Supersize Me movie and find out if you eat McDonald’s every day for 30 days you’ll have a fatty liver. Well that’s what I want to do with sexuality. I want to promote healthy, loving, enhancing, soul-feeding sexuality, not sexual junk food.”

And the way to do that? With sky-high rates of porn addiction, is it possible? Dr. Layden has so many ideas that they come out in a rush.

“I think we’ve got to educate ourselves, we’ve got to tell the truth to others, you’ve got to speak truth to authority because once you know this stuff if you’re silent, silence is complicity,” she says.

We’ve got to go in to our schools and our libraries and say you’ve got to protect our children, we’ve got to say to our governments you’ve got to stop spreading permission-giving beliefs and that means don’t legalize prostitution. It tells men that it’s fine and more men will go to prostitutes. We’ve got to have laws against things that damage people; we’ve got to have outrage in this society when sexual violence is swept under the rug, when a professional athlete does it.

We’ve got to come together and have the journalists, the lawyers, the parents to get together as a mighty team and say this society is worth saving, our children are worth saving, sexuality is sacred. We’ve got to do it together and so it takes a concerted effort … When I hear people say we can’t put the genie back in the bottle I say fifty years ago 60% of the people in New York City smoked, today 18% in NYC smoke. Put the genie back in the bottle. We can do this one as well and it’s worth doing.

Like Dr. Mary Anne Layden, I am not anti-sex, although I don’t particularly object to being called old-fashioned. I am, however, very anti-porn—and that is because pornography is rapidly turning healthy, loving, and committed relationships into something “old-fashioned.” It is robbing the current generation of their ability to enjoy life-long and happy commitments. And as such, we have a responsibility to heed the call of Dr. Layden and so many other experts to fight the porn threat wherever it is found. Those who claim that pornography is harmless are, at the end of the day, woefully uneducated.

By: Jonathon Van Maren and published on Life Site News on January 26, 2015 and can be found here.

 

How conservatives out-intellectualized progressives

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Week which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

_____________

The vital center is imploding throughout the Western world. Liberal norms and institutions face a greater challenge than at any time since the end of the Second World War. And so defenders of the liberal order seek, often desperately, to remind themselves of what principles they stand for and the premises that underlie their deepest political and moral convictions.

That’s what I take Molly Worthen to be doing in her recent, admirable essay in The New York Times. Worthen writes as a liberal who admires the way the American right has built an infrastructure of programs and institutes where young conservatives receive instruction in the history of political philosophy from Aristotle and Xenophon on down to James Madison, Adam Smith, and beyond.

Worthen thinks liberals should do something similar:

Liberals have their own activist workshops and reading groups, but these rarely instruct students in an intellectual tradition, a centuries-long canon… [Great Books] are powerful tools for preparing the next generation of activists to succeed in the bewildering ideological landscape of the country that just elected Mr. Trump. [The New York Times]

Indeed. So why don’t liberals follow the lead of their conservative counterparts in reading classic texts?

Though Worthen never says so explicitly, the germ of an explanation can be found in her essay when she writes, somewhat defensively, that liberals “can’t afford to dismiss Great Books as tools of white supremacy.” And why would they be tempted to do that? Because most so-called liberals today aren’t liberals at all. They’re progressives — and progressivism is an ideology that has little if any interest in learning from the greatest books, ideas, and thinkers of the past. And that’s because, as the name implies, progressivism is a theory of historical progress. It doesn’t see itself as an ideological project with premises and goals that had to be established against alternative views. Rather, at any given moment it identifies itself with empiricism, pragmatism, and the supposedly neutral, incontestable examination of facts and data, which it marshals for the sake of building a future that is always self-evidently superior (in a moral sense) to everything that came before.

Whereas conservatives look to the past in search of wisdom, inclined as they are to presume that the greatest writers of past ages may well have been wiser than we are — and displayed greater understanding about morality and politics than we do — progressives tend to see that same past as a graveyard packed with justly dead ideas.

No wonder they don’t spend time reading Great Books.

Like a physicist who is too busy pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge to study the history of past errors and halting advances (now surpassed) within his own field, most progressives would rather continue their project of expanding the administrative-welfare state of which they consider themselves the rightful guardians (while stigmatizing its opponents) than turn back to examine the origins of and strongest case for their own most cherished ideas.

That’s why conservatives are much better placed than progressives to do the work of examining the intellectual foundations of the liberal political order. But that doesn’t mean liberals who are willing to distance themselves from progressive assumptions couldn’t follow Worthen’s advice and do something similar.

There are already tentative signs that some are doing just that. Liberal Bill Galston has recently gotten together with conservative Bill Kristol to encourage precisely this kind of rethinking and defense of liberal premises in the face of the populist challenge. Even more promising might be the efforts of classical liberal political theorist Jacob Levy and liberaltarian author Will Wilkinson, who will be pursuing their own similar projects through the libertarian Niskanen Center.

Maybe these efforts will even spawn the kind of Great Books programs for liberals that Worthen pines for. If they do, liberalism will be much the better for it — not least because it would be a sign that liberals had begun to separate themselves and their ideas from the powerful but pernicious ideology of progressivism.

By Damon Linker and originally published in The Week on December 6, 2016 and can be found here.

Is Belief in God Like Belief in Santa, Leprechauns, or Fairies? A Reflection

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one on Brian Nicholson’s Blog which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

_________________

No.

Can you imagine if I had left it at that? A one-word post on WordPress. Brother, I’d get comments “for dayz.” I’d also probably get some pretty strong retorts.

When it comes to topics related to the origins of the universe, many have come to conclude that there is Someone behind it all. In this post, I will compare belief in God to Santa Claus, fairies, and leprechauns, hoping to illuminate that the existence of a Creator is something far more worthy of conversation than these characters. The goal isn’t to prove that God exists. For that, see my equation below:

Just kidding.

The objective is to critically compare these characters of fantasy and folklore, and see if they bare any resemblance to the existence of a deity. So, let’s get this party started! Jeeves, turn on my mix-tape…

If you believe in God without evidence, then I can assert that leprechauns and Santa exist without evidence.Various YouTube Commenters Since Pre-Extinction of the Dodo Bird

The problem here, of course, are we having good reason to think those things don’t exist, and not comparably having good reasons to think God does not. It’s not simply that we don’t have evidence for Santa, but we have positive reasons to think Santa does not exist. We know there’s no workshop at the North Pole, there aren’t Santa sightings around the holiday season, and the milk and cookies are obviously eaten by the parents… I mean, come on, do your kids really expect that Santa ALSO went gluten-free around the same time you did?

Negative Claims

But, we can’t prove that things don’t exist, right? There are definitely examples where we can prove negative statements. For example, we know Leonardo DaVinci is no longer alive. We know George Bush isn’t the President anymore. We can certainly prove these negative claims. Even if we couldn’t prove that God does not exist, which I don’t believe is the case; this certainly doesn’t mean that He does. It just means making a claim about His non-existence is also making a knowledge claim, that of which requires justification. So at the very least, one should be agnostic.

Another problem with drawing these false analogies is that God, if He exists, is beyond the natural, or is supernatural. That’s why we can’t observe Him in nature or put Him in a test tube. But moral values and mathematics are also not observable in nature, in yet we see their effects all the same. Things like leprechauns, if they existed, would be a part of the natural world, and would certainly be making their appearance known if they wanted to. So, just because God cannot be tested scientifically does not mean it’s worthless to talk about His existence. To stubbornly assert science as the only route to truth is self-refuting, because:

Can the statement, “you should only believe what can be scientifically proven,” itself be scientifically proven?

Here we see that there are other methods of discerning truth that are valid, as science is. For example, we all accept moral truths as real, but we can’t prove that those exist by scientific means. Mathematical truths and logic are valid ways of discerning truth, but these are beyond the realm of scientific inquiry as well.

On the contrary, leprechauns, Santa, and fairies are all purportedly within our spatial-temporal realm, frolicking with Chips Ahoy!, delivering presents, stealing your credit card, and forever trying to increase the value of ye olde pot of gold with Rosland Capital. Someone might say, “what if we simply define Santa or Paul Bunyun as existing outside the universe?” Well, at that point we really cease to be talking about Santa or Mr. Bunyun at all. If we make Santa an immaterial, all-powerful mind existing outside our universe, it really becomes just another name for God. This is much like the debate Dr. William Lane Craig had with Dr. Lewis Wolpert, where Wolpert said, “I think a computer did it!” (talking about creating the universe). But a computer is a device comprised of matter, and needs time to operate, so if we just rob it of all the attributes that make it a computer and just define it a space-less and timeless computer, we are really just re-naming God.

In the case of a Creator, we aren’t peering into telescopes looking for some bearded man resembling the renaissance images of God The Father. We are looking for the effects of God… things like, say, the existence of a finite universe, the remarkable fine-tuning of the universe for things like stars, chemistry, and us. We may also consider the potential reliability of miracle claims, such as the resurrection of Jesus- something that has raised many an eyebrow for a long time. Even the skeptic scholar Paula Fredriksen admits, “they must’ve seen something,” talking about Jesus’ disciples.

For more on the fine-tuning argument, please click here https://briannicholsonblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/first-blog-post/

By contrast we do not see the effects of these mystical creatures. So we can reasonably say they don’t exist.

What’s probably the bigger issue is that God is not detectable like other things in our world are, and this is where I feel the larger disagreement stems from. Let’s take a look at the objection Carl Sagan presented in his book, “A Demon-Haunted World,” where Sagan compares God to an invisible, undetectable dragon in someone’s garage.

“Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?”

I’m not sure who was going around saying God could decisively be found in a garage, but this point seems to be missing what I mentioned earlier. We aren’t looking for God within space and time, but signs of something from beyond the universe, signs that there may have been an Agent involved in bringing the cosmos to life. In Sagan’s case, the person should really be asking why there is a reality for a garage to exist in in the first place. That’s where at least the possibility of God comes into play. Things like the Big Bang, the fine-tuning, the logically incoherent idea of an infinite series of past events, and the surprising fact that there is something rather than nothing, are just a few reasons that we shouldn’t dismiss God’s existence a priori. This doesn’t mean He does exist, but certainly this topic that has engaged philosophers and scientists for millennia is worth discussing.

In future posts I will talk more about problems with an infinite regress and Leibniz’ Contingency Argument. But for now, I hope we can see that the existence of God certainly deserves a place at the podium.

You can find the above blog post here.

Why Sex is Making us Morally Stupid

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in Mustard Seed Faith which, I thought, was pretty insightful. Be edified.

Mustard Seed Faith

C.S. Lewis, writing on June 3, 1956 to a man who asked him about masturbation, offered the following striking and relevant advice:

For me the evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his…

View original post 1,149 more words

This evangelical leader gave the most important speech about the religious right in the age of Trump

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one in The Week which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.
_________

Donald Trump is a master of humiliation. Mostly he humiliates himself, but he has also humiliated countless people and entities over the course of his life and presidential campaign. If you had to draw up a list, near the top would have to be the religious right.

To say that some of the religious right’s top leaders have beclowned themselves by embracing Donald Trump is an understatement. It’s hard to know even where to begin. Donald Trump practices almost every kind of immorality forbidden by the Bible — and brags about it. He claims to be a Christian, but seems to know nothing about Christianity or show any interest in it. He has said several times that he has never asked God for forgiveness for anything, even though asking God for forgiveness is just about the most basic qualifier of a Christian. Oh, and Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president of the United States.

And yet this is the man many on the religious right embrace — even though it has previously denounced political figures as beyond the pale for lesser slights. To say that this is intellectual and moral bankruptcy is an understatement.

Enter Russell Moore. He may not (yet?) be a household name like a Jerry Falwell Jr., but he is an important man in the religious right. He’s the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. In other word, he’s the “Mr. Politics” of the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., one that is evangelical, conservative, and largely based in the Bible Belt. If anything qualifies as a leader of the religious right, this is it.

This week, Moore was invited to give the Erasmus Lecture, a prominent lecture given by the intellectual Christian magazine First Things (a previous honoree was a clergyman named Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, better known today as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI). And boy, is it a doozy. Moore basically called out the religious right — and particularly his own section of the religious right, conservative, white evangelical Protestantism — for all the flaws that are so glaring to those outside it.

Moore’s speech begins by recounting a spiritual crisis he underwent as a teenager. He had been brought up as an evangelical in the heart of the Bible Belt. But as he grew older he became disenchanted by the hypocrisy and vacuousness that was already apparent then (as it is apparent, in various forms and guises, in every religious community, as Jesus himself pointed out relentlessly), whether it took the form of “voter guides” that seemed eerily to parrot Republican National Committee talking points, except with Bible proof texts attached, or pastors denouncing adultery from the pulpit while honoring benefactors who were notorious adulterers, or literalistic interpretations of Biblical prophecies, always applied to the political controversies of the day. Providentially, Moore found his way to a deeper, more grounded form of Christianity, instead of drifting away from the faith as so many in a similar situation have. But that experience certainly forms the backdrop of his speech.

Moore then goes on to zing the religious right for its hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy. While disagreeing with them, he respects those Christians who are disgusted by Trump, but will hold their nose and pull the lever for him as the lesser of two evils. But, he goes on to note, many religious right leaders have not made that argument, but instead embraced Donald Trump and found excuses for his pandering to white nationalism or bragging about assaulting women. He points out that the same crowd — indeed, in some cases, the very same people or institutions — was calling for figures like Bill Clinton and Rudy Giuliani to resign over their own infidelities, because a basic moral standard has to be upheld for public figures. They’re the ones who made the argument that political office requires not just having the right positions on issues of public policy, but also meeting a certain threshold of moral character. Yet here we are.

In the most searing line of the speech, Moore concludes: “The religious right turns out to be the people the religious right warned us about.”

He also points out that this sort of behavior is killing the religious right. He didn’t put it that starkly, but it’s pretty clear that everyone outside the echo chamber can see what phonies they are.

But there’s a bigger problem for the religious right, as Moore notes, which is that on most issues, mainstream American society has moved away from conservative Christianity. The old-line religious right could talk of a “Moral Majority” because it was true that on a set of basic moral issues, most Americans, while not Bible-thumping evangelicals or Aquinas-quoting traditional Catholics, were closer to traditional Christian views than to the progressive left. Which, if your basic duty as a religion is to evangelize people, makes it all the more important to (again, saying essentially the same thing as Moore in less guarded language) not look like money-grubbing, power-hungry, hypocritical sycophants and nincompoops.

The religious right now stands bankrupt. The question is, to pursue the bankruptcy metaphor further, is it a chapter 7 bankruptcy or a chapter 11? Do we shut the whole thing down, or is it possible to come out of the other side healthier, after some painful — no doubt very painful — restructuring?

“What’s at stake here is not just credibility, it’s also the question of whether religious conservatives even want a future,” Moore says.

Moore sees rays of hope for the religious right nonetheless. He points out that, contrary to many predictions, the young have not deserted conservative Christianity. Young people are “packing into orthodox and confessional universities and seminaries” and planting churches left and right, Moore notes. And while those young people may care more than their elders about traditionally progressive issues like racial or environmental justice, it is by no means because they have become liberal. In most cases, they are just as conservative, both theologically and morally, as their forebears.

What’s more, while American millennials have drifted very far from Christianity in many respects, they are “conservative” in others. The millennial generation is no less pro-life than the previous generation. Importantly, tantalizingly, it is also much more anti-divorce than the previous generation, as being the one that lived through the divorce waves of previous generations.

“The evangelicals who are the center of evangelical vitality are also the least likely to be concerned with politics. Not because they’re liberal, but because they want to keep a priority on the Gospel and the mission that they do not wish to lose,” Moore says. This is a sign of weariness with the excesses of the religious right, but also a sign of hope, if it is not pushed too far in the opposite direction.

There’s another thing that the young generation understands, Moore says. Today, many in the religious right and the Bible Belt understand “evangelical Christianity” to mean white evangelical Christianity. But the future of the church is global. In evangelicalism, as well as Catholicism for that matter, the energy in the church is global. By becoming enmeshed with, if not white identity politics per se, then certainly the white culture of the Bible Belt, the religious right has cut itself off from a key source of vitality within Christianity, and has overlooked — if not been downright hostile to — causes that should matter to Christians like racial justice and reconciliation.

So, there are seeds of hope, perhaps. What’s the way out?

In perhaps the most important phrase of the speech, Moore says: “One of the assumptions of some in the old religious right is that the church is formed well enough theologically and simply needs to be mobilized politically.”

Most Christians simply don’t know what they believe and why, and that is killing Christianity. Jacob Lupfer, a scholar of American Christianity, has noticed that within evangelical Christianity, the pro- versus anti-Trump split has come down along lines that are not so much political, or even theological per se, but confessional. “Generic evangelicals or cultural/nominal Protestants go for Trump. Confessional evangelicals are theologically primed to resist him.” By confessional, he means those believers, churches, and institutions that stress preaching and adhering to specific historic Christian creeds. (This also probably explains why Mormons and Catholics, including conservative Catholics, have also tended to be outliers in their rejection of Trump.)

Moore is not calling for a retreat of Christians from politics. The Christian faith calls on believers to regard themselves as strangers in a strange land, and citizens of Heaven first and Earth second, but that “second” matters. They need to serve their fellow men, including through public service and advocacy. Political organizing is good, Moore exclaims at one point. What’s more, it’s not just that Christians need politics, it’s that America needs conservative Christians. As Trump shows, without conservative Christianity, the right will not simply go away, as some progressives might hope, it will become more like the ethno-nationalistic populist right of Europe, and more Nietzchean, Moore warns, rightly in my view.

But for Christians to stop shaming themselves in the public square, let alone start playing a constructive role, they must first become more grounded in their own faith. Christians are supposed to believe in divine providence, so I can only say: from Moore’s mouth to God’s ears.

By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry and originally published on October 27, 2016 in The Week and can be found here.

Trump and Hillary, models of fallen human nature

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one Aleteia which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

_____________

Their go-to responses to wrongdoing is deflection and dissimulation rather than repentance

Like many of you I was upset, though unsurprised, by the recently released tape in which Donald Trump brags about sexually assaulting women. However, what scandalized me more was to see how many Christians jumped to defend and downplay Trump’s behavior.

When I expressed dismay on social media about Donald Trump’s behavior, I was accused of being a Hillary supporter and of being indifferent to the pro-life cause. One man called me a “turncoat,” and another person told me I was a “fake nun.” I was told that I needed an exorcism and one man assured me that I would be responsible for Christians being thrown into gulags. And this reaction was tame compared to the response others received.

When Christians look away from any form of evil rather than prophetically calling human nature to a higher ideal we water down the Gospel message. This becomes all the more important in this election because we have two candidates whose behavior often exemplifies precisely what Christians are called to reject. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are mirrors of our own sin and just how far our fallen nature, our culture, and our country can fall. (Please note, I am not presuming to judge our presidential candidates’ moral state before God, who alone knows our conscience, but simply assessing their objective actions).

In the beginning, Adam blamed both Eve and God when he ate the forbidden fruit: “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree” (3:12).

Eve similarly protested: “The snake tricked me, so I ate it” (3:13).

Both our presidential candidates have proven that their go-to response to wrongdoing is deflection and dissimulation rather than repentance. However, Trump and Clinton’s behavior often goes beyond the rationalizations of Adam and Eve and straight to the deliberate deception of the serpent. Hillary Clinton lies in a deliberate way when it seems politically convenient (the email debacle involved lie after calculated lie). Donald Trump’s denials, on the other hand, seem more frequent and instinctual rather than logical. He denies obvious, provable facts on national television without blinking an eye. And his “apologies” inevitably end with excuses and deflections.

When God heard Adam and Eve’s excuses and saw their lack of repentance, he expelled them from the Garden of Eden.

God cautioned Eve of the effects of original sin, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (3:16).

Donald Trump’s life exemplifies this domination, abuse of power, and objectification of women that God warned Eve would happen. Trump has left his wives not once but twice. He’s boasted about his adulterous affairs. He has made multiple comments sexualizing underage girls, including his own daughter. And throughout his entire campaign, when the stakes are highest, Trump seems unable to avoid ridiculing, bullying, and making sexist comments about women. Donald Trump’s ongoing behavior concretely illustrates the way some fallen men treat women.

In the same way, Hillary Clinton exemplifies the fallen woman in her rejection of the feminine genius. As Hillary herself admits, she comes across as cold rather than warm and empathetic. This, no doubt, is related to her attempt to make it in a man’s world. But walling oneself off comes at a cost to both feminine authenticity and one’s moral worldview. Her turning away from the feminine genius further expresses itself in her unreserved support for abortion (a convenient solution for men who live a lifestyle similar to Donald Trump). Hillary also denigrates the feminine vocation to motherhood (which is not just biological) when she argues that babies can be aborted up to minutes before they are delivered. And she excuses fallen masculinity when she lauds the women who accuse Donald Trump of sexual assault while attacking the women who accused her husband.

When Adam and Eve sinned for the first time, their behavior immediately became selfish because their lives ceased to be centered on God.

Hillary and Trump typify behavior that seems centered on the wrong things, especially when it comes to money and power. For example, both run “charity” foundations that seem to do little more than serve their own respective interests. Trump has used his foundation to bribe public officials and to buy a huge 6-foot tall portrait of himself. In fact, Trump did not give a penny of his own money away through the foundation over a five-year period. Likewise, when Hillary was Secretary of State, Bill Clinton’s speaking fees doubled and in some cases tripled, causing many to suspect quid pro quo. Of the 154 people who met with Hillary when she was Secretary of State, at least 85 donated to the Clinton Foundation. It is against the law for foreigners to donate to political campaigns in the United States, yet Hillary accepted foreign donations for the Clinton Foundation from multiple foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia.  Just as troubling, are the leaked emails from the Clinton campaign mocking Catholics.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s questionable behavior and ethics is painfully evident. They both should have been unequivocally rejected as presidential candidates. Tragically, our country is so divided that we cannot unite behind even this obvious fact. Instead, people continue to cling to candidates who represent a ghost of their worldviews. Some people excuse or ignore their preferred candidate’s serious faults, and selectively become enraged when the other candidate does wrong.

But Christians are called to another kind of behavior. We are called to step outside of political situations and to view them within the trajectory of salvation history. We are called to be prophets, to name evil when we see it, and not just when it is the evil of the party opposite to the one we endorse. Unfortunately, like Adam and Eve, many of us instead defend and deflect for our respective candidate. We are fallen human beings and it is easy to lose hope in the radical message of the Gospel. We forget that human nature is called to something more through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection. We have lowered the bar so low only a snake can slither through.

When this election is over, no matter who becomes president, we will enter an era of great difficulty for our country. My hope is that Christians will spend more time praying for our new president’s conversion than criticizing him or her. And I hope we will have learned the following lessons: We will never find salvation in a political party and we should be apologists and uncritical cheerleaders for no one but Jesus Christ.

By Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble and originally published on October 18, 2016 and can be seen here.

Vox, derp, and the intellectual stagnation of the left

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one The Week which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

_____________

Several long winters ago, when President Obama was thunderously elected amid Messianic fervor, and much of the right was in the throes of apoplectic confusion, some liberal writers warned of a phenomenon among right-wing intellectuals, which they called “epistemic closure.” The charge was that conservative thinkers had lost the ability to process the idea that the world of 2008 was not the world of the Reagan Era, and more generally to consider new ideas or, really, reality. The word “derp” entered our lexicon to mock forehead-slappingly stupid statements, defined by the liberal blogger Noah Smith as “the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors.”

Liberal writers overstated the phenomenon at the time, and there was always a bit of shadow-boxing and concern-trolling there. But they did have a point. Still, even as they were making that point, the smartest writers on the right were already rising to the occasion. A flurry of innovative young writers like Yuval Levin, Reihan Salam, Ross Douthat, Tim Carney, and Avik Roy put out fresh, 21st-century ideas on everything from tax reform to health care to social mobility to poverty to curtailing the power of Big Business. Many of these ideas are now compiled in a seminal new book. And many of these ideas have been adopted by the most prominent GOP politicians and presidential candidates. Only with the right leader will the GOP truly embrace what’s been called reform conservatism, but it’s clear that the GOP is becoming the party of ideas again.

Meanwhile, two things are particularly striking about the current Democratic agenda. The first is that it’s so tired. Raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on high earners, tightening environmental regulation — these are all ideas from the ’60s. The second is that nobody on the left seems to be aware of it.

One of the most striking examples of this epistemic closure among liberal writers are their forays into “explanatory journalism.” The idea that many people might like clear, smart explanations of what’s going on in the news certainly has merit. But the tricky thing with “explaining” the news is that in order to do so fairly, you have to be able to do the mental exercise of detaching your ideological priors from just factually explaining what is going on. Of course, as nonliberal readers of the press have long been well aware, this has always been a problem for most journalists. And yet, the most prominent “explanatory journalism” venture has been strikingly bad at actually explaining things in a nonbiased way.

I am, of course, talking about Vox, the hot new venture of liberal wonkblogger extraordinaire Ezra Klein. It was already a bad sign that his starting lineup was mostly made up of ideological liberals. And a couple months in, it’s clear that much of what passes for “explanation” on Vox is really partisan commentary in question-and-answer disguise.

And the troubling thing is, I don’t think the people at Vox are even aware that that’s what they’re doing.

Consider this selection of Voxplainers on ObamaCare. “Millions of Americans are paying less for ObamaCare than cable“; “The best evidence we have that ObamaCare is working“; “Kathleen Sebelius is resigning because ObamaCare has won“; “The right can’t admit that ObamaCare is working.” (The URL slug on the last one: ObamaCare Derangement Syndrome.) Hmmm..

Or take another, related topic: Single-payer health care. What are the arguments for or against single payer? That’s a complex topic! Thankfully Vox‘s Sarah Kliff, former health policy reporter at The Washington Post and a noted progressive, is here to explain. Her post on the topic — which purports to list the arguments against single-payer — does not mention the fact that cancer survival rates and other positive health outcomes are significantly higher in non-single-payer countries than in single-payer countries. It seems relevant. The point is not whether or not single payer is wrong, or that the cancer survival rate point is decisive. The point is that a prominent, talented liberal writer on health policy, asked to make an objective list of arguments against single payer, cannot do justice to the job.

Or take the alleged loss by the IRS — which imposes onerous archiving requirements on all large companies — of certain important emails related to the agency’s targeting of conservative political groups. It certainly looks bad for the IRS. But it’s really conservatives’ fault, says Vox: The IRS scandal shows the IRS needs a bigger budget. Never mind the fact that the IRS already has a $2.4 billion IT budget and countless companies are able to archive emails with much smaller budgets, or that the IRS had a contract with an email backup company. Never mind that the argument for a higher budget is based on the notion that IRS applications rose dramatically before the scandal, which is, um, not true, even according to the liberal website Politifact. Again, the point isn’t to litigate the IRS issue. The point is that Vox often looks more like a right-wing caricature of what a partisan media outlet dressed up as an explainer site would look like, rather than an actual explainer site.

There is no doubt that Klein and Vox are earnest. They are not engaged in some vast conspiracy to deceive the American public and surreptitiously plant liberal ideas in Americans’ brains. Instead, Vox just contains a disturbing amount of, well, derp. (It’s great at sports explainers, though!)

Another symbol of growing epistemic closure on the left is The New Republic, which, under new ownership, has gone from being an idiosyncratic magazine critiquing liberalism almost as often as endorsing it to becoming a liberal mouthpiece, and now has decided to get into the explanatory journalism game. The name of their new vertical? “QED.” The jokes write themselves.

Increasingly, liberal writers have been drinking their own Kool-Aid. They really believe they are the “reality-based community.” When they talk about conservatives they respect, they qualify their praise with “The smart conservative so and so…” — with such “he’s one of the good ones” asterisks betraying the wholly unwarranted assumption on the left that the vast majority of conservatives are crazy, stupid, or both.

And yet, liberals themselves are very rarely capable of passing an Ideological Turing Test. They believe not only that an honest evaluation of the world lines up with their worldview (everyone does, to some extent), but have also forgotten how to differentiate between the honest evaluations and their worldview, or that doing so is even possible, or that their worldview is based on very idiosyncratic moral priors.

Back when epistemic closure was more salient a problem on the right, the liberal writers who pointed it out were mostly genuinely concerned: A healthy polity needs a healthy intellect on both sides of the aisle. The left needs an intellectually vigorous right, and vice versa — so get your act together.

By: Pascal Emmanuel Gobry and originally published in The Week and can be found here.

The Problem with Conservativism

A couple of weeks ago I posted “The Problem with Liberalism” as published First Things (see here).  Here is the companion piece to that article, “The Problem with Conservativism,” below; be edified!

________________

My first conservative experience was in second grade, when I learned America the Beautiful. Verses one and two were merely baffling: I could not picture waves of grain, I could not believe that mountains were purple, and I could not form an association between liberty and pilgrim’s feet. But the third verse broke me like glass and made me an idolater. O beautiful for patriot’s dream, that sees beyond the years, we warbled; thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears. Somehow the song called forth in my childish heart an answering music that I had never heard in church. I seemed to hear the whine of gulls and the murmur of the sea before a white throne; I was afflicted with a sense of the Fall and a longing for the City whose light is the Glory of God. But I misidentified the City. The song sent me questing for Columbia, not the New Jerusalem. I was told to seek in the ideal futurity of my nation what cannot be made by hands.

What then is a Christian to make of conservatism? The danger, it would seem, is not in conserving, for anyone may have a vocation to care for precious things, but in conservative ideology, which sets forth a picture of these things at variance with the faith. The same is true of liberalism. From time to time Christians may find themselves in tactical alliance with conservatives, just as with liberals, over particular policies, precepts, and laws. But they cannot be in strategic alliance, because their reasons for these stands are different; they are living in a different vision. For our allies’ sake as well as our own, it behooves us to remember the difference. We do not need another Social Gospel—just the Gospel.

In a previous essay, “The Problem With Liberalism” (FT, March), I described liberalism as a bundle of acute moral errors, with political consequences that grow more and more alarming as these errors are taken closer and closer to their logical conclusions. Conservatism may be described as another such bundle. The parallel is not perfect, for American culture is balanced at the top of a liberal ridge and is only now considering the descent. Because conservative moral errors have had less time to work among the powers and principalities, we cannot always discern their political consequences. But we can anticipate their fruits by their roots. The moral errors of conservatism are just as grave as those of its liberal opponents.

A minor difficulty in setting forth these errors is the ambiguity of the term “conservatism.” Conservatives come in many different kinds, and their mistakes are equally heterogeneous. I should like to stress, therefore, that not every conservative commits every one of the errors that I describe in the following pages. But there is a common theme. Each kind of conservative opposes the contemporary government-driven variety of social reformism in the name of some cherished thing which he finds that it endangers. One speaks of virtue, another of wealth, another of the peace of his home and the quiet of his street—but although these pearls are of very different luster, none wishes his to be thrown before swine. So it is that conservatives are often able to make common cause, putting all their pearls in a single casket.

The first moral error of political conservatism is civil religionism. According to this notion America is a chosen nation, and its projects are a proper focus of religious aspiration; according to Christianity America is but one nation among many, no less loved by God, but no more.

Our civil religion seems to have developed in four stages. The first stage was the Massachusetts Bay colony. Although the Puritans accepted the orthodox view of the Church as the New Israel, they also viewed it as corrupt. The Church’s role of City Upon a Hill had therefore passed to themselves—to the uncorrupted remnant of the faithful, fled to North American shores. Like the Israelites, they viewed themselves as having entered into a special covenant with God to be His people. The same blessings and curses, however, were appended to their covenant as to the one at Sinai; therefore, warned Governor John Winthrop, should the settlers embrace the present world and prosecute their carnal intentions, “the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us [and] be revenged of such a perjured people.”

The second stage was the colonies just before the Revolution. Increasing unity among the settlers had given rise to a national sense of covenant with God, but the shared experience of English harassment aroused suspicion that the covenant had been breached. Isaiah’s warnings to Israel were invoked by way of explanation: “How is the faithful city become an harlot! It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.” Preachers like Samuel Langdon declared that if only the people would turn from their sins, God would remit their punishment, purge the nation of wrongdoers, restore a righteous government—and deal with the English.

The third stage was in the early and middle republic. God was still understood as the underwriter of American aspirations, but as the content of these aspirations became more and more nationalistic it also became less and less Christian. It appeared that God cared at least as much about putting down the South and taking over the West as He did about making His people holy; patriotic songwriters like Samuel Francis Smith used expressions like “freedom’s holy light,” but they meant democracy, not freedom from sin.

The fourth stage was the late republic. By this time American culture had become not just indifferent to Christianity, but hostile to it. Conservatives still wanted to believe that the nation was specially favored by God, but the idea of seeking His will and suffering His chastening had been completely lost. President Eisenhower remarked that what the country needed was a religious foundation, but that he didn’t care what it was. President Reagan applied the image of the City Upon a Hill not to the remnant of the Church in America, but to America as such—its mission not to bear witness to the gospel, but to spread the bits and pieces of its secular ideology.

The mistake in all these stages is confusing America with Zion. She is not the inheritor of the covenant, not the receiver of the promises, not the witness to the nations. It may well be that all nations have callings of sorts—specific purposes which God in His providence assigns them. But no nation can presume to take God under its wing. However we may love her, dote upon her, and regret her, the Lord our God can do without the United States.

The second moral error of political conservatism is instrumentalism. According to this notion faith should be used for the ends of the state; according to Christianity believers should certainly be good citizens, but faith is not a tool. To be sure, the pedigree of instrumentalism is not purely conservative; it has followers on the left as well as the right. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for instance, wanted the state to invent a civil religion to his order and then make use of it. Its articles would be proposed “not exactly as religious dogmas” but as “sentiments of sociability without which it is impossible to be a good citizen or a faithful subject.” Most instrumentalists, however, are not so fastidious. They are willing to make a tool of whatever religion comes to hand, whether civil, traditional, or revealed. Religious conservatives who pine for the days when jurists called America “a Christian country” and recognized Christianity as “the law of the land” are deeply in error if they think such statements expressed belief; what they expressed was instrumentalism. In those days the religion that came to hand was Christianity (or at least its counterfeit in civil religion), and the speakers were interested primarily in how it could be used. The eminent nineteenth-century jurist Thomas Cooley admitted as much. Supreme Court Justice David Brewer, controversial author of America a Christian Country, was only slightly less explicit.

Viewed from this perspective, the contrast between the jurisprudence of yesterday and today is not nearly as sharp as religious conservatives make it out to be. Although language describing Christianity as the law of the land has disappeared from our cases, judges and legislators are just as interested in the social utility of the faith as they were before—and just as indifferent to its truth. Consider for example the 1984 Supreme Court case Lynch v. Donelly, which concerned whether a Christmastime nativity display could be financed by a municipal government. Members of the Court likened erecting a creche to adopting “In God We Trust” as the national motto and opening judicial sessions with the invocation “God save the United States and this honorable Court.” By the comparison, they meant three things.

These acts and declarations have nothing to do with religion. They do not “endorse” the faith, but merely “acknowledge” it, said Justice O’Connor. Indeed they have “lost through rote repetition any significant religious content,” said Justice Brennan. Otherwise, they said, they would be establishments of religion, which are forbidden.

On the other hand, they are socially indispensable. They are “uniquely” suited to serve “wholly” secular purposes (Brennan) which could not reasonably be served in any other way (O’Connor). These purposes include “solemnizing public occasions” (Brennan and O’Connor), “expressing confidence in the future and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society” (O’Connor), and “inspiring commitment to meet some national challenge in a manner that simply could not be fully served if government were limited to purely nonreligious phrases” (Brennan). The last of these purposes is especially interesting—in plain language, it means getting people to do something they would refuse to do otherwise.

In fact, they are a noble lie. Obviously, if the mottoes and creches and so forth had really lost all their religious content they would be completely useless for achieving any purposes whatsoever, secular or otherwise. Our rulers feel free to use them because they have lost religious meaning for them; they work, however, because they retain this meaning for the masses.

The third moral error of political conservatism is moralism. According to this notion God’s grace needs the help of the state; Christianity merely asks the state to get out of the way. We might say that while instrumentalism wants to make faith a tool of politics, moralism wants to make politics a tool of faith; on this reading, what instrumentalism is to secular conservatives, moralism is to religious conservatives. Surprisingly, though, many religious conservatives seem unable to tell the difference. Whether someone says “We need prayer in schools to make the children holy” or “We need prayer in schools to make the country strong,” it sounds to them the same.

Now I am not going to complain that moralism “imposes” a faith on people who do not share it. In the sense at issue, even secularists impose a faith on others”they merely impose a different faith. Every law reflects some moral idea, every moral idea reflects some fundamental commitment, and every fundamental commitment is religious”it proposes a god. Everything in the universe comes to a point. For moralism, therefore, the important distinction is not between religion and secularism, but between faiths that do and faiths that do not demand the civil enforcement of all their moral precepts.

To the question “Should the civil law enforce the precepts of the faith?” the biblical answer is, “Some yes, but some no; which ones do you mean?” The New Testament contains literally hundreds of precepts. However, Christianity is not a legislative religion. While the Bible recognizes the Torah as a divinely revealed code for the ruling of Israel before the coming of Messiah, it does not include a divinely revealed code for the ruling of the gentiles afterward. To be sure, the Bible limits the kinds of laws that Christians can accept from their governments, for “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). However, it does not prescribe specific laws that they must demand from them.

It is not even true that all of God’s commands limit the kinds of laws that Christians can accept. To see this, contrast two such precepts: (1) I am prohibited from deliberately shedding innocent blood; (2) I am prohibited from divorcing a faithful spouse. Both precepts are absolute in their application to me, but that is not the issue. If we are speaking of governmental enforcement, then we are speaking of their application to others. The former precept should require very little watering down in the public square, for even nonbelievers are expected to understand the wrong of murder. That is why I may be confident in condemning the legalization of abortion. But the latter precept requires a good deal of watering down in the public square, for before the coming of Christ not even believers were expected to understand the true nature of marriage. “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard,” said Jesus, “but it was not this way from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8). No doubt the Pharisees to whom He was speaking were scandalized by the idea that their civil law did not reflect God’s standards fully. They must have been even more offended by the suggestion that it was not intended to. Among religious conservatives this suggestion is still a scandal, but it does not come from liberals; it comes from the Master.

Christians, then, may certainly commend a law as good or condemn it as evil. They may declare it consistent or inconsistent with the faith. But not even a good law may be simply identified with the faith; Christians must not speak of a tax code, marriage ordinance, or welfare policy as Christian no matter how much, or even how rightly, they desire its enactment or preservation. That predicate has been preempted by the law of God. The civil law will be Christian—if it still exists at all—only when Christ himself has returned to rule: not when a coalition of religious conservatives has got itself elected.

The fourth moral error of political conservatism is Caesarism. According to this notion the laws of man are higher than the laws of God; according to Christianity the laws of God are higher than the laws of man. With this error we have come back to secular conservatives. The peculiar thing about American Caesarism is that the state never says that its laws are higher than the laws of God; it simply refuses to acknowledge any laws of God, in the name of equal liberty for all religious sects.

George Reynolds, a Mormon living in Utah Territory, was charged during the 1870s with the crime of bigamy. In his defense he argued that the law was an unconstitutional infringement of his free exercise of religion. Accepting his appeal, the Supreme Court disagreed. Although it said all sorts of interesting things about why free exercise of religion is good (and why polygamy is wrong—for instance because it leads to a patriarchal rather than republican principle of authority in government), the heart of the rebuttal was a simple distinction between opinions and actions. Appealing to Thomas Jefferson’s idea of a “wall of separation between church and state,” it held that what people believe is the business of the church, but that what they do is the business of the state. Therefore, the First Amendment does not mean that people may act as their religion requires, but only that they may think as their religion requires; free exercise of religion makes no difference whatsoever to the scope of state power over conduct.

Still favored by many conservatives, this doctrine has startling implications. It means, for instance, that in throwing Christians to the lions for refusing to worship Caesar, the Romans did nothing to infringe the free exercise of Christianity; after all, while being devoured, the martyrs were still at liberty to believe that Caesar was only a man.

A century later, in cases involving other religious groups, the Court conceded the point. Announcing its discovery that faith and conduct cannot be isolated in “logic-tight compartments,” it now decreed that “only those interests of the highest order and those not otherwise served can overbalance legitimate claims to the free exercise of religion.” But this was too much for judicial conservatives, and the experiment was ended in 1992. Writing for the Court in Employment Division v. Smith (II), Justice Scalia appealed to the notion that the issue in free exercise cases is not whether the state’s motives are “compelling,” but whether they are “neutral.” A law that does not expressly single out a particular sect may burden any religious practice to any degree, so long as this burden is “merely the incidental effect” of the law and not its “object.” In other words, repression is fine so long as it is absentminded. Pastoral care and counselling could not be forbidden as such but could be forbidden as an incidental effect of regulations for the licensing of mental health practitioners; the sacrament of baptism could not be forbidden as such but could be forbidden as an incidental effect of regulations for bathing in public places. To be sure, since the recent action of the Court, Congress has reinstated the compelling-interest doctrine, lauding its deed as a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” But surely this is overstatement. After all, even under the compelling-interest doctrine, claims to the free exercise of religion can be swept aside whenever the state thinks its reasons are good enough. So much we would have had without a First Amendment.

As our own times have made clear, even releasing nerve gas in public places can be an exercise of religion. Perhaps the blame for our troubles lies with the Framers, for refusing to distinguish the kinds of religion whose exercise should be free from the kinds of religion whose exercise should not. But, foolishly thinking ignorance a friend of conscience, we have followed their lead. Afraid to judge among religions, we put them all beneath our feet; pursuing the will-o’-the-wisp of equal liberty, we tumble headlong into Caesarism.

The fifth moral error of political conservatism is traditionalism. According to this notion what has been done is what should be done; Christianity, however, though it cherishes the unchanging truths of faith, insists that any merely human custom may have to be repented. “That which hath been is that which shall be; and that which hath been done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun,” writes Koheleth, “the Preacher” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). “Behold, I will do a new thing; now shall it spring forth; shall ye not know it?” answers God (Isaiah 43:19).

An illustration of the mischiefs of traditionalism may be found in the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed the supposed right to take the lives of one’s unborn children. By inventing the right in the first place, the Court had shattered tradition; no such use of lethal violence by private individuals had ever been sanctioned in common law. But Roe v. Wade had stood for twenty years. As far as the Court is concerned, that makes it a new tradition”and as such, unassailable. Amazingly, the Court upheld Roe even while admitting that it might have been decided incorrectly. “We are satisfied,” says the majority, “that the immediate question is not the soundness of Roe’s resolution of the issue, but the precedential force that must be accorded the ruling.”

Just how does an unsound precedent have force? The answer, says the Court, is that “for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized their intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail . . . . An entire generation has come of age free to assume Roe’s concept of liberty.” To put the idea more simply, sex has been separated from responsibility for resulting children for so long that to change the rules on people now would be unfair. Therefore, never mind whether what was done was right; what matters is that it was done.

Moral errors gain their plausibility from the truths that they distort. It is certainly true that precedents, traditions, and customs should not be needlessly disturbed; the gain in goodness from a particular change must always be balanced against the harm of change as such. But this truth applies to the choice between a good law and a still better one, not to the choice between a good law and an evil one. The question to ask about moral evil is not whether we have got used to it, but whether it can be stopped.

The sixth moral error of political conservatism is neutralism. This may come as a surprise, because neutralism also comes in a liberal variety. Whereas the liberal sort of neutralist exclaims, “Let a thousand flowers bloom,” the conservative sort cries merely, “Leave me alone.” In essence, conservative neutralism is the notion that because everyone ought to mind his own business, moral and religious judgments should be avoided. By contrast, while agreeing that one ought to mind his own business‚St. Paul warns three times against busybodies—Christianity holds that moral and religious judgments can never be avoided. They must be straight and true before people can even agree as to what their business is.

Not everyone reaches neutralism by the same route, but conservative thinker Michael Oakeshott follows a well-worn path in deriving it from traditionalism. Conservatives, he says, seek activities whose enjoyment springs “not from the success of the enterprise, but from the familiarity of the engagement.” What makes this disposition intelligible in politics is “the observation of our current manner of living” together with the belief that laws are “instruments enabling people to pursue activities of their own choice with minimum frustration.” But to say this is to reject the view that laws are “plans for imposing substantive activities”; therefore, he holds, conservatism has “nothing to do” with morals or religion.

Of course the conclusion does not follow, and if it were really true then conservatives could make no decisions at all. Rather than being indifferent to questions of good and evil, Oakeshott himself maintains the good of minimizing frustration, and rather than holding no opinion about religion, he holds the opinion that it is better to be ignorant of truth than to be pestered about it. For example he says that people of conservative disposition “might even be prepared to suffer a legally established ecclesiastical order,” but “it would not be because they believed it to represent some unassailable religious truth, but merely because it restrained the indecent competition of sects and (as Hume said) moderated ‘the plague of a too diligent clergy.’” The difficulty is plain: If not by his own moral and religious standards, then how does Oakeshott know that competition is indecent and diligence a plague? Why not condemn complacency and sloth instead?

Not even rules designed to tell what counts as pestering can work in a neutral way. Always we must add others to make them work—and what we add makes a difference to the outcome. Christianity recognizes this. For example, consider the principles of Subsidiarity and Sphere Sovereignty. Each targets the problem of knowing where the business of one party ends and the business of another begins. Subsidiarity, a precept of Catholic social thought, holds that greater and higher social institutions like the state exist just to help lesser and subordinate ones like the family. Therefore, to destroy the lesser institutions, absorb them, or take away their proper functions is “gravely wrong” and a “disturbance of right order.” Sphere subsidiarity is more prominent in Protestant social thought. Ordering social institutions horizontally instead of vertically, it says that each has its own domain, its own authority, and its own ruling norm, for instance love in the case of the family and public justice in the case of the state. Therefore, each should be protected from interference by the others.

Both rules are meant to deal with meddling, but applying either one requires a vast amount of other knowledge, which one must get from somewhere else”just what the neutralist would like to think unnecessary. To test my college students I used to ask, “To which institution would a subsidiarist give the task of instructing children in sexual mores”state or family?” Almost all replied, “The state.” Families need help, they argued, because they do a poor job in this area: They rarely teach children about contraception, sexual preferences, or the many other things which young moderns need to know. I was astonished. Couldn’t my students tell the difference between helping the family and absorbing its functions? On reflection their answer was not astonishing at all. They shared neither Christian presuppositions about what sex is for nor Christian presuppositions about how a family works; why then should they have reached Christian conclusions in applying Christian social principles?

There is nothing exceptional about the principles of Subsidiarity and Sphere Sovereignty; no definition of meddling or intrusion can work in a neutral way. Particular moral and religious understandings are always presupposed, and changing them changes the way our definitions work. It follows that forbidding moral judgments will not keep busybodies out of other people’s hair. Somehow they must learn the meanings of “other,” “people’s,” and “hair.”

The seventh moral error of political conservatism is mammonism. According to this notion wealth is the object of commonwealth, and its continual increase even better; according to Christianity wealth is a snare, and its continual increase even worse. Mammonism is what the Big Tent that some political analysts urge for the Republican Party is all about: ditch the social issues, but hold onto the capitals gains tax reduction. To keep your liberty you have to keep your money.

Christians, of course, are not the only ones to have criticized mammonism. Warnings against the love of wealth were a staple even of ancient pagan conservatism. The idea was that virtue makes republics prosper, but prosperity leads to love of wealth, love of wealth leads to loss of virtue, and loss of virtue makes republics fall. Thus if you want your republic to endure, you will do well to seek a site unfavorable to great prosperity—not too warm, not too fertile, not too close to the trading routes. That our secular conservatives disagree with their ancient counterparts will strike no one as a new idea. Odder is the ease with which modern Christians make their peace with mammonism.

An extreme example is found in the late-nineteenth-century Baptist preacher Russell Conwell, who maintained that to make money is the same thing as to preach the Christian gospel. However that may be, to preach his own gospel was certainly the same thing as to make money. So eager were people to hear his oft-repeated Acres of Diamonds speech that he is said to have earned, over a period of years, perhaps six million dollars from speakers’ fees alone. Though peanuts by the standards of modern televangelists, at the time that was real money. An inventory of Conwell’s more astonishing claims would include at least the following: (1) It is your Christian duty to get rich, and ownership of possessions makes you a better person; (2) The overwhelming majority of rich people are morally upright, and that is exactly why they are rich; (3) It is wrong to be poor, and God does not approve of poor people. That Jesus explicitly contradicts each of these claims (Matthew 6:19–21, Matthew 19:23–24, Luke 6:20) leaves Conwell cold.

A more temperate but still objectionable form of mammonism is found in Toward the Future, a “lay letter” published in 1984 by a committee of prominent Catholic conservatives. Jesus told the story of a master who entrusts his servants with the care of his money while he is traveling to a distant place to receive a kingship. Upon his return, he finds that one servant has buried his share while the other two have made investments. The timid servant he scolds and dismisses, but the bold ones he praises and rewards with yet greater responsibilities. Traditionally the Church has understood this parable to mean that just as a king in this world expects his agents to take risks, not burying his money but investing it to earn a return, so God expects his people to take risks, not burying their gifts but using them to build up the Kingdom of Heaven. By contrast, the lay letter understands it to mean simply that God expects his people to invest their money to earn a return. “Preserving capital is not enough,” the authors teach; “it must be made to grow.” The use of gifts for the sake of the Kingdom becomes the growth of wealth for the sake of wealth.

To be sure, the lay letter’s defense of enterprise is not altogether wrong. Material things are not intrinsically evil, it is not a sin to engage in honest business, and, despite its dubious motivational underpinnings, the capitalist type of economy may well be superior to the alternatives. Indeed the cooperative sort of socialism seems to ignore the circumstance of the Fall, and the compulsory sort cannot even be established without the sin of theft. In a fallen world, much can also be said for the “invisible hand” of the market, by which independent individuals, even though selfish, bring about a social good which was no part of their intention. But even Adam Smith recognizes that the invisible hand does not work unless laborers and businessmen submit themselves to the restraints of justice, and that an interest in wealth alone will not induce them to do so. After all, if winning is all that matters, why keep the competition going at all? Why not use one’s wealth to wring special privileges from the government and so become more wealthy still? Capitalism depends on a moral spirit which it cannot supply and may even weaken; it is, in the most exact of senses, a parasite on the faith. But a Christian parasite is not by that fact Christian.

The eighth moral error of political conservatism is meritism. According to this notion I should do unto others as they deserve. With the addition of mammonism, matters become even simpler, for then those who need help are by definition undeserving, while those in a position to help are by definition deserving. That meritism is not a Christian doctrine comes as a surprise to many people. Large numbers think the meritist motto “God helps those who help themselves” is a quotation from the Bible. What the New Testament actually teaches is that in what we need most, we are helpless; the grace of God is an undeserved gift. According to Christianity I should do unto others not as they deserve, but as they need.

Aristotle taught that vices tend to come in pairs, because one can miss a mark either by way of excess or by way of deficiency—by going too far or by failing to go far enough. That is certainly the case here, for the conservative mistake of meritism stands opposite to the liberal mistake of propitiationism—doing unto others as they want. In fact the commonest way to fall into either mistake is by sheer recoil from the other. The reason is easy to see: We tend to think of justice and mercy as antithetical, so that to practice either I must slight the other. By this line of reasoning the conservative emphasis on desert is a preference for justice, while the liberal emphasis on desire is a preference for mercy. By contrast, in the Christian account of things justice and mercy are corollaries that must be united. They are united in the Atonement because God neither waived the just penalty for our sins nor inflicted it on us, but took it upon Himself. This staggering gift also teaches what the unity of justice and mercy requires: sacrifice. If to us justice and mercy seem irreconcilable, the reason is probably that we are loath to pay the price of their reconciliation; we are afraid of sacrifice and shrink from the way of the Cross.

What does the contrast between meritism and charity look like in ordinary human relationships? Consider the governmental policy of paying women cash prizes for bearing children out of wedlock. Liberals want to continue the policy because they cannot tell need from desire. Meritists propose ending it because the subsidies are undeserved. Although a Christian may accept the cutoff, he cannot accept it for the reason given. All of us at all times need and receive many things that we do not deserve. The problem with the subsidies is that they are not what is needed. They so completely split behavior from its natural consequences that they infantilize their supposed beneficiaries; to infantilize them is to debase them, and no one needs to be debased.

Very well, says the meritist to the Christian, but we both support a cutoff. The rationales differ, but so what? That makes no difference in practice, does it? But it does. After achieving the cutoff, the meritist thinks his work is done, but the Christian thinks his work has only begun. He must now find another way to offer help; and he had better be prepared to pay the price. For a portrait of that price, don’t think of a bureaucrat, think of Mother Teresa.

We have considered what Christians are to make of political conservatism. It might also be asked what political conservatives are to make of Christians. I am afraid that the more faithful we are to our identity in Christ, the less reliable they will find us even as occasional allies; and we must be honest with them. The Christian thinker Michael Novak wrote in his 1969 book A Theology for Radical Politics that because God is the source of all truth and good, whatever is true and good is Christian. At that time finding truth and goodness on the left, he therefore baptized the left. Like many Christians of the time, what he forgot was that in order to identify the true and the good, one must have a standard. “Every explanation of the meaning of human existence,” said Reinhold Niebuhr, “must avail itself of some principle of explanation which cannot be explained. Every estimate of values involves some criterion of value which cannot be arrived at empirically.” By the time he wrote Confessions of a Catholic, fourteen years later, Novak had arrived at the same insight. As he explained, his former self had erred in taking his principle of explanation and criterion of value from a worldly faction instead of the community of faith. The “reference group” of Christian activists like himself had somehow become “others on the left”; it should have been others in the Lord.

To repeat the error would be a shame, for the reference group of Christians can no more be others on the right than others on the left. Citizenship is an obligation of the faith, therefore the Christian will not abstain from the politics of the nation-state. But his primary mode of politics must always be witness. It is a good and necessary thing to change the welfare laws, but better yet to go out and feed the poor. It is a good and necessary thing to ban abortion, but better yet to sustain young women and their babies by taking them into the fellowship of faith. This is the way the kingdom of God is built.

It is not by the world that the world is moved—yet how it pulls. Ah, God, help us let go of the heights and the depths, the thrones and dominions, the powers and principalities; to be not conservatives, nor yet liberals, but simply Christians. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.”

By J. Budziszewski and originally published in First Things in April 1996 and can be found here.

 

Gödel’s Incompleteness: The #1 Mathematical Breakthrough of the 20th Century

Every now and again I come across a fantastic article the warrants posting here; I recently came across one CosmicFingerprints.com which, I thought, was pretty insightful.  Be edified.

“Faith and Reason are not enemies. In fact, the exact opposite is true! One is absolutely necessary for the other to exist. All reasoning ultimately traces back to faith in something that you cannot prove.”

In 1931, the young mathematician Kurt Gödel made a landmark discovery, as powerful as anything Albert Einstein developed.

In one salvo, he completely demolished an entire class of scientific theories.

Gödel’s discovery not only applies to mathematics but literally all branches of science, logic and human knowledge. It has earth-shattering implications.

Oddly, few people know anything about it.

Allow me to tell you the story.

Mathematicians love proofs. They were hot and bothered for centuries, because they were unable to PROVE some of the things they knew were true.

So for example if you studied high school Geometry, you’ve done the exercises where you prove all kinds of things about triangles based on a set of theorems.

That high school geometry book is built on Euclid’s five postulates. Everyone knows the postulates are true, but in 2500 years nobody’s figured out a way to prove them.

Yes, it does seem perfectly “obvious” that a line can be extended infinitely in both directions, but no one has been able to PROVE that. We can only demonstrate that Euclid’s postulates are a reasonable, and in fact necessary, set of 5 assumptions.

Towering mathematical geniuses were frustrated for 2000+ years because they couldn’t prove all their theorems. There were so many things that were “obviously true,” but nobody could find a way to prove them.

In the early 1900’s, however, a tremendous wave of optimism swept through mathematical circles. The most brilliant mathematicians in the world (like Bertrand Russell, David Hilbert and Ludwig Wittgenstein) became convinced that they were rapidly closing in on a final synthesis.

A unifying “Theory of Everything” that would finally nail down all the loose ends. Mathematics would be complete, bulletproof, airtight, triumphant.

In 1931 this young Austrian mathematician, Kurt Gödel, published a paper that once and for all PROVED that a single Theory Of Everything is actually impossible. He proved they would never prove everything. (Yeah I know, it sounds a little odd, doesn’t it?)

Gödel’s discovery was called “The Incompleteness Theorem.”

If you’ll give me just a few minutes, I’ll explain what it says, how Gödel proved it, and what it means – in plain, simple English that anyone can understand.

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem says:

“Anything you can draw a circle around cannot explain itself without referring to something outside the circle – something you have to assume but cannot prove.”

You can draw a circle around all of the concepts in your high school geometry book. But they’re all built on Euclid’s 5 postulates which we know are true but cannot be proven. Those 5 postulates are outside the book, outside the circle.

Stated in Formal Language:
Gödel’s theorem says: “Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory that proves certain basic arithmetic truths, there is an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory.”The Church-Turing thesis says that a physical system can express elementary arithmetic just as a human can, and that the arithmetic of a Turing Machine (computer) is not provable within the system and is likewise subject to incompleteness.

Any physical system subjected to measurement is capable of expressing elementary arithmetic. (In other words, children can do math by counting their fingers, water flowing into a bucket does integration, and physical systems always give the right answer.)

Therefore the universe is capable of expressing elementary arithmetic and like both mathematics itself and a Turing machine, is incomplete.

Syllogism:

1. All non-trivial computational systems are incomplete

2. The universe is a non-trivial computational system

3. Therefore the universe is incomplete

You can draw a circle around a bicycle. But the existence of that bicycle relies on a factory that is outside that circle. The bicycle cannot explain itself.

You can draw the circle around a bicycle factory. But that factory likewise relies on other things outside the factory.

Gödel proved that there are ALWAYS more things that are true than you can prove. Any system of logic or numbers that mathematicians ever came up with will always rest on at least a few unprovable assumptions.

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem applies not just to math, but to everything that is subject to the laws of logic. Everything that you can count or calculate. Incompleteness is true in math; it’s equally true in science or language and philosophy.

Gödel created his proof by starting with “The Liar’s Paradox” — which is the statement

“I am lying.”

“I am lying” is self-contradictory, since if it’s true, I’m not a liar, and it’s false; and if it’s false, I am a liar, so it’s true.

Gödel, in one of the most ingenious moves in the history of math, converted this Liar’s Paradox into a mathematical formula. He proved that no statement can prove its own truth.

You always need an outside reference point.

The Incompleteness Theorem was a devastating blow to the “positivists” of the time. They insisted that literally anything you could not measure or prove was nonsense. He showed that their positivism was nonsense.

Gödel proved his theorem in black and white and nobody could argue with his logic. Yet some of his fellow mathematicians went to their graves in denial, believing that somehow or another Gödel must surely be wrong.

He wasn’t wrong. It was really true. There are more things that are true than you can prove.

A “theory of everything” – whether in math, or physics, or philosophy – will never be found.  Because it is mathematically impossible.

OK, so what does this really mean? Why is this super-important, and not just an interesting geek factoid?

Here’s what it means:

  • Faith and Reason are not enemies. In fact, the exact opposite is true! One is absolutely necessary for the other to exist. All reasoning ultimately traces back to faith in something that you cannot prove.
  • All closed systems depend on something outside the system.
  • You can always draw a bigger circle but there will still be something outside the circle.

Reasoning inward from a larger circle to a smaller circle (from “all things” to “some things”) is deductive reasoning.

Example of a deductive reasoning:

1.    All men are mortal
2.    Socrates is a man
3.    Therefore Socrates is mortal

Reasoning outward from a smaller circle to a larger circle (from “some things” to “all things”) is inductive reasoning.

Examples of inductive reasoning:

1. All the men I know are mortal
2. Therefore all men are mortal

1. When I let go of objects, they fall
2. Therefore there is a law of gravity that governs all falling objects

Notice than when you move from the smaller circle to the larger circle, you have to make assumptions that you cannot 100% prove.

For example you cannot PROVE gravity will always be consistent at all times. You can only observe that it’s consistently true every time.

Nearly all scientific laws are based on inductive reasoning. All of science rests on an assumption that the universe is orderly, logical and mathematical based on fixed discoverable laws.

You cannot PROVE this. (You can’t prove that the sun will come up tomorrow morning either.) You literally have to take it on faith. In fact most people don’t know that outside the science circle is a philosophy circle. Science is based on philosophical assumptions that you cannot scientifically prove. Actually, the scientific method cannot prove, it can only infer.

(Science originally came from the idea that God made an orderly universe which obeys fixed, discoverable laws – and because of those laws, He would not have to constantly tinker with it in order for it to operate.)

Now please consider what happens when we draw the biggest circle possibly can – around the whole universe.
(If there are multiple universes, we’re drawing a circle around all of them too):

  • There has to be something outside that circle. Something which we have to assume but cannot prove
  • The universe as we know it is finite – finite matter, finite energy, finite space and 13.8 billion years time
  • The universe (all matter, energy, space and time) cannot explain itself
  • Whatever is outside the biggest circle is boundless. So by definition it is not possible to draw a circle around it.
  • If we draw a circle around all matter, energy, space and time and apply Gödel’s theorem, then we know what is outside that circle is not matter, is not energy, is not space and is not time. Because all the matter and energy are inside the circle. It’s immaterial.
  • Whatever is outside the biggest circle is not a system – i.e. is not an assemblage of parts. Otherwise we could draw a circle around them. The thing outside the biggest circle is indivisible.
  • Whatever is outside the biggest circle is an uncaused cause, because you can always draw a circle around an effect.

We can apply the same inductive reasoning to the origin of information:

  • In the history of the universe we also see the introduction of information, some 3.8 billion years ago. It came in the form of the Genetic code, which is symbolic and immaterial.
  • The information had to come from the outside, since information is not known to be an inherent property of matter, energy, space or time.
  • All codes we know the origin of are designed by conscious beings.
  • Therefore whatever is outside the largest circle is a conscious being.

When we add information to the equation, we conclude that not only is the thing outside the biggest circle infinite and immaterial, it is also self-aware.

Isn’t it interesting how all these conclusions sound suspiciously similar to how theologians have described God for thousands of years?

Maybe that’s why it’s hardly surprising that 80-90% of the people in the world believe in some concept of God. Yes, it’s intuitive to most folks. But Gödel’s theorem indicates it’s also supremely logical. In fact it’s the only position one can take and stay in the realm of reason and logic.

The person who proudly proclaims, “You’re a man of faith, but I’m a man of science” doesn’t understand the roots of science or the nature of knowledge!

Interesting aside…

If you visit the world’s largest atheist website, Infidels, on the home page you will find the following statement:

“Naturalism is the hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it.”

If you know Gödel’s theorem, you know all systems rely on something outside the system. So according to Gödel’s Incompleteness theorem, the folks at Infidels cannot be correct. Because the universe is a system, it has to have an outside cause.

Therefore Atheism violates the laws mathematics.

The Incompleteness of the universe isn’t proof that God exists. But… it IS proof that in order to construct a consistent model of the universe, belief in God is not just 100% logical… it’s necessary.

Euclid’s 5 postulates aren’t formally provable and God is not formally provable either. But… just as you cannot build a coherent system of geometry without Euclid’s 5 postulates, neither can you build a coherent description of the universe without a First Cause and a Source of order.

Thus faith and science are not enemies, but allies. They are two sides of the same coin. It had been true for hundreds of years, but in 1931 this skinny young Austrian mathematician named Kurt Gödel proved it.

No time in the history of mankind has faith in God been more reasonable, more logical, or more thoroughly supported by rational thought, science and mathematics.

Perry Marshall

“Math is the language God wrote the universe in.” –Galileo Galile, 1623

Further reading:

Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel” by Rebecca Goldstein – fantastic biography and a great read

A collection of quotes and notes about Gödel’s proof from Miskatonic University Press

Formal description of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem and links to his original papers on Wikipedia

Science vs. Faith on CoffeehouseTheology.com

Originally published on cosmicfingerprints.com and can be found here.

Post Navigation