Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Christopher Hitchens, Stupid Christians, and the Sublime, pt. 3

Inflected Form(s):
sub·lim·er; sub·lim·est
Latin sublimis, literally, high, elevated
circa 1567
1 a: lofty, grand, or exalted in thought, expression, or manner b: of outstanding spiritual, intellectual, or moral worth c: tending to inspire awe usually because of elevated quality (as of beauty, nobility, or grandeur) or transcendent excellence

After putting myself into a secular, naturalist perspective as much as possible, I tried to conceive of a basis for the sublime (remember: Hitchens did not give one in his work). It seems necessary because it seems that human experience universally includes feelings that touch beyond biochemical explanations. Wanting something to be true does not make it so. Believing something to be true, again, does not make it so. Sensing something to be true, finally, does not make it so. But, can we really be committed to a worldview that excludes on philosophical principle 'transcendent excellence?' Or, in other words, is the worldview put forward by Hitchens and others capable of demonstrating the actual non-existence of qualities such as nobility, true beauty, and glory? No. And further, they do not seem to care to go in that direction. In fact, Hitchens briefly mentions the awe one can experience looking through the Hubble Telescope. Think about it though: can there be a naturalistic explanation that sufficiently provides the breadth and depth necessary for a world that includes that kind of beauty?

Moving beyond the merely natural to the human, I spoke in the previous post of the greatness of the evil of which man is capable. Whether you espouse religion or secularism, that point must be acknowledged. And yet, it seems to me that the secular perspective, by necessity, lessens the depth of the evil. How could it not? We are simply mammals that have evolved to a point of higher intelligence than our predecessors and are accountable to nothing other than the institutions that we ourselves create. What then is evil? What are we really to expect from ourselves and others beyond some use of the rational faculties within ourselves to the ends that seem self-justified? On what basis can we hold each other to any higher standard? And so, wickedness loses some of its edge. And that should be frightening.

This, points to the underlying motive behind every book written, every argument put forward, and every lifestyle approved within this type of thinking: I am not accountable to anyone, and in particular, I am not accountable to some divine lawgiver and judge. I have become convinced that there is no other motive for espousing views of this kind than to free oneself from the sense (to whatever extent this is even possible) of divine accountability.

And just as human evil is watered down, wherever it is not outright approved and applauded, that which is truly 'honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worth of praise' is diminished. Goodness loses its force, its glory, its beauty and becomes trivial. Even when the beautiful is still praised and the honorable is still venerated, it cannot be done so in the way that it deserves. For, again, what is good? What is self-sacrifice? What is love? How can these things exist (which we all universally acclaim) if we are merely the children of primates who were merely one of the eventual products to emerge from the reproduction of single celled organisms?

The secularist perspective must be, in the end, self-contradictory for it wants to affirm that for which it has no philosophical basis.

This does not clear religion of its charges, nor does it excuse the Church, in particular, for what was brought up in the last post. That will be dealt with in what I expect to be the final post of the series.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Christopher Hitchens, Stupid Christians, and the Sublime, pt. 2

Despite the intensity with which some from the atheist proselytizers reject having their worldview described as mainly a negation ('atheism'-means 'no god'), I must say that their arguments rest, from what I have seen, upon attacking what they see as evil as opposed to painting a portrait of what should be instead.

Therefore, the strength of Hitchens' argument consists in his sharp critiques that are too often true, if too limited and unfair at points. So, this post is dedicated to just that: in what ways religion can be said to poison everything. I will follow this up with a later post discussing the sufficiency of this line of thought.

A note of clarification must be issued at the onset: Hitchens, understandably, groups every religious group together in his critique and this will cause members of each separate group to say, "yeah, but our group is different . . ." I think that this grouping actually makes sense in several ways, but will be focusing my attention upon Christianity and how his critique is aimed there specifically.


So, Christianity: is it divine truth that is transforming the world through faith, hope, and love to the glory of God the Father through the Son by the Spirit? Or is it merely one group among many bent upon brutal self-aggrandizement?

It is not difficult to find evidence that supports the latter. And this is particularly poignant when one looks past the usual suspects of televangelists to the individual Christians you personally know. How many of us have known that Christian who is clearly trying to use 'spiritual talk' in order to find a place for himself (or herself) in their social circles? They may be self-righteous or they may simply be annoyingly zealous, but regardless, they come across a bit strong and it seems that it may be more of a show than anything else. And what about the critics of such 'spiritual ones:' "they just take Christianity way too seriously . . . Jesus didn't really mean for us to live like that . . . yeah, but God expects us to take care of ourselves first, etc." If it isn't true such that we really cannot justify giving up all in order to follow Jesus, then how can it really be said to be anything more than one made up system of fear and morality? How many sermons have you heard preached that resemble calls to try harder to be spiritual and moral which could have been preached in a mosque, synagogue, or temple with few changes?

And how many of us have not been hurt by Christians in ways that seem so wildly inconsistent with anything approaching a gospel-transformed life? Does it not seem, at times, that religious types are actually meaner? And how about yourself? Does there seem to be the touch of divine grace upon your life such that you are truly kinder or have you simply adopted a code of ethics that have allowed you to find a comfortable bourgeoisie existence?

These are the questions and points that Hitchens (among many others over the years, of course) hits upon that have to really be engaged even if they are not particularly new.

Personally I have thought deeply about the evidence of grace in my relationships with other Christians, the evidence of grace in my own life, and the evidence of grace in the life of the Church as a whole. And it is the latter that can be the most terrifying to consider if you know history as well as what much of the contemporary Church looks like here in America.

Based upon what I know of the promises of God in the New Testament concerning the Church, I believe that it is safe to say that God's name is so inextricably tied to the Church that if evidence of the divine is completely lacking there then all other arguments (cosmological, teleological, etc) matter not at all. He purchased a people for Himself and because of doctrines concerning issues such as the depravity of man and the efficacy of grace, He must protect it or it will perish, He must beatify it or it will be ugly, He must grow it or it will be stillborn. Ultimately therefore, it is absolutely incumbent upon God to make the Church what He wants it to be. What are we to make of the Church that currently is and of the Church that has been?

We Christians are, in so many countless ways, stupid.

Is there an answer to these questions and a defense for these attacks beyond the obvious one mentioned before that those who are attacking have not really proposed anything credible philosophically themselves?

I believe that there is and part of it has to do with the sublime. Next time . . .

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Christopher Hitchens, Stupid Christians, and the Sublime, pt. 1--an introduction

So, I initiated a sort of thought experiment over the past several weeks where I sought to genuinely understand the worldview, without prejudice, of a man like Christopher Hitchens. In case you don't know of him, check him out here: (also, a youtube preview of a great film/documentary with him and Douglas Wilson). He authored a book that I decided to read this summer provocatively titled, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Here is what I wanted to try and understand from reading his work and trying to enter his world: upon what basis (if any) do men such as Hitchens build a life that includes virtue, beauty, discerning truth from falsity (and error) such that life is worth living?

In other words, I believe that Hitchens, along with his informally associated colleagues such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, reject the path of nihilism and really believe that a society free of superstition and religion will be qualitatively superior. They seem to believe that they really have something inherently better to offer, thus the books . . . so, what is it? What would the world look like from the vantage point of someone who believes that there is no cosmic design to the universe, no ultimate meaning prescribed for life, and no judgment unto death or life at the conclusion of our time upon this soil?

I didn't want to just read and try to refute line by line. There is a place for that, to be sure, but I wanted to attempt a more philosophically (and spiritually) honest pursuit and see what would be left after everything is shaken (see Hebrews 12:26-28). Though I completed the book a couple of weeks back now, the thoughts have continued to develop (ferment?) and I am just now reaching a place where I believe that I can make something of a genuine response.

I've also been working through a few other works, philosophical, theological, and historical that have contributed providentially to the course my mind has taken. I'll list them tonight as a kind of prior works cited and let it be assumed that I am dependent upon each of them in some ways for whatever is written henceforth.

-Maurice Friedman's Problematic Rebel: Melville, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Camus

-David Bentley Hart's Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth

-Michael Burleigh's Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics from the French Revolution to the Great War

-David Ingram's edited collection, Critical Theory: The Essential Readings

So, if interested, stay tuned . . .

Saturday, July 11, 2009

This Is Our God

“Imagine that your prayer is a poorly dressed beggar reeking of alcohol and body odor, stumbling toward the palace of the great king. You have become your prayer. As you shuffle toward the barred gate, the guards stiffen. Your smell has preceded you. You stammer out a message for the great king: ‘I want to see the king.'

Your words are barely intelligible, but you whisper one final word, ‘Jesus, I come in the name of Jesus.’ At the name of Jesus, as if by magic, the palace comes alive. The guards snap to attention, bowing low in front of you. Lights come on, and the door flies open. You are ushered into the palace and down a long hallway into the throne room of the great king, who comes running to you and wraps you in his arms.

The name of Jesus gives my prayers royal access. They get through. Jesus isn’t just the Savior of my soul. He’s also the Savior of my prayers. My prayers come before the throne of God as the prayers of Jesus. ‘Asking in Jesus’ name’ isn’t another thing I have to get right so my prayers are perfect. Is it one more gift of God because my prayers are so imperfect.”

—Paul Miller, A Praying Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress 2009), 135

What a great reminder of our human predicament and Christ's overwhelming greatness and glorious work in enduring the Cross and conquering sin and death. Because of Jesus, my prayers, which would otherwise be a revolting stench of rubbish, are a sweet aroma that is deeply enjoyed by the Father in Heaven. What wonderful love is found in Christ alone! Just wanted to share this beautiful description of the beautiful gift we have when Christ dwells in us!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Just stop it, will ya?

"Sports salaries show what we really value"

Could you consider spending your time and money doing something a little more beneficial? Or at least consider, as you proceed to criticize how much money actors, athletes, and the 'fat cats' of Wall Street are paid, that your values are reflected in our economics.