CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Another day, another Biblical archaeological discovery that appears to confirm the Bible . . . .

According to an article from the Associated Press entitled Israeli Says Elusive Biblical Wall Found, a wall described in the Book of Nehemiah is believed to have been discovered through archaeological digs. As with virtually every discovery of this sort, "many scholars argued that the wall did not exist."

A biblical wall that has eluded archaeologists for years has finally been found, according to an Israeli scholar. A team of archaeologists in Jerusalem has uncovered what they believe to be part of a wall mentioned in the Bible's Book of Nehemiah.

The discovery, made in Jerusalem's ancient City of David, came as a result of a rescue attempt on a tower which was in danger of collapse, said Eilat Mazar, head of the Institute of Archaeology at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based research and educational institute, and leader of the dig.

Artifacts including pottery shards and arrowheads found under the tower suggested that both the tower and the nearby wall are from the 5th century B.C., the time of Nehemiah, according to Mazar. Scholars previously thought the wall dated to the Hasmonean period (142-37 B.C.).

The findings suggest that the wall is actually part of the same city wall the Bible says Nehemiah rebuilt, Mazar said. The Book of Nehemiah (chapters 3-6) gives a detailed description of construction of the walls, destroyed earlier by the Babylonians.

"We were amazed," she said, noting that the discovery was made at a time when many scholars argued that the wall did not exist.

"This was a great surprise. It was something we didn't plan," Mazar said.

of course, a different scholar is reported as doubting that this is the same wall as described in Nehemiah, but that's why I am saying that it appears to confirm the Bible. There is always room for doubt, and I am willing to allow the experts to sort this out. But still, I expect that as time passes, it will become more and more obvious that this is another confirmation that the Bible is based on history and is accurate in its descriptions (when understanding the nature of ancient writings and the type of literature involved).

A sceptic, in perhaps the broadest sense, is a person who does not immediately accept a proposition, but questions it. In this sense, I can see (and so believe) that any good thinker, including any good Christian, ought to be a ‘sceptic’; so long as the questioning is intended for understanding, and not for the sake of throwing as much fog as possible.

In perhaps the most limited sense, there is a philosophical (or, rather, sophistic) position known as ‘scepticism’, where the intent is to call everything into inextricable question (even “intents” themselves). I will be discussing variations of this position later.

Usually, though, I use ‘sceptic’ in a more moderately broad (though not the broadest) sense, to refer to people who do not already agree with me on many important (even “crucial”) details. This seems more polite than calling such people ‘unbelievers’ (for many people who disagree with me may in fact believe in God, even as I believe in God, in some fashion); or ‘infidels’ (which has connotations of treachery).

At any rate, all of my writing is in honor (and love) of the positive sceptic: the one who questions in search of (perhaps better) answers, and who is willing to believe whatever can be found to be true--even if she doesn’t yet know what that is.


It may be rightly asked, then, why I believe Christianity to be true. I don’t only mean that this may be rightly asked by a sceptic (though that, too); I mean that I may rightly ask this in proper self-criticsm! Which I have frequently done, and continue to do, in order to head off self-complacency and to help identify any mistakes I may be making at any given time so that I can correct those.

But of course, if I do this, then it means nothing as an exercise unless I play fair: I must be prepared to alter my own beliefs if I find better light to walk by. Otherwise, I am not being faithful to truth--only to my own beliefs.

Admittedly, if I turn out to be the final fact of all existence, upon whom all truths (including the truths of my own existence) depend for reality, then that would not be improper!--but then again, I might not be (let us say) God Almighty, either! If I am not, then I am dependent upon supervening facts of reality, whatever (or whomever, or Whomever) those are; and, to put it mildly, I will not be acting in best conjunction with that reality, if I am willingly unfaithful to truth in preference to my own beliefs.

All of which is an initial (and very partial) illustration of the breadth of topics that will be covered, one way or another, explicitly or implicitly, in deciding what to believe as true in what is called a person’s “worldview”. Put more briefly, these are some of the topics of the discipline of “metaphysics”.

To say the least, most people do not rigorously engage in such belief-polishing (and/or correction). Not that it doesn’t still happen, but most of time people are barely cognizant of the process; they’re doing it, but they are in no position to explain what they are doing or how--not unlike the way that I may be fairly skilled and efficient at playing a computer game, without having much-or-any real understanding of what is happening in the software and hardware.

By tautology, though, someone who sets themselves to rigorously consider what they should believe, will (or should ideally) be rigorously considering what they should believe. This is what I did back in late 1999 through early 2000; and this series of posts will be based on a book I wrote as part of that exercise.

(The book is not published, by the way; nor have I seriously sought either to publish it or to have it published. I use it more as a private notebook. I have, however, already posted up a long series of entries based on chapters later in that book, which can be found beginning here.)


The very first thing I obviously discovered, is that I already believed very many things to be true: I was enlisted (and had enlisted myself) on the side of the existence of a particular ‘sort’ of God, since my early childhood. The next obvious thing is that there can be a difference (though not necessarily so) between how I came to believe these things to be true, and how-and-why I may believe them to be true now, today. Indeed, if I look more closely I will find that I am bringing particular notions to the table even if I provisionally set aside the larger notions of God’s existence and character.

This is nothing for me to be nervous about: you (my reader) also have certain understandings of God (or of 'theology' or at least of something regarding truth) which you are bringing to the table. I probably disagree with some of those understandings. But I hope you will be pleasantly surprised to discover I agree with you more often than you expect. In fact, this is one of my key hopes; because without common grounds, I can have no way even to successfully communicate. If you cannot understand why I believe what I do, then why should I expect you to accept that I have argued validly to a conclusion different from what you believe? At the same time, if you (truly) understand why I believe what I do, then you might be able to effectively (and properly) refute me!

So it will be expedient for me to highlight commonalities of belief, for both our sakes.

However, this may involve clearing away some misunderstandings which would otherwise block our efforts.

I do not say these would (necessarily) be willful misunderstandings, either on your part or on mine. A misunderstanding can easily result from incomplete information, or from a logical mis-step in discovering the implications of the information, or even from a mere misconception about a piece of data. But though inadvertent, such misunderstandings do have results in our consequent understandings about what to believe to be true. You or I might decide that Argument A cannot be true 'because' Proposition Z about God (for instance) prevents it from being true; yet Proposition Z may be a misconception.

It seemed best to me, then, to spend time first, before beginning a positive argument about what I should believe to be true for my “worldview”, leveling the playing field, so to speak. How many decisions could I preliminarily make about what to believe while still keeping a maximum number of potential options for belief open?

As it happens, quite a few!--the material ended up providing my second longest section of chapters! But at the time, I didn’t know that this would be the result.


Where to begin, though, in leveling the playing field? How should I begin in being a good sceptic?--for, in my heart, I also wanted to be able to approach matters of belief in as much solidarity as I could find, with those who did not already believe what I believed to be true.


Well, the most basic place to start seemed to be with myself; just as, when stepping forth to climb a mountain or ford a canyon or swim an ocean, I have to (obviously!) move myself along through examination and action. But examination, of myself and my surroundings, with an eye toward such a venture, includes checking for obstacles in the way of such a venture. What if I myself am one of the obstacles? Are there ways in which that could be true? If so, I had better deal with those now!--or else I will be tracing a path to nowhere! (Or worse.)

Self-reflexively turning the tables upon myself, then, my own first suspicion would be: ‘Aha! He is going to sneak in some presuppositions, so that when he "begins" his "main" argument, his conclusion will have already been built-in from the start!'

After all, I have seen other writers try exactly this tactic. So, I made a resolution not to do such a thing, and to watch out against doing such a thing.

And in hindsight, I can report that I must have had at least some good success at this; for, so far as I can see, none of the issues I eventually raised in this section provided evidence or argument exclusively for the existence of God (especially as I understood, and today still understand, God).

Put another way, if I was (for instance) an honest and well-informed atheist, I would argue the exact same points which I ended up arguing in this section. I would not want my atheism to depend upon the positions I will be arguing against.

Hopefully, then, an atheist (or a pantheist, or polytheist, or agnostic, or rival theist) will be as close as possible to perfect agreement with me by the end of this section, and yet still be what they were when they started.


Of course this works both ways--or it had better work both ways; otherwise I will be cheating! And so I reach a next warning against myself: if I argue 'x is true' and a denomination or some other group or individual agrees that 'x is true', then I should fairly admit that I agree on that issue. This way I can fairly claim to have a difference of belief with other people, too: my opposition when our truth-claims collide will not be due to reluctance on my part to find actual agreements with my opponents insofar as I can.

Moreover those agreements should not primarily be for ‘my own’ benefit, as ammunition for my own defense; but for our benefit together. Otherwise I will be led into selective abuse of agreements, and thus into abuse of those with whom I am disagreeing: it will not be about us, in an interpersonal relationship, but only about me.

To give a working example: I should accept the Roman Catholic Church to be some bearer of the truth, if I believe the existence of all things depends upon God. And I would also be obligated to agree that Jews and Muslims are being true to that extent, insofar as they claim the same thing. [Footnote: Of course, my agreement with the Roman Catholic Church goes much further than this. Then again, so do my agreements with many forms of Judaism and Islam.]

Or, to give a more complex example, involving both agreement and disagreement: as a Christian, I have no problem believing that Mormons are doing their best to follow Jesus; and I have no problem believing that Jesus knows this, and accepts their faithful loyalty and devotion. And certainly a Mormon will agree with me on this!--sins aside (which of course we will both agree we should be penitent about.)

Yet, I very strongly disagree with the Mormons who believe God was once a mortal human like us, causally dependent on and derived from Nature (whether this Nature or another one), who essentially 'developed' into Deity. If I conclude that God did not develop up from a derivative creature produced by Nature, I am obligated to conclude that Judaism and Islam (or even a nominal deism such as held by several of America's "Founding Fathers") are closer to being the truth, on this point, than the 'Latter-Day Saint Christians'. But, I do not accept this strenuous disagreement between us to be an excuse for me to ignore or discount or disrespect the agreements (such as they are) that we actually have. Nor should I treat such agreements as being only tools for my own ideological convenience.

So, if I think proposition X is correct, I am obligated to admit that other people who share a belief in proposition X are also correct on that score, and thus to acknowledge some real credit on their part, independent of whatever ideological use (or inconvenience!) I may find in recognizing that shared agreement. If I don't, then I am the one who is willfully burning a potential bridge, of communication and understanding, between those people and myself. To say the least, such an action on my part cannot be done in legitimate conjunction with any goal or duty to interact with persons as persons; at best I could only be trying to make them react to my mere stimulus: the same as if I was trying to enslave them by a dark enchantment.


Of course, rigorously speaking I might discover later that this is in fact all I can be doing; mimetically enchanting other humans in a competition of domination. I only record here that this is where I am beginning. I leave it to my reader to decide whether you will appreciate this in principle, or not. For there might be deep logical corollaries involved in recognizing an argument to be an argument between persons!

Until such time as I can examine that notion further, I will simply note here that if all I am doing is trying (so to speak) to coat you, my reader, with paint so that you will fluoresce when exposed to ultra-violet light, then I am not really presenting arguments to be judged. Attempting to only induce a memetic reaction may be much safer for me; but it denies and traduces your own existence as a person. At best, any ‘argument’ I attempted to make would be the same as making ‘love’ to a plastic doll; it could only be a pretense (at best) on my part, even if the doll was very complex and efficient in its reactions.

Thus, if I present an argument to you, I choose instead to be at least consistent with the immediate implications of doing so: I will treat you as a person, and let the corollaries fall out where they may from that treatment.

It will be work; and where we truly oppose one another it can be only uncomfortable work. I will hope, however, that I can find enough common ground for it to be tolerable work--and that in the end it will have been worth an opponent's time and effort, whatever the outcome.


Of course, for an opponent who dismisses my attempts with an airy wave of the hand and a platitude (my opponents will probably be quite familiar with similar tactics coming from my side of the aisle), it will not be work at all and probably not uncomfortable!

And so I come to the topic of my next chapter.

[Next week: but, is there even any point to discussing such topics at all?]

In a post I wrote entitled The Cult-like Culture of Atheism I wrote the following:

There is, indeed, something cult-like about some atheists (note that I said "some" -- it is certainly not true of all atheists, and this article is not intended to accuse each and every atheist of acting cult-like). That, however, is not surprising since atheism -- whether atheists will ever accept the truth of this or not -- is a religion, and every religion develops cults.

Atheism has its beliefs about God (i.e, there is no god or gods) and its beliefs that are part of the core understanding of the world. It has a grand metaphysical story which many of the true believers of atheists defend with all of the ardour of the most firm believer of any faith. Some atheists try to differentiate between religion and atheism on the basis that atheism lacks some of the ritual that religions have. For example, some argue that atheists don't worship anything so it can't be a religion, but that is a side-issue. Of course atheists don't worship a god who isn't there, but it is their faith in their unproven belief that there is no God, god or gods that is the religion. To the extent that atheists order their lives around that principal they are acting religiously. So, while it is true that atheists don't have a place of worship, i.e, there isn't a "church" of atheism, they prove their religious devotion when they go to places where they share their faith such as the discussion boards at the Internet Infidels website.

Several atheists denied this, and after reading an article earlier this morning, I now admit that I was wrong. There actually is a "church" of atheism. According to Time Magazine in an article entitled Sunday School for Atheists, atheists (excuse me, that's humanists) in Palo Alto, Phoenix and my own backyard of Albuquerque have started their own Sunday School for children to learn morality.

But some nonbelievers are beginning to think they might need something for their children. "When you have kids," says Julie Willey, a design engineer, "you start to notice that your co-workers or friends have church groups to help teach their kids values and to be able to lean on." So every week, Willey, who was raised Buddhist and says she has never believed in God, and her husband pack their four kids into their blue minivan and head to the Humanist Community Center in Palo Alto, Calif., for atheist Sunday school.

An estimated 14% of Americans profess to have no religion, and among 18-to-25-year-olds, the proportion rises to 20%, according to the Institute for Humanist Studies. The lives of these young people would be much easier, adult nonbelievers say, if they learned at an early age how to respond to the God-fearing majority in the U.S. "It's important for kids not to look weird," says Peter Bishop, who leads the preteen class at the Humanist center in Palo Alto. Others say the weekly instruction supports their position that it's O.K. to not believe in God and gives them a place to reinforce the morals and values they want their children to have.

The pioneering Palo Alto program began three years ago, and like-minded communities in Phoenix, Albuquerque, N.M., and Portland, Ore., plan to start similar classes next spring. The growing movement of institutions for kids in atheist families also includes Camp Quest, a group of sleep-away summer camps in five states plus Ontario, and the Carl Sagan Academy in Tampa, Fla., the country's first Humanism-influenced public charter school, which opened with 55 kids in the fall of 2005. Bri Kneisley, who sent her son Damian, 10, to Camp Quest Ohio this past summer, welcomes the sense of community these new choices offer him: "He's a child of atheist parents, and he's not the only one in the world."

If atheists cannot see how that is just another step on the road to finally recognizing themselves as a religion then they really need to think a little bit more about how they act.

The title of this essay asks a good question. Does Christianity need to be defended? If Christianity is so readily believable, as Christians maintain, why defend it? As we will establish, it is not for our sakes or even for Christianity's sake that we defend our faith in Christ. The ministry of apologetics is a service to the unbeliever and not an actual defence of that which truly needs no defense. See also, If Christianity is true, why does it need so much defending? at Christian-Thinktank.com. This same site also provides a good essay giving eight reasons for apologetics. And a really good essay about the Church's failure to realize the importance of apologetics can be found here at Tektonics.org.

First, what is apologetics?

The short answer is: It's the branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines. A much more detailed answer is here at Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry ; a very fine site.

Do we need to defend Christianity?

C. S. Lewis writes:

"We who defend Christianity find ourselves constantly opposed not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion. Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you command friendly interest.

But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character. People become embarrassed or angry. Such a conception seems to them primitive and crude and even irreverent. The popular ‘religion’ excludes miracles because it excludes the ‘living God’ of Christianity and believes instead in a kind of God who obviously would not do miracles, or indeed anything else." [1]

When we get to the heart of most skeptics' stubborness, we find they aren't necessarily opposed to belief in God per se. They actually oppose what they suspect He stands for. Specifically, they oppose His authority over mankind. And, in many cases, they oppose their personal, twisted caricature of what Christianity truly is.

Ask the average skeptic or anti-theist to tell you of the god he/she doesn't believe in and you will most likely not believe in that god either. The heart of their problem is the problem with their heart. They are so set on not being ruled by God, they haven't bothered to truly find out who the God of the Bible is. I posit that, whether it's disbelief or misbelief we find, it's a worthwhile ministry to help people to understand the truth about Jehovah God!

An atheist's heart is exposed

I was once asked a question. The questioner was a particularly profane and blasphemous atheist, who didn't really want an answer, but sought only to heckle a defender of Christianity. He asked me why I bothered to defend Christianity. He went on to state that Christianity wouldn't need defenders if it weren't such an evil institution.

I found this question quite engaging. It did not engage me in the way our atheist friend meant for it to, but it did provoke reflection. I reflected upon why he ‘felt' that Christianity was an evil institution. Subsequent colloquy revealed his fractured reasoning. He cut loose with the usual profane venting about the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and the allegations that Hitler was a Christian. See articles here and here for answers to that allegation.

What did this exchange produce? Well, it led to our atheist friend answering his own question. As I see it, all his snarling accusations demonstrated precisely why Christianity should be defended. It must defended for the sake of those who disbelieve and misbelieve. In essence, Christian apologists are defending unbelievers from themselves.

In Hebrews 5:1,2 we read: "For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity."

Verses like these should be reflected upon by any apologist who is considering hanging up his/her arguments. A minister/servant of God is called to intercede on behalf of those who sin and try to draw them to Christ. This is the reason I don't like to engage in heated, petty debates where personal attacks are launched. This activity is not Christ-like and it doesn't win anyone to Him.

So, how are we to approach this problem?

The greater weight born in Christian apologetics is not carried by the scholarly defense of Biblical text. And it's also not carried by the efforts of those who present scientific data to support theism's assertions that we don't live in an accidental universe or that Earth's life forms didn't create and develop themselves.

Neither does successful Christian apologetics ride upon the back of the complex philosophical wrestling matches between us and proponents of other religions. The heart and soul of Christian apologetics exists in getting people to see their need for a Savior. I posit that, if you can get a stiff necked unbeliever to see their lostness, you have all but won the battle.

Unbelievers hide from God behind their criticisms of Christianity

There is a satanic smoke screen used by those who don't want to see the truth about right and wrong. Secular Humanism, Moral Relativism, and plain liberal licentiousness are at the heart of this soul damning problem. Non-Christians are either grossly misinformed or deliberately ignorant regarding the things of God. Just like our aforementioned friend, so many deliberately define Christianity by its abuses and its abusers.

They don't care to hear about or acknowledge the many charitable efforts that Christians are engaged in worldwide. No, and they are even less interested in the boundless testimonial evidence of lives saved from the brink of destruction by Christ's love and power.

They callously ignore stories of Christians' loving attendance when disaster strikes in the lives of individuals or even entire nations. Again, they'd rather focus upon only those instances where Christendom received the proverbial ‘black eye' because of the failures of one or more persons who are only ostensibly Christian.

Are we saying here that no genuine Christian ever fails? No. The fact that all men still possess a certain propensity for failure only shows how much we all need Christ's oversight. Besides this, what sense does it make to throw out a baby with the bath water? Why turn your back on Christ because of the intermittent failures of His people?

Why is it seemingly impossible to get skeptics to divorce bad human behavior from perfectly good theology? Apologists and evangelists try ardently to get unbelievers to look at Christ and not fallen mankind. However, their efforts are often in vain. One hates to leave people to their own destruction, but we have no alternative once we've done all we can do. Even God Himself doesn't "make" anyone accept the truth of the Gospel.

Many are those who follow the broad path to perdition. They look prejudicially at world history and ferret out instances where villains have done horrible things under a malevolent banner of some twisted form of pseudo-Christianity. Though one may try time and again to point out that these characters were actually motivated by money and political power, unbelieving critics won't hear of it. Their minds are made up and they adamantly refuse to give credit where it's due.

They launch screaming invectives and mordant mumbles at every one who dares to name the name of Christ. Look at any internet discussion forum and you will see "reasonably" intelligent people acting as if they live to punish people for their beliefs. This is the type of stereotyping that our modern, politically correct society allegedly abhors.

Yet, the same multi-cultural secularists, who preach about acceptance, callously deride believers and seek to eradicate all mention of Christ from the world. Where is the politically correct openness and acceptance in this? And to think that it's Christians who are called intolerant bigots.

Why doth the heathen rage?

If unbelievers truly think Christianity is some fantasy religion, why does the mention of Christ's name anger unbelievers so? One may try and dissuade a person from believing that the moon is made of green cheese, but it doesn't make sense to hate them for believing it. So, why would any "intelligent" person fight against others simply because they believe in Jehovah God? The reason lies in the injurious realm of carnal thinking. The moral and ethical precepts of true Christianity are hateful and binding to the secular mind.

Rom. 8:7 says, "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." This, in a nutshell, explains the innate, anti-Christian hostility of atheistic and liberal thinkers. As long as people of God proliferate the world, they know that their secular political agendas are going to be opposed. Are there any anti-theists who will admit this? Yes.

Aldous Huxley, son of Thomas Huxley, writes:

"I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning - the Christian meaning, they insisted - of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever." [2]

Here, Huxley openly admits that his aversion to Christianity was part of a particular agenda. It was not that he couldn't believe in Christ, but that he didn't want to. He openly states that he saw Christian morality as an impediment to erotic whimsy. So, Huxley remained deliberately ignorant of what serving Christ would do to change his life. Having said that, isn't it ironic that he also made the following statement?

"Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don't know because we don't want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence... No philosophy is completely disinterested. The pure love of truth is always mingled to some extent with the need, conciously or unconciously felt by even the noblest and the most intelligent philosophers" [3]

-- Aldous Huxley

Ironically, Huxley speaks of willful ignorance when his own thinking epitomized what it meant to be willfully ignorant. By the way, Huxley is wrong here. Willful ignorance is the most in-vincible ignorance of all! People who don't want to know something will not know it. There are none so blind . . .

I humbly adjure all skeptics and atheists alike to consider the following point closely. No matter what you've experienced in your life, no matter what you've seen other humans do, never stop looking for the truth. Don't let outrage and disillusionment dissuade you from finding what true Christians have already found. A true Christian isn't out to gather people to himself, but to Christ. We seek to gather people to Christ for Christ's sake and theirs.

In fact, let the following scripture speak for us regarding pure intentions. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-5 we read, "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake."

C. David Ragland, Jr.


Footnotes:

[1] C. S. Lewis, "Miracles: A preliminary study"
[2] Aldous Huxley, "Ends and Means, 1937"
[3] Aldous Huxley, "Ends and Means, 1937 pg. 270-272"

The roots of Christianity go deep in America's history. Reading the writings of the founders overwhelmingly confirmed that the people who founded America and who fought for Independence against Great Britain were heavily influenced by the Bible and a love of God. In honor of Thanksgiving, I offer the following Thanksgiving Proclamation of the Continental Congress in 1777:

IN CONGRESS
November 1, 1777

FORASMUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth "in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost."

And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.

Thanking God for freedom which is rooted in the gift of Jesus Christ (see, 2 Corinthinians 3:17), I wish you all the happiest of all Thanksgiving.

“Would you say grace?” someone in my family will ask, to an elder before a family meal--a meal such as Thanksgiving, for instance.

Of course what they mean is, “Would you give thanks?” But the phrase in English could be more accurately translated, “Would you say ‘grace’?” In our language, ‘grace’ derives from the same Latin root as Spanish ‘gracias’ or Italian ‘grazie’. Strictly speaking our English word traces back to a Middle English translation of an Old French translation of the Latin {gra_tia} (the long ‘a’ being represented by an underscore here): favor, gratitude, agreeableness. The attitude expressed is one of actively receiving love, in fair-togetherness.

In New Testament Greek, however, the word that is typically Englished as ‘grace’ does not have this meaning. Nor does the Hebrew/Aramaic which the New Testament authors were translating or thinking about (typically following the Septuagint). The meaning there is not different in content, exactly, but different in direction: the reference is not primarily to the receiver, in thankfulness, but to the giver--for which the proper response from the receiver is, ideally, an active acknowledgment and thankfulness.

What I find most interesting about this, is that the Greek word chosen for expressing this notion is rooted in the ancient Greek word for joy: chara. Thus {charis}, and its cognates, in context, means ‘freely given joy’. And so it is entirely appropriate, when one perceives that joy has been freely given--an action of indisputable love and fair-togetherness--to acknowledge that this has been done by naming that which has been given: to say ‘I thank you’ by saying ‘grace’.

This has deep topical (though not linguistic) links to the notion of ‘acclaim’--a New Testament Greek word often Englished as ‘confess’; which isn’t an altogether inaccurate translation, but which more literally could be called ‘speak (or reason) out with’. The basic idea is that a person is actively cohering with another person. One of the more striking cases is found in Luke’s story of Judas Iscariot: “Now, coming away [from the group, during the final week in Jerusalem before the Passover], he [Judas] confers with the chief priests and officers as to how he may be giving up Him [Jesus] to them. And they rejoiced, and they agreed to give him silver. And he •acquiesces•; and sought opportunity to give Him up to them minus a throng.” [GosLuke 22:4-6, Knoch’s translation] ‘Acquiesce’, in English, can be a little weak. The Greek is much stronger: he acted (and so declared) in an agreeing unity with them.


St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, after relating to his congregation the hymn concerning the prior divinity and incarnated humanity of Christ (2:5-8), urging his listeners to be of a similar disposition to the attitude and intentions of Christ in His action of doing so, continues with one of the most famous and well-known declarations in Christendom: a declaration that includes not only this action of unity agreement, but also a verbing of the term {charis}. Most Christians will be able to quote a phrase from this declaration already; but listen to it in its fullness, with these contextual meanings restored to the verses:

“Therefore, God also highly exalts Him [Jesus] and in joy is freely giving Him the name above every name!--so that in the name of Jesus [i.e. “The Lord saves” or “The Lord is Salvation”] every knee shall be bowing, celestial and terrestrial and subterranean, and every tongue shall be agreeing in unity with each other that Jesus Christ is Lord, into the glory of God the Father!” (Phil 2:9-11)

Leaving aside as controversial the scope of this declaration and this hope (so colorfully expressed by the Apostle), notice that the thanks for salvation is consonant with the freely given joy of God the Father: a joy connected with the giving of the name itself, a name of promised salvation, representing not only the intentions but the character of God Himself.


Nowhere is this more unexpectedly expressed, perhaps, than in a story of Jesus unique to Luke: the story of an unnamed woman, fairly early in Jesus’ ministry, who crashes an intellectual dinner in a most scandalous fashion.

(The following translation is one I wrote for The King of Stories, selections of which I presented here on the Cadre Journal during Lent season this year --though not this story, at that time. I locate this incident as occuring not long after the healing of Jairus’ daughter.)

.......
Now, a certain Pharisee asked Him to dinner; and entering into the Pharisee's house, He reclined (at the table).

And look! a woman who was in the city, a sinner! (or 'a woman “of the city”, who was a sinner')

Now realizing He is lying at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of attar.

And standing behind at His feet (where He was reclining), weeping, she now starts raining His feet with tears; and with the hair on her head she wiped them off, and fondly kissing His feet she rubbed them with the attar.

Now--when the Pharisee who invited Him saw this, he said to himself: "If this man was a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman is touching Him, that she is a sinner!"

Answering, Jesus said toward him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."

And he strongly agreed, "Say on, Rabbi!"

"Two debtors paying usury were owing a certain moneylender; one owed five hundred days wages, and the other owed fifty. Now, as they had nothing to pay with, he freely gives them joy instead. So which of them will be loving him more?"

Answering, Simon said, "I suppose the one to whom he gave more joy."

And He said to him, "You have judged correctly."

Now turning to the woman, He strongly declared to Simon:

"You see this woman, don't you!? I came into your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, no kiss of greeting, no oil to rub on My face! Yet she rains tears on My feet! And with her hair she wipes them off; and she rubs attar on My feet; and from the time I arrived, she hasn't ceased in fondly kissing My feet!

"I say to you: her sins, which are many, are pardoned; on behalf of which she loves this much.

"But he who is forgiven little, loves little."

And He said to the woman: "Your sins have been forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."

Yet those who were reclining with Him began saying among themselves...

..."Who is this, who even is pardoning sins?!"
.......

This incident is (almost?) unique, in the New Testament, including in Luke’s account, for its colloquial way of speaking of forgiveness and the mending of disrupted relationships between persons. The one who has been wronged is described as freely giving joy to those who have done the wrong. It is easy to see why joy is invoked in this description: love is actively given in this act, and love (in reciprocation) is actively received, to be given then in return and so on in the rhythmic actions of unity. Moreover, in this parable from Jesus, it is the one who was wronged who initiates the giving of the joy to those who have wronged him. Yet though their supplication is not mentioned, neither is the responsibility of the wrong-doer neglected; for Jesus (so Luke reports) also states that the faith of the woman has saved her.

The mending cannot be done without the active participation of both of the people; but we, as derivative creatures, depend upon God for our very existence and abilities. Indeed it is by God’s grace, by His freely given joy, that we exist in the first place and continue to exist at all. In a very real sense, it is even by God’s grace that we can sin--for though this is an abuse of the grace of God, the grace to be abused must still be given.

It is striking and challenging, then, to read the scriptures with this understanding: that when we see the word of ‘grace’, we ought to try substituting that with “freely given joy” (or some cognate thereof), and see how this affects our further understanding of the passages.


But what (it may be reasonably asked) does any of this have to do with apologetics? My answer is that this has deep connections to the theological distinction between trinitarian theism (I mean of the orthodox kind), and any other kind of theism imaginable, including proposed in other religions and philosophies.

If orthodox trinitarian theism is true (and I believe it is), then God is a (personally) singular unity of distinct persons. In some other kinds of tri-theism (for example the classic Celtic exposition of Maiden, Mother, Crone), the persons are not in fact distinct but are only masks or appearances of the divine in regard to certain human conventions. Or again, in some other kinds of tri-theism (for example in Mormonism), the persons though distinct are not the single unified ground of existence.

Or yet again, in cosmological dualisms (such as a Manichean God/Anti-God cosmology; or in a neo-pagan notion of Father/Mother, which is related to a less religious God/Nature disparity among some philosophers) the two separate grounds of reality have no common interaction with one another. (Or else if they do, then being of distinct ‘substances’ in philosophical parlance they thus are interacting within a common field or system of existence, and this is what we ought to be discussing instead when doing ontological work.)

If orthodox trinitarian theism is true, however, then God the self-begetting is one person; and God the self-begotten is also distinctly a person; and the two of them in their personal relationship with each other actively ground not only their singular existence as God but also (as the final ground of all reality) ground the existence of all derivative reality: including you and me and the system of Nature in which we live.

God is love, and fair-togetherness (the word that from Greek we typically English as “righteousness”), and positive justice therefore--if this is true. (I am not at this time discussing the role and existence of the 3rd Person in this economy; suffice to say that He distinctly proceeds instead of being begotten. In other words, His existence has nothing specifically to do with the self-existence of God, or of derivative reality. But I have discussed this elsewhere this summer in this journal.)

Please note that I am not here arguing that we should believe this is true; I am only pointing out the distinctions involved--and I am pointing out what is at stake in different propositions concerning God.

A singular person as the ground of all reality, does not give us love as the ground of all reality--for there is no coherent personal interaction as the ground of this God’s existence (and everything else). This remains true even if the person can be perceived in different circumstances as if there were different persons. It is only an ‘as if’.

Multiple personal grounds of reality, do not give us love as the ground of all reality--for they utterly do not share a common existence. (Which indeed renders the concept meaningless as a practical or even a principle proposal; but that is another discussion.)

Multiple persons who are not the singular ground of all reality, do not give us love as the ground of all reality--for they are not the ground of all reality but exist within that ground or system.

But God the Father and God the Son, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance, God self-begetting and God self-begotten--

--this does mean that true love is the ground of all reality. The grace, the {charis}, of God, is love actively given and actively received in (so to speak) active submission, between distinct persons. This is God’s freely given joy. God’s grace does not depend on sin, but where sin exceeds grace hyperexceeds: for not as the sin is the grace! The grace of God is the ground and the cause of derivative creation (the generation of not-God systems and creatures within those systems); and the grace of God is the hope of reconciliation between man and man as well as between man and God; and the grace of God is the faith and the hope and the love that shall be enduring when all the things that can be shaken have been shaken.

Unless orthodox Christian theology is true, there is no objectively moral final ground to appeal to; only, at best, the mere exercise of mere power.

And that, as most people intuitively understand, is not love.

That is what is at stake, in specifically Christian apologetics.


As for me, being persuaded that this is true, I acclaim God, and give thanks both to Him and to His mediant agents (human or otherwise!) for all the love they are willing to give me; and so I say...

thank you. (and I sorrow for my sins against you, all of you, above and below, and reject my selfishness, in hope of the day to come when I will have finally finished dying--by God’s grace, and with God’s help.)

And to all our readers around the world, on this Thanksgiving weekend, whether or not we must be striving in this vale of separation, I say, from the bottom of my heart:

God’s grace and hope to all of you, above and below.

Amen. {s}


Jason Pratt

John Piper, author of Experiencing God, has an excellent resource available on-line entitled Don't Waste Your Life which seeks to remind Christians that there are many things that we can do during this life to occupy our lives, but most of these are ultimately wastes of our time. He encourages us, one and all, to not waste our lives, but rather to live in the way that God created us to live.

In the first chapter of his book, I came across a short passage on the importance of C.S. Lewis in Piper's life. I thought it was quite possibly the best tribute I had ever seen to Lewis, so I wanted to set it forth here.

Someone introduced me to Lewis my freshman year with the book, Mere Christianity. For the next five or six years I was almost never without a Lewis book near at hand. I think that without his influence I would not have lived my life with as much joy or usefulness as I have. There are reasons for this.

He has made me wary of chronological snobbery. That is, he showed me that newness is no virtue and oldness is no vice. Truth and beauty and goodness are not determined by when they exist. Nothing is inferior for being old, and nothing is valuable for being modern. This has freed me from the tyranny of novelty and opened for me the wisdom of the ages. To this day I get most of my soul-food from centuries ago. I thank God for Lewis’s compelling demonstration of the obvious.

He demonstrated for me and convinced me that rigorous, precise, penetrating logic is not opposed to deep, soul-stirring feeling and vivid, lively—even playful—imagination. He was a "romantic rationalist." He combined things that almost everybody today assumes are mutually exclusive: rationalism and poetry, cool logic and warm feeling, disciplined prose and free imagination. In shattering these old stereotypes, he freed me to think hard and to write poetry, to argue for the resurrection and compose hymns to Christ, to smash an argument and hug a friend, to demand a definition and use a metaphor.

Lewis gave me an intense sense of the "realness" of things. The preciousness of this is hard to communicate. To wake up in the morning and be aware of the firmness of the mattress, the warmth of the sun’s rays, the sound of the clock ticking, the sheer being of things (“quiddity” as he calls it). He helped me become alive to life. He helped me see what is there in the world—things that, if we didn’t have, we would pay a million dollars to have, but having them, ignore. He made me more alive to beauty. He put my soul on notice that there are daily wonders that will waken worship if I open my eyes. He shook my dozing soul and threw the cold water of reality in my face, so that life and God and heaven and hell broke into my world with glory and horror.

He exposed the sophisticated intellectual opposition to objective being and objective value for the naked folly that it was. The philosophical king of my generation had no clothes on, and the writer of children’s books from Oxford had the courage to say so.

You can’t go on "seeing through" things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to "see through" first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To "see through" all things is the same as not to see.

Oh, how much more could be said about the world as C. S. Lewis saw it and the way he spoke.

Yes, how much more. For me, it wasn't so much Mere Christianity as it was God in the Dock. The same themes that Piper extols for Lewis are apparent in God in the Dock -- a treasury of thoughts from a man who was able to bring together myth and intellectual achievement in a way that had not been done before and with a style that has not been matched since.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I find that I am thankful to God that He gave us C.S. Lewis for a time since Lewis was instrumental in many people's turning to Christianity and remains one of the most potent voices for orthodox and understandable Christianity today.

The leaves are falling gracefully, a slow sonnet that paradoxically represents a grim death with splendid beauty, marking the change in seasons and a hope for rebirth. The winds dance to the music, scattering the leaves as notes on a barren page, messaging to the living that the symphony is nearing its denouement. The living gather to rest, trying to forget the melody that haunts their spirits, awaiting the loving embrace of leaves of green and rays of light from the sun’s face. They all come together to speak of the past and the future, but more importantly, they come for each other. In the end, the warmth of human hearts replaces the chilling cold of nature and the seasons become but images of the same reality.

Thanksgiving is upon us; the time to be venerated as one where people come together in peace and love to cherish the truly valuable gifts of life, but most importantly the gift of family. In this essay I wish to talk about my own family; a family that I do not consider one by blood, but one by nature of shared belief.

As a Christian, I am thankful for many within my faith. I consider many of the people that share my faith-- in one way or another--to be brothers and sisters in the very real sense of the terms. But there are those I also consider to be the outcasts of our family. As much as I try to love them, I am angry: angry because they are not angry of themselves. I cannot deny them the title of “Christian” either, no more than I can deny my own blood-line their titles. For these members of the family call themselves “Christian” and follow what they think to be true, so I am left to bear the same name as they, though I do not endorse those things they believe or act on. What I can only really judge are whether or not these individuals are good or bad in light of the things they claim to follow, but even then I am no judge of their ultimate salvation nor if I am the better. So I have a difficulty. Is my anger justified or am I simply being self-righteous? It is vexing to not be able to judge certain things without being labeled the hypocrite. Perhaps, though, I am the hypocrite, and the reason I can judge is because I realize that more than those I am judging. If the reader is willing to accept this criterion for my judgment then I would be appreciative so as to be allowed to explain my anger.

My anger stems from what I see and hear. My anger stems from what I experience. I have felt an animosity towards non-believers for some time because of their skepticism that seems to be riddled more with emotional outrage than actual argument. In a sense, I have always thought them to be simple in their thinking (for the most part), while playing on the immoralities performed by those within my family; all so as to cover up for the shallowness. In a way, I suppose that I merely defended my belief as an older brother does with his younger siblings, no matter who was truly wronged. “It is the nature of loyalty”, I was told and had come to believe. Now, I feel as though I have wronged myself by being angry towards those outside of my family, because the true blame lies with my own. While the Faith may be firm and consistent, it is true that the majority of its members are not.

We live in a time where Christianity is being opposed more and more and the blame is being laid at the feet of its followers. For this, I am thankful. For many centuries, individuals that would prefer to uplift themselves rather than the faith have persecuted Christianity from within; they have made a whore out of my Mother, the Church, for far too long. Those I speak of are the anti-intellectuals, the bigots, the fornicators, the greedy, the power hungry, and the lustful for blood. Their greatest sin is not that they commit these thoughts or actions, but that they think these things not to be sins at all. These individuals are those that put a stain to the family name; they are those I do not wish to be represented by.

As I read through history, a feeling of nostalgia comes over me as I desire to have those days once again; the days when Christians were the leading scientists, helping to achieve the enlightenment model of scientific inquiry. I desire to be there when Christians were of one Church, before the great schisms of 1054 and the 1500s. I desire to be there when the Christian Church was the first, before any irreligious enlightenment thinker, to start the abolition of slavery. I desire to be there, when St. Paul first announced that all men were created equal before the writing of the Declaration of Independence. I desire to be there, when the Lord Jesus scolded St. Peter for attacking a guard with a sword and cutting his ear off, only then to mend the wound and revive the lost organ. I desire these times when Christianity was respected with good reason and bad Christians were rejected for good reason. But it seems those days are gone and the few that remain simply do not outweigh those that do the family no favor. The secular idealism of the new world has taken over many Christian minds and hearts and has only led them astray more to the point that now, Christianity is not even noticeable.

It would be awful of me to leave on such a sad note, however. It seems that I at least owe the reader some measure of hope and goodness with the coming of Thanksgiving. To this I believe you are correct. But rather than try to glance over the harsh realities, I would prefer to give a much different message that I feel is adequate to fill the void. I feel there is hope in Christianity. I feel that those that stain the family name will soon enough leave the Faith, as they are already doing due to their ignorance and profound lack of intellectual integrity. I would prefer if they would simply come to notice what they have done before leaving, but that is a rarity in itself. I feel that those that are truly part of the faith, hypocrites they may be, will push the faith forward in self-reflection, humility, and a desire to better them selves. I feel that the Church will become more and more persecuted and more disrespected. I feel these things will continue to grow and multiply. The irony is that I am thankful for it, thankful that the salt might one day become salty again and that the light might shine through the cloth.

Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, I love you all, but you are the family that I never wanted, which maybe isn’t so bad after all.

In a comment I posted on the Christian CADRE Comments blog page, I made the following statement:

The consent of the governed is noted in the Declaration of Independence quoted above--and numerous other of our founding documents--as the basis for any government's legitimate claim to power. If the judges depart from that to which the people agreed in promoting their own political agenda, then they are undercutting the very foundation that they rely upon to add legitimacy to their decisions.

Thus, when judges use the language of the Constitution (such as the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment) to grant equal rights to homosexuals on a par with heterosexuals--a position that would have been unthinkable to most people in the 1860s and 1870s when the 14th Amendment was adopted--contrary to what the polls suggest is contrary to the vast public opinion even today, the decision is being made without the consent of the governed, and the edifice is built without a firm foundation.

My point was very simple and far from unique: The Declaration of Independence holds that the legitimacy of the government of the United States rests on the "consent of the governed." Where the government acts in a manner which is contrary to the will of the people, it is acting illegitimately because it is acting beyond that consent. In the case of homosexual marriage, the polls show that the public is overwhelmingly opposed to granting homosexuals the right to marry. Nonetheless, the courts seem poised to grant homosexuals the same right to marry as heterosexuals under either the Equal Protection Clause or either of the court made (recognized?) rights to Privacy or Personal Autonomy. In doing so, the courts are, in my opinion, acting illegitimately because they are acting without the consent of the governed.

Austin Cline, the Atheism/Agnosticism editor for About.com, used my statement as his foil for arguing that the Supreme Court, when acting to review laws of the Congress in light of the Constitution, must be acting with the consent of the governed because the public does not stop the court from exercising its authority. In other words, the very act of deciding, regardless of whether the public supports the decision or not, is an exercise of power with the consent of the governed since the public has both enacted the original Constitution which granted the court this power, and has not acted to withdraw this power and therefore impliedly consents to these actions by the court. Moreover, Mr. Cline argues that my quote suggests that I supported the idea that judges should be prohibited from overturning democratically enacted laws.

The purpose of this essay is to (1) elaborate on the meaning of my quote, (2) provide background information in support of my reasoning, and (3) show why I believe that Mr. Cline has made an error in his answer. In doing so, I am using Mr. Cline’s comments as the foil for my own responses.

Cline's First Comment
"The judiciary exists because of the consent of the governed — if people wanted, they could eliminate the judiciary completely."

Mr. Cline commences with the trite phrase: "There is so much wrong here that it is difficult to know where to begin." In my experience, an author normally uses this phrase right before saying something truly silly showing that they have put insufficient thought into their next statement. True to form, Mr. Cline’s first comment, quoted above, is not a particularly useful one.

If one were to divorce reality from theory, what Mr. Cline says is true. However, I am certain that Mr. Cline is not seriously advocating that people should amend the judiciary out of the Constitution. "You shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater" is a phrase that fits well here. Even though the federal judiciary is defective, the judiciary also serves many essential functions in the Constitutional scheme which no one argues ought to be discarded. Most people implicitly recognize this, and so few (if any) people are arguing that the entire Judicial Branch should be eliminated. That would be foolish.

Moreover, one of the Constitutional concepts that would be damaged, if not destroyed, by eliminating the judiciary is the concept of separation of powers. As most people are keenly aware, the Constitution divides the U.S. government into three branches: Article I (the Legislative Branch), Article II (the Executive Branch) and Article III (the Judicial Branch). The Legislative branch (seen as the primary governing branch by the founders) was itself divided into two houses: the House of Representatives (representing the people) and the Senate (representing the States). This separation of powers between the various branches was a fundamental part of the founding structure of our government. Mr. Cline acknowledges the importance of this separation when he refers to the "delicate checks and balances" with which the government was created. Obviously, this "delicate checks and balances" would be deeply damaged if the judiciary were to be completely eliminated.

Thus, I will take it for granted that Mr. Cline does not seriously believe that people objecting to the overreaching by the Judicial Branch should be advocating elimination of that branch and will move on to his second comment. (Elimination of the Judicial Branch is different from limiting the breadth of that power, as will be discussed further below.)

Cline's Second Comment:
"The judicial power to overturn democratically enacted laws also exists because of the consent of the governed — again, if people wanted to end this power, they could.

I don’t know if Mr. Cline has a legal education, but if he does then he must have learned that his second comment is, at minimum, misleading. Depending on his perspective in making the statement (looking historically or at the present state of affairs), his statement either ignores the historical context in which judicial review was founded or ignores the fact that limiting the courts’ power is a very difficult task.

A. Judicial Review Was Not Explicit In The Constitution.

One of the real interesting aspects of the U.S. Constitution is its very limited description of what the Judicial Branch is supposed to do. Article III of the Constitution, which creates and circumscribes the powers of the Judicial Branch says only that "the judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish." That’s it. There is some mention of jurisdiction of the Court in Article III, Section II, but the judicial power itself has been left largely undefined. It is certainly true that the judicial power had some easily recognized powers. It would naturally extend to cases brought before a court to determine if a particular law had been broken by an individual. This was the sine qua non of the judicial power. But one power that is not expressly granted in the Constitution is the power of judicial review, i.e., the power in the Judicial Branch to review legislation by the Congress to determine whether it is consistent with the provisions of the United States Constitution.

B. Judicial Review May Not Have Been Implied In The Constitution.

What is less clear is whether the power of judicial review was implied. While it wasn’t a major part of the debate, the founders did debate the question of the extent and limit of the Judicial Branch’s power prior to the ratification of the Constitution. To my knowledge, empowering the courts to overturn legislation would have been without precedent in the late 18th Century. I do not believe that English courts (which served as the skeleton for the U.S. legal system) had the authority to nullify any act of Parliament. Thus, if the idea was to have the courts overturn legislative enactments as contrary to the Constitution would, arguably, seem to have been at least a part of the debate. But, in fact, there is very little discussion of the issue in the debates surrounding the ratification.

Patrick Henry, writing as "Brutus" in The Anti-Federalist papers, recognized the possibility that the Judicial Branch would seize broad powers to determine the law according to their own wishes, and objected to such an overreaching power being given to the courts in Anti-Federalist Paper #11. Notably, he did not believe that the courts would have the ability to overturn legislation, but was more concerned that the courts would be acting independently without any check by the legislature. In a very foresightful comment, 'Brutus' stated:

[The courts] will give the sense of every article of the constitution, that may from time to time come before them. And in their decisions they will not confine themselves to any fixed or established rules, but will determine, according to what appears to them, the reason and spirit of the constitution. The opinions of the supreme court, whatever they may be, will have the force of law; because there is no power provided in the constitution, that can correct their errors, or controul their adjudications. From this court there is no appeal. And I conceive the legislature themselves, cannot set aside a judgment of this court, because they are authorised by the constitution to decide in the last resort. The legislature must be controuled by the constitution, and not the constitution by them. They have therefore no more right to set aside any judgment pronounced upon the construction of the constitution, than they have to take from the president, the chief command of the army and navy, and commit it to some other person. The reason is plain; the judicial and executive derive their authority from the same source, that the legislature do theirs; and therefore in all cases, where the constitution does not make the one responsible to, or controulable by the other, they are altogether independent of each other. (Emphasis added.)

'Brutus' does not appear to believe that the courts would be able to overturn Acts of Congress because that would upset the balance of power. Instead, he was concerned that the courts would be able to act independently of the legislature without any means of overturning the courts' actions. So even though the Anti-Federalists appear to have correctly foreseen that the Constitution sets up a judiciary without a sufficiently effective check on their power so as to give the courts broad power to make decisions without constraint, even the Anti-Federalists did not foresee that the courts would have the power to overturn acts of the Congress through the exercise of judicial review.

For their part, the Federalists (led by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison) acknowledged that the courts may occasionally encroach upon the legislative authority through the cases presented to them, they thought that the relative weakness of the judiciary would prevent overreaching by the courts.

'[T]he supposed danger of judiciary encroachments on the legislative authority. . . is in reality a phantom,' [Hamilton] declared. Conceding that '[p]articular misconstructions and contraventions of the legislature may now and then happen,' Hamilton was nevertheless confident that 'they can never be so extensive as to amount to an inconvenience,' given the 'comparative weakness' of the Judicial Branch (meaning its lack of control over sword or purse) and the availability of impeachment: There never can be danger that the judges, by a series of deliberate usurpations on the authority of the legislature, would hazard the united resentment of the body entrusted with it, while this body was possessed of the means of punishing their presumption by degrading them from their stations.
An Independent Judiciary: Report of the ABA Commission on Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence, Appendix A, by Charles Gardner Geyh.

The question was not cleared up prior to the ratification of the Constitution and the new government was left to work out the question in practice. In fact, it wasn’t until Marbury v. Madison in 1803, that the Supreme Court (through Chief Justice John Marshall) first claimed the power of judicial review. The decision in the Marbury case, however, does not prove that the power to review the Constitutionality of legislation was originally intended to be granted to the Judicial Branch. Rather, it is one of the very first judicial power grabs that has turned the "least dangerous branch" into what many people see as the most dangerous due to its unchecked, countermajoritarian and politically insulated position of power.

Thus, if Mr. Cline is suggesting that the power of judicial review was expressly granted in the Constitution, he is incorrect. If he is saying that judicial review was impliedly part of the original structure of the Constitution, that is not clear either. But even if it was intended, the extent to which it is now being exercised was clearly not part of the understanding of the majority of the founders.

C. The Difficulty in Changing the Law.

Perhaps Mr. Cline meant that the people consent to the power of judicial review as a result of the fact that they now know that the Judicial Branch is exercising that power but still do nothing about it. If that was his intended meaning, at least he is standing on more solid ground. It certainly is true that most informed people know that the Judicial Branch is using its power to overturn legislation, but there has been very little in the way of effort to restrict the power through the legislature or through amending the Constitution itself. But there are obvious reasons for that failure.

First, any student of political science can tell you exactly how difficult it is to pass a law through Congress (the only legislature empowered to enact laws limiting the jurisdiction of the court). Bills have to be introduced into the House (or Senate) where it goes to committee. Bills can die in committee without an "up or down" vote being taken on the potential legislation or it can be amended to death or it can be voted down. If it clears one committee, it may need to go to a second where it goes through the same process. If it is finally escapes committee, it may never get to a vote on the floor of the House (or Senate), or it may be sent back to committee. It goes on and on and on. Moreover, the more volatile and controversial the subject of the bill, the more reason that the legislators (who are almost always interested in re-election) will seek to avoid actually voting on it. And this reluctance to vote has been enhanced by a knowledge that if the legislators do nothing, they can depend on the courts to do it.

The process of Amending the Constitution is even more difficult. The process requires two-thirds of both Houses of Congress to vote for the Amendment plus the legislatures or conventions of three-quarters of the States. Two-thirds majority is very, very difficult to obtain (it is often called a super-majority), but obtaining a vote by three-quarters of the states on an issue that is contested is very, very, very difficult. After the enactment of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution has been amended only 17 times in 215 years, with the most recent Amendment being an amendment that was originally proposed by James Madison in 1792! Moreover, given the reverence that is voiced for the wisdom of the founding fathers of the Constitution whenever an amendment is proposed, the chances that the Constitution will be amended for anything more than minor matters is probably very unlikely. (See, e.g., the Remarks of Sen. Dick Durbin, United States Senate, Tuesday, July 13, 2004, where he stated: "The founding fathers understood the importance of this document that they had written. They knew that it embodied within its four corners the basic principles of America . It wasn't a dead document. It was a living document, which could be changed. But I think the oath of office which each of us takes is a reminder of our solemn responsibility when it comes to this Constitution. We may propose amendments to laws, make motions on the floor, pass resolutions, make our speeches, but I am one who believes that when it comes to this Constitution, we have a special responsibility. A responsibility which requires respect and humility.")

Now, add to this difficulty the fact that over the years, the public view of the Supreme Court has morphed from another branch of the government acting in a political manner to a view that is almost religious in nature. The court is seen as quasi-priestly: interpreting the Constitution as a neutral, detached observer. Moreover, there is no question that some good things have been done by the Supreme Court in its interpretation of the Constitution. I don’t know anyone who would argue that the famous Brown v. Board of Education which first enunciated the principal that "separate but equal is inherently unequal" and led to the desegregation of the public schools had a positive outcome (some, such as former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, argue that the process was illegitimate, but that is different from arguing that the result was not good). As such, the court has built up a tremendous amount of goodwill among the people as a whole, and consequently, suggestions that the Judicial Branch should be limited in its authority to determine cases is often met with hostility.

D. Shifting the Difficulty to those Seeking to Maintain the Status Quo

Finally, it is a lot easier to amend the Constitution through the courts than through the political process. As noted above, one encounters almost insurmountable roadblocks when seeking to amend the Constitution or pass laws relating to matters of great public concern using the legislative process. Going through the courts short-circuits the ordinary political process and leaves those who were formerly opposing the procedure into the group seeking to change the law.

For example: Prior to 1973, the law was that every state could enact whatever abortion regulations it saw fit. The federal Constitution, from most people's points of view, did not have much (or anything) to say about the issue. Thus, if someone wanted to have abortion rights protected on the federal level, the appropriate avenue should have been the legislative process. As such, they faced the burdens set out above to seek to enact those laws. But Roe v. Wade made abortion a Constitutional right, and the burden of changing the law has shifted 180 degrees to the people who were formerly defending the status quo. Now, as the result of the changed positions, it is the people who were formerly considered the defenders of the status quo who must carry the burden and overcome the obstacles of enacting legislation or—even less likely—amending the Constitution which the abortion rights advocates formerly faced. In other words, the court's intervention changed who had the burden of using the legislative or amendment process to change the law.

So, what happens when the courts use the Equal Protection Clause or the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution to make same-sex marriage or same-sex unions a constitutionally protected right? It does so in light of polls and votes that show that the American public, as a whole, is overwhelmingly opposed to the practice of same sex marriage (to the tune of 70% to 30% in Missouri, for example). So if the court acts in this way and rules that such marriages or unions are Constitutionally protected, what has to happen for the court's decision to be changed back to be consistent with the overwhelmingly belief of the public? If the means by which the court legalizes same sex marriage is to find that it is a required right under the Constitution, then the only legitimate way to overcome that court decision (other than by another court decision) is through a Constitutional Amendment. And even though 70% of the public is an overwhelming number, it isn’t even high enough to equal to three-quarters majority required to amend the Constitution. Thus, the Constitution is amended without the consent of the governed because the intended process is short-circuited by the court.

So, when Cline makes his comment that people can always "end the power" of judicial review, that is practical nonsense because even if people wanted to end it generally (which I don't believe people do), it is very, very difficult for the Constitution to be amended to so end this power grab by the courts.

Cline's Third Comment
Third, we should consider just what it would mean if (as the above quote seems to argue for) judges were prohibited from overturning democratically enacted laws. Should the laws always reflect the popular will? That’s contrary to the sort of government the authors of the Constitution had in mind.

Of course, my quote doesn't say that the judges should be prohibited from overturning democratically enacted laws. In fact, neither I nor (to my knowledge) anyone else who holds similar positions to mine holds such a view. As a result, the entire paragraph that follows is Cline attacking a straw man. Regardless, I do want to examine part of his argument.

Mr. Cline asks, "Should the laws always reflect the popular will? That’s contrary to the sort of government the authors of the Constitution had in mind." I will answer that question presently. But Mr. Cline first needs to answer a question to support his view: does the fact that the "consent of the governed" was part of the creation of the Judicial Branch mean that the judiciary is free to engage in whatever action it wants and still be within its right because it was established by such consent? To answer that question requires an examination of the language of the Declaration of Independence where that phrase is found.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."(Emphasis added.)

Like all great thought, the Declaration was not born in a vacuum. The political ideas contained in the Declaration (largely written by Jefferson with modification by others of the founders) followed after the ideas of John Locke, Stephen Junius Brutus, William Blackstone, and Samuel Rutherford. All of these men were, as their writings clearly reflect, heavily influenced by the Bible. All of these men also believed that the only legitimate governments were formed as the result of social compacts of the people. As stated by Locke:

[T]hat which begins and actually constitutes any political society is nothing but the consent of any number of freemen capable of a majority to unite and incorporate into such a society. And this is that , and that only, which did or could give beginning to any lawful government in the world." (Emphasis added.)
Locke, Second Treatise, 56, Sec. 99.

Thus, our founders believed that the government derives its power to govern from the consent of the governed. This means that Mr. Cline is correct in part in his overall concern that the consent of the governed is exercised when the government is formed. But Mr. Cline’s comment only catches part of the meaning of the Constitutional language. You see, the "consent of the governed" has two aspects: the first is in the creation of the government in entering into the social compact in the first place. But there is also a second, equally important aspect: the consent of the governed is necessary for the maintenance of the government. This is seen in the following clause in the Declaration where it specifically states that "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it." Thus, simply because the people created a particular form of government through the consent of the governed does not mean that the government remains legitimate where the government becomes "destructive" of the legitimate ends of government.

When does a government act destructively of the legitimate ends of government?

Locke goes on to explain that certain acts of tyranny end the Kings' right to rule. If the King dissolves the legislature, sets up his own arbitrary will in the place of law, stops the legislature from meeting, alters electoral rules without public consent, subjects the people to foreign domination, abandons the office, or combines with the legislature to act contrary to the public trust, he has committed those acts which make a lawful revolution to his rule an appropriate response.
Amos, Gary T., Defending the Declaration, page 146-147.

Now, I am not advocating the overthrow of the government of the United States. I am pointing out that when the government becomes tyrannical the people have the right to change it. When the judiciary begins to usurp the role of the legislature -- the role of legislating the health, welfare, safety and morals of the people -- the court is acting outside of its role as the judicial power. In such cases, it is good and right for the people to, at minimum, complain about such overreaching and to seek to change the opinions of both the public and the judges that would hold such activities to be acceptable judicial action.

Conclusion

What’s the bottom line here? At a minimum, the "consent of the governed" language which is found in the Declaration of Independence requires not only that the government be formed by such consent, but allows that the government's continued legitimacy is also derived from such consent. This consent is only maintained when the government does not act arbitrarily or contrary to the general principles of the Constitution. In those limited circumstances where the public acting through the legislatures is acting to unreasonably harm others, it can be seen as the duty of the court to step in. But in doing so, the court must rely upon the principles stated by the Consitution and the founders as the basis for its decision. If the court leaves both these principles and the general public opinion and makes decisions based on a changed reading of the Constitution, the court is acting illegitimately.

In the case of same-sex marriage, it may be that the public mood is changing and that such marriages will some day be considered acceptable by the majority of Americans. However, it would be wrong for the court to use the Equal Protection Clause to rule that they are Consitutionally mandated because it would be clear that the people who enacted the Equal Protection Clause in 1873 would not have dreamed that the clause could be used for that purpose. It would also be wrong for the court to use the Right to Personal Autonomy to mandate same-sex marriages because that is a judicial principal that is not even part of the document-the Constitution-that represents that principles approved by the public as a whole. Rather, it is a judge made fiat that represents the very worst in judicial overreaching.

If Loftus is still true to his Past position then he is going to try to move into a position that says problem of evil disproves the existence of God. To do this he's going to trade upon the work of Adrea Weisberger who says that atheist arguments always have presumption and theists always have the burden of proof. Weisberger teaches philosophy at Vanderbilt and has contributed to quite a bit of the atheistic wing of the academy with such colleagues as Quintin Smith. So apparently he's going to try and leverage a position for himself where he has presumption and I have the burden of proof even before any God arguments are made.

I can see from the comments he's made in the comment section that this is what he is probably up to.

A.M. Weisberger argues effectively that Augustine's and Process Theology's positions are concessionary solutions because they accept the conclusion of the argument from evil as stated. They do in fact deny the premises of the argument. Being concessionary means they concede the argument as stated. This means the argument doesn't apply to their views. Other arguments do, though. Read her arguments. I'm not prone to want to type them in.

In the absence of this, does it make any intellectual sense at all to say there is no suffering? That suffering is a privation? Augustine's view has been debunked so many times I'm surprised you even bring it up. And for Process Thought, such a God is unworthy of worship in my opinion, although I could say so much more about both views.


This is clearly a pointless argument because its absurd to try and give atheist arguments presumption before one even discusses the existence of God.

(1) the extent to which the problem of evil is a problem is entirely dependent upon the nature of God.

(2) Only the traditional Aristotelian God falls victim to this criticism because it is from that source that we have the idea of God as omnipotent.

(3)He who asserts an argument must prove it.

The atheist cannot assert a positive knowledge that no God exist and then expect the theist to bear the same burden of proof that he/she would bear had the theist initiated a God argument. This tactic is nothing than special pleading. It would be like arguing "prove I don't have an invisible elf on my shoulder."

(4) There is no burden of proof where there is no empirical question.

Atheists always make the mistake of thinking that the case of God talk is an empirical question and must be resolved by empirical proof. They then want to privilege their position and demand that the believer prove belief in a manner that satisfies the atheist. This is an irrational state of affairs. While it is true that if you want to persuade someone you have to reach them on a level that relates to their understanding, but that just depends upon what is being debated. Belief in God is not an empirical question, but a phenomenological apprehension. It is absurd to expect a phenomenological state to be reduced to empirical means. Thus in debating the proposition religious belief is relationally warranted, which is the only God belief proposition I care to debate, it is totally useless for atheists to try and demand that believers meet a burden of proof. The only burden the believer has to meet is the demonstration of a rational warrant. For that one need not prove the existence of God.

The problem of evil cannot be an argument against the existence of God, because it doesn't prove anything. It casts questions upon the nature of God as all powerful or all loving, but there is no reason why Christians have to defend the confusing and meaningless concept of Omnipotence, when it is not biblical position. Most answers to theodicy involve demonstrating a reason as to why God must allow evil in the world. that is usually because two equally held values are mutually exclusive. God is limited by logical necessity. Thus there is no logical reason to expect God to be able to save two mutually exclusive values if saving them involves violating logical necessity. In discussion of the problem of evil this usually comes down to free verses elimination of evil choices.

Before demonstrating my answer to the problem of evil I have one final comment on the nature of evil:

(5) The existence of Evil is not incompatible with the existence of good God because evil is not a positive force.

I take this view from st. Augustine, but more so from the modern Augustinian Reinhold Neibuhr. Evil is analogous to shadow or cold. Shadow and cold are real things, Augustine did not deny the existence of evil. But shadow is not a substance. Cold is not a radiant force, both are merely the absence of something else. In the same way evil is the absence of the good. It is not that it isn't real but it isn't solid. It results form the lack of good, thus evil is merely that which cannot be redeemed, cannot be taken up in God.

(1) The theist has the burden proof to over turn the assertion that theodicy disproves God? Special pleading.

(2) Theodicy contradicts the notion of a good God? answered by my Soteriolgiocla drama theory.

Soteriological Drama

The Free Will Defense is offered by Christian apologists as an answer to any sort of atheist argument such as the problem of pain or the problem of evil. The argument runs something like: God values free will because "he" ("she"?) doesn't want robots. The problem with this approach is that it often stops short in analysis as to why free will would be a higher value than anything else. This leaves the atheist in a position of arguing any number of pains and evil deeds and then charing that God had to know these things would happen, thus God must be cruel for creating anything at all knowing the total absolute pain (which usually includes hell in most atheist arguments) would result from creation.

The apologetic answers usually fail to satisfy the atheist, because in their minds noting can outweigh the actual inflicting of pain. Something atheists evoke omnipotence and play it off against the value of free will, making the assumption that an "all powerful God" could do anything, thus God should be able to cancel any sort of moral debt, make sin beyond our natures, create a pain free universe, and surely if God were all loving, God would have done so.

The better twist on the free will defense would be to start from a different position. We should start with the basis for creation, in so far as we can understand it, and then to show how the logical and non self contradictory requirements of the logic of creation require free will. What is usually missing or not pointed out is the necessity of free will in the making of moral choices. This is the step that atheists and Christian apologists alike sometimes overlook; that it is absolutely essential in a non-self contradictory way, that humanity have free will. Thus, free will must out weight any other value. At that point, since it is a matter of self contradiction, omnipotence cannot be played off against free will, because God's omnipotence does not allow God to dispense with Free will!

Before moving to the argument I want to make it clear that I deal with two separate issues: the problem of pain (not a moral issue--tornadoes and diseases and the like) because it doesn't involve human choice. Pain, inflicted by accident and nature is not a moral issue, because it involves no choices. Thus I will not deal with that here. I am only concerned in this argument with the the problem of evil that is, the problem of moral choice. The free will defense cannot apply to makes where the will does not apply.

Basic assumptions

There are three basic assumptions that are hidden, or perhaps not so oblivious, but nevertheless must be dealt with here.

(1) The assumption that God wants a "moral universe" and that this value outweighs all others.

The idea that God wants a moral universe I take from my basic view of God and morality. Following in the footsteps of Joseph Fletcher (Situation Ethics) I assume that love is the background of the moral universe (this is also an Augustinian view). I also assume that there is a deeply ontological connection between love and Being. Axiomatically, in my view point, love is the basic impetus of Being itself. Thus, it seems reasonable to me that, if morality is an upshot of love, or if love motivates moral behavior, then the creation of a moral universe is essential.

(2) that internal "seeking" leads to greater internalization of values than forced compliance or complaisance that would be the result of intimidation.

That's a pretty fair assumption. We all know that people will a lot more to achieve a goal they truly believe in than one they merely feel forced or obligated to follow but couldn't care less about.

(3) the the drama or the big mystery is the only way to accomplish that end.

The pursuit of the value system becomes a search of the heart for ultimate meaning,that ensures that people continue to seek it until it has been fully internalized.

The argument would look like this:

(1) God's purpose in creation: to create a Moral Universe, that is one in which free moral agents willingly choose the Good.

(2) Moral choice requires absolutely that choice be free (thus free will is necessitated).

(3) Allowance of free choices requires the risk that the chooser will make evil choices

(4)The possibility of evil choices is a risk God must run, thus the value of free outweighs all other considerations, since without there would be no moral universe and the purpose of creation would be thwarted.


This leaves the atheist in the position of demanding to know why God doesn't just tell everyone that he's there, and that he requires moral behavior, and what that entails. Thus there would be no mystery and people would be much less inclined to sin.

This is the point where Soteriological Drama figures into it.
Argument on Soteriological Drama:

(5) Life is a "Drama" not for the sake of entertainment, but in the sense that a dramatic tension exists between our ordinary observations of life on a daily basis, and the ultimate goals, ends and purposes for which we are on this earth.

(6) Clearly God wants us to seek on a level other than the obvious, daily, demonstrative level or he would have made the situation more plain to us

(7) We can assume that the reason for the "big mystery" is the internalization of choices. If God appeared to the world in open objective fashion and laid down the rules, we would probably all try to follow them, but we would not want to follow them. Thus our obedience would be lip service and not from the heart.

(8) therefore, God wants a heart felt response which is internationalized value system that comes through the search for existential answers; that search is phenomenological; inter subjective, internal, not amenable to ordinary demonstrative evidence.


In other words, we are part of a great drama and our actions and our dilemmas and our choices are all part of the way we respond to the situation as characters in a drama.

This theory also explains why God doesn't often regenerate limbs in healing the sick. That would be a dead giveaway. God creates criteria under which healing takes place, that criteria can't negate the overall plan of a search.

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