As Smoke Ascends to Gods Who Aren’t There

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In Jonah Goldberg’s most recent G-File, he has extended rumination on the distinctions between faith and belief. It was a thought-provoking piece, and so here are some thoughts on apologetics and epistemology in return. I am not really debating with Jonah, but rather just responding with some stuff that his piece made me think of. It brings to mind Wodehouse’s fine adage, which is that some minds are like the soup in a bad restaurant, better left unstirred.

But before getting to all that, since this is still the introduction, let me just anticipate any writers of letters who want me to vilify Goldberg because he is wrong about Trump, or is friends with David French, or is vaccinated, or in something of a villainous hat trick, all three. The only issue for me is whether or not Goldberg is a reasonable person, of the sort that a reasonable person could talk to. That answer being yes, I shall proceed to my reactions shortly.

On my way to that (eventual) point, let me object to some of our new litmus loyalty tests. I do grant that Liz Cheney had a blind spot when it came to the propriety of impeaching Trump, and I do not just grant it, but acknowledge it wholeheartedly. But she has now been replaced by Elise Stefanik, who within living memory voted for the Equality Act, which makes her blind spot a lot blinder and way spottier. The fact that she recently came out against the Equality Act merely means that she reads the memos she gets from leadership, while Cheney was apparently too busy. But lest this turn into a different blog post entirely, let me switch it off now. Back to Goldberg on faith and believing.

Believing in Science

Jonah points out that virtually everyone “believes in science,” or in the scientific method. As he puts it, “We are all believers.” Not only so, but because “the science” has now been conscripted into the service of hard partisan politics, depending on the issue, I would add that we are all science-deniers also.

For example . . . I am a creationist, I think climate change is so much carbon-based globalist hooey, and that Dr. Fauci is running a con that (mysteriously!) involves large amounts of cash. “The immune system is strong with this one.” But I also believe that the scientific method is a gift of God’s common grace, I believe that it can be an avenue to a great deal of practical and life-giving truth, including vaccines rightly developed and applied, and am fully prepared to tip my hat to the Christian milieu that gave rise to the scientific revolution. Like Jonah, I am a reasonable guy. Can you tell?

Disagreeing with the conclusions of the current “scientific consensus”—and remembering that those two words don’t really go together—is not anti-science, but is rather the engine that makes science go. Orwell’s “smelly little orthodoxies” can develop in the world of science as easily as they do in the world of theology. Actually, I would maintain that it is easier for them to develop there because nobody thinks of establishing any safeguards anymore. Many scientists are incapable of identifying their own operational presuppositions, or even acknowledging that they have any. It is a weird combination of high relativism and naive realism, an odd mash-up of “who’s to say?” and “the science shows.”

One of our problems is all the hyper-politicization. We have gotten to the point where, if you differ with a suggested hypothesis, you are accused of denying the whole framework of science, the entire enterprise, the whole enchilada. You are a science-denier, according to the people who equate the entire scientific enterprise with their pet hypothesis, thus making them, interestingly enough, science-deniers.

But in order to believe in the scientific process intelligently, you have to believe that the world is a particular way, and runs in a predicable fashion. Because science looks for the design, the world must be assumed to have been designed. As even Dawkins put it, honestly enough, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” Design is not believed in, but it is assumed, thus aiding the hunt for it.

This is really interesting because the canons of secular scientism insist on methodological naturalism, which means that the question of getting any information from a Designer is deliberately excluded, while Dawkins’ point is a weird kind of presuppositional hypothetical theism. It is as though all the great secular scientists, all the important minds of our age, decided to play a great game of Hunt the Slipper. They have two guiding assumptions in their pursuit of this game. The first is that the slipper is behind somebody’s back, and they have certain disciplined rules to aid them in the pursuit of said slipper, and the second is that there is no such thing as slippers, or feet for that matter.

We Need the Gods, Not Thriving Temples for Deceased Gods

So a lot of folks in the world of science don’t understand what it is to go meta, and they don’t want to understand it. But Jonah is wavering on the lip of understanding it, and there are scary implications.

When discussing the intersection between time and eternity, between the hurly burly world of politics and the actual Heaven of Heavens, we need to be constantly on our guard against those who would buy the priests and conclude that they somehow owned a god.

“And the man Micah had an house of gods, and made an ephod, and teraphim, and consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest. In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”

Judges 17:5–6 (KJV)

In other words, household gods are no gods at all. And we, downstream from thousands of years of Jewish and then Christian teaching, understand this point, at least halfway. Part of it appears to have gotten into our bones. The idea of a “god shelf,” a place from which our Lares and Penates watch over our household from their place on the mantel, rubs us wrong. And good for us. It should rub us wrong.

So people with common sense instinctively know that human society requires a transcendental anchor. But here is the problem. They try to solve it with some God-word hand-waving, but the word transcendental is not transcendent.

In the course of his discussion, Jonah quoted Voegelin, to this effect:

“[W]hen God is invisible behind the world, the contents of the world will become new gods; when the symbols of transcendent religiosity are banned, new symbols develop from the inner-worldly language of science to take their place.

Eric Voegelin, somewhere in Jonah’s library

The correspondence view of truth must apply whether I am talking about junipers or Jehovah.

But there are two different ways to take “the symbols of transcendent religiosity.” One is what a Christian believer would say, which is that such a symbol is communication with the God who is there, as Francis Schaeffer would have it. In other words, the correspondence view of truth does not just apply to the word boot and the actual boot in the closet. It also applies to all our discussions of the permanent things, not to mention the eternal things. The correspondence view of truth must apply whether I am talking about junipers or Jehovah.

The other way is to take the symbol as a sort of blurry mysterium, giving us vague and warm feelings that something greater is perhaps out there. This transcendental vaporous thing is a convenience god, a place-holder god, the kind who offers us no opinions. When was the last time the god on your money told you to do something?

Thus the utilitarian politician who realizes that religion is a great means of crowd control is one who needs a scratch n’ sniff transcendent religion. He has the press wood of all his various troubles, upon which he wants to layer the oak veneer of some god—one in charge of traditional values and maintaining whatever statuses need quoing. If he ever finds himself dealing with the actual Transcendental God, the living God, he might find himself over-ruled. That God might tell him to outlaw the dismemberment of babies. That could be troublesome.

Another way of saying this is that if all we are doing is decorating the Temple of Man with various symbols of transcendent religiosity, the only thing we will discover at the end of the day is that hodge cannot save us, and neither can podge. If for the sake of avoiding a trapped reliance on the “inner-worldly language of science,” we try to rely on the vapors and wisps that rise off the god of American civic religion, we will soon enough discover that in Secular Town this is a fog that dissipates by mid-morning at the latest.

And that means that we Americans have to reckon with the fact that Jesus actually did rise from the dead. He didn’t do that inside our faith tradition—He actually did it inside a stone tomb in Jerusalem, out of which He came, on His way to the right hand of the Ancient of Days, from which honored place He was given the right to rule over these United States, right along with every other nation. Incidentally, He was also given the right to interpret the First Amendment in all the ways that are consistent with the first and greatest commandment.

Now if that doctrine of the resurrection is true, it has political ramifications, including the fact that we all need to bow down and worship Him. If it is not true, then it doesn’t matter how you decorate the Temple of Man. Use whatever meaningless little knick-knacks you can find, and try to persuade the people that this meaningless concourse of atoms we inhabit has set aside for them some transcendental symbols of religiosity.

The short form is that you cannot have the value of transcendent beliefs without a large body of people who believe that the font of their values is actually transcendent, and that He actually reveals Himself. Again Schaeffer. He is there, and He is not silent.

Presuppositional Brass Tacks

Now in the previous section, I got to preaching a little bit, didn’t I? And this makes some people nervous for, as they will most certainly warn you, my aspiring Christian republic is right around the corner, all set to usher the horrors of The Handmaid’s Tale. With furrowed brow, they raise concerns about religious liberty. Biden-voting evangelicals worry about what I would do, hypothetically speaking, with a Jew like Jonah Goldberg. Well, I think I can assure everybody that I would treat him a whole lot better than Kirsten Clarke would—I refer of course to Biden’s nominee to head up civil rights at the DOJ. Biden-voting evangelicals worry about my supposed hostility to women, and then vote in someone who invites the surgeons to have at all the little boys and girls.

This is an important reminder—the tranny-gospel is anti-Christ.

I am currently reading Andrew Walker’s Liberty for All, and enjoying it quite a bit. I have some significant problems with his follow through, about which more in future posts, but his treatment of religious liberty is thus far head and shoulders above other attempts to ground religious liberty in basic Christian theology. One of the points he makes early on is that we are all worshipers—the only real choice we have is who or what we will worship, not whether we will worship.

We are all believers. We are all worshipers. We are all theologians. Certain things follow from this. One of the things that follows—and which I think Walker would differ with—is that we are all theocrats.

Religious liberty is the issue of our time. Just yesterday another Christian pastor was arrested in Ontario, and one casually wonders where Russell Moore has gotten to these days.

But precisely because religious liberty is such a central, pressing issue, it is much too important for us to assign its defense to the relativists and temporizers. We will find no defense for it in the symbols of transcendent religiosity. We do not need a patty-cake defense of our right to worship the God of Heaven. We need a theocratic case for it.

We need the Lord Jesus.