Thursday, May 08, 2008

Matt 24 watch, 54: On self evident truth, the Tao of virtue and the New Atheist attempt to deride God and biblical morality as monstrous

As usual, I am biting off a full mouthful!

(Also, on looking at the dateline for the last post, I see I have been very busy for longer than I realised; the last post here is April 18. That busy-ness includes that I am now sitting on a public hot seat on the draft sustainable energy policy for Montserrat. Your thoughts and inputs are most welcome!)

What stirs me this morning is, first, the idea of moral self evident truth, in the context of what C S Lewis in effect summarised as the Tao of virtue, its links to biblical morality, and the challenge of the New Atheists movement that the God of the Bible is a moral monster undeserving of respect and his followers -- by direct corollary --are dangerous, irrational, potential tyrants.

Let us begin our response by addressing the idea of self-evident truths:
1 --> Self-evident truths are those that, on careful inspection, are directly understood as sound, once we carefully reflect on what the claimed truth means in light of how we experience the world as conscious agents.

2 --> For instance, classically, a finite whole is greater than any one of its proper parts. We cannot understand each term save by reference to the others, and so we see it in light of our experience and exploration of the truth expressed in the statement -- a learning experience spiral.

3 --> And, once we have a basis of such experience to clearly understand what is claimed, we see that it is true and that it is necessarily true on pain of reduction to absurdity should we try to deny it.

4 --> Similarly, as Elton Trueblood reminds us in his General Philosophy, a book that deserves to be read far more than it usually is, Josiah Royce began his reflections on truth by considering the undeniably true claim: "error exists." Try to deny it, and one immediately instantiates its truth.

5 --> Indeed, Royce's pithy statement embeds ideas on what truth is, and on what error is, in light of the idea that truth accurately refers to reality, while error fails to do so.
Each of these is understood incrementally in a spiral learning relationship, and none can be understood without reference to the others. Attempts to "prove" the truth end up implicitly assuming it, but the result is not a dubious vicious logical circle: we are here in the presence of a key self-evident truth!

6 --> Then, this extends to moral truths. As Locke cites Hooker in Ch 2 section 5 of his 2nd essay on Civil Government, such self-evident moral truths include that:
. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.
7 --> In short, we see here a key element of the Tao of Virtue, and that it is a self-evident truth. One may indeed choose to reject it, but only on pain of blatant, often self-serving absurdity.

8 --> This gives us an excellent start-point and basis for calling for much-needed reformation of our civilisation.
In turn, I am equally stirred by reflections on the Moral Monster thesis. A good way to look at that is to excerpt a comment I made this morning at UD:


. . . the price one pays for rejecting self-evident truth is that one descends into a morass of absurdity and confusion, to the point where one cannot accept the obvious.

One may indeed choose to be absurd, but that absurdity itself is the strongest evidence that the Tao is as advertised; self-evidently true . . . .

. . . we are of course [also] seeing the now almost routine claim that “Biblical morality and/or the God of the Bible is monstrous.”

That tactic is not an accident, it is a stratagem of the New Atheists [following the good old fashioned “Village Atheist” of yore] to try to mock and discredit what they cannot directly address on the merits of the main point. Namely, that the core moral teachings of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are an apt expression of what C S Lewis called the Tao, the way of virtue based on key self evident moral truths. A way that has massively and sacrificially contributed to the rise of modern liberty and democracy, and a way that is also committed to the proper difference between liberty and libertinism or license or amorality.

A way that, therefore, all too many in our day would subvert and discard, the better to forward their own agendas — never mind the resulting moral incoherence and chaos. And, never mind the underlying moral principle in evolutionary materialist thought: “might makes ‘right’ . . .” — a moral absurdity if ever there was one.

So, let us first set the record straight by setting forth the core of Biblical morality in the community, using the words of Paul in an epistle recently dismissed by a certain US presidential candidate as “obscure” when it cut across his agenda [the same book and passage, BTW, that grounds the principle that government and citizenship are based on justice and good community order — thus was the theological foundation of the Dutch [1581], Scottish [C16 - 17], Glorious English [1688] and American [1764 - 88] Revolutions, cf. vv 1 - 7]:

Rom 13:8 . . . he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,”[a] and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

a –> The core principle of good citizenship is plain: love does no harm to its neighbour, so love fulfills the Tao.

b --> Hooker, in the justly classic Ecclesiastical Polity, set forth just how this principle is self-evidently true, in a passage cited and used by Locke in Ch 2 sect 5 of his 2nd essay on govt, to ground his own discussion of principles of law, liberty and citizenship:

. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.

c –> So, self-evidently, we share a common human nature: we are of one blood, as the same Paul observed in Ac 17, in speaking to the guardians of the West’s classical intellectual tradition up on Mars Hill in Athens, in 50 AD. Consequently, just as we wish for others to treat us with dignity, respect, etc, we have a duty to do the same to our equals in nature. Anything not consistent with that is morally incoherent and absurd.

d –> Thence also - on the underlying issues tracing to the arguments in and debates over Expelled — the follies of Nazi racialism and associated agendas. Notice, the concept of the Aryan man was that he was superior to the untermensch so had no obligation to treat them with respect, and certainly was not to let such racial inferiors breed up and overwhelm the master race! We all know where this led, and how it was rationalised.

e –> Now also, the passage cited above speaks not just to the duties of the citizen, but the ruler[s]. According to vv 1 - 4: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities . . . [the civil authority] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

f –> So, there is a sword of justice that is a duty of the ruler, in a world in which there are evildoers who can only be held in check by force. So, rulers hold a further commission as God’s agents of judgement against determined wrongdoers who have to be so restrained.

g –> Unfortunately, the class of determined wrongdoers can also include the ruler himself. Rulers can turn tyrant.

h –> So, based on a multitude of biblical examples and statements that the New Atheists — tellingly — never cite, the reformers worked out the principle of interposition [by lower magistrates acting with and/or for the people] to restrain or remove an unjust ruler, thence of godly revolution and establishment of a new government with justice under God. This was foundational to the rise of modern liberty as the linked note on that history and associated key documents will bring out.

i –> So we see a due balance: citizenship is to be based on neighbour love, and government is established as God’s agency to do us justice and good, holding the forces of evil and resulting chaos in check. That means as well that rulers hold special duties and must have access tot he means of those duties, financial [v 7 — just power of taxation] and forceful [v 4 — just power of the sword].

j –> But note, the ruler acts as God’s agent, God being the supreme authority and judge, and the one who holds the original power of the sword as creator and governor of the cosmos and as the supremely Just.

k –> So, we must immediately recognise that God acting in just government against evil doers holds special duties and just powers. It is in that context that cultures that become a sufficiently destructive contagion and plague of evil in the world are destroyed by him: first by the self-destructive implications of such a way of life and society; second by their stubborn disobedience to the Tao and to those who stand up to warn them, thus proving that they must be held in check by force; and, thirdly by destructive force — the just power of the sword. (I tremble for our civilisation, as Jefferson once trembled for the United States . . .)

l –> Usually, that targets ruling elites and their key institutions. [Indeed, if one reads here, one will see, say, that the degree of destruction of Canaanite cultures was different than one might infer from a superficial, out of context reading of isolated texts. More generally, the Moral Monster thesis needs to also be re-assessed in light of considerations here.]

m –> But also, in the end, biblically, it is appointed to us sinful men once to die and thereafter to face just eternal judgement.

n –> That judgement of course — per Rm 2 vv 6 - 9 and 12 - 16 etc — respects the degree of light one may have had [and innocent babies are not in the position of willful men who refuse to live by the truth they know or should know], and respects penitent persistence in the path of the good and the truth that one knows, even where there is much error. But, it is the judgement of our Creator, and Lord — our ultimate ruler, not a fellow citizen on the same level.

o –> From that balanced biblical perspective, a lot of otherwise inexplicably troubling things take on a more balanced proportion.

p –> This includes the case with Abraham and Isaac. For, Abraham, doubtless was quite familiar with child sacrifice from his Canaanite cultural matrix. So, to him, the demand for such sacrifice would have fit into that context.

q –> But through a prophetic drama, Jehovah led him to see that the sacrifice of innocent children was needless, with a ram standing in as acceptable. And, as Hebrews reminds us, the rams [which BTW usually ended up as food for the priestly class, who in that culture carried out much of the processes of governance now carried out by secular governments] looked forward to the day when God himself would willingly offer himself up as the true sacrifice for all our sins, doing away with blood sacrifice in toto.

r –> Thus, too, we see the principle of long term moral and spiritual progress in light of what is understandable and acceptable to men at given times and places: accommodation to the situation we face and the hardness of our hearts, but with the principle and pointer to progress in it, opening the way for later upliftment.

s –> So, the real issue in our time is to go back to the principles of the Tao, and then look into our own sinful and self-deceptive hearts, asking ourselves hard questions on what is now simply allowed for the hardness of our own hearts today.

t –> While we are at it, we will need to ask: is this light or darkness, liberty or libertinism? And, for that the two halves of the core Tao are a sure guide: Love God our loving and good Creator, love our fellow human beings, made in God’s image.


So, now, will we listen to the call for repentance and reformation in light of the truth and the right in our culture.

Or, will we instead succumb to the blandishments of vice and its self-destructive absurdities?

Indeed, will we continue to turn our backs on the self-evident truths of the world without and heart and mind within that point, like a compass needle, to our Creator and to our duties under our Lord and God?

If so, we will lose control of our passions, find our minds blighted with en-darkenment even as we loudly proclaim our wisdom and learning, and will end up in demonic chaos; fallingunder the just judgement of God.

Defiance of truth and right are absurd, and self-destructive.

When will we come to our senses and repent? END

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