Queer Theory for the Tea Party

Let us abandon for a moment the idea of culture war, and shift the image over to a game or a sport. Many conservative believers think we are in a straightforward contest of strength, something like sumo wrestling, when we are actually in a chess game with a master who is consistently five moves ahead of us.

I bring this up because of this piece by Michael Hannon over at First Things, warning us off the false ideal of heterosexuality. And if you read that, I would then recommend this response over at Mere Orthodoxy. In this response of mine, I would want to go even farther than Matt Anderson did in registering concern. By “registering concern” I refer of course to the fact that I will be dancing in place, with my hair on fire, and waving my hands over the top of my head.

There are three problems that have each contributed to setting my head ablaze. Let me outline them for you, although concentration might be a problem.

The first problem with this essay is that it represents the triumph of nominalism run amok. Now I have a great deal of sympathy for a particular approach that Christian writers have taken in encouraging Christians struggling with same sex attraction. They do well in teaching these Christians that their identity should not be found in their temptations, but rather in Christ. Whatever our temptations are, of whatever kind, if we have trusted in Christ, we should not be defined by them. We are, all of us, commanded to turn to the form of new humanity in Jesus, and He is the one who sets our foundational identity.

But more than that is going on here. In many cases, the reluctance to give approval to statements like “I am heterosexual” or “I am homosexual” is actually a reluctance to approve of any abstractions whatever. Everything has to be this table or that one, and we must take care not to veer off into a refried Platonism by seeking to define what a table is in the abstract. But this is overly precious, incoherent, and impossible, all three of which failings are good reasons not to do it. If ever you find yourself teetering on the brink of queer theory in order to avoid Platonism, then you should conclude that Jesus must want you to become a Platonist. I am overstating this, of course, but not by much.

Scripture does not hesitate to use nouns to describe individuals who are classed in that group because of things they do. Presumably they do them because of an inclination to do them, and the apostle Paul does not worry about creating false identities outside of Christ through a simple use of collective nouns.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind . . .” (1 Cor. 6:9).

Paul doesn’t worry about it because He knows the power of Christ to change the categories — “such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). But in the meantime, this guy is a fornicator, that guy is an adulterer, and the other guy is a catamite.

So instead of puzzling over what to do about the chess move confronting us right now, we should first reflect on what happened to us five moves back. One of the things that happened was that we lost a particular philosophical battle, and so lost our ability to use collective nouns in making moral judgments. In order to be faithful now, we need to go back and recover that ability. I am heterosexual is a meaningful statement, and as long as I am making it within the boundaries of biblical orthodoxy, I should continue to make it.

The second is the retreat to commitment, where the ever-present refuge of “our faith community” beckons us if the public battle ever gets too hot for us. In his book of that name, William Bartley dissects the pretensions of the liberal mainliners a generation ago, showing how their intellectual “courage” was nothing less than a simple CYA move. Our intellectual evangelicals today remind me of Tallyrand’s observation about the Bourbons — “they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” We are in the process of committing the same kind of intellectual suicide, and for all the same reasons, and with the same rationalizations. Hannon mentions that we believers should be fine with Foucault as a strange bedfellow, which I take as a strange suggestion. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God into the image of a corruptible queer theorist, one who incidentally had already been corrupted. He shouldn’t have been allowed in the house, much less the bedroom.

And the third problematic area is the growing distrust of nature and the natural order. This is actually what lies behind my insistence on the new birth. In order to be given a new nature, I must have an old nature to be delivered from. But that old nature is a fallen nature, not an anti-nature.

If we say, on philosophical grounds, that a person has no quintessential nature that can be transformed in the new birth, this has ramifications for the doctrine of regeneration. But it also has just as many ramifications for our ability to object to sex change operations, and for the same reasons. If a man asks a surgeon to change him from a boy to a girl, what is being violated? There is no express scriptural prohibition of it. It offends middle class sensibilities, but I have been reading First Things long enough to have rejected the idol of middle class sensibilities. The apostle Paul would say that such a move was “against nature,” but Foucault, this strange fellow here in bed with us now, is whispering retorts at a furious pace. Nature? Nature?!

Yes, nature. God made the world in a particular way, and has provided us with a manual for understanding in the Bible. But I have assembled enough products that were shipped to me in a box to be able to tell how the good ones work. Say I am assembling a book case. Not only do I have the manual, but I also discover that the intelligent people at the factory have labeled and marked the various parts. That is what nature is like. The world goes together the way God intends for it to go together.

If you want to make sense of it all, then make this resolution. Reject every form untethered nominalism. Confess that Jesus is Lord outside your faith community. And embrace the grace contained within natural revelation. And don’t try to run any workshops on queer theory at Tea Party rallies.

Now there are good Christian people who, for various reasons, are dabbling with one or more of these three problem areas — unhinged nominalism, a retreat to commitment, and a suspicion of natural theology. I do not regard them as evil or wicked, but I do regard them as hopelessly outmaneuvered.

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141 thoughts on “Queer Theory for the Tea Party

  1. When Chesterton said that “we have not seen the dawn of free thought but it’s dusk” it is a great reminder that this sort of unhinging from God is something that has happened before (many times over). As Christians we shouldn’t be surprised that the world “hates him.” We also shouldn’t think that the enemy will ultimately win. Satan may be a few moves ahead but he’s only moving closer to that pit that’s awaiting him. We need to play to keep others from joining him. 

  2. In theory, I don’t think it matters worth a hill of beans whether such things as “heterosexual persons” or “homosexual persons” exist.  In practice, it makes all the difference in the world.  So Hannon’s article (and Doug’s reaction to it) is only interesting if you’re a pragmatist who cares more about the mechanics of how things actually work than you do about the philosophical underpinnings of why they work.  If a member of your church were discovered to have had a homosexual experience, or even a series of them over an extended period of time, would you really care why?  How you would answer the question tells you whether this is even a relevant conversation.  Reminds me of a memo I saw back in the days when being gay would get someone kicked out of the military.  A 19 year old kid had been discovered having sex with another 19 year old kid.  The CO’s reaction was, “I don’t care if he’s a homosexual or if he’s just a mixed up kid; I just want him out of my unit ASAP.”  Which, I think, pretty much sums it up.
     

  3. Doug, I’m hesitant to say this because I think you have a pretty good grasp on what is going on. So this comes as more of a humble question than it does a criticism. Do you really think that the homo stuff is “the” issue that deserves your attention seemingly more than anything else? I find your chess analogy true, but true as well for these kind of posts. I’m not saying this type of stuff should never be discussed but the overwhelming majority of thoughtful posts these days seem to be about it. I am perfectly happy to continue reading these posts and thinking about it, but from a tactical perspective it seems to me that your making a bad move with your abilities. With the state of the nation the way it is, would not your intelect be better used on the potential deceptions that the church has already swallowed whole heartedly? If you believe in your “going back 5 moves” statement, then would not the move that is most important to understand be things like submission to government and what that truly means? Especially if things get worse and worse. Surely the libertarian in you has something to say about those topics. It just seems to me that most Christians I know have no idea what to think about resistance whether for or against it. All they know is that if any impulse in them rises up against and threatens their “steady state” existence then they are immediately to quote Romans 13:1 and be done with the conversation. Its seems like we are being set up perfectly for a blood bath because of our ignorance. Would any of the founding fathers even recognize the church’s current position on submission as orthodox? All of that to say, why do you prefer to attack the gay issue right now over other big issues. What is your tactical perspective on it and what makes it so important that it needs to keep being hammered?                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                                
    ***Qualifications and further statements to help prevent useless rabbit holes*** 1.This is an honest question, not a snot nose belly ache. If the gay issue is really where the fight is at I’ll join in locally where I can. 2. I know this is Doug’s blog and he can write whatever he wants. I agree with that statement and love that it is true. However, I believe we are at war spiritually and sometimes it’s good practice to have an honest look at the battle plan. 3. I am interested to hear not only Doug’s opinion (if he chooses to respond), but also anyone else’s thoughts on what battle is the main battle that needs more of our brightest’s thinking/writing. If it truly is the gay pride people then why? If it is not then what is it? 

  4. Eric, just so I understand you, were you making a declaration as to what the situation is according to your worldview or were you saying that, within the Christian worldview, the “why” doesn’t really matter?

  5. Eric, if a 19 year old kid of my church was discovered sodomizing another 19 year old kid, then of course we would care.  I am sure there are some people, who self identify as “Christians,” who would simply want the inconvenient, embarrassing situation to go away.  Working through problems takes time.  People are busy.  Get rid of the distraction.  Any actual Christian should be concerned when any professing Christian habitually practices any unrepentant sin.  Christians have been set free from the power of sin in their lives.  We have been given the Holy Spirit so that we do not have to walk as we once walked, living in the passions of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.  We have been set free from the power of sin in our lives.  Therefore, any time we see a person living in unrepentant sin, we should be concerned that they might be self deceived.  They may be one of the many people who say in the last day, “LORD, LORD,” to whom he declares “depart from me workers of lawlessness.”  So yes if I saw ANY professing Christian, refusing to repent of ANY sin, then we would encourage him to repent of his sin and believe in the good news that Christ died to save sinners from their sins.  Christ died to free us from the penalty of our sins and the power of our sins.  If the individual refused to repent, then we would remove him from church membership.  We would do this in hopes that his removal would wake him up to his desperate need of repentance.  We would hope that he would come to realize that an unrepentant Christian is an oxymoron.  

  6.  
    Wesley, I’m saying that it’s a useless classification that gets treated with far more respect than it deserves.  We could classify people by what they eat for breakfast – oatmealists, and pancakeists and baconists – but we don’t bother because nothing useful would come of it.  Nobody really cares if people who eat oatmeal do so because it’s an intrinsic part of their nature.  And likewise, if a man has sex with another man, how exactly is it useful to determine if it’s an intrinsic part of his nature, or merely the mood he happened to be in today (subject to being in a different mood for a different kind of sexual partner on a different day)?  What practical difference does it make?  He’s going to end up excommunicated from Doug’s church regardless of the answer.   But it does make a difference in practice, because this fiction that the classification actually means something has been used as a launching pad for all kinds of policies and assumptions, some good, some not so good.  So from a pure practicality standpoint, it makes a difference, because people do in fact use the classification, whether they are logically justified in doing so or not.
     
     
     

  7. ~ This is definitely one the of (many) battles Christians need to pay attention to.   However I think that Christians are pursuing the battle in the wrong way.  We are being reactive to the culture as it tries to define us, instead of allowing Christ to define us and thus becoming the salt and light to the world.           
    Very clearly the Bible states that “If ANY man, be in Christ, he is a new creature.”  2 Corinthians 5:19,21   Moreover, if you read to the right (2 Cor 6:  ), Christians are called; light, righteousness, Christ, believers, the temple of God.   And then in 1 Corinthians 6:9&10  we are warns that theives, drunkards, homosexuals, idolators, the covetous etc will not inherit the kindom of God.   When a person says they are a drunk or homosexual or fornicator, etc…  they are taking that behavior as their identity.  Christians take the identity of Christ on them.  As Christians we should never claim any other identity except that of Christ, the righteous, the light of the world.            
    This should be taught consistantly to all Christians.   As a result of this, the Christian becomes aware of who they are in Christ, and ‘re-wire’ as it were their thinking (training their souls to be subject to their re-born spirits instead of being led around by the flesh and being thus carnal minded.)      
     Foucault and the entire post modernist cult are nihilistic.  The logical outcome of these individuals is that the only meaning which exists is that which the perceiver (reader) ascribes to a given topic.   This is written about in 2 Corinthians 10: 4-5 which states  “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of God.”   We cannot imagine that we are something that God proclaims we are not without serious consequences.   Our imaginations are not to define us or to define Scripture.                
    The battle against the enemy, on all fronts, begins by knowing who we are and what our capabilities are.  Then we can correctly ascertain the enemy and respond to him properly.   

  8. Eric, excommunication is not a “one strike and you’re out” kind of thing.  The question is always, “Is this person repentant?”  If he is not repentant, then as far as we can tell, he is not a Christian.  If he is not a Christian, then we should not link arms with him and declare him to be what he is not.  Christians repent of their sins, non-Christians do not.  

  9. Hi Eric. You said, “… Hannon’s article (and Doug’s reaction to it) is only interesting if you’re a pragmatist who cares more about the mechanics of how things actually work than you do about the philosophical underpinnings of why they work.”                                                                                                                                                                                          
    What “things” are you referring to here? Did you really mean to say that these articles are uninteresting if you aren’t a pragmatist?

  10. J, thanks for an intriguing comment. I don’t think the sexual issue is THE issue, but I do think it is in the top three. I went back over the last month and counted up the posts composed for publication here to tally them up (as distinct from sermon outlines, exhortations, quotations, etc.). The “Sex and Culture” posts certainly came in first, with eight posts, but I also posted on eleven other topics that were all over the place — on entropy, education, global warming, food issues, music, etc. I guess I am comfortable with that ratio because I think that in other months, depending on the news cycle and what I am reading, it could be quite different. But thanks for the comment.

  11. Doug, Thank you for your response. That makes sense to me. It may be that I am the one focusing more on the sexual stuff and thus creating a false ratio in my mind. Out of curiosity if you wouldn’t mind answering, what would be the other two of the top three issues? 

  12. Mr. the Red: really, now. Do you know how excommunication works and why? I sort of agree with how you view the classification of homosexual sin. Our secular culture has pushed for classification pretty hard, to the point of making someone engaging in this habitual sin very one-dimensional. They are ‘GAY’. When actually they are sinful people (like us all) regularly engaged in sexual sin of the mind and/ or body.

  13. Mr Fosi, the disconnect is between theoretical and applied; sometimes when you observe stuff in the field you get results you weren’t expecting, which is why theoretical science is of only limited value until it’s been confirmed experimentally.  It’s like the old saw about how in theory, bumblebees shouldn‘t be able to fly, only they do.  Likewise, the theoretical answer to the question, Is there such a thing as a heterosexual person (or  homosexual person) should be no; sexual orientation is largely a social construct.  Since it’s a social construct, it’s only as interesting and useful as society makes it.  But then when we move to actual field observation, we see that society has placed great weight on this particular classification, even though there’s no real reason why it should.  Ask yourself this:  Doug’s church has two nineteen year old males who are both excommunicated for having sex.  One had sex with a 19-year-old girl, the other with a 19-year-old boy.  When each of them claims to be repentant and wants back in the church, do you seriously think they’ll be treated the same?  If not, why not?  It’s because getting stuck with the label “gay” results in different treatment, whether the label has any intrinsic value or not. 

  14. If a Christian treats a repentant sodomite differently than he treats a repentant fornicator, and refuses to repent of his hypocrisy, he should be excommunicated as well.

  15. Well, I’ll allow that I may have read too far into your comment, but if you meant that one would be considered less sinful than the other, you’re making an unfounded assumption–though you may not have been, so I apologize if that’s not what you meant.

    _

    However, to say that heterosexual sin outside of marriage is equal to homosexual sin in any case…well…that would be wrong.  If not in the matter of degree, AT LEAST in the matter of category.  Now, I believe that identity is involved (in an existential fashion) too much, but that doesn’t do away with categories.

  16. Alright, I have now read both linked articles and this post and here is my question: Is wanting to have sex wrong for those outside of a marriage covenant? Are the unmarried sinning simply by wanting to have sex? Are we allowed to want to have sex until we are married, and afterwards, is sexual attraction to anyone other than our spouse wrong?

  17. Reuben K, we should not think of sex as a bad thing.  It is a wonderful gift.  Christians need to have a positive view of sex.  We should not simply be known for saying no to sodomy, fornication, bestiality, incest, pornography, and adultery.  We should be saying yes to sex in marriage.  If that is true, then we cannot say that a simple desire for sex for those outside a marriage covenant is an unequivocal evil.  For example, it is not wrong for a fifteen year old to desire a car.  His simple desire for something good can turn into a lust (inordinate or consuming desire) if he finds himself constantly thinking about his need for a car, or if he starts to desire a car that belongs to someone else, if he refuses to be satisfied until he has a car.  These are all sins which operate at the level of “desire.”  Similarly if the desire becomes full-formed such that he decides to take matters into his own hands and take a car that does not belong to him, then he transgresses further and becomes a thief.  So, in general, there is nothing wrong with desiring a good gift.  However, the temptation is to think of marriage in a reductionistic way, such that a person thinks of marriage solely as an opportunity to have guilt free sex.  In doing so, that person trivializes marriage and objectifies his future spouse.  There is great temptation to see people as sex objects instead of seeing them as people.  Sex should be the physical expression of relational intimacy in marriage.  Sexual attraction is a tricky word and so that is a difficult question to answer.  If by sexual attraction, you mean arousal, then you have probably objectified a person, seeing them as an object to be used for your desires.  In this way you have probably looked upon the person with lust in your heart.  (I am using you generically)

  18. Eric,
     
    I would never want to be harshly critical of breakfast choices, so instead of being labeled as an oatmealist, and pancakeist and baconist, I would call myself a dinerist. And if you have never eaten in a real diner of the 50′s version, well,  you cannot even imagine the premise of eating ;)

  19. RFB, nobody imposes morality on whether you prefer oatmeal to omelettes, or whether you prefer a 50s diner to a five-star $50 breakfast buffet.  (At least not per se; there can be secondary issues if your portion sizes lead to obesity and heart disease, or if you robbed a convenience store to get the money to go to the five star restaurant; but none of those issues is related to the food choice itself.)  Everybody understands that those are purely personal choices.  So that’s why those classifications don’t get made.  That’s not true of sexual preferences.  And frankly, I guess I just don’t see other people’s non-coercive choices as being any of my business.  If their choices are badly executed and lead to secondary issues, like unplanned pregnancies or disease transmission, well, those are secondary issues that can be addressed as such.
     

  20. Eric the Red said: “Likewise, the theoretical answer to the question, Is there such a thing as a heterosexual person (or  homosexual person) should be no; sexual orientation is largely a social construct.”  I’m confused, because the gay activists and the media sympathizers are always telling us that gay people are “born” that way.  Yet you’re saying it’s largely a social construct.  So which is it?  Would you also say that there’s no such thing as a male person or a female person?  Or is that a social construct too? 

  21. Dan, the reason sexual orientation is a social construct is the entirely arbitrary manner in which the line has been drawn.  A gay man with a foot fetish has more in common with a straight man with a foot fetish, than he does with other gay men who don’t find feet all that interesting.  A male pedophile attracted to pre-pubescent girls has far more in common with a male pedophile attracted to pre-pubescent boys, than he does with a straight man attracted to adult females.  In both of those examples, the gay/straight dichotomy isn’t really what defines them.  And in fact, it is well documented that people sometimes depart from what would normally be considered their sexual orientation to find partners who share common specific interests; it you’re a straight man with a medical fetish, you may find it easier and less hassle to find a gay guy willing to check your prostate than to convince your wife or girlfriend to do it.  Plus, sexual orientation isn’t even a binary either/or; some people have varying degrees of attraction for both sexes.  Is a man who has sex with women, but who fantasizes about guys while he’s having sex with women, gay or straight, or both or neither?  And, in some people, sexuality is even a bit fluid over the course of a lifetime; there’s no guarantee that you will be attracted tomorrow to the things that attract you today.  Finally, is it objective or subjective; if you consider yourself to be one thing or the other, is that determinative, or is it more objective?  Life is not so simple, and human sexual behavior can’t always be hammered into one category or the other.  It’s true that most people most of the time will find themselves in one camp or the other, but there’s enough arbitrary line drawing that it really is more of a social construct than an objective measurable fact.  

  22. And as for gay people being born that way, nobody really knows.  Current evidence suggests that same-sex attraction may stem from the chemicals that a fetus was exposed to in the womb, so if someone is gay, maybe it really is his mother’s fault.  :)  

  23. J, Here’s why the homosexual issue is overwhelmingly important to the church at present: there are many powerful people within the evangelical church who are pushing a sinful homosexual agenda on the church and this is overt in a way no other sinful behavior has been propagated (with the possible exception of the ‘prosperity gospel’).  My own church is dealing with this issue right now and trust me, it ain’t pretty.  When we have high profile so-called Christians who are telling our young people that sexual orientation is not chosen and, in some cases, celebrating their own sons who have ‘come out of the closet’ and that those of us who believe in a Savior who  “…does not lead us into temptation but deliver[s] us from evil” are wrong, we are not chasing after things only the world is doing and being judgmental of the world.  We are rather, doing the Biblical thing and dealing with sin in our own ranks.  There are many who just want the whole thing to go away so they can live in their cocoon; but guess what?  This sin is coming to get ‘ya. We are already seeing Christians who own businesses being told that they must bow the knee to Baal and they are not – yet.  This demand is being issued with a monetary penalty attached to it right now.  How long before it will come with a prison penalty?

  24. And by the way, nobody really knows why anybody in particular is attracted to anything in particular.  If I asked you to tell me, objectively, why you find one person attractive but not another, the best you’d be able to do would boil down to you, personally, find certain things attractive.  And isn’t it amazing that Biblical injunctions against gay sex just happen to track majoritarian tastes and preferences that are, ultimately, subjective.

  25. Eric the Red, your response to Dan regarding arbitrarily drawn lines is eloquently stated, thank you.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    Tim Mullet, thank you for your reply; I am in agreement with what you state but am searching for a more exact answer to my question. Another way to state my question might be: In Eden, how do you think sexuality worked? Pretend for the sake of illustration that Lilith dropped by to see Eve. How did Adam respond? Did his brain register Lilith as a sexual being? Or did Adam not even realize at even the most reflexive unconscious level the mechanical possibility of sexual contact with Lilith?  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~     I am asking because in my experience and observations, sexual attraction, including low levels of physical arousal, are not caused by thoughts. This does not mean that they are not bad or sins, but it does mean that if Lust is defined as a certain kind of wicked thoughts and imaginings, then those levels of sexual attraction and arousal that are reflexive but not due to wrong ideas are not lust. Are they due to the fallen condition of humanity, i.e., still due to original sin? Or are they properly inherent in the design of the human? I am inclined to believe the latter with a touch of the former for many reasons, but I want other people to provide outside perspective.

  26. p.s., Eric the Red, regarding your last post before my last post, I think we are both aware that the Biblical laws for sexual behavior can hardly be said to track any majority sexual behavior/preference of the Natural Human Person As We Know Him Or Her From Nature. As a piece of friendly advice, don’t take cheap shots that logically undermine your better arguments. If we are trying to claim that the N.H.P.A.W.K.H.O.H.F.N. (see above) is sexually ambiguous, plastic, and individually sexually unique, then large groups of them would instate a majority standard of behaviour that would reflect this disposition, as observed, say, in regions of Southeast Asia. The sexual laws of the Bible really don’t favor any truly human majority sexual preference and we both know it.

  27. Eric the Red, you said: “A gay man with a foot fetish has more in common with a straight man with a foot fetish, than he does with other gay men who don’t find feet all that interesting.”  That is utter nonsense, 100 percent.  I’m astonished at the statement, to be honest.  Here’s another false statement: “Plus, sexual orientation isn’t even a binary either/or; some people have varying degrees of attraction for both sexes.”  Really?  Perhaps for maybe 3 percent of the population, which renders “some people” a bit misleading.  Sorry Eric, but most people don’t have varying degrees of attraction for both sexes, which I assume you’re implying sexual attraction.  Not even close.

  28. Reuben, you said: “The sexual laws of the Bible really don’t favor any truly human majority sexual preference and we both know it.”  Seriously, what Bible are you reading?

  29. ReubenK: that is a helpful elaboration. It is definitely difficult to talk about the subject due to the fact that there is so much to say: I think I’d start by saying that there is a fundamental difference between Eden and post-fall due to the fact sin enters the world and clothes are immediately necessary. I understand the instinct to ask what would it be like in Eden, but as far as we can tell there are only two people in Eden. Many people speculate that Eden did not last long because you have perfectly a prefectly fertile couple and kids seem to come later.However I do think we get a cglimpse of an Edenic response in Ezekiel 16. Israel is pictured as a naked young girlat the age of love (breasts formed) and the Divine reaction is to cover the shame of her nakedness. If we can be like God, then I do believe that an appropriate Christian response to an embarrassing situation should be embarrassment and not low level arousal. I think we have bought into a lie that says, men will be men, when in fact a man should be a man and respond as a protective Father, or respond in disgust to the sensuality of our culture. Paul instructs Timothy to relate to the younger women in Christ as sisters, you don’t get aroused at the thought of your sister. That does not mean, I can not recognize my sister is beautiful. Another important thing to consider is the fact that lust is fundamentally a desire.Typically we think of lust as simply the act of fantasizing about sexual encounters with another person to whom we are not married. Yet, I think a good case can be made that lust and attraction are often synonymous. Lust is often described as a pull towards the forbidden, that may not necessarily be cognitive. That’s certainly a long discussion. However, we are responsible not simply for what we do, or think, but also for what we desire to do. Sinful attractions come from a sinful heart. Let me hasten to add that I understand biological cycles of pressure and release. I do think however, that we can develop habits of guarding our thoughts, eyes, affections, desires, etc. So that we do not primarily relate to others as sexual beings but as family members. I realize this is not very specific :) but where do you disagree? Or what questions have I ignored or glossed over? Hard to be too precise on a phone.

  30. Reuben, I take your point about my comment on majoritarian preferences being legislated in the Bible.  Dan, you would be astounded at how much truth is counter-intuitive.  It’s counter-intuitive that heavy objects and light objects fall at the same speed, so people assumed that they didn’t until Galileo came along and actually tested it.  It’s counter-intuitive that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth; if you look up into the sky over the course of a day it sure looks like the sun is orbiting the earth.  So maybe my comments seem counter intuitive to you, but that’s what the data says.  Don’t call things nonsense just because intuitively you think it should be different.

  31. If I didn’t know any better (and I do!), I’d almost think Pastor Wilson is some kind of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosopher.  And that’s a good thing!!!
    Here is the wonderful Richard Weaver on nominalism:
    “Like Macbeth, Western man made an evil decision, which has become the efficient and final cause of other evil decisions. Have we forgotten our encounter with the witches on the heath? It occurred in the late fourteenth century, and what the witches said to the protagonist of this drama was that man could realize himself more fully if he would only abandon his belief in the existence of transcendentals. The powers of darkness were working subtly, as always, and they couched this proposition in the seemingly innocent form of an attack upon universals. The defeat of logical realism in the great medieval debate was the crucial event in the history of Western culture; from this flowed those acts which issue now in modern decadence.
    One may be accused here of oversimplifying the historical process, but I take the view that the conscious policies of men and governments are not mere rationalizations of what has been brought about by unaccountable forces. They are rather deductions from our most basic ideas of human destiny, and they have a great, though not unobstructed, power to determine out course.
    For this reason I turn to William of Occam as the best representative of a change which came over man’s conception of reality at this historic juncture. It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence. His triumph tended to leave universal terms mere names serving our convenience. The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses. With this change in the affirmation of what is real,, the whole orientation of culture takes a turn, and we are on the road to modern empiricism.”
    I’m a long-time lurker who has decided to come out of hiding and express my gratitude for all Pastor Wilson does with his preaching and writing.  In case you don’t go to my blog, you should know I have my differences with the good Pastor — I’m Catholic for one and for another, I’m a fan of Lincoln and the cause of the Union and the North.  Having just read the wonderful little collection of essays by Doug called “Black and Tan”, I can only say that I respect his intellect and despite my disagreements, there is still much we can agree on (e.g. Robert E. Lee was a great American, there was much to admire about the old Christian culture of the South, you can’t go wrong reading Eugene Genovese, etc., etc.)
    So while we must agree to disagree on certain subjects, I’m happy to have Doug at my side in the current culture wars — anyone who is as fine a writer as the good Pastor (and consequently, as fine a thinker) is someone I want for an ally.
    God bless.

  32. Dear Fake, though it seems disrespectful to call you that, thanks very much. I almost cited Weaver in writing this, but decided against it. But I think you were right. Thanks for fixing the deficiency.

  33. So much good content in the responses is lost for lack of paragraph breaks — waaaah. (I’m just throwing a little tantrum here because it’s seriously difficult to wade through long and thoughtful responses without the benefit of breaks).  Now, back to regularly scheduled programming (and, yes, I’m aware there’s a work-around, but still…).

  34. Tim, good comments.  You said: “I think we have bought into a lie that says, men will be men, when in fact a man should be a man and respond as a protective Father, or respond in disgust to the sensuality of our culture.”  Yes, we need more men to respond this way and to mentor the younger men in the same mindset.  You also said: “However, we are responsible not simply for what we do, or think, but also for what we desire to do.”  I agree.  Which is why we should take every thought captive, lest we cultivate lustful thoughts and desires that can lead us into temptation.  You also said: “I do think however, that we can develop habits of guarding our thoughts, eyes, affections, desires, etc.”  I agree.  This kind of guarding is worth pursuing, otherwise we can become distracted and lured into temptation.

  35. Eric the Red, you said: “Dan, you would be astounded at how much truth is counter-intuitive.  It’s counter-intuitive that heavy objects and light objects fall at the same speed…”  Okay, so a leaf falling from a 100 foot tree falls at the same speed as an acorn that falls from a 100 foot tree?  Thus, they’ll hit the ground at the same time?  Do I have that right?  Also, I’ll repeat your prior statement.  You said: “A gay man with a foot fetish has more in common with a straight man with a foot fetish, than he does with other gay men who don’t find feet all that interesting.”  In other words, a straight man who would never in 5 million years think of having sex with another man, and would instead want a deep, intimate relationship with a woman, have kids with her, raise a family with her, etc., in reality would have “more in common” with a gay man if they both had a foot fetish?  Do I have that right?  And Eric, why a foot fetish?  How about a straight man and a gay man who both have a passion for stock car racing?  Or chess?  Or baking pies?  Your argument is a flop, Eric, which is why it’s utter nonsense.  Two people having a common “fetish” or a common hobby, or maybe both having ADHD or OCD or whatever, hardly equates to having “more in common” than the fundamental desires of one’s sexuality and one’s sexual attractions.  Good grief.  On a scale of 1 to 100, your fetish is about a 2 in comparison. 

  36. Eric the Red seems to have a fetish for red herrings.  Should he be diagnosed as to whether he was born that way, or it is an orientation that nature put into him, environmentally?  Once we have fully documented the described the origin of the fetish, does anything follow from that?  What if the sinfulness of a sin is relational and doesn’t depend on genetic fallacies?

  37. Dan, because of its shape, a leaf will encounter air resistance that will slow it down, but that’s because of its shape, and not because of its weight.  If you take two objects that weigh the same and have the same shape, so there won’t be a difference in air resistance, then yes, they will fall at the same rate of speed.  I know that’s counter-intuitive, but it’s also Physics 101, and you can try the experiment yourself if you like.  Many other things that are true are counter-intuitive as well, which is why in discussions like these it’s important to have hard data rather than go with assumptions, no matter how obvious those assumptions may seem to you to be.  Often those common sense assumptions turn out to be wrong when an actual experiment is done.

  38. Dan, most of the rest of your argument simply underlines how completely arbitrary it is to define people by whether they prefer sex with men or with women.  Why not define them by their love of stock car racing or baking pies?  The reason is that it would never occur to anybody to attach moral significance to whether someone likes to bake pies (or whether they prefer apple pies to cherry pies).  It’s only because your religion tells you to attach moral significance to my partner’s anatomy that it has become such a beloved yardstick for measuring people’s moral worth.

  39. And to answer your actual question, yes, sub-orientations such as fetishes actually are more useful categories for defining sexual identity (if you insist on defining people by their sexual identity) than gay or straight are, because they tell us more about the psychology of the individual.  A foot fetishist is someone with a submissive streak, whether he prefers male feet or female feet, and that gives us more information about the person than the mere fact that he prefers men to women.  In other words, that someone has a submissive streak is more interesting than whom he prefers to submit to.  Whether someone has a sadistic streak is more important than whom he prefers to inflict pain on.  Plus, we have far better data to tell us why someone grows up to be a sadist than we do to tell us why someone is gay or straight.

  40. Sorry, typo in my 4:11 response to Dan.  If you take two objects that do NOT weigh the same but have the same shape (i.e., a two-pound book and a ten-pound book) and drop them, say, 100 feet, they will both hit the ground at the same time.  You can try this experiment yourself if you want.

  41. ReubenK let me try to attempt more direct answers now that I am at a computer.  You said: 

    In Eden, how do you think sexuality worked?

    I think the Ezekiel 16 passage provides us with about as good an answer as we can get.  However, things have fundamentally changed since the fall.  It is shameful to be naked post-fall, in a way that it was not shameful pre-fall.  Therefore, in some ways we shouldn’t strive for a pre-fall sexuality.  The rules have changed.  Nudist colonies are bad ideas.  

    Ezekiel 16:7-14   7 I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.  8 “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine.  9 Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil.  10 I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk.  11 And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck.  12 And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.  13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty.  14 And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD. 

    You said: 

    Pretend for the sake of illustration that Lilith dropped by to see Eve. How did Adam respond? Did his brain register Lilith as a sexual being? Or did Adam not even realize at even the most reflexive unconscious level the mechanical possibility of sexual contact with Lilith? 

    I would answer this question with the above passage.  God is pictured as seeing a young naked woman at the age of love, i.e. her breasts are formed.  In other words, God sees a naked, fully developed sexual being.  But, what is his reaction?  His reaction is to cover her nakedness.  He seeks to remove her shame.  It is difficult to imagine an embarrassed, protective reaction that goes hand in hand with a low-level arousal.  In general, we should not see things that do not belong to us.  After he marries her, he is free to see what he was not free to see before (in the analogy).  I think his reaction says something about how we should interact with this fallen world.  

    You also said: “I am asking because in my experience and observations, sexual attraction, including low levels of physical arousal, are not caused by thoughts. This does not mean that they are not bad or sins, but it does mean that if Lust is defined as a certain kind of wicked thoughts and imaginings, then those levels of sexual attraction and arousal that are reflexive but not due to wrong ideas are not lust. Are they due to the fallen condition of humanity, i.e., still due to original sin?

    I tried to respond to this in the last post.  I do not think it can be biblically sustained to think of lust as simply fantasying about sexual encounters with non-spouses.  Lust is much more basic than that.  Biblically a lust, epithumia, is simply a strong desire.  So Jesus lusted to eat the passover with his disciples (Luke 22:15).  In general the difference between a sinful lust and a righteous lust seems to be twofold: 1) a sinful lust is a desire for the forbidden, or 2) a desire for a good thing that has gotten out of control (a consuming desire).  As a result, I completely agree with you that low level arousal is not always caused by fantasying.  Yet, lust is more basic than fantasying.  For example, many women do not dress very modestly.  As a result, a person can get a pretty good idea of what their “unpresentable parts” would look like even though they have some clothes on.  If you were to find yourself looking at an “unpresentable part” that “requires greater modesty” and experience low level arousal, then the whole process could happen without a thought.  Yet, you are looking at something that you shouldn’t be looking at, which frankly should be embarrassing and disgusting.  It is right and proper to look at it in the right context, but embarrassing and shameful to look at it in the wrong context.   

    You said: Or are they properly inherent in the design of the human? I am inclined to believe the latter with a touch of the former for many reasons, but I want other people to provide outside perspective.

    I would absolutely agree that men and women are made to be aroused by each others appearances in a generic sense, however, this is where your anthropology comes into play.  Are we naked apes or are we created in the image of God?  If we are made in the image of God, we should be guarding our sexual desires and giving them fully to the person that God has provided to fulfill those desires.  If a person is constantly guarding their thoughts, desires, affections, and eyes.  Then, I do think it is possible to view others more a family members that you need to protect, than to view them as sexual beings to use.

  42. Eric, you said: “It’s only because your religion tells you to attach moral significance to my partner’s anatomy that it has become such a beloved yardstick for measuring people’s moral worth.”  No one here is ascribing measurement to anyone’s “moral worth”.  I believe all human beings are created in the image of God, thus all human beings have inherent dignity and worth.  Also, no one here is attaching moral significance to anyone’s anatomy, but the “misuse” of their anatomy (and often encouraging others to do the same).  Clearly, the human anatomy was designed for men and woman to be together and to procreate.  Eric, do you really think this is merely an arbitrary social construct?      

  43. While my appreciation for the First Things article is not without qualification, it seems like maybe you are kicking against the pricks.
     
    “Rosenstock-Huessy argues that it is not only from the moment of birth that one is inducted via names—the names of one’s parents, their family, one’s birthplace, one’s own name— but our life is a continuous accrual of names as each person is shaped by his or her experiences, thus developing new qualities or characteristics. Through the course of a life each of us is enmeshed in an expanding cluster of titles that reflect one’s responses to the callings and imperatives of one’s parents, friends, teachers, spouse and children, colleagues, government, society and, far from being least, one’s enemies. Naming is orientating.”
     
    There is a huge, if subtle, difference between being called a ‘kleptomaniac’ and being called a ‘thief’.  Between being an ‘alcoholic’ and a ‘drunk’, a ‘nymphomaniac’ and a ‘whore’.  And what, after all, does it mean to be ‘bipolar’?
     
    ‘Homosexual’ is an attempt to legitimize the ‘sodomite’.  It’s the sad attempt of an alienated person or like persons to reorient themselves, to legitimize and recast themselves with a new name.
     
    You continue to speak of ‘nature’, but it’s not at all clear, at least to me, what you mean by it.  Are you equivocating in your use of the word?

  44. Ah…the ol’ “foot fetish” analogy made famous by the great classical French philosopher Marche DePied…I knew I recognized that rock-solid argumentation from somewhere.

  45. Moor,
    Sorry about the format of my first comment — next time I’ll use the block quotation feature (that was my first time commenting here, so I’m just getting used to the format).  That is a great quote from Weaver and it comes from his wonderful little book Ideas Have Consequences.
     
    Your last comment was delightful — clearly you enjoy a good verbal barb like our host ;-)
     
     

  46. Uh oh.  Rosenstock-Huessy is one of those hyphenated names.  :)   Charles Williams wrote:

    “There is a huge, if subtle, difference between being called a ‘kleptomaniac’ and being called a ‘thief’.  Between being an ‘alcoholic’ and a ‘drunk’, a ‘nymphomaniac’ and a ‘whore’.  And what, after all, does it mean to be ‘bipolar’?   ‘Homosexual’ is an attempt to legitimize the ‘sodomite’.  It’s the sad attempt of an alienated person or like persons to reorient themselves, to legitimize and recast themselves with a new name.”

    This is an important trend in labeling ourselves with a diagnosis, whether genetic or environmental.  Not everyone uses these terms in order to deliberately hide behind them, but the trend away from any morally significant label is definitely there.  Eric the Red is an extreme case:

    “Plus, we have far better data to tell us why someone grows up to be a sadist than we do to tell us why someone is gay or straight.”

    As a materialist, Eric is left with mere description and genetic fallacy.  He can’t provide any prescriptive framework or moral expectation.  Whatever moral comments he utters are just data points reflecting the long series of accidents that make up his past, or someone else’s past.

  47. Katecho, just as with the bumblebee that’s not supposed to be able to fly, I’m not supposed to have a moral framework.  However, just as the bumblebee actually does fly, I actually do have a moral framework, but we’ve been over this ground before and I’m not going to repeat myself except to again say that even if I didn’t it would be completely irrelevant.  Not only are you wrong about my philosophy; you’re also pushing an issue that has nothing to do with anything.  But, if that makes you feel better, knock yourself out.
     

  48. Dan, the late Ayn Rand once wrote an unintentionally hilarious essay in which she argued that the webbing between the fingers of the human hand had obviously been designed to hold cigarettes, and so people were meant to smoke.  That’s essentially the same argument you’re making when you claim that human anatomy was designed for reproduction, and it’s a bad argument for a number of reasons.  Function follows form, and not the other way around.  Here’s the bottom line, though.  Most people are heterosexual most of the time, but for reasons that aren’t well understood, a few people aren’t, and probably a lot of people aren’t all the time.  Now, is there a reason — other than the bald, naked dictates of your religion — to treat them as second class citizens?  Is there a reason to not allow them the same pursuit of happiness to which you yourself lay claim?

  49. Eric said:

    …you claim that human anatomy was designed for reproduction, and it’s a bad argument for a number of reasons.

    Wait wait wait….. do explain.
     
     

  50. Dan: You argue with the distinctive flair of a seventeen-year old. If the Bible favored any natural human majority of sexual preferences, a whole lot of things labeled immoral would be accepted as moral in the Bible, as in all unbiblical cultures ever established. Name one unbiblical culture that does NOT condone multiple sexual behaviors prohibited in the Bible. Name ONE. The majority (i.e., totality) of humans are by nature sinful perverts and their sexual preferences reflect this with stunning clarity.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~     Now, in response to Tim Mullet: again, thank you, but I seem to once again have confused things by bringing Eden into the picture. I didn’t intend to bring nakedness into play; I was simply trying to place my hypothetical event in a location where human sexuality was operating as it should. So my issue isn’t that of nakedness, but of the sin-unstained nature of human sexuality.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    Lust is a strong desire, but a strong desire FOR WHAT? If I lust for the sacrament, that’s holy and acceptable; if I lust for a married woman, I have committed adultery in my heart. It is the latter sense of lust; i.e., the lust that is synonymous with adultery, of which I am speaking. Lust as one of the seven deadlies. Some desire is clearly sinful lust; other so-called desire is not. The ambiguity of where this line falls is one reason that the binary homo-hetero-sexuality categorization is unhelpful. It reduces human sexual impulses, actions, and behaviors into a psychologically innate set of “types” that don’t account for the subtleties of the human experience.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    So, I agree with you that the correct response of seeing my sister naked should NOT be one of sexual interest, no matter how reflexive or conscious, but instead one of “oh, dear, let’s get you a robe and something to change into.” This is also the correct response to seeing any naked (or implicitly naked) woman standing alone with me in my bedroom other than my wife, regardless of any tingly feelings or blushing I might have. All other responses fall on the continuum that goes from “tragic result of the fall” to “presumptuous sin”.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    As far as same-sex “attractions” go, if I glance about me in the public shower at the pool and notice a particularly well-fit fellow, the correct response should be, “my, how well-fit that fellow is, I am glad that God made some people so nice to look at,” regardless of any tingly feelings or blushing I may experience. Any other response would likewise fall on the continuum between “tragic result of the fall” and “presumptuous sin”.   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~     The point is, we are all hardwired to recognize the sexual beauty of other people, and each one of us has a greater sensitivity to noticing male or female sexual beauty, to some extent regardless of our own gender. This recognition is not voluntary or desirous; it simply exists. How we think and act and feel in response to the sexual beauty of another person is voluntary or desirous or both, and is therefore sinful or chaste. We can train ourselves or be trained to falsely see / recognize sexual “beauty” in that which is not sexually beautiful, but such a misperception almost always follows sinful thoughts and actions. Approaching human sexuality with this mindset eliminates the need for the categories of Homo and Hetero sexual, but makes great use of the categories of Lechery, Sodomy, Adultery, Fornication, and Chastity.

  51. Oh, dear, while I was typing my last post, people kept talking.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    Eric the Red, please stop now. Preserve your dignity and calm down. Have a tall glass of beer and a little nap and please stop saying things such as “Function Follow Form” with respect to reproductive anatomy and scandalizing all of the biologists in the room. Soon you will start spouting other equally reasonable things, like “Blotcher Buldoo!”

  52. Wesley, two big ones just for starters.  First, function follows form, and not the other way around.  (Sorry, Reuben; I can instead say that existence precedes essence if you prefer.)  And second, just because genitalia serve one function doesn’t mean they can’t serve other functions as well. 

  53. In Eric’s worldview, whatever function genitalia have, they can never have any intended function.  All function is accidental, and without intent, and without expectation.  Hopefully we can all see what such a worldview does to Eric’s ability to sustain an argument.  If all function is accidental, then so is the function of argument itself in Eric’s worldview.

  54. Eric the Red wrote:

    “Now, is there a reason — other than the bald, naked dictates of your religion — to treat them as second class citizens?  Is there a reason to not allow them the same pursuit of happiness to which you yourself lay claim?”

    How quickly Eric forgets himself.  One would almost think that he was tossing a moral expectation at us, that we not treat others as second class citizens.  But no such expectation exists in nature.  The “bald, naked dictates” are not of our religion, but of Eric’s naturalism.  You see the laws of nature cannot be overruled by our conscience or by Eric’s conscience.  The neurons between our ears are dictated to fire according to laws of chemistry, without any regard for abstractions like desire or morality.  Eric has never shown any equations of chemistry that indicate otherwise.  So Eric is displeased with the “bald, naked dictates” of physical laws acting on our neurons.  He should take up his argument with his own materialism then, if he thinks it will do him any good.  He might as well be arguing that water shouldn’t be wet, or that fire shouldn’t be hot.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Note very carefully the double standard that Eric is trying to hold us to.   Eric demands that we provide reasons and justifications for our behavior, yet with the homosexual Eric is content to describe the origin of their behavior as if that were sufficient (genetic fallacy).  Why can’t Christians just say that the laws of nature made us behave this way?  Is that not reason enough in Eric’s worldview?  Whatever is, is.  Eric needs to come to terms with his own naturalism before foisting irrational expectations on us.  There are no expectations in naturalism.  It’s odd that we have to keep giving Eric a lesson on his own naturalism.

  55. Katecho, the thing about naturalists is that they can’t be taught the logical implications of their beliefs, because they didn’t choose to believe them. Even believing naturalism itself is something that simply happens to random people, regardless of what they would have chosen to believe if choice and belief were actually possible and not simple physical epiphenomena. Tongue planted firmly in cheek.

  56. Yep.  I’m with Katecho.  The aesthetic ugliness and philosophical pointlessness of Eric the Red’s worldview is impossible to get over.

    _

    To reference conversation in another thread on another post (“Put an Egg in Their Shoe”) Eric admits:

    Oh dear, says Katecho, atheism can’t be true because it would be terrible if it were.  Well, a great many unpleasant things also happen to be true, and atheism may be one of them, and if we live in a world in which morality is a figment of people’s imaginations, then we live in a world in which morality is a figment of people’s imaginations.  Better to admit that reality and deal with it than to invent an author of something that doesn’t exist just because it makes us feel better. –EtR

    He bases his standards and “morality” on pleasure and preference but acknowledges the unpleasantness of atheism.  His world is premised on contradiction: P1: Pleasure is the standard – daresay “truth”? – P2:  The truth of atheism is unpleasant.  

    _

    Given the premises, what ought to be our conclusion?
     

  57. I assure you, I read the article and afterwards decide if Eric the Red will respond.  If I think he will, I read the comments.  They are man’s best entertainment.  No thread, no cohesiveness, no foundation, no tie that binds, no capstone, no cornerstone, no core, etc.  You never know what he will say and where he will end up.  

  58. OK, one more time:  My morality is based on the reality that morality is what humans do.  I don’t have to account for it because it’s a metaphysical fact.  Fire is hot, water is wet, and humans practice morality.  Even if I did have to account for it, the mere desire to live in pleasant communities rather than hell on earth is enough of a justification for it.  So continuing to say, ad infinitum, that Eric has no basis for morality is (1) incorrect and (2) completely irrelevant even if it were true.  You could equally as well introduce a discussion of 17th century agriculture in rural France for all the relevance to this discussion that my foundational beliefs have.  It’s basically you changing the subject so as not to have to support your indefensible positions.

  59. But let’s talk about your foundational premises as applied to human sexuality.  It is estimated that the known universe contains at least a billion planets capable of sustaining life.  If we use a very, very conservative estimate and say that 10% of them actually have life, that’s 100 million planets with life on them.  Now, your theology holds that the Lord of Heaven and Earth, responsible for maintaining those 100 million planets biologically diverse planets (and the trillions of other planets and stars that don’t), thinks the best use of his time is to peer into my bedroom on Planet Earth to see what kind of sex I’m having.  Seriously? 

  60. On, and Reuben, your comments about naturalists not having any choice about what they believe sounds suspiciously like predestination to me.

  61. My morality is based on the reality that morality is what humans do.  I don’t have to account for it because it’s a metaphysical fact. 
     
    Only Humian Utilitarianism is true because…bumblebees can fly.

  62. Eric, If morality is  “what people do”, does it not follow that what people do is morality?  “Fire is hot, water is wet, and humans practice morality”.   Sorry, that just doesn’t work, unless your definition of morality is “Whatever humans happen to do”. 

  63. <b> Now, your theology holds that the Lord of Heaven and Earth, responsible for maintaining those 100 million planets biologically diverse planets (and the trillions of other planets and stars that don’t), thinks the best use of his time is to peer into my bedroom on Planet Earth to see what kind of sex I’m having.  Seriously? </b>
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
     
    Why not? Your conception of God is very small.

  64. Eric the Red wrote:

    “So continuing to say, ad infinitum, that Eric has no basis for morality is (1) incorrect and (2) completely irrelevant even if it were true.”

    Apparently we need to repeat, ad infinitum, that all Eric has is a genetic fallacy regarding the accidental arrival of his moral compass.  In other words, we don’t dispute that Eric’s naturalism offers a story that tells us how moral compasses popped out of the primordial slime.  Similar descriptions (stories) tell us how killer bees came to the genocidal behavior of destroying other bee hives.  Killer bees just have a different happiness/moral/survival compass because of a different series of accidents in their history.  All of them are equally “justified” in the sense that Eric has access to, because whatever survives, survives.  Whatever is, is.  That’s all the justification Eric can provide.
                                                                                                                                                                 So the dilemma for Eric is not that he can’t provide a descriptive account from his worldview.  The dilemma is that he can’t provide a rational one.  All he can do is describe a series of accidents that were not the product of any intent or reason.  If we tolerated that such a genetic fallacy could be a “basis” for morality, we must still observe that it is a non-rational one.  A related dilemma is that his moral system offers no prescription of any kind.  It is a take-it-or-leave-it morality.  Eric runs afoul of this regularly when he starts getting worked up about other people’s behavior.  Eric wants desperately to impose an expectation, but he can’t.  There’s zero expectation in his materialism.
                                                                                                                                                               Eric may complain “don’t you want to be happy like me?” which is utterly subjective and irrational.  Do I?  Should I?  Who knows.  Eric can’t say.  Eric may complain “don’t you want to be happy and get along in society?”  Why doesn’t Eric use that argument against homosexuals?  Shouldn’t they just conform to the social norm in order to “be happy”?  Oops.  Apparently, in spite of himself, Eric thinks that social norms are just fine to appeal to, so long as you never appeal to them on matters of sex.  Morality has become nothing but an arbitrary and manipulative mess in Eric’s hands.  Eric may as well be throwing rocks and sticks at us to change our behavior.  Is it not arbitrary to try to define people by their “happiness orientation”?  Like genitals, does happiness have only one function?  To paraphrase Eric, “just because genitalia happiness serves one function doesn’t mean it can’t serve other functions as well.”  What if someone’s happiness is “treating others as second class citizens”?
                                                                                                                                                                  So when we observe that Eric has no moral magnetic field to direct his compass, we mean that there is nothing rational, or purposed, or expected about where the compass points.  Any direction that nature allows, is, well, allowed.
     

  65. Eric the Red wrote:

    “Now, your theology holds that the Lord of Heaven and Earth, responsible for maintaining those 100 million planets biologically diverse planets (and the trillions of other planets and stars that don’t), thinks the best use of his time is to peer into my bedroom on Planet Earth to see what kind of sex I’m having.  Seriously?”

    While Eric is incapable of supporting such an argument from his own materialistic directionless sense of morality, we should be able to address such an argument from within our own premises.  Why is God concerned about our sexual behavior?  Could it be because mankind is uniquely made in His image?  If we are representing God as His image bearers, I should think it quite rational that God would have specific expectations about what that looks like, and what it doesn’t look like.  Infidelity outside of, or in violation of, a covenant union is certainly going to misrepresent God, for example.
                                                                                                                                                                Regarding the alleged millions of other inhabited planets, this seems like a deep faith commitment on Eric’s part, since he has no scientific evidence to support said existence.  It’s not a feature of our theology either, so it seems like one of those red herrings that Eric has become famous for.

  66. Eric the Red wrote:

    “On, and Reuben, your comments about naturalists not having any choice about what they believe sounds suspiciously like predestination to me.”

    Eric has attempted this comparison before.   Unsuccessfully.  We pointed out at the time that predestination does not undermine real choices by other agents.  Predestination fixes the result in advance, but the result is still accomplished in and through actual choices made by those agents in history.  If God predestines some outcome, it no more removes the reality of our choicemaking than it removes the reality of God’s choicemaking.  Also, our theology of predestination is deeply personal, as contrasted with Eric’s materialistic determinism, which is irrational, impersonal, and purposeless.  It is nice to see that Eric doesn’t try to offer any objection against our conclusion that naturalists don’t have any choices.  I presume he knows not to waste our time.  He seems to have made peace with it.  Or rather, the laws of nature, acting on his matter, made him come to terms with it.

  67. No, JohnM, “I like what I eat” and “I eat what I like” are not the same thing, and yes, that line is ripped off the Alice in Wonderland.  The way natural selection works is that organisms that behave in ways most likely to make them live long and prosper are the organisms most likely to live long and prosper.  Since most of what we consider ethical behavior happens to be behavior that makes it more likely for humans to live long and prosper, how surprising is it humans have survived in large part by practicing those behaviors (even though there isn’t perfect agreement from one culture to the next as to the precise boundaries of those behaviors, and despite the unfortunate tendency of sociopaths to find their way into leadership positions).  As I’ve said before, this really isn’t that complicated.

  68. Katecho, two fairly important distinctions you’re not drawing.  First, on matters of private sexual behavior, there has been no showing that conformity is a virtue.  There is, indeed, evidence that sexual diversity is an asset (or  at least was an asset earlier in our evolution).  Second, methinks that “designed by a creator” is a necessary element of your concept of rational; if I’m right, then you’re right that I’m never going to come up with a rational concept of morality that satisfies you.  But that’s a function of you trying to win by re-defining terms in ways that nobody else uses them.

  69. Katecho, your concept of predestination is essentially like a Monopoly game in which each player has the right to make choices based on what they have to work with, but in which one player starts off owning half the bank and most of the desirable properties.  It’s a method in which God gets to make the choice, I really have no ability to override it, but I’m stuck with the consequences.  In other words, a shell game given respectability by a religious veneer.
     

  70. ReubenK, it sounds like we share substantial agreement.  A lust is a strong desire.  I tried to distinguish holy lusts from sinful lusts in the following ways: 1) a sinful lust involves an inordinate, consuming desire, or craving (Num 11:4); and 2) a sinful lust involves a desire for the forbidden (Prov 5:3, 20; 7:5).  Sexual lust would involve sexual desires.  Therefore, a sexual lust would either be 1) an inordinate or a consuming desire for sex, i.e. a sexual craving; or 2) a forbidden sexual desire.  If this is true, one can distinguish a general sexual desire from a focused sexual desire.  A person could be described as “lusting for sex” in a general sense if he does not choose to be content until he finds a way to fulfill his generic sexual desire.  In this way, the lustful person would be looking for a person (or animal) to use in order to fulfill his sexual desires.  He would be guilty of objectifying sex and people. Similarly, a person would be guilty of lust in the specific sense, when his general desire for sex is focused on a forbidden object.  In this way, a desire for sex is a good desire, but we are instructed to not awaken or stir up lust until it pleases.  In other words, we should not seek to rid ourselves of all sexual desire, the generic desire is a good thing, however it is not wise to feed that desire or focus that desire on specific people until it is time.  Obviously one of the reasons we wear clothes in a fallen world is because it is very difficult to keep from stirring up sexual desires.  Thus, unpresentable body parts require greater modesty.   They should be covered up so that we do not focus our attention upon them, awakiening sexual desire before it is time. 

     

    In terms of sexual attraction, Dictionary.com defines sexual attraction as “attractiveness on the basis of sexual desire.”  If these things are true, certain attractions are necessarily lust.  For instance, a sexual attraction for children would involve a simple sexual desire being focused on a forbidden group, such that an individual is drawn to desire to have sex with that particular group.  The same thing is true for sexual attractions to animals or sexual attractions to members of the same sex.  Least we be inconsistent, we can hasten to add sexual attractions to non-spouses to the group of forbidden desires.  We are not allowed to go into the forbidden woman, because she does not belong to us.  Her nakedness is not ours to uncover.  Yet, Jesus is clear that something happens before the adulterous behavior and that something is lust.  I do think it is fair to describe lust as that inward pull of our hearts towards the forbidden, in other words a sinful desire.  There is something that is attracting us to that which does not belong to us, and that something is a sinful heart.  James 1:14  14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  I am trying to distinguish a basic sexual attraction with a focused sexual attraction.  I want to be able to say that we are made to be sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex in a generic sense, while at the same time be able to say that when that desire becomes focused on a forbidden object or becomes consuming, lust happens.  As a result, if I am right, we are not dealing with something entirely subjective.  Yes we are made to be able to recognize beauty when we see it, but not all beauty is ours to appreciate.   Not all beauty belongs to us.
     
    If we are therefore talking about same sex attractions, I think we want to distinguish sexual attraction and admiration of beauty.  If we allow the dictionary.com definition of sexual attraction to stand, sexual attraction involves more than a simple admiration of beauty, but also includes a desire for sex.  As I have tried to explain, I can objectively look at my biological sister and say that she is beautiful, however there is no sexual attraction there.  In a similar sense, I can say that my brother is a nice looking man with no hint of sexual attraction. 
    I do agree with you that heterosexual and homosexual are not useful categories.  Heterosexuality gives legitimacy to homosexuality.  Further, the categories shift the focus away from sinful desires and behaviors to identities.  A sodomite is a sodomite because of his repeated, unrepentant sodomy, in the same way a thief is a thief because of his repeated, unrepentant theft.   I do not think anyone would allow a pedophile to declare himself to have CSA, neither would they allow a man who has committed bestiality to declare himself to have BSA.  This is how I think through these issues, I am not sure if it is coherent, but feel free to push back :)

  71. ETR, if we did evolve, then any means of transmitting our DNA is all that matters. About a year ago, I heard of some scientist who got into hot water when he pointed out that rape is a successful evolutionary means for an inferior male to procreate. If we evolved, then sex crime law is nothing but social convention. That is the end result of your position.

  72. Eric, To associate morality with natural selection  and say  “The way natural selection works is that organisms that behave in ways most likely to make them live long and prosper are the organisms most likely to live long and prosper.” still adds up to saying right is whatever is; right is the way things work.  Does prey regard predator behavior as moral? It works for the predator after all.  Don’t tell me now you make a distinction between humans and any other species, I won’t buy it coming from you.  Of course for that matter there are human predators too, both individually and at a collective level.  Often enough their behavior  works well enough for them, it enables them to live long and prosper.  Then there are those who choose individually not to prosper so much  or even not  live so long, for the sake of other’s life and prosperity  - actually that happens among other than human species too. No, don’t bring up species survival, you said organism.   But even if you do, why should we care about survival of…. anyone or anything?  But then, I guess I’m overlooking the point, there never, ever is a should.  That and were’ just a particular arrangement of particles among all the particles in the universe. There is only what is.  You do what….you do.  There’s nothing more to be said. I guess. Just don’t ever wax morally indignant on me, that’s another thing I won’t buy coming from you.  Not being testy, just matter of fact.

  73. Eric the Red wrote:

    “First, on matters of private sexual behavior, there has been no showing that conformity is a virtue.  There is, indeed, evidence that sexual diversity is an asset (or  at least was an asset earlier in our evolution).”

    Virtue?  Asset?  Eric hasn’t been paying attention to himself.  Eric’s morality has nothing to do with virtue.  Virtue pertains to actual right and wrong.  Virtue ethics is on the opposite end of the scale from Eric’s utilitarian ethics.  There is nothing in materialism that corresponds to virtue anyway.  Survival isn’t a virtue.  Survival isn’t good or bad when nothing is intended.  Survival is utterly arbitrary.  Just ask the docile bees that get wiped out by the killer bees, they’ll give an arbitrary irrational answer.  Regarding conformity and diversity, if we know that a species survives today, evolutionism will have an “explanation” incorporating the advantage of conformity and/or diversity prior to even looking at the data.  This is because evolutionism has a canned answer for either case, or neither, or both.  This is a clue that a theory is not science, by the way.  How do we know the fittest survive?  Because they are the fittest, of course.  As proof, look at asexual conformist bacteria that survive today.  Was sexual diversity an asset to their survival?  Clearly not, since they had none.  Also, homosexual diversity is a dead end and doesn’t contribute to reproductive survival anyway, so that argument won’t work.  Eric continues:

    “Second, methinks that “designed by a creator” is a necessary element of your concept of rational; if I’m right, then you’re right that I’m never going to come up with a rational concept of morality that satisfies you.  But that’s a function of you trying to win by re-defining terms in ways that nobody else uses them.”

    “Methinks” I made no reference to a creator when pointing out that Eric’s morality is disconnected from rational thought.  Eric has continued to argue that moral behavior is just something that came about by accident.  If something is an accidental or unintended result, then reason had nothing to do with it.  If Eric thinks that his morality is somehow rationally connected to what we should or shouldn’t do, then he needs to do two things:  1) he needs to provide a basis for expectations and shoulds in the first place (which he has failed to do, and concedes on his more lucid days)  and then 2) he needs to show how particular shoulds follow as a rational consequence from his worldview.  This means that Eric’s evolutionary descriptions of how we came to have certain behaviors doesn’t qualify because it can’t lift Eric past the genetic fallacy he is committing.  Again, if we could explain every evolutionary step of how killer bees became genocidal, it would not tell us anything about whether genocide is moral.  Such leaps are not rational.  “The end justifies the means” is not a rational justification.  It is irrational.
                                                                                                                                                                     If Eric thinks that he has made a rational case for his view of morality, perhaps he can restate it for us, formally, as a set of premises that lead to a logical conclusion.  I suspect what we will find that Eric either continues to commit a gross logical fallacy, or else he abandons his materialism and sneaks in some metaphysics.

  74. Oh dear, it’s flying thick and fast now, isn’t it?  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  Tim Mullet: Again, thank you. I had a feeling that we were on the same page but it looks like we are in the same paragraph, maybe even the same sentence.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  Eric the Red, my explanation of naturalism was nothing but a logical completion of the naturalist’s argument. It may have sounded like something else, but probably mostly because naturalists so rarely follow logical thought with regard to their own philosophy that they don’t recognize it when they hear it.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    Naturalism assumes material determinism, which logically necessitates the essential unreliability of all human logical-thought faculties as means of discerning truth.  It is the quintessential self-defeating philosophy.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~   The thing about Christian doctrines such as pre-destination and divine ordination is that they whole-heartedly embrace the reality of logical paradoxes as a fundamental characteristic of reality. Some things can’t be made to logically follow one from the other, and some logically inconsistent co-incident facts can’t be explained away. Material determinism, as affirmed by naturalism, seeks to explain paradox as a whole away, but utterly fails to even address the biological paradoxes. The doctrine of pre-destination is not futilely explanatory, as is material determinism; it is descriptive. Hope this makes sense; I’m keeping it terse, because the rest of this comments section isn’t.

  75. Reuben, could you clarify the doctrine of predestination as descriptive (as opposed to prescriptive?) for those of us who don’t understand Calvinism?  It was said earlier on that predestination fixes the end result but does not alter moral agency.  When Hamlet muses about murdering Claudius the king, he appears to be exercising moral agency, yet Shakespeare has already decided that for the sake of his plot Hamlet will temporarily forego the wicked pleasures of revenge.  In other words, the ending is ordained, and Hamlet’s musings are so much sound and fury.  Are we to God as characters are to a novelist?  I find such a thought as existentially bleak as Erik’s utilitarianism.

  76. Eric the Red wrote:

    “Katecho, your concept of predestination is essentially like a Monopoly game in which each player has the right to make choices based on what they have to work with, but in which one player starts off owning half the bank and most of the desirable properties.  It’s a method in which God gets to make the choice, I really have no ability to override it, but I’m stuck with the consequences.  In other words, a shell game given respectability by a religious veneer. ”

    Eric’s objection to predestination seems to boil down to an emotional realization that Eric isn’t God.  What was Eric trying to tell us before about truth not being dependent on whether it pleases us?
                                                                                                                                                                      Eric seems quite displeased at a God who would have the nerve to act like God.  Theologically though, Eric seems to be out of his depth.  If the Christian view of predestination is like a Monopoly game, then it is like a Monopoly game where one “player” starts off owning all the bank, and all of the properties, and all of the other players on the board, and the board, and the universe containing the board.  He’s the Creator, not just another player.  Eric fails to acknowledge the Creator/creature distinction and it goes downhill from there.  Eric has raised two mutually contradictory objections to predestination.  Previously he tried to compare our predestination to his materialistic determinism, where no actual choices are being made by us as agents.  This is the puppet view of Christian predestination, which is a straw man fallacy.  But now Eric argues that we actually do make real choices, but that God is there to override us.  Which is it?
                                                                                                                                                                 Finally, Eric is assuming that when God overrules our intentions, that this somehow removes us from the culpability of those intentions.  If Herod intended to kill Jesus, but God intervened with a dream, then Herod has been overruled, but it wasn’t by God crosswiring Herod’s desire and choice.  Similarly with Pharaoh.  God intervened in such a way that Pharaoh became hardened in his desire against Israel, but God didn’t flip-flop Pharoah’s desire or intent.  It was Pharaoh’s the whole time.  There is no basis to assume that either of these men secretly wanted to do the right thing, but that God was making them do the wrong thing.  There is sufficient light in the world that we are all without excuse.  We can’t complain that we would have approached a bonfire if we were busy running away from a candlelight.
                                                                                                                                                                      Eric’s attempt to compare our doctrine of predestination with his doctrine of impersonal materialistic determinism seems like an act of desperation.

  77. A Calvinist should be able to affirm freedom in a compatibilistic sense but not in a libertarian sense.

    Compatibilism teaches than an agent x is free, so long as he acts in accordance with his desires. 
    Libertarianism teaches than an agent x is free so long as he can chose either a or b with nothing that decisively influences him.

    Compatibilism is logical and involves no necessary contradiction. It asserts that divine sovereignty and human freedom are  are compatible. So Calvinists are not rejecting free will, but an irrational definition of freedom, Libertarianism.

  78. Jill Smith asks some fair questions:

    “In other words, the ending is ordained, and Hamlet’s musings are so much sound and fury.  Are we to God as characters are to a novelist?  I find such a thought as existentially bleak as Erik’s utilitarianism.”

    Someone could consider predestination to refer only to the ends (destination), however, God is also sovereign over the means to those various ends as well.  At the very least, nothing comes to pass apart from God’s permissive will.  Even the crucifixion of Christ was only accomplished by God’s permissive will, and we see that God was also sovereign (and in authority) over the means and agencies that worked to bring it about:

    “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predetermined to occur.”  Acts 4:27-28

    I believe it is fair to say that we are all characters in God’s story, so long as we also understand that we are morally accountable characters in that story.  In other words, the way God writes a story preserves our intentions in that story.  Not every intention of ours will be realized with action, but God’s story preserves many of our actions too, although God does reserve the authority to expressly intervene to override them.  So when Herod and Pilate and others were gathered together to do God’s purpose, the focus is on God’s purposes first, but Herod was there doing his purposes too, for his own reasons.  God had previously approved this whole story.  His intentions and purposes extended supremely over all the other intentions and purposes, but didn’t annihilate them.
                                                                                                                                                                       It seems that some object to God writing such a story even granting our genuine participation as agents.  They don’t like the setting, or they don’t like certain other characters in the story, etc.  Some may also object that, even though they acknowledge that they are choosing freely to reject God, that God should have foreseen this and “fixed” them, or else written the story so as not to include their part.  God says very plainly that He has a purpose even for those characters/vessels who are headed for destruction.  Their role is important to God in His story, and they remain fully accountable in that role and setting God has cast them in.  The final thing that cannot go without mentioning is that God is just.  He is not a tyrant.  He is not dealing wickedly with any of us, not even with the one born lame or deaf.  Nor has God given any man a role of humility that He was not willing to suffer Himself.  As His image bearers, we are obligated to follow His example of faithfulness in every circumstance.

  79. Basically if you say an action is free because it is desired then you can allow for desires to be influenced. If a man points a gun at me and asks for my money, I give him my money but not because I’m generous. I give him the money, that I do not desire to give him, because I value my life. In short, I am being coerced to do what I don’t want to do. The Calvinist believes God influences the desires of his free creators in a non-coercive way. We do what we want to do. We are not forced against our will to do something we do not want to do.

  80. Seems like jump on Eric day; maybe he feels mistreated.   He asks (translated into my Christianese dialect), does God, who said “Let there be lights in the big space of the heaven” and thus has zillions of planets with living creatures to watch, care what I do in bed?  Well, of course not; He’s too busy numbering “the very hairs of your head” to worry what you’re doing.   Seriously, given a Creator God, the Creator knows creation at every level, superstrings to living creatures to galactic groups, or whatever the settled science du jour notices.  /   /  /   /   /   /   /   /Given triune Jehovah, what love He offers us in Jesus Christ dying for OUR sins!   What power in Christ’s resurrection!   Marx, Rand, and Darwin stayed dead; so did Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Roosevelt, and Reagan.  (And none of them died for me).  Jesus didn’t stay dead (nor did Wendy’s cat when Wendy’s mom, knowing the cat’s death would distress her girl, asked Him for it to live again).   Christian miracles happen, so atheism can be improved upon in truth as well as in power and in love.  (Stalin can be improved upon in love?  No way!  Yes, way, by Christendom–though I wish Christians would realize how libertarian, how small-government, Jesus and the Bible are.)

  81. Katecho and Tim Mullet, great comments regarding the difficult issue of God’s sovereignty and predestination.  I’m sure many will benefit from them.

  82. I’ve commented on this subject before, but I’ll weigh in again since it’s critical that we grasp this.  While Reformed theology does emphasize God’s sovereignty in His creation, nowhere does God’s sovereignty mitigate man’s responsibility.  It is true that God is sovereign, and the Bible affirms this.  If God is not sovereign, then He would be less than God.  It is also true that man is free, albeit in a limited sense, and man is responsible for his actions.  The Bible affirms this too.  Man is truly guilty, in spite of the fact that God is sovereign.  Therein lies the mystery.  This mystery is difficult to reconcile philosophically within our limited, finite minds, but we believe it nonetheless, because it’s what the Bible teaches.  Nowhere does Calvin, nor any other major Reformed thinker, ascribe to man the status of a robot.  Nor, of course, does the Bible.  The Bible describes a holy God who is eternal, self-existent, all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present.  In other words: sovereign.  The Bible also describes man as flawed and sinful, yet man is responsible, and accountable, for his actions.  Thus, we’re back to the age old dilemma God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, and how this plays out.  The Bible asserts both of these realities, but it does not really reconcile them, at least not in a way that our finite minds will be satisfied. 

  83. I wanted to share some of my thoughts regarding the Reformed/Calvinist view of salvation, since in some circles it’s still deemed controversial, due to such characteristic doctrines as predestination, unconditional election, limited atonement, and so forth.  Additionally, due to its adherence to God’s sovereignty in all things, including in man’s salvation, this view is thought to violate man’s free will, as well as make God seem unfair or unjust.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s important to note that the Reformed view of salvation is a thoroughly biblical view that informs its theology, not the other way around.  There are those who claim that the Bible is used to fit into a preconceived Reformed theological framework, but I believe this is a gross misunderstanding of the Reformed tradition, which has always been guided by the principle of the authority of Scripture.  Thus, here is my biblical understanding of the Reformed view of salvation.  Regarding man’s salvation, it is all by God’s sovereign grace from beginning to end.  Man in his natural, unregenerate state remains under the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13) and under God’s wrath (Rom. 1:18, Eph. 2:3).  Man is spiritually dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1) and is in active rebellion against God (Rom 8:7, Col 1:21).  Therefore, man cannot choose God or the gospel of Christ; God must choose man (John 6:44, 65).  Hence, the Reformed doctrines of unconditional election and effectual calling, whereby man is elected, called, and regenerated by God’s efficacious grace through the work of the Holy Spirit, so that man will believe and choose the gospel of Christ.  Without rebirth, man has no desire for Christ.  Without a desire for Christ, man will not choose Christ.  Man will not seek God as He is (Rom. 3:11) apart from God’s special grace and divine calling.  Thus, the Holy Spirit must first awaken and illuminate the truth of Christ in man’s heart, in order for man’s desire to turn toward Christ.  Once this work of regeneration takes place, man will, by his own faith and volition, choose the gospel of Christ.  The guiding principle here is that regeneration “precedes” faith, since the sinner is passive in the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit.  Without the Spirit, man does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2:14).  But how God works His efficacious grace in man is a mystery, known ultimately only by God, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2).  Certainly, the Bible gives us a road map; but how the Holy Spirit works, behind the scenes, is truly a mystery and a miracle of epic proportions.  Also, it is important to recognize that God is not obligated to give grace to anyone (Rom. 9:15, 11:35).  God gives grace to whom He wills (John 5:21, 6:39) for His glory and purpose (Rom. 8:28, 9:23).  I confess that this is a difficult doctrine to accept, yet I believe it’s what the Bible teaches.  I understand the difficulty of accepting the Reformed doctrine of salvation, thus it is not a doctrine that Christians should divide over.  Respectful debate, yes; but division, no.  This issue will be analyzed and debated by Christians until the day Christ returns.  But ultimately what matters is people coming to Christ, however God ordains it.

  84. To study this subject further, several good books I recommend are: “Chosen by God” by R.C. Sproul; “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility” by D.A. Carson; “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” by J.I. Packer; and “Putting Amazing Back into Grace” by Michael Scott Horton.  Also, the literary debate between Luther and Erasmus on the nature of man’s will, as discussed in Luther’s classic, “Bondage of the Will” is a must read.

  85. Reuben, you are correct that I have no independent way to confirm that my brain is actually working and I’m not just hallucinating what I believe to be the keyboard on which I’m typing.  However, if that’s the case, then I would also hallucinate any time I picked up the Bible and tried to understand what it means, so ultimately all you’ve done with that argument is to make it impossible to know anything.  The answer is that naturalism works in practice; I know the laws of physics are still in effect because I just cooked breakfast.  If and when they stop working, then come talk to me.

  86. Katecho, no matter how well you dress is up, there is no avoiding the fact that under Calvinism, God plays with his toys, and causes them to suffer untold agony for eternity for stuff that the unpredestined never had a chance to do anything about.  There’s also the problem that God knew in advance that what he was creating would result in billions of people going to hell, yet he chose to create it anyway.  We expect pet owners to take better care of their pets.  Even if all he did was to passively allow a system in which billions of people end up in hell, that would hardly be considered praiseworthy.  Why deliberately create something if you know up front that that’s going to be the result?  Of the things you routinely say that insult my intelligence, the notion that such a being is just and merciful is probably the worst.

  87. Eric, your problem seems to be more with hell than with predestination.  You do not seem to understand predestination.  Regardless, it appears that you would have the same basic objection to hell.  Is that correct?

  88. God plays with his toys, and causes them to suffer untold agony for eternity for stuff that the unpredestined never had a chance to do anything about.  There’s also the problem that God knew in advance that what he was creating would result in billions of people going to hell, yet he chose to create it anyway.  We expect pet owners to take better care of their pets.  Even if all he did was to passively allow a system in which billions of people end up in hell, that would hardly be considered praiseworthy.  Why deliberately create something if you know up front that that’s going to be the result?
     

    This was my beef with God as well. I truly hated Him for all you write. I would pray along the lines of (screaming in rage is still prayer, btw) “I love my pets, why do they die and suffer? Why do You, God,  do that to people? How can You, God,  claim to LOVE when we see this crap? I did not ask for this! F-this noise!”
     
                                                                                                                                                   
     
                                                                                                                                                     
    Where you and I differ, Eric The Red Herring With Bumblebee wings , is that I addressed God directly with my hatred. You, like me are aware of the fact that Christ’s death paid the price for all of mankind’s sins (this hatred is a sin–we all know that) and when I would scream at God, I would point to the cross and say, “ok, you s.o.b. answer this crap (and I would voice your arguments against God). You say my sinning right now is paid for, then dammit answer” . He answered. I am at peace now.
                                                                                                                                                   
    Either God is real or He is not. If He is real, then we know (via scripture and witness and later, personal experience) that He loves us individually. If we do not know that, then we still have responsibility to knock on that door until it is opened.
                                                                                                                                                                     
     
    All this intellectual stuff is important, but it is an after-the-fact result of our walk with Him.                                                                                                                                              
    You have hung your hat on some foolishness called Humian Utilitarianism and yet you argue here while we bear witness of things unseen. It angers you and you hate it. Such is the nature of the flesh. Keep knocking Eric. God will answer.

  89. ScottP,  My great great great grandfather had a saying that got passed down through my family and it went something like this “Heed my words son and learn wisdom…I tell you not everything you read on the internet is true”. I’ve sort of taken that to heart and I would apply it to your linked article. I’m not a historian, but I’ve read a lot of history and the notion that the founding fathers were liberal deist that were only acting in rebellion is garbage. Now surely there were deist around at the time and maybe even some of the guys whose names are written on the constitution would have classified themselves as such, but the majority of documents I have read from their own hands simply shut down any notion of them all being that way or that the rebellion from the monarchy in England was some kind of pagan thoughtless type. I’m not even suggesting that they were necessarily correct in what they did. But they did start this country and I believe most of them to be godly men and the people in the church that I was referring to in my post would certainly appeal to them for many things. I simply would like to question our current perspectives on submission to government. I could have said the reformers instead of our founding fathers and communicated the same principle. Thanks for your thoughts though.

  90. Good point Tim: “Eric, your problem seems to be more with hell than with predestination.  You do not seem to understand predestination.  Regardless, it appears that you would have the same basic objection to hell.  Is that correct?”  No one would argue that the reality of hell is easy to grasp and easy to accept; it is certainly not.  But it does at least explain the notion of ultimate justice; and in this case, God’s ultimate justice.  Is it hard to fathom?  Of course it is.  But if you believe in some form of justice, there must exist a transcendent Judge behind it.  Conversely, if you believe there is no ultimate justice in the afterlife, what would be the basis for justice in this life?  If there is no God, and thus no divine Lawgiver or Judge, wouldn’t the universe be governed by survival of the fittest where the only law is “might makes right”?  It seems to be that it would.  Eric said: “Of the things you routinely say that insult my intelligence, the notion that such a being is just and merciful is probably the worst.”  Eric, I understand your skepticism and frustration with this worldview, but yours doesn’t offer any ultimate hope or purpose.  We’re born by chance, we live by chance, but we die with a harsh certainty.  What is the purpose of man’s existence if he merely arrives here by purposeless, directionless, blind, random chance forces, where his primary goal is to survive and pass on his genes to his offspring?  What rational ground is there for meaning, purpose, and justice? 

  91. Nice observations Dan :)  What is really insulting to the intelligence is the notion that the existence of hell somehow undermines God’s justice and merciful character.  This objection is really quite embarrassing to the intellect, if we wish to speak in a pejorative way.  The objection can be answered quite simply and without contradiction.

    The statements: 1) God is merciful and just; and 2) God created hell to punish unrepentant rebels for eternity, can be reconciled provided 3) God has a morally sufficient reason for the creation of hell.  

    I do not even have to offer a morally sufficient reason for the creation of hell for there to be no necessary contradiction between statements 1) and 2), even though there are many morally sufficient reasons given in Scripture.  

  92. God has a morally sufficient reason for the creation of hell.  
     

    Per C.S. Lewis, salvation is man telling God “Thy will be done” and hell is God telling Eric, “thy will be done”
     
     

  93. Just to be clear, I do not hate God.  I regard him as a fictional character, so hating him would make no more sense than hating Simon Legree or Fagin or Loki.  I think that attempts to characterize God as he’s described in the Bible as just, never mind merciful, are ludicrous on the same scale as attempting to describe Simon Legree or Fagin or Loki as champions of decency, and deserve the same response.  And no, Tim, my objection is not in theory to the concept of hell itself (even though I also believe hell to be a fictional place).  My objection is to sending people to hell who never had any realistic shot at any other outcome.  They didn’t ask to be born with a sin nature; they didn’t ask to be compelled to do sinful things by their sin nature; and even if they want to be good, there’s no way for them to overcome the sin nature they were born with.  it appears they were created for the specific purpose of being cast into the lake of fire just so God can show everyone how great he is.  Think that through for a minute and then explain to me how a God who would do that qualifies as anything other than a monster.  It may be that such a God exists, but how anyone would give him the labels “just” and “merciful” is beyond me.
     

  94. So Eric, the just and merciful God would write a story or I guess paint a picture, of happy hobbits playing in the meadow. They end.  ?

  95. Eric, I would respond by saying 1) you are not objecting to the calvinist position.  Thus, statements like this:

    ” My objection is to sending people to hell who never had any realistic shot at any other outcome.” 

    And

    “They didn’t ask to be born with a sin nature; they didn’t ask to be compelled to do sinful things by their sin nature; and even if they want to be good, there’s no way for them to overcome the sin nature they were born with.”

    are guilty of the straw man fallacy.  You are not actually engaging the Calvinist argument  2) Christian thinkers have been thinking through these issues for 2000 years, we have put a lot of thought into these things.  Do you honestly think that we have never thought of your objections before now?  We have spent a great deal of time thinking through these same illogical objections.  Welcome to the conversation.  3) If you are open to reason, I can give you a reasonable argument for how God can be both omnibenevolent and omnipotent despite the existence of evil, however it sounds like your reaction is purely emotional and not governed by reason.  Please interact with the following:

    1) God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent: 2) Evil exists: 3) A omnipotent and omnibenevolent being can exist, provided that he has a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil.  

     

  96. In terms of your mis-characterization of Calvinism.  The Bible does not teach an unwelcome  sin nature that compels people to sin involuntarily.  The Bible does not picture sinners who want to do good (worship God) but are restrained from doing so because of this intrusive sin nature.  The idea of a “sin nature” is very difficult to sustain biblically.  It comes from an Augustinian interpretation of Romans 5.  It may not be a helpful way of expressing the doctrine of total depravity and could be leading to some confusion.  Regardless of that issue,  every calvinist should affirm that besides Christ 1) every human sins; 2) every human is responsible for their own sin; 3) every human desires to sin; 4) no human seeks after God; 5) salvation is offered freely to all; 6) no human desires to accept that salvation; 7) no human is forced against their will to sin; and 8) all humans do what they desire to do

  97. A omnipotent and omnibenevolent being can exist, provided that he has a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil.  
     

    I like the way you put that, Tim.

  98. Timothy, I am not where I swiped that… It is definitely not original to me… I think Plantinga?  In general, I do think the majority of objections to Calvinism are basically the same objections to hell or evil…  Calvinists are definitely not saying that humans are forced against their will to damnation.  Calvinists believe in free will, just not libertarian freedom.  Ultimately the problem always boils down to the fact that God created a world, knowing that creatures would rebel, and that rebellion would result in their damnation.  How could a good God behave so monstrously?  Wouldn’t it be more merciful to simply choose not to create?  Regardless of your understanding of freedom, ultimately God has determined to create a world knowing that His creative act would result in the eternal damnation of many of his creatures.  The fact that Eric perceives that Calvinists are denying human freedom, is just adding insult to injury (or so it appears).  The real issues are elsewhere.  Yet, the ultimate response is to say, God can be good and hell can be part of his plan, provided that he has a morally sufficient reason for doing so.  

  99. Tim, I will engage the rest of your points later this evening as I am about to run out the door.  Briefly, though, the Bible most emphatically does teach a sin nature that compels us to do evil.  See Paul’s comments in Romans (don’t have time to look up chapter and verse) about that which I would not, that I do, and that which I would do, that I would do not.  Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  If that’s not a sin nature compelling us to do evil, I’m not really sure what else it could be.

  100. Tim, I will engage the rest of your points later this evening as I am about to run out the door.  Briefly, though, the Bible most emphatically does teach a sin nature that compels us to do evil.  See Paul’s comments in Romans (don’t have time to look up chapter and verse) about that which I would not, that I do, and that which I would do, that I do not.  Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?  If that’s not a sin nature compelling us to do evil, I’m not really sure what else it could be.

  101. Thank you, Tim M, that is the clearest explanation I have heard, and I was surprised to find that it is pretty much aligned with Catholic teaching.  (Of course, Augustine and Pascal tended toward predestination, didn’t they?)  But I am puzzled by points 4 and 6.  Isn’t it part of human nature to yearn for God, and isn’t this why we always sense something missing until we find Him?  Isn’t it part of being made in God’s image that we search for Him relentlessly, and as Augustine said, we have no rest until we find our rest in Him?  If this desire (which I think is in everyone, even if it is unacknowledged) is actually divine grace, then isn’t given to all rather than just a few?  The other point was 7, that we don’t want to accept the gift of salvation.  Do you think that this is because of pride, and that only the grace of God can overcome this pride?  And is this grace available to all who seek it?

  102. You are referring to Romans 7:24  24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Romans 7:24 does not say “sin nature.”  You can speak about these things in different ways.  I acknowledge fully that the Bible teaches that as a result of Adam’s sin, man has become totally depraved.  I was simply saying the idea of a “sin nature” resulting from Adam’s action in the garden is an addition to the text.  There are better ways to talk about the same thing.  Maybe we could have the discussion with a different vocabulary? :)  The term has a particular history that you might not be aware of.  Leave the term aside and tell me what you are trying to argue.  Express what you are trying to express without the expression “sin nature” so I can interact with you.  If you desire to interact :) 

  103. Tim, I should have said point 6, not 7.  But I forgot one thing.  How does the doctrine of total depravity align with this?  If we were totally depraved, would we have this yearning for God?  And even if we don’t recognize this yearning as part of what it means to be made in His image, how do we account for the fact that we tend to respond with love to what is good, true, and beautiful?  Thanks!

  104. Jill thank you for the questions! 

    You said: “Of course, Augustine and Pascal tended toward predestination, didn’t they?” 

    I am not sure about Pascal, but Augustine definitely believed in predestination.  You could say that he was a soteriological Calvinist.  Calvin did not invent predestination but got it from Augustine and Paul.  

    You said, ”
    But I am puzzled by points 4 and 6.  Isn’t it part of human nature to yearn for God, and isn’t this why we always sense something missing until we find Him?  Isn’t it part of being made in God’s image that we search for Him relentlessly, and as Augustine said, we have no rest until we find our rest in Him?  If this desire (which I think is in everyone, even if it is unacknowledged) is actually divine grace, then isn’t given to all rather than just a few?”
     

    I would interpret Augustine differently.  To say that “our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee” is roughly equivalent to Lewis’ “If I find in myself a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, that is evidence that I am made for another world.”  I think they are both trying to reflect the simple truth that nothing in this world can satisfy us.  We are all searching for something.  Most people are searching for happiness, fulfillment, freedom from guilt, peace, etc., but not God.  I think both quotes can be summarzied by “ESV Jeremiah 2:13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”  I wouldn’t therefore conclude that part of being created in the image of God involves humans seeking after God.  ESV Romans 3:11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.

    You said, ”
    The other point was 6, that we don’t want to accept the gift of salvation.  Do you think that this is because of pride, and that only the grace of God can overcome this pride?  And is this grace available to all who seek it?”

    I do not have any problem with these statements.  Certainly pride is one of the reasons why man does not accept God’s gift of salvation.  Surely only God’s grace can overcome the pride of man.  Yes absolutely God’s grace is available to all who seek it.  But the problem is, back to point number 4, the fact that no one seeks after God.  This seems to be the hangup for you.  

    You said, “But I forgot one thing.  How does the doctrine of total depravity align with this?  If we were totally depraved, would we have this yearning for God?”

    The doctrine of total depravity is commonly confused with the notion of utter depravity.  Yet, total is not being used in the sense of “utter” or “complete.”  To say that humans are totally depraved in not to say that humans are as bad as they could be, i.e. humans are hitler, no goodness remains.  Total is being used in the sense of “extent.”  Every human faculty (mind, will, and emotions) are corrupted by sin.  The doctrine of total depravity refers to two things: 1) the extent of man’s depravity; and 2) man’s unwillingness to come to God of his own initiative.  

    You said, ”
    And even if we don’t recognize this yearning as part of what it means to be made in His image, how do we account for the fact that we tend to respond with love to what is good, true, and beautiful?  Thanks!”

    As I said above, the doctrine of total depravity does not refer to “utter” depravity, therefore some of the image of God remains in humans.  Man is made upright.  Sin has marred the image of God.  Sin actually makes us “less human.”  We are not what we were made to me.  Our depravity is not complete.  Therefore, no Calvinist is denying that humans do not do any good.  Certainly it is a noble thing for a homosexual couple to seek to work and provide for a child they have adopted for instance.  Yet, total depravity does mean that we cannot always trust our natural inclinations for what is good, true, and beautiful.  I hope that answers some questions, but I am sure there are probably more.  Maybe that will be at least partially clarifying? But feel free to push back… or ask for more clarification…
     

  105. Tim, I found this extremely helpful, and I had not understood total depravity properly.  My previous understanding of Calvinism was that, in reaction against the medieval Catholic emphasis on works, reformers taught that faith was entirely a gift bestowed by God on whomever He had chosen from before the foundations of the world.  Catholics also believe that faith is a gift, but I thought that the particular essence of Calvinism was that unless a person was elected by God, he could not receive that gift no matter how ardently he pleaded for it.  Or he might have the gift of faith but be excluded from the Atonement.  This led to bizarre hypotheticals such as Mother Teresa continuing to love Jesus from hell while a serial killer is given a road to Damascus encounter that he did not ask for.   If Eric thinks that is the core doctrine, I can see why it strikes him as unjust.  It has been explained to me that ordaining some to heaven and others to hell is not unjust because we all deserve hell on our demerits and that this shows the sovereignty of God.  But it did not seem to comport with the justice and mercy of our God who was willing to spare a city for the sake of one righteous man and who gives us so many chances.  It also kind of bothered me that anyone, believing himself to be chosen while others were rejected despite their best efforts, would feel joyful rather than sad.  I was my father’s visible favorite, and it did not make me feel special; it made me feel awful for my siblings.  Does this make sense, or is this seeing everything from a worldly point of view?

  106. Hi Jill.  I’d be curious to know what you thought of my explanations which I posted last night at 8:55 PM and 9:29 PM.  I tried to explain the Reformed/Calvinist view of salvation, and I used a lot of Scripture to support this position.  I think Tim and I are on the same page here, based on my reading of his various posts.  Tim, please let me know if you think we’re not seeing eye to eye on something.   

  107. Jill, in one of your posts you asked: “Isn’t it part of human nature to yearn for God, and isn’t this why we always sense something missing until we find Him?”  The way I’d answer this question is: man will not seek God as He is (Rom. 3:11) apart from God’s special grace and divine calling.  Tim alluded to this too.  In other words, man may seek the “blessings” of God or the “benefits” of God, but that’s not the same thing as seeking God as He truly is.  On the contrary, man in his unregenerate state is spiritually dead in his sins and is in active rebellion against God.  In a biblical worldview, God is both perfect and perfectly holy.  In keeping with His holy character, God had to punish sin.  Yet He chose to punish sin in His only Son, who is also perfect.  God loved us so much that He poured out His holy wrath on His Son so that we would “believe” in His Son.  Thus, God demonstrated both love and justice in His redemptive work.  These two attributes, love and justice, go hand in hand, complementing (not negating) one another.  This is the heart of the atoning work of Christ (Rom. 3:25-26).  I think man in his natural, unregenerate state has no desire to pursue a holy and just God, because man has a warped view of himself and tends to view himself more highly than he ought to and more virtuous than he really is.  Thus, he seeks after a god who he fashions in his own image, thus making an idol of this god who is not the one true God. 

  108. OK, I am now back from my evening out.  Tim asked me to interact with the following:  1) God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent: 2) Evil exists: 3) A omnipotent and omnibenevolent being can exist, provided that he has a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil.  

  109. I don’t think the problem is merely that God “allows” evil to exist.  An omnipotent and omnibenevolent being may still have no moral obligation to intervene; I’m not sure there is a duty to stop an evil that one had no part in creating.  But God is not a mere disinterested bystander.  God actively created the world and, presumably, could have created it different than it is had he chosen to do so.  So the very fact that evil exists depends in large part on God creating a universe in which evil would feel at home.  God could have created humans with a desire for himself; apparently he didn’t do that either.  God could have created humans with a disinclination to sin rather than an inclination to sin; that didn’t happen either.  So it’s not just that God is failing to intervene; it’s that evil is here because of all the range of options God had when he created the universe, he chose the option of a universe in which evil would flourish.

  110. And that’s only the first problem.  There’s an even bigger problem if we look at God’s motive for why he created a universe with evil in it.  Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?  “That I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.”  Oh.  Thousands of innocent Egyptian children were killed by the angel of death, and thousands of Egyptian soldiers drowned in the Red Sea, all so that God could show everyone how great he is.  Of all the motives for slaughtering large numbers of people, needing to stroke one’s ego strikes me as fairly indefensible.  Yet, this is what passes for omnibenevolence — God will cause billions of humans an eternity of torment so that everyone will know how great he is.  Sorry, we wouldn’t accept that kind of behavior from a five year old.

  111. And your theology is no better at the back end than it was at the front end.  God has the monopoly on granting people faith; Ephesians 2:8 tells us that faith itself is a gift from God.  So, if I don’t have faith, it’s because God hasn’t given it to me.  How, then, does he justly condemn people for not having what he himself has the monopoly on dispensing?  So, if God is displeased with my philosophy, manner of living, or anything else, he himself is the only one with the ability to fix the problem.  If indeed it is true that sinful humans will never seek God on their own, well, who is it that created them with that inclination, and who is it that is choosing to withhold the faith that would fix the problem?  If indeed he is not willing that any should perish, he sure has a funny way of showing it.

  112. All of which takes us back to your first premise:  God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent.  Yes, Christian thinkers have labored with the problem of evil for 2000 years.  Maybe it’s because they accept as a given that God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent.  Maybe, to quote a philosopher I don’t normally agree with, they need to check their premises.  If your conclusion absolutely does not follow from your premise, then maybe it is your premise that you need to re-examine.
     

  113. Eric, The part of the story you are missing is God’s elect.  This is the story of His people, those whom he has called.  Again,  the story was a simple happy painting of no evil, no punishment and no sin, until Adam and Eve wanted more, that is what has brought on all that you are objecting too.  Did God plan that they would choose more, yes.  But what would be the point, what would be the story at all if this did not happen?  This is the story of God and His people.  Christ and His bride.  Not everyone in the story has a happy ending, Eric, that is true, which only increases my gratitude to my creator for being one of His.  Do all characters in any story have happy endings? In all  great stories the antagonists are defeated.  Is the author  unfair for not making all the characters have happy endings?  An author can create characters who do evil, but that does not make the author evil himself.  However, a great story has drama and antagonists and their defeat. We are all part of the greatest story their is.
    If my understanding is inaccurate I welcome correction from any believers.

  114. Erik, quite a few decades ago I wrote my thesis on the theme of Prometheanism in Shelley’s Frankenstein: the scientist usurps the role of the creator in making new life, yet in doing so, chooses to endow his monster with unasked-for qualities that will make him hated and condemned and will ensure his destruction.  In other words, Frankenstein unintentionally treats his monster as cruelly as he believes God has treated him.  I thought of that because I think you see the Judeo-Christian conception of God as a bit like Frankenstein.  How can it possibly be fair to create flawed people and then condemn them for their sins?  Such a God would evoke terror but how could we love Him as not only good but as the only source for our ideas of goodness?//My understanding, for what it’s worth, is that God created us that we might know Him and love Him from uncompelled obedience.  The love of someone who has no choice but to love is not very valuable.  The morality of someone who cannot be tempted to sin may look virtuous but it isn’t.  It’s purely automatic and natural.  When we hero worship someone who runs into a burning building to rescue people, it is because we know he had to overcome the urge to run the other way.  Otherwise he would be a rescue-robot–a very useful thing but not a hero.  A world in which we were all by nature gentle, kind, and uninclined to sin might be very pleasant (and also dull), but from the divine point of view, God wanted sons and daughters–real people with real moral choices.  You want your girlfriend to be faithful to you because she loves you, not because she has zero interest in sex.  A relationship with creatures who had no free will would be as futile as my trying to make friends with Siri, the artificial intelligence on my daughter’s smart phone.  But in giving people free will, God took the chance that we would choose something other (sometimes anything other) than Him.  And although it looks like a legal fiction by which original sin is imputed by Adam’s fall, it isn’t when I reflect that if I had never heard of Adam, I am still capable of plenty of original sin on my own.  Even when I judge my conduct by a humanist rather than divine moral code, I continually fail to choose what is good rather than what is expedient.  Whether evil is seen as the work of the fallen angels or Adam, whether it is seen as the absence of good or the perversion of good, it is the inevitable byproduct of free will.  The Christian believes that God has given us the remedy, and that this remedy is available to all who seek it.  Catholics probably go a little further than others in saying that God’s mercy is boundless to all who genuinely seek Him even if the search leads them in strange directions.  I know other people here will explain much more clearly, but I hope this helps a little.

  115. Eric, the other problem that I think you keep coming up against (and the smart fellas can explain all of this of course better than I and without spelling errors) is that you put the standard of right and wrong outside of God.  When we steal it is not just wrong because it hurts our neighbor, although it does do that too, it is wrong because God commanded us not to.  Disobedience makes it wrong.  God cannot disobey himself; therefore he cannot ever do wrong.  It is wrong for a child to have his way because he is not a god.  He is a creature and he must obey the one true God.  Who are we to tell God why and how He should run His world, Eric? Isn’t that the sin we have been running against since the beginning of time.  We want to be in charge, we want to decide what should be right and what should be wrong, we don’t want to obey.  But not obeying is what is wrong.

  116. Jill, I think many objections to Calvinism are objections to inappropriate applications of Calvinism and not necessarily the teaching itself.  I would prefer to disregard the term, but it is a helpful way of quickly describing a set of biblical teaching.  The main issues are the questions, “What has God said?” and “How can we do justice to all that he has said without ignoring the uncomfortable bits?”  I say this to explain that I am chiefly motivated to neither add to God’s words nor take away from them (Deu 4:2; 12:32; Rev 22:19).  I want to affirm all that God has said, and do so in a way that involves no necessary contradiction.

    You said, “My previous understanding of Calvinism was that, in reaction against the medieval Catholic emphasis on works, reformers taught that faith was entirely a gift bestowed by God on whomever He had chosen from before the foundations of the world.  Catholics also believe that faith is a gift, but I thought that the particular essence of Calvinism was that unless a person was elected by God, he could not receive that gift no matter how ardently he pleaded for it.  Or he might have the gift of faith but be excluded from the Atonement.  This led to bizarre hypotheticals such as Mother Teresa continuing to love Jesus from hell while a serial killer is given a road to Damascus encounter that he did not ask for.”

    1) As you hinted at, the reformation was not about the need of grace but the sufficiency of grace.  Thus, the major issue of the reformation was one of justification.  Is justification simply a legal declaration of an alien righteousness (Christ’s righteousness) imputed to the sinner upon his confession of faith (Rom 10:9-10)?  Or, is justification a process as defined by the Council of Trent?  2) The bizarre hypotheticals that you mention are what most people, who do not agree with Calvinism, come up with when they think of Calvinism.  However, it has certainly been my intention to demonstrate that they are false hypotheticals.  The Biblical perspective is very straight forward: a) whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13); b) no one seeks after God (Rom 3:11); c) man is not willing to come to Christ (Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34).  Therefore, we are not dealing with good people who naturally love God and want to follow him, but whom are rejected because they are not elect.  We are dealing with stubborn, stiffed neck people, evil people (Gen 6:5; Psa 53:3; Rom 3:12) who hate God (Rom 1:3).  Let me hasten to add that I am not overturning what I said before, I am not saying that the unredeemed are uncapable of doing any good, however we want to distinguish between absolute good and relative good.  The simple fact remains that, no one is rejected because he is not elect.  Man is condemned because he is sinful.  Out of the midst of a fallen people, God graciously chooses a particular people for himself.  God is certainly a choosing God.  He chose Abraham out of Ur.  He made Israel into a special people for his own possession.  The exodus from Egypt was a picture of the same salvation that God works for Christians.  The Israelites were helpless slaves of the Egyptians and the LORD redeemed them with a mighty hand.  He did not save them because of their righteousness (9:5). It was an act of free grace.  In a similar way we were slaves to sin and God has redeemed Christians from their slavery with a mighty hand (Rom 6).  Christians are those who are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3-14).  I do not wish to soften this, however, it does not lead to the false hypotheticals you mention.  

    You said, “It also kind of bothered me that anyone, believing himself to be chosen while others were rejected despite their best efforts, would feel joyful rather than sad.  I was my father’s visible favorite, and it did not make me feel special; it made me feel awful for my siblings.  Does this make sense, or is this seeing everything from a worldly point of view?” 

    Paul declares that he would rather God damn him and spare his fellow Israelites, if that were possible (Rom 9:3).  In a certain sense it should be everyone’s desire to be so full of love for the world that we would rather go to hell ourselves than to see others go.  If we were motivated this way, what sort of evangelists would we be?  Therefore, there is something entirely right about being horrified at the horrible fate that awaits those who hate God.  Yet, the same Paul is overflowing with thankfulness for God’s unconditional choice of him before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3-5).  So both reactions are appropriate.  Yet, you seem to be (have been?) reacting to the false hypothetical situation of people who are “rejected despite their best efforts.”  I do think that is a completely natural reaction.  It is a painful thing to see a child who is unloved for no particular reason and find yourself to be the recipient of the favor denied to the other child.  Yet, that is not the situation that Calvinists are describing.  We are speaking about a different sort of analogy.  We are speaking of a bunch of defiant, rebellious lemmings determined to run off a cliff, and God graciously picking a few up and turning them around, and changing their rebellious nature.  
     

  117. Tim, great post.  This was a great point: “Is justification simply a legal declaration of an alien righteousness (Christ’s righteousness) imputed to the sinner upon his confession of faith (Rom 10:9-10)?  Or, is justification a process as defined by the Council of Trent?”

  118. I was reading a John Piper blog this morning and a quote from John on the topic “J” brought up was quite apropos:  “The argument against Christianity today is not epistemological but moral. Christianity is rejected not because it is badly argued, or untrue, but because it is evil. And it is evil because it opposes homosexual practice. The panelists agreed that, at least in major metropolitan areas, the issue of homosexuality ranks near the top of the reasons people reject Christianity, along with the problem of suffering and the exclusive claim that Jesus is the only way of salvation.”  Hope that helps J.

  119. I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that this issue is a major battle. Does it matter? No doubt. But I don’t think it’s the frontline hand to hand combat that’s suggested. Those battles have already occurred. No fault divorce, casual adultery, abortion on demand, greed and covetousness. These were the battles. And they were lost. Not only is it far from the front line analogy, the fort itself has been overrun and subdued. This is more akin to mop up duty after the battle. A bayonet through the ribs or a bullet to the head to confirm we’re finished. My concern is the issue itself may be serving as a time and effort sapping red herring that prevents us from seeing what battles truly need to be fought. I can’t help but think about those Japanese soldiers who continued to fight on certain islands after WWII was over. They didn’t get the memo. Their commitment was impressive. Their loyalty unchallenged. But the battle they were fighting didn’t exist.

  120. Eric, I also want to say something to your post about how great God is.  You assigned him extra motives that I do not see at all.  Yes, He displays His power and greatness to us so that we, His children know what He is.  We humble ourselves in gratitude for the lives we do have and in that gratitude is amazing joy and peace.  Further is the indescribable comfort that whatever perils and affliction I face, I know that nothing whatsoever has come to pass that God has not ordained.  I have nothing to fear.  Everything is done for good.  Some of my physical trials have been hard but I know, I know with the greatest comfort, that they too were ordained by God and that though I may have pain, I will be given the strength to bear it and it is happening for my good.  Would I believe this if God did not show me his power and glory?  Obviously not, since so many still don’t, even when they see it.  But how blessed to know it is true.  If you were to listen to the pastor’s sermons on Romans then you would receive the teaching that you so plainly desire.  As always, I am praying for you.

  121. Eric thanks for the response.  Here is a more carefully worded argument from Plantinga :)

    A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.

    I’ll get back to you later tonight.  The logical problem of evil has been successfully defended, such that there is no necessary contradiction between an omnipotent, omniscience, and omnibenevolent being and the existence of evil.  I do agree with you that God chose to create a possible world in which evil was part of the plan.  There is some measure of intentionality there.  We do believe that God uses evil to accomplish his purposes.  This is not logically contradictory provided that he has a morally sufficient reason.  You have critiqued his self glorifying purpose of evil.  I would love for you to critique the above argument as well.  I will try to give a response to your critique of God’s self glorification later.  Thanks for the interaction!

  122. Tim, that was wonderful and answered all my concerns.  I am talented at imagining bizarre hypotheticals, so I will remember your explanation the next time one pops into my mind.

  123. I used to struggle with the notion that God demands our adoration and glorification.  But I think that is seeing it in purely human terms.  If we tend to see God as Kim Jong Il, then of course a demand for worship is going to strike us as repellent.  But if we see ourselves as creatures designed to worship that which is radiantly true, just, and the source of all beauty and all goodness, then praise and adoration are our natural reactions to finding these in God.  But we live in a world of distractions, and we need reminders that we were created for God alone.  I think that when God commands love and worship, it is for our sake, not for His.

  124. Jill, well said: “But if we see ourselves as creatures designed to worship that which is radiantly true, just, and the source of all beauty and all goodness, then praise and adoration are our natural reactions to finding these in God.”  Also this: “But we live in a world of distractions, and we need reminders that we were created for God alone.”  Yes, if we are not anchored and tethered to God (our Creator) then we will naturally puff ourselves up (pride) as well as fashion an image of God of our own liking (idolatry).  

  125. Charles’ comment above made me think of C.S. Lewis’s essay “God in the Dock.”  Even over half a century ago. he found that most unconverted people’s default position was that God has some explaining to do.  Give us a good reason why we can’t do whatever we like and tell us why you created so much pain and suffering, and maybe we’ll listen to You.  And maybe not.   I think Lewis made a connected point that for many people a superficial level of virtue is relatively easy, and one can attribute the absence of the more outrageous external sins to being a nice person.  In some ways this has become even easier; with Prozac who needs to control their gloomy moods and bad tempers any more?  It is so hard to remember that the worst sins–the ones we have no hope of handling without God–are not the ones on the surface.  And that if I can recognize those sins in myself, I don’t need to look far to see a source of evil in the world.

  126. I’m super disappointed Eric, that you have left the conversation after bringing up such an important question.  After thinking about it and reading Romans 9:14-24 again.  It reminds me of how this leads to Christian forgiveness and how that too, brings so much peace to a Christian life and is often missing in an unbeliever’s.  Evolution believers too run up against the objective/ subjective problem of freewill.  Evolution leads to a materialist interpretation of the body mind problem and ultimately no freewill.  Yet, we all agree to have judges and prisons etc.  Why do materialist’s blame anyone?  There are just people walking around ruled by their physical instinct and desires.   So why ever blame or punish anyone for anything.  Because of course none of us can live our day to day lives from the objective point of view. We can step back and ask these questions, but day to day we live our lives from the human, subjective perspective.  However a Christian knows that sinners are slaves to sin, so that when we are trespassed against we are exhorted to find forgiveness.  Why should a materialist forgive?  No wonder they often don’t and ruin their own lives with hatred and bitterness.  Eric  you raise hard questions, but you have to deal with the same questions without any solutions or hope.

  127. Dan, thank you for your post on 3/6 at 9:29.  I just now saw it and have been wondering when you would post on this….It explains and edifies wonderfully!

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