Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Belmont Club

The Belmont Club

Here is a link to a commentary on two other interesting links. All three deal with the death wish of the liberal West. What the West needs is a return to the solid truths of real Christianity - not a distorted self serving kind, not one that repeats the sins of our fathers, but a real Biblical Christianity that changes everything and produces good fruit in society and the world.
The source of the West's problems is belief errors - relativism, skepticism, materialism, hedonism, etc. The only remedy is belief in the truth. Not more of the same errors.


Lynn Green said...

The problem is that each of us believes something different about the truth, even those who believe in some type of sacred scripture. Look at any city and see how many churches there interpret the Bible differently. Now you may say that they need to come to a consensus, but I consider that unrealistic and probably undesireable.

There may be an absolute truth. I would like to think that something like slavery is immoral and always was immoral. (Interestingly enough, Paul didn't seem to think so. In fact, during the Civil War the Southern Baptists split with their northern brothers over this very issue claiming they had Biblical authority for slavery.)
My problem is not with the idea of absolute truth, it is with my ability to know what that absolute truth is. As Paul says, we have this treasure in earthen vessels. (I like one translation I read, earthen vessels=cracked pots). I think we need the various interpretations of truth so that we can correct one another.

Dean McConnell said...

Dear Lynn,
I understand your feelings on the question. It is true that because of our fallen state we are often wrong in our assertions about what is true. Our sinful desires blind us to the truth we know or keep us from seeing the truth. As a result humility is called for on most political and legal issues. All that said though, I think that the truth is there to be discovered or admitted. C.S. Lewis, in the Abolition of Man notes that all peoples of all times and all cultures have held basically the same understanding of the basic principles of moral truth. Our post modern Western culture however, like the sophists of Socrates' time, have tried to socially repress that knowledge. They were aided in this by the pro-slavery, pro-jim crow and pro- abortion lobbies in the US because they all knew in their hearts that absolute moral principles condemned their positions.
You mention the different denominations - but the truth is that if you look only at Christian churches that really believe the Bible the similarities in what they believe far outnumber the differences. And the orthodox of nearly all major religions agree on the same basic moral principles however much they may differ in application.
By contrast, real political liberalism, relativism etc. provides no final basis for law or politics except raw power. The West has just been living off the intellectual capital of its Christian past until now - when it seeks to reject that past completely. Past attempts at the rejection of Christianity brought the West the terrors of the French and Russian revolutions, the Nazis and the Communists; not the most happy and tolerant groups.
Christianity involves a paradox: It is only by loosing yourself in God that you can really find your true self. By seeking ones self to the exclusion of truth you loose yourself. This is because God himself is the ultimate source of all knowledge, wisdom and truth. To seek him is to find everything - even ourselves. To reject any part of the true or wise is to love death.
Now does that mean I think I know everything? No. but I, and other evangelical Christians know a few basic things the West could accept without becoming intolerance of diversity. We need to accept that all human beings are valuable because they are made in God's image. That rules out slavery, discrimination, personal violence, harassment, dehumanizing others through pornography, abortion, and cloning just for a start if we are honest about the implications of the principle. Next we need to decide that we will try to keep our laws in harmony with as much of the moral law as people can commonly bear. And we will not officially advocate or teach vice even when we do not outlaw it. Nor must we discourage virtue. Nearly everything else is a matter of policy and choice. But these core limitations - which were acknowledged in principle although not followed in practice for over twelve hundred years in the West, will make a tremendous difference.
By all means we need to be open to correction by others who see an issue more clearly than we do ourselves. And so we allow freedom of conscience and speech. But we must also officially recognize that truth exists. And, to paraphrase Lincoln, we must do the right as God gives us to see the right.

Lynn Green said...

Dear Don,

I believe, as did Lewis who was the subject of my M.A. thesis, that there are some basic moralities by which we all live. I reject the idea that these are due to the work of a theistic being because they are basic truths of atheistic systems like Buddhism.

I also reject the idea liberalism calls for relativism. Liberals such a Martin Luther King, George Bernard Shaw, Henry David Thoreau, and others definitely believed in right and wrong, moral and immoral.

As to Christian denomination more similar than different, I am a member of the United Church of Christ priviledged to be under the ministry of Dr. Robin Meyers, the finest preacher in America in this former PK's opinion. We don't have a creed. In fact, one of my friend who goes to that church calls himself and atheist. I think that you would have to say that as a Christian denomination, we are quite different. Now you may say that we don't "really believe the Bible" but that only makes my previous point: you are calling for a particular interpretation of sacred scripture that would not include all in the faith.

We are one nation of many faiths, truly E Pluribus unam. Where you see a weakness, I see our great strength.

Dean McConnell said...

Dear Ms. Green,

I have to admit I am curious about some of your beliefs. What do you believe is the source of common morality if it is not God? If the common morality is a product of evolution why is it binding? Why should people live like Ghandi rather than like Tamerlane or the Khans?
Second, if you do not believe in the truth of the Bible why do you call yourself a Christian rather than a transcendentalist or a moralist or something of that sort?
I do not mean to be difficult, I really would like to know what you think.
Next, perhaps I should be more clear what I mean by "Liberal". I am talking about radical political liberalism - the idea that human government should be based only on scientific reason. Alone, this is not bad. But when combined with materialism and skepticism the result is a belief that moral principles have no place in law or government because they are religious. Instead of morality law is based on power, economics, or existential considerations. It is this final conclusion that has imbalanced Western legal systems and is slowly tearing them apart.
Under my definition Martin Luther King Jr. was not a Liberal because he believed human laws need to square with Natural Law to be valid. See his letter from a Birmingham Jail. Shaw was a real Liberal. But I question your belief that he was a moral man. He did dislike hypocrisy in others, but that was an inconsistency in his own philosophy. I do not have enough familiarity with Thoreau to comment on him.

Lynn Green said...

You can consult my board "The Greenflame" to answer some of your questions.

I am a follower of the man from Nazereth as I understand him.

I believe that all morality starts with this idea, "All humans are by nature equal and equally deserving of human dignity. All difference between humans are differences of degree rather than kind." That's the basis for the Golden Rule in its many restatements long before Jesus himself walked the earth.

You might not have considered King to be liberal, but I am sure he did. Perhaps you ought to understand what a true liberal is. I believe that Jesus was/is a liberal.

Doug E. said...


I find your statements interesting. You started out by talking about the inability of knowing absolute truth. Then you speak of "out of many one" being a strength not a weakness. And how we should incorporate all faiths, Yet the entire point of your arguments is that Dean McConnell's faith is wrong. This doesn't seem to incorporate all faiths. You seem to want to exclude his, because it doesn't agree with yours.

Just an observation,



Dean McConnell said...

Dear Lynn,

Thanks for your response.

If you believe human equality is the basis for morality without God, how do you deal with the so called naturalistic fallacy - the idea that what is is not a basis for what ought to be done? Theistic Natural Law posits God as the source of the ought as well as the source of moral knowledge. Perhaps you believe human will is the source of oughtness? But that deifies humans. To put it in post modern speak: it privileges humans.

As for Jesus being a Liberal, I suppose it depends on the definition. If you mean loving our neighbor makes a person a liberal then we are all liberals - or at least aspire to be. But using my definition Jesus could not be a liberal because of his statements about absolute truth. Jesus says "I tell you the truth . . ." over 75 times in the gospels. He also claims to be the truth (John 14:6). John identifies Jesus as the Logos - the word, the argument, the reasoning, the logic, the pattern, the world of ideas. Logos means all that. Christianities idea is that Jesus is the Logos, that he died for our sins, and that he rose from the dead. It is Logoscentric. By contrast, postmodernism is expressly anti-logoscentric.

My argument is that Liberalism plus skepticism leads to postmodernism and that postmodernism is fatal to civilizations because it denies the essential truth.

Lynn Green said...

Dear Dean,

You seem to me to be creating a "straw man" by claiming that liberals do not believe in truth. As I have said before, this liberal does believe in truth. What I distrust is our ability to state at any one time that what we believe to be true is in fact the real ultimate truth. For me to say at any one time this or that is absolutely true strikes me as an example of hubris. I believe in truth, but I approach any pronouncement I make concerning it with a good deal of humility, "fear and trembling" as it were.

Truth is, afterall, the correspondence between perception and reality. I have no problem with reality. It's perception that gives me problems.

Of course, we are not so much dealing with the realm of truth when discussing matters of faith as we are discussing matters of goodness and values, a far more "trickey" prospect to define that truth even is.

I am not familar with the term "naturalistic fallacy". As you define it, it seems to mean that not everything that is is good. However, I agree with Mortimer J. Adler, another enemy of relativism, who writes: "If moral philosophy is to have a sound factual basis, it is to be found in the facts about human nature and nowhere else. Nothing else but the sameness of human nature at all times and places, from the beginning of Homo Sapiens, can provide the basis for a set of moral values that should be universally accepted."

So we begin with the fact that all humans are equally deserving of dignity, and go from there to the great conversation of what this means.

Dean McConnell said...

Dear Lynn,

Perhaps you are not a liberal under may definition. If you agree with Adler on most things I would say you are not a liberal in the definition I am using. Adler is an Artistilian. He believes there is truth to be found. And, that morality, goodness. or beauty may be "true" or objective. Like Aristotle, Adler assumes there is a plan or pattern behind reality. That the kind of thing something is connects to its "purpose" or "telos." In his methodology he starts with empirical observations, commonly held opinion, and the "nature" of things. This is a noble and helpful tradition of thought. It is one of the views in contrast to the views of the Sophists. The Sophists are one of the groups I define as true radical political liberals. The Sophists believed all "truth" was relative, synthetic, and socially constructed. They though might makes right.
The third major view of reality is related to the views of Plato. Plato believed all people came equipped with a knowledge of the world of ideas. This knowledge is difficult to communicate or act on. It requires thought. The world of ideas makes human thought, experience, language, and morality possible. It is like the system architecture and operating system in a computer. Without that information you have a useless pile of metal. With it, the recording and processing of other information becomes possible. Augustine of Hippo built on Plato's insight by seeing that the Bible supported the idea that God is the source of all true ideas, and makes the basic human "operating system" available to humans through Christ - "the light that lightens every man." The Jewish philosopher Philo came to similar conclusions in the first century without knowing of the incarnation of the Logos he associated with the world of ideas.
The views of Augustine and Aristotle can be "liberal" in the sense of not being authoritarian. But is you define liberalism in the way I do, they are not liberal. The Sophists by contrast are liberal.
Next, what about the Naturalistic fallacy. It was the major attack by the modern sophists on deistic Aristotilianism. The idea is that we cannot hope to discover what is normative or good by making empirical observations about the way things are. It assumes that the observable order is not necessarily good. The Bible teaches that the observable world is not always good because sin and rebellion against God have affected the world in many ways.
A Christian Aristotelian can respond that we have knowledge of God and the truth from special revelation - and special revelation clarifies when and how we can trust the general revelation.