Monday, October 26, 2009

The State

Lesson 9: The State

As we move past the "intimate three" social systems discussed in the last two tours (Family, Church and God/Man), the next two tours focus on the role of the State in the Biblical worldview. This week addresses The State in general, while next week looks specifically at "The American Experiment."

It is important to remember that the claim that there is a Biblically defined role for the State is not a claim to any specific form of government. In fact, the Bible records different types of governance for God's people, beginning with what should be considered the foundation of any civilization -- the Family. God's original and basic design was with Adam & Eve and his ethical observation that it was "not good" for Adam to be alone. The design of the family (Husband - Wife - Children) was itself based by the eternally existent Trinity (Father - Son - Holy Spirit) ... and so it goes with each of the social systems being discussed. The Trinitarian-type of relationship is the core idea for any such system. The State is no different.

When the nation of Israel first began, the system of governance had Moses filling the human leadership role. Acting in submission to God with the people honoring his leadership role, the system worked just fine -- for a while. Later, God instituted a system of Judges to fill the leadership role and that worked just fine too -- for a while -- until the people demanded a King so that Israel could be like the other nations that surrounded it. God warned his people what would happen, but then complied with their request. That worked just fine too -- for a while -- until the Kings became corrupt and the people went astray.

Obviously, this is a Cliff's Notes version of the actual historical events, but the point is this: God created the sphere of the state as the instrument by which evil is punished and good is condoned (Romans 13). He did not design the form of that government. Any form could work if the State leader acts in proper submission to God and the people honor both Godly ethics and their godly leader. As soon as God is removed from the picture, the system leads to tyranny and oppression.

Just look at the 2oth century ...

Vladimir Lenin called religion "the opiate of the masses" and proceeded to construct a Marxist, human-centered state apparatus that murdered people by the tens of millions. The result of this type of godless political philosophy was tried around the world by people like Mao Tse Tung, Pol-Pot, Josef Stalin, Chiang Kai-Shek and Adolph Hitler. The result was nearly 200 million people murdered by the idea that "the State is the march of God through the world" (Hegel).

These kinds of atrocities always result when "sphere sovereignty" is dishonored -- when the State proactively injects itself into social systems where it has no legitimate jurisdiction. When the State tries to replace the Family, or invade the Church, the consequences are catastrophic. History proves this over and over again. And yet, we never seem to learn our lesson. We see the influence of an invasive State at work today, not just nationally, but internationally. If the trend continues, we have no reason to expect a different result.

As an example of an issue that illustrates the proper -- and improper -- role of the State system at work, consider the protection of the poor and oppressed. There is a clear Biblical mandate for the State to protect these kind of people. But the protection of those in need is a far different thing than approval to provide the care itself. This is properly the role of the Church and Family. The State's protection should come in the form of enacting laws and policies that stop the abuse of those who are most vulnerable and punishes those who violate that protection. When the State, no matter how well-intentioned, takes to caring for people directly by providing anything more than a temporary "safety net," the fallout is always destructive:
  1. Being monetarily impotent, the State is forced to confiscate funds from some, under threat of punishment for non-compliance, in order to provide it to others -- an action Dr. Tackett rightly labels "stealing."
  2. This action deprives those with financial means the privilege of acting charitably toward those less fortunate than themselves.
  3. Those who receive unearned aid are discouraged from experiencing the satisfaction and dignity that they should derive from a proper view of Labor (see: Truth Project Tour 11)
  4. The promise of undeserved monetary reward encourages others to also feed at the public trough and removes some of the motivation to be successful when they see that they can receive something for nothing.
  5. The numbers of the needy increase, thereby causing the State to demand more from the wealthy, often by using class warfare to encourage the needy to vote those politicians who promise to continue these types of policies into office.
  6. Return to Step 1.
This process becomes a vicious cycle. The wealthy become cynical and find ways to hide or otherwise make their funds unavailable. The needy become dependent on the State and lose a proper view of work. Politicians exploit both groups to entrench their own source of power and influence. All this because of the initial improper role the State assumed in expanding its own sphere of influence by invading and violating the sovereignty of other social systems.

The State is the God-ordained institution meant to set ethical boundaries and promote justice. When it does so properly, and when the people are treated justly and honor their leaders as a result, the State social system, no matter what form it takes, works as it was designed to work.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lying High

There isn't much else to say about the sheer arrogance and stupidity of the "Balloon Boy" incident we were all witness to last week. My only comment is that the whole story legitimized an idea that a Biola University philosophy professor mentioned in a lecture I attended in 2004. J.P. Moreland later formalized his thoughts in his book: The Lost Virtue of Happiness (a book I highly recommend, by the way), and it is this ...

The Christian Worldview rests on a foundation that consists of the objective reality of truth and ethics. The idea is that things like truth and ethics are not just the "constructions" of individuals or the culture they inhabit. They are real things. We don't "make them up" or arrive at them by consensus or public opinion. We discover them. They are part of the fabric of the universe. They define the way the world actually is.

This leads us to conclude that there is something outside of us -- something to which we are inherently obligated. This is the way things are whether we choose to believe it or not. The mere existence of things like these implies that they must have their source in a personal, transcendent Cause -- something like what we might call ... God.

When you value truth and ethics, it follows that you not only believe in something bigger than yourself, but that you aspire to live your life in accordance with those values. Jesus called this "eternal life" and promised that is was something we could find only in him. Moreland describes this kind of life as "a life of virtue and character" that the ancients labeled the achievement of such a state "happiness."

To them, happiness was not an intense, giddy feeling that depended on external circumstances. Instead, it is ...
"... a life well-lived, a life of virtue and character, a life that manifests wisdom, kindness, and goodness."
Those who most consistently achieve that aspiration -- and do so in the face of hardship or even danger -- are the people we admire most. Those who are most successful at fulfilling this type of life and the ultimate representative of such a worldview is someone we might call a hero.

Conversely, those who do not acknowledge or accept transcendent reality act accordingly. They do not see themselves as being bound by objective truth or morality. They revel in their human autonomy and mock any belief system that puts restrictions on their rights and privileges. Adherents to such a worldview make their own rules, establish their own values and strive to achieve a level of success that is centered solely on themselves. They are, by definition, self-absorbed narcissists.

Sadly, this is the type of life our culture encourages us to seek. And those who are most successful at achieving it -- the epitome, if you will, of such a worldview -- is someone who has reached the status of celebrity.

Do we honor heroism or celebrity?

Our culture has made its choice. We see it at the grocery store check out line. We see it in "entertainment news." We see it in "reality" television shows. We see it in the self-infatuated celebrations of athletes in the end zone. We see it in the news every day ... and we see where it can take us -- to a quixotic quest for value that is as fleeting and directionless as the Heene's deflated, backyard balloon.

There is a lesson here and it is this: You can inhale the helium of celebrity if you choose. The reward it offers is a voice that is notable to all who hear it ... but it doesn't last very long.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Unio Mystica

Lesson 8: Unio Mystica

I must admit that I have always been uncomfortable with the common Christian-speak refrain to "accept Jesus as your personal savior." There are two ideas in that short phrase that have always made me feel uneasy. First, I have felt it presumptuous to imply that there is any legitimacy to the idea that the likes of me could ever claim either the capacity or the moral standing to "accept" the omnipotent, perfect Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Rather, it seems to me that it would be more accurate to see salvation as the infinitely gracious act of a God who, only after I recognize and admit to my utter inability to deserve such a thing, makes the decision to accept me.

Second, I have never liked the "personal savior" thing. It hasn't been until recently that I could explain my discomfort with this aspect of the phrase, but it turns out that I have had good reason. For one thing, this notion is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Instead, I have come to believe it is more likely a result of the "it's-all-about-me, I-write-my-own-narrative" culture we have constructed for ourselves over the last 300 years or so. I simply find it unimaginable that people like Martin Luther or the Pilgrims who came to found this nation would have described Jesus as their "personal savior." Instead, it sounds awfully similar to the way we might describe our personal computers, personal digital assistants, or personal water craft.

All that said, the concept of Unio Mystica is a far richer concept than the simple acceptance of Jesus as one's personal savior. And no one can describe the concept better than the Apostle John in his first epistle:
"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (3:1)

"No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit ..." (3:12-13)

"God is love. Whoever live in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us ..." (3:16b)
Though, as Dr. Tackett says repeatedly, it is beyond the ability of mortal human beings to explain or comprehend such a thing as our union with God, we get a glimpse of what it means in these passages and others. God has in some sense "drawn us into the Godhead" and thereby "resides in us and us in Him." Because God is infinite, He can be infinitely present in each of his people and we can share a relationship with Him in that way. Relationship is the key word. This is what makes our union with God "personal." It is a far different thing to say that we can in some way have access to God, and be in a relationship with him than it is to call Him our "personal savior."

This is a mystery, no doubt. But whether we completely get how such a thing works or not, what we can definitely do is draw inferences about how we should see the unio mystica playing out in our individual lives. If we "really believe that this relationship is really real," it should affect every aspect of our lives. Some thoughts about that ...

Discipleship: A disciple is an "apprentice of Jesus" -- a lifelong learner who models his/her life after Christ. In order to cultivate this relationship we have with God requires time, discipline and commitment not only to knowing about Him, but to knowing Him. The "spiritual disciplines" are a way to make our relationship real. There are many disciplines (and that is a topic for an entire study of its own), but the most common and effective ways to nurture our connection with God are through practices like: contemplative prayer, silence, solitude, fasting, meditation on Scripture, frugality, service, and study.

Worship: One who practices the disciplines and whose life is actually centered on, and anchored in, God cannot help but reflect that relationship in worship. This is a far different thing than what we usually think of -- singing songs to God on Sunday morning. Worship is a lifestyle of faith, obedience and sacrifice that reflects our character and how that character has been molded by our relationship with God.

Ministry: If this is the kind of life you live, based on the kind of relationship you have with God, it becomes inevitable that there is no such thing as a separate category of work called "the ministry." We are all ministers, all the time.

Happiness: Our modern culture has, through the exaltation of our own self-esteem and the "writing of our own narrative," convinced us that happiness is a giddy feeling, dependent on external circumstances, that everything is going our way. But this is far from the classical definition of happiness. Translated "blessed" in the Sermon on the Mount, those to whom Jesus spoke understood happiness as: a settled tone that springs from a permanent and stable internal contentment based on a self-denying apprenticeship with God that infects our entire being. In other words, to be infused with the proper relationship with God is to be happy -- regardless of our external circumstances.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sociology

Lesson 7: Sociology

One of the more astounding facts about the world we live in is that it is so incredibly ordered at every level. From the subatomic particles that make up the entire physical universe, to the anthropic fine-tuning of the world, solar system and galaxy we live in, there is order and complexity all the way up and down. With this lesson we begin to explore how a similar kind of order has even been imposed on the social systems we take for granted every day. Once we recognize that order and seek to understand its origin, it becomes blatantly obvious that the deceptions involved in the "cosmic battle" all seem to in some way deny the very order that was designed to make societies work.

As R. C. Sproul so eloquently pointed out, the order we see in the created world is not a human construction. It is not even something God "made up" or thought of as he went along. The order we see in the creation and the social systems that define our culture has been there for all eternity in the nature of God himself.

The Trinity (One Nature, Three Persons :: One What, Three Whos), though comprised of separate persons, shares the Divine Essence and is the ultimate model of relationship, union, communion, intimacy, fellowship, love, and community. In the triune Christian God we see the leadership and properly-practiced, gracious authority of the Father, the glorious and loving submission of the Son, and the helping, honoring nature of the Holy Spirit. God is unity in diversity and from God's nature every social system derives the model by which it should operate.

The family (husband, wife and children) and the church (Christ, leadership, flock) are the two most obvious models of social systems that Dr. Tackett uses to describe a properly functioning relationship. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves his bride -- the church. Children are to honor their parents as the flock is to honor the leadership of the church.

This kind of system was in place before the fall and is best described by the ancient Hebrew term: shalom. Shalom is more than just the commonly translated word for "peace." It is a rich concept that includes: completeness, contentment, soundness, wholeness, health, welfare, safety, prosperity, rest harmony, tranquility, and absence of discord.

Quite simply, shalom is "the way things ought to be."

Sadly, if shalom describes how things ought to work, each of these descriptions has become the focus of nearly every societal ill. A secular, naturalistic culture that hates the authority of God will do all that it can to destroy any system that reflects His nature. We see the effects of this aspect of the "cosmic battle" that rages all around us. The family is under assault. It becomes obvious when we reflect on some the most debilitating trends we see going on: the abdication of male responsibility, radical feminism, children's "rights," pornography, child abuse, the homosexual agenda, and a redefinition of marriage itself. In each of these, we see some aspect of the godly model being undermined.

Our charge is to recognize not only how things ought to be, but how we are going astray. Our exploration of social systems begins with the church and the family, but it does not end there. In the coming weeks we will see just how pervasive this trend has become.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Making N.I.C.E.


In the third installment of his space trilogySpace Trilogy series, That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis' main character (Mark Studdock) was seduced with the promise of joining the inner ring of a powerful English society that used questionable tactics to establish an "efficient" state bureaucracy run by controllers who saw themselves as being a cut above the rest of the world. The name of the society Mark yearned to join was the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments -- N.I.C.E.

Lewis described N.I.C.E. as:
"the first fruits of that constructive fusion between state and laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes for a better world. It was to be free from almost all the tiresome restraints ... which have hitherto hampered research in this country. It was also largely free from the restraints of economy ..."
This, in fictional form, was the epitome of what Lewis feared would become a socio-political reality. Some of his reviewers begged to differ. The New York Times described That Hideous Strength as "superlatively nonsensical excitement, challenging implications," while Time magazine called it a "well-written, fast-paced satirical fantasy." That was in 1946.

Fast forward to 2009.

John C. Goodman, writing in National Review (September 21, 2009), reports on the contemporary British health commission:
"which currently recommends against any treatment that costs more than $45,000 to save a year of life. Because of [the commission], British cancer patients are denied access to drugs that are routinely available in the U.S. and on the European continent, and thousands die prematurely."
The name of the commission is the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, but the Brits refer to it by the more commonly recognized acronym: N.I.C.E.

I wish I could make this stuff up. In fact, when I read it I assumed that Mr. Goodman had made it up. He didn't. But the creepy stuff doesn't stop there.

The reason Mr. Goodman cited this fact was because N.I.C.E., according to former Senator Tom Daschle, is the model on which we should base American health care reform. He says so in his book, Critical: What We Can Do About The Health-Care Crisis. And, barring the inconvenience of paying those pesky income taxes that only those of us who are not driven to work in a limousine should have to bear, the good Senator would have been the one overseeing our American N.I.C.E. guys. Instead, we have HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who, under the plan being offered, will not only fill that role but also be the one to decide which pool of federal funding may, or may not (?), be used to fund abortions.

So, yes, Sarah Palin's hyperbolic comments about "death panels" in the health care reform bill being considered were not accurate. But that said, and given the ideology and bureaucratic impulses of our current cast of political characters, does anyone truly doubt that, as Jay and Serge pointed out in Podcast #19 (available on the Life Training Institute's website and iTunes), there will be rationing. When resources are limited and controlling costs is the reason the reform is being pushed in the first place, this will be the inevitable result. Someone will be charged with responsibility of deciding who gets what. Someone like Mark Studdock.

And that is a hideous strength to wield.

---

Monday, October 5, 2009

History

Lesson 6: History

This week's discussion centered on the the fact that many of today's cultural deceptions are really nothing but the result of a revisionist history that has removed God from the picture and convinced us that our personal "story" is all that matters -- that there is no "greater story" (metanarrative in philosopher-speak) of which we are a part. The result is a self-centered mindset that is all too obvious in the culture around us. These ideas work into all we have been discussing in The Truth Project and they have been a long time coming ...

Pre-Modernity: Ancient thinkers believed that there were three ways we could know things about the world and our place in it: 1) Reason, 2) The Five Senses (Observation), and 3) Revelation (from deity). This was the view for thousands of years ... until the church overstepped its bounds by becoming corrupt and entangled with despots and regal leaders, especially in Europe. The Reformation (16th century) of the church, combined with great changes that were being made in philosophy and scientific progress led to The Enlightenment (mid 17th - 18th centuries). Along with the distrust of the church, God and His revelation were rejected or demoted to the status of private matters that should not be permitted to influence what man could really know about the world. This brought us to what has since been called the age of Modernity.

Modernity: Once Revelation was removed as an acceptable form of knowledge about the world, only Reason and Observation remained. Without God, man became the final authority for everything. Churches in Europe came to deify reason itself and were renamed accordingly. The Scientific Revolution (16th through 18th centuries) led man to believe that his study of (science), and control of (technology) nature would cure all man's ills and solve all his problems. It was the Modern world that came to demand that man alone (humanism) and science (scientism) held all the answers and that those answers could only be found inside the box. This is the paradigm we've been discussing for the past 6 weeks.

Post-Modernity: Modernism failed to deliver. Some scientific theories (relativity and quantum mechanics in particular) suggested to some that we couldn't really know anything for sure. The great promises of humanism and the scientific applications to politics resulted in Marxist, Stalinist, Communist, and other man-centered philosophies that led to the brutal regimes that killed over 100 million people in the 20th century (the bloodiest in history) and two World Wars. Because of these things, the post-modern world has lost faith in both Reason and The 5 Senses. But when man rejected Reason, Observation and Revelation as his sources of knowledge, there was nothing left to rely on but himself.

This has led us to recognize some of the common refrains we hear today ...

"There is no way to know the truth, because there is no such thing as objective truth."

"Ethics? Who are you to say, or judge, what is right and wrong? It may be true for you, but it's not for me."

"We are not a part of any grand story -- we make up our own. He who controls what we believe about the past, controls the future. Make a "new history" and change the game."

But to change history is to engage in another form of deception. The Christian worldview rejects this notion and sees the story of our lives only in light of its place in God's Grand Story. Our purpose is bound up in His. Our hardships and suffering diminish when we recognize this. Our hope lies in the future God has promised. Our history is His history.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Missing Link -- Latest Version

A couple of friends have asked me about the recent news about "Ardi" (Ardipithecus ramidus) and this New York Times article: Fossil Skeleton From Africa Predates Lucy which claims the discovery of yet another "missing link."

I am no expert on issues like this, but I know someone who is ... Fazale "Fuz" Rana of Reasons To Believe. Fuz has already addressed this exact topic in the two articles linked below.

Before you read them, please note that Fuz covered this "newest fossil skeleton" (as described in the NY Times article 3 days ago) in 2001 and 2002, respectively. It was originally discovered in 1992.

Toumai Man Offers Evolutionists No Hope | Reasons To Believe

The Leap to Two Feet: The Sudden Appearance of Bipedalism | Reasons To Believe

(Both posted using ShareThis)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Colbert -v- Dawkins: The Blind Leading the Blind Watchmaker

Dawkins completely evades the real questions (as usual) ... with his circular reasoning, assuming what he wants to prove ... same old stuff.

When asked "why there is beauty," Dawkins responds that, "we have brains that perceive beauty because we have evolved our brains to see beauty."

AAhhh, now I see. The problem is that he answered a question that he wasn't asked. Even if we agree with what he said (which I don't), he is only offering a (lame) explanation for our perceptions -- he is not even attempting to explain where the beauty we perceive came from in the first place.

Oh well, at least he seems to have a sense of humor. Enjoy ...

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Richard Dawkins
www.colbertnation.com
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