Category Archives: Philosophy

Ecclesiastes: Necessary Destruction

depression-94808__480A treatise on vanity. This is basically the book of Ecclesiastes. What a depressing book. How is a book like that ever to be read and enjoyed, especially with our modern sensibilities? We need stuff that will make us feel good even if it is not the truth, right? Isn’t that what we need? That, at any rate, is what much of society would have us believe.

At first glance, it seems that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that would throw you into nihilistic depression just short of suicidal. So what use has it in Scripture? Or, what, at least, use do we have for it today?

Well, it does no good to build upon a shoddy and cracked foundation. We can build all we want but all we do is for naught if the building will never truly stand. If we are to truly build something that is worth anything we must start anew. We must strip it down to the bedrock. To say that all is vanity is to say that all is cracked, you cannot build upon it. That is not to say that these things are inherently bad, they are not. But for us to understand these things, whatever they may be for you, we must first know they are desperately cracked. They can never hold anything of substance. They can truly never be built upon. They can’t hold the weight. Thus, if we experience discomfort from Ecclesiastes it is the doctor’s scalpel. It is the necessary pain for the healing of our life.

Continue reading


Reflections on “the problem of evil”

art-1881343__480

I have been reflecting on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it has made me think about “the problem of evil.” In fact, at the end of the book Tom himself, one of the spiritual heroes of the book, is wrestling with the problem himself. In the book, there are all sorts of terrible realities that represent actual events. Injustice after injustice happen to the people in the story, and again, these stories are based on actual real life events.

One could try to do away with these sad and confused thoughts by just saying that slavery ended long ago. However, this does not solve the problem. Evil continues, injustice continues, ramifications continue. Further, there is still slavery. There is still abuse. Some live life as a mere dash in-between agony and futility. That is all they know, tossed on an endless wave of seemingly nothingness. So one does not escape the question by saying things are now good, or at least not so bad. What then is the answer to the pain, the suffering, the injustice?! Why do people, millions of people, live painful lives, just to die in greater pain?

Continue reading


Jesus and Jihad (part one)

 

study-862994_1280

Introduction

Islam has many expressions. It is not monolithic. We are wrong if we think we understand Muslims because we have met one or read the Qur’an. That is a simplistic and false understanding. “Islam is a dynamic and varied religious tradition.”[1] In the same way, if you have met a Christian and read the New Testament, for example, that does not mean that you understand Christianity. “The range of contemporary Muslim religiosity varies tremendously. One of the reasons for this is that people understand and ‘use’ religion in a variety of ways; that is true whether we are dealing with Islam or Christianity or any other religion.”[2]

As Christians have different beliefs regarding certain doctrines, Muslims have different beliefs as well. Christianity has many expressions, liberal and fundamental and various particular denominations. In this post (and in part two), we will explore the Islamic understanding of jihad and contrast it with Christianity. Our first observation is to realize the multifaceted nature of our exploration.

Many Expressions of Islam

As we have briefly seen, not all Muslims are the same and not all Muslims understand jihad in the same way. So, some Muslims emphasize the more peaceful passages (e.g. surah 5:32; 2:256; Allah is also repeatedly said to be “most gracious, most merciful”) and that the Qur’an seems to teach to not begin the fight (2:190; 22:39). However, others believe that those who have not confessed Allah and his prophet have already essentially made war with Muslims and should be subjugated.[3] Some Muslims are strict adherents to Islam and some are secular. Muslims are not homogeneous. (For example, we see two very different narrative accounts in Nabeel Qureshi’s, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and Mosab Hassan Yousef’s, Son of Hamas). In fact, “not all Muslims believe that the Qurʾān is the literal and inerrant word of God, nor do all of them believe that Islam requires strict conformity to all the religious and moral precepts in the Qurʾān.”[4] We could group Muslims into three broad groups: secular Muslims, traditional Muslims, and fundamentalist Muslims.

Continue reading


Beauty (a few thoughts & more questions)

Beauty. What is it? Dictionary.com says beauty is “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else.”

Roger Scruton asks, “Why do we call things beautiful? What point are we making, and what state of mind does our judgment express?”[1]

“The nature of beauty is one of the most enduring and controversial themes in Western philosophy, and is—with the nature of art—one of the two fundamental issues in philosophical aesthetics. Beauty has traditionally been counted among the ultimate values, with goodness, truth, and justice.”[2]

Objective or Subjective?
At the head of the conversation over beauty is whether beauty is subjective or objective. The subjective view holds that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder;” beauty is determined by the subject.[3] The objective view holds that beauty is in the object. That is, there are some things that are objectively beautiful. However, it seems to me that there are actually problems with both of these views.

Continue reading


Suffering and Our Savior

untitled

When caring for someone who is suffering it is often best to say little. It is often best to sit in silence and just be a support by your presence. Even when people ask, “Why? …Why did this happen? …Why are we going through this?… Why?…” It is often still better to refrain from giving an answer. Instead of offering answers (that really can’t be satisfactory) we should pray and point them to our God who cares.

However, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it is time to speak here are some things that I have found helpful in the midst of suffering. 

Suffering is a result of sin
Suffering was not part of God’s original intention for the world. God created the world “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was only after humanity rebelled that suffering came on the scene.

Sadly, there are all sorts of effects because of sin. The world is fallen. And we have faulty and frail bodies. We are susceptible to Lyme disease, cancer, and all sorts of other things. We all suffer, we will all die. That is sadly the way the world is because of the curse that sin brought.

So, in one sense, we can give an answer to the “why?” question by saying sadly the world is broken and we as individuals are broken physically and spiritually. However, that’s not it. We thankfully are not left there. We also see…

God takes our suffering seriously
Our Lord is not up in the sky indifferent to suffering.[1] God takes sin and its effects seriously. Let’s look at four ways God sympathizes with us and takes sin seriously.

First, we see Jesus sympathizes with our suffering. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus. Jesus was “deeply moved” (v. 33, 38) and “greatly troubled” (v. 33). Jesus can sympathize with us and our suffering (cf. Heb. 4:15). Our Lord is not up in heaven unaware of the suffering of His servants. Our Lord is aware and He cares. He cares deeply.

Our Lord cares so much that second He comes as our Savior. We see “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.”[2] Jesus offers a solution to the problem of suffering, by suffering in our place. Suffering without medicine or morphine, suffering on a Roman instrument of torture. Even as we grieve over suffering and death we do not grieve as those without hope. We have hope! We have hope through Jesus!

Jesus didn’t heal everyone when He walked the earth and He doesn’t heal everyone now, but He does take care of our biggest problem. Jesus suffered, bled, and died. He was cast out by the Father so that we could be welcomed in.

God is good. Even when we cannot see His hand, we can trust His heart. God memorialized His love for us, when we see the cross, we see that God’s hands are open wide to welcome us in, comfort, and renew us.

So, dear beloved, take heart, Jesus, who is God, weeps as you weep. He feels your misery. However, He does not leave us there (as everybody else has to because they are not Lord) but offers us the solution to all pain and misery. How does He do that, what solution does He give? Jesus gives Himself, His own life. He takes the misery upon Himself on the cross. He bears the wrath we all deserve. Through what Christ did on the cross, for all those in Christ, all things will be restored, made new!

Actually, even now we have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). So, in the midst of suffering and difficulties, we shouldn’t project ourselves into a graceless future. Because, third, God will be there, grace will be there. The LORD will not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Our Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is with us now and He will be with us through the storms of life (Ps. 23 cf. 121). Even in our suffering when we can’t form words to pray, the Spirit is there to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).

Fourth, we see that Jesus will come back and set all things right. There will be no more reason to weep for He Himself will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4)! We know, as Paul says, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17 cf. Rom. 8:18). Continue reading


“Whatever’s right for you”

action-1838330__480

What is right? What is wrong? Is there right and wrong? Or is everything relative to the situation or the individual? Can we answer these questions?

These are complex, important, and very relevant questions. Especially because “Americans are both concerned about the nation’s moral condition and confused about morality itself.”[1] Actually, “A majority of American adults across age, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and political ideology expresses concern about the nation’s moral condition—eight in 10 overall (80%).”[2] Continue reading


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 7)

portrait_of_friedrich_nietzsche

Significance for Christian Practice
Nietzsche is certainly good at reminding us that if God does not break into human experience then we are hopelessly lost. Nietzsche shows us what the antithesis of Christianity looks like. Nietzsche is correct, if God is dead, “if atheism is true, there is no moral accountability for one’s actions… If life ends at the grave, it makes no difference whether one lives as Stalin or as a saint.”[1]

Apologists need to show people the world as it is, and existentialists like Nietzsche can do a good job at shaking us awake to the realities of our broken world. Ironically, understanding Nietzsche could help people become “poor in spirit,” a prerequisite to the Kingdom of heaven. Through, the dark and dooming picture that Nietzsche paints we can see our existential need for God. Thus, understanding Nietzsche’s philosophy can actually be helpful for Christians. Continue reading


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 6)

Super Hero Flying Retro

The Christian Ideal and the Answer to what Ails Us
Apologetics sees the questions in philosophy and religion and points to how Scripture ultimately answers them. Scripture answers Nietzsche’s questions (though perhaps unvocalized) about meaning and hopelessness.

Nietzsche is basically stuck on the Fall but does not understand the rest of the Biblical story that explains our reality. He does not realize that because God does exist and has revealed Himself and made us in His image that we have access to and can know truth. We also see in Scripture that there is more than nothing (nihil), there is hope in Christ. In fact, hope of everything that Nietzsche acknowledged as so wrong being fixed.

Interestingly, we see that we desire a superhero, a savior. We see this truth in all sorts of examples (e.g. The Avengers, Matrix, Batman, Superman, etc.). For Nietzsche, it was the Übermensch that he hoped in.[1] In all of this, we see humanities need for meaning and morality and for a Savior to fix all that we sense is so wrong. What explains all of this? The biblical worldview.[2] Continue reading


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 5)

view-of-a-lightning-over-city_MyvDs5SO.jpg

Nietzsche’s Ideal Implodes
Salaquarda points out that “Historical criticism remained Nietzsche’s most important argument against religion up to the beginning of the 1880s.”[1] However, there are many persuasive arguments that have been made that support, for instance, the resurrection of the Jesus.[2] So, in my opinion, a convincing case can be made for why we can and should believe in the resurrection of Jesus and for the reliability of the Old and New Testaments. Thus, the bedrock of Nietzsche’s criticism is unfounded. In the end, it is his foundation that is shaky (Nietzsche does not even believe in true truth!). Nietzsche also claimed that God was dead and told people that they should live in light of that reality. However, good arguments can be made that conclude that God is alive and well.[3] Truly, even as we look at the world we live in it seems apparent that it is the fool that says there is no God (Ps. 14:1; 53:1).

Nietzsche said, “atheism and a sort of second innocence belong together.”[4] If God is dead there is not only no morality, there is innocence. No one is guilty. No one should feel guilty. Each person can freely do what they see as right in their own eyes. However, human experience tells us otherwise. Nietzsche seems to paint hell as heaven. If we apply his logic he seems to hold up the carnage of Auschwitz as a return to Eden.[5] As William Lane Craig has said, “If God does not exist, then in a sense, our world is Auschwitz: there is no right and wrong; all things are permitted.”[6]

The world will eventually burn up in the death of the sun. There is no meaning. We are decaying matter that will soon be planted. If we are merely matter in motion then we have no morals. We cannot say man descended from apes and thus has no final importance and also say that we must love one another. That reasoning does not follow. Continue reading


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 4)

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-3-29-00-am

Nietzsche’s Ideal
I want to look at the functionality of Nietzsche’s philosophy. What kind of world does Nietzsche’s philosophy create? Nietzsche’s philosophy creates a world in its own image, one in which people bite and devour each other.

Nietzsche’s philosophy creates all sorts of problems. For example, Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite; he disagreed with his sister and brother-in-law who were. But, it is hard to say upon what grounds. When there is no morality, when “god is dead,” it is hard to criticize morality in other people. Yet, we see him do this time and time again. When we say there is no God, when we say there is no morality, if we are to be consistent we must realize there is no morality and we must come to terms with the world that it creates. So, I am not necessarily pointing out that Nietzsche was wrong, though I think he was, but I want to point out that he and many who have come after him are inconsistent. We cannot hold up Nietzsche’s ideas in the many forms they take and not expect a torrent of injustices to overwhelm us that harken back to Auschwitz.

Nietzsche hated Christianity’s morality that was based, in his opinion, on “pie in the sky.” However, Nietzsche’s morality, or lack thereof, leads to hell here. Nietzsche very likely would not have supported Nazism, and it seems as if he was not anti-Semitic, but many of his writings support the atrocities of the holocaust.

If Nietzsche is right that God is dead then his morality is right as well. That is, there is no right, there is no wrong, there is in sum, no morality. As Ivan Karamazov said in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book The Brothers Karamazov, “If God is dead, everything is permitted.” In fact, morality is unhelpful. Nietzsche basically says that morality is nihilistic. He says, “Morality is a way of turning one’s back on the will to existence.”[1]

However, we cannot really live in a world like that, we, at least, would loathe that world. But, that’s the bitter truth if God is dead. If God is dead there is no killing a billion devils. Hell may not then be literal, but hell on earth is. If God is dead, humanity is “free;” free to wallow in its own mire. Free to oppress, free to enslave, free to hate, free to do whatever it is we feel to do, so long as we are more powerful than the powers that be…

So, Nietzsche’s atheistic “morality” might be freeing, if you’re at the top of the food chain. But if you’re a minority or a small off-shoot fringe group that’s not accepted by the powers that be, you are likely to be stubble for the Übermensch’s flame. Freedom it seems only would come to the “god” of this world, the “god” that is strong enough to enslave others (of course you might say, that even that “god” is then enslaved to continually fight for his so-called “godhood”). And so, we see that Nietzsche provides no freedom, he just provides a different master, one that (Romans 6 reminds us) brings a litany of death, debauchery, chaos, and everlasting curse. Nietzsche and his morality—and Darwin and Dawkins[2]—do not finally bring freedom and fun or hope of heaven on earth, they bring a very real type of hell to life on earth; they, when their philosophy is lived out to its logical conclusion, nearly have the power to give demons flesh.[3] They, short of incarnating evil, do image their master the devil. They carry out his deeds by their acts; acts of rape, acts of mutilation, acts of vile debauchery and calculated cruelty, they glory in their shame and they praise and promote those who do the same. They do this because they did not see fit to honor God, they thus become futile in their thinking, and do the works of their father the devil.

My goal is not so much to prove Nietzsche wrong, in my opinion, he has done that himself. My goal is to prove that if “God is dead” it follows that there is no morality and that makes for a terrible world. This is immediately relevant to our current culture. We desire Eden—healthy people and planet, peace, and prosperity—all the while saying there is no God and we can do as we like.[4]

It seems then that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was influenced by Nietzsche’s work. It seems to me that a seed was planted in Nietzsche’s work that Hitler would later cultivate to very destructive ends.[5] Nietzsche may not have foreseen or intended all the Nazi party carried out but it seems that what they did is in line with his thought So, although Nietzsche himself may not have supported the Nazi party, his thought when taken to its logical conclusion, does seem to lead to many of the things that the Nazi party did. Nietzsche, from my reading of him, would certainly have no grounds to criticize anything that they did.

The brutality that Hitler and his regime carried out was necessary as Nietzsche described: “man’s sacrifice en bloc [all together] to the prosperity of one single stronger species of man—that would be progress.”[6] Thus the brutality and sacrifice would be worth it in Nietzsche’s mind because it would bring about a new and better age. Nietzsche, I am sure, could concur with these words from Hitler: “Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live.”[7]

Nietzsche said this in Beyond Good and Evil:

The crucial thing about a good and healthy aristocracy… is that it does not feel that it is a function… but rather its essence and highest justification—and that therefore it has not misgivings in condoning the sacrifice of a vast number of people who must for its sake be oppressed and diminished into incomplete people, slaves, tools. Its fundamental belief must simply be that society can not exist for its own sake, but rather only as a foundation and scaffolding to enable a select kind of creature to ascend to its higher task and in general to its higher existence.[8]

As we have said, we can extrapolate, especially with hindsight, that Nietzsche’s philosophy had an impact (though to what degree we cannot say) on Nazism. If there is no right and no wrong, only what is desirable and undesirable for the particular individual, then we allow, even give precedence, for all sorts of moral degradation (because, after all, moral degradation does not actually exist, only the will to power). Thus, we see Nietzsche’s ideal, his philosophy, ultimately promotes violence and all sorts of vile practices. 

________________

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, par. 11.

[2] Richard Dawkins follows Nietzsche in saying that “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference” (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life [New York: Basic Books, 1995], 133).

[3] If morality was just a “misfiring” or a “Darwinian mistake,” even a “blessed, precious mistake” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion [New York: Mariner Books, 2008], 253) it would not be grounds for living a moral life. Yes, one certainly could still live a moral life, as apparently, Dawkins claims to. He even makes fun of the consideration that people would need a judge in the sky to make us moral. However, Dawkins does not take into account various atheists that attest to the truth that we need a judge in the sky to keep humanity from caring out acts of atrocity on others (cf. e.g. Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ). If there is no evil, no true transtemporal truth, then there really are no real acts of atrocity. If God is dead, all things are permissible. They may not always be efficient or wise but they are permissible. Efficiency itself becomes the criteria of right and wrong (cite eugenics, euthanasia, Trump’s taxes, etc.). Efficiency becomes a parallel to Nietzsche’s “will to power.” The person that rises above the system (e.g. moral, political), uses the system, or beats the system is the “over-self” that bends the world to its own ends. This is the new “morality,” striving and thriving to subdue life and life’s systems to whatever end is desirable. The true “over-self” may not call themselves a disciple of Nietzsche, it may even be unwise of them to make that claim, but if they live in the ways mentioned above then they are a disciple of Nietzsche even if they don’t know it. They may claim they’re not, they may claim to be pragmatists but they seem to be Nietzsche’s disciples nonetheless.

[4] It reminds me quite a bit of the first sin: forgetting God and doing as we desire. Here we see the danger of autonomous reasoning. From the beginning, even before the Fall, we have been dependent upon God for everything, revelation directing us to know what we should desire. In fact, I think Nietzsche would be happy in that it seems like the only morality today seems to be to do whatever suits the particular individual (unless it infringes upon what someone else wants to do or is really nasty). So, there seems to be no rules, except do not make rules for others or do “really bad things” (like pollution, Christian hypocrisy, and pedophilia).

[5] The Stanford Encyclopedia says “during the 1930s, aspects of Nietzsche’s thought were espoused by the Nazis and Italian Fascists, partly due to the encouragement of Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche through her associations with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. It was possible for the Nazi interpreters to assemble, quite selectively, various passages from Nietzsche’s writings whose juxtaposition appeared to justify war, aggression and domination for the sake of nationalistic and racial self-glorification” (Wicks, “Friedrich Nietzsche” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

[6] Par. 12 of the Second Essay in On the Genealogy of Morality.

[7] Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 289.

[8] Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par. 258. Cf. Darwin’s thoughts on the queen bee. He said, “we ought to admire the savage instinctive hatred of the queen-bee, which urges her instantly to destroy the young queens her daughters as soon as born, or to perish herself in the combat; for undoubtedly this is for the good of the community; and maternal love and maternal hatred, though the latter fortunately is most rare, is all the same to the inexorable principle of natural selection” (Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species [London: Penguin, 1968], 230).


%d bloggers like this: