Sunday, December 24, 2006

Stuff We Ought to Know – The Fact-Value Divide under the Totalitarian Rule of Detached Objectivism

Recently there has been much talk about a war of civilizations. But, in many ways, a vital yet subtle war on human experience has been raging over the last 300 years. I consider myself a proponent of science but, at the same time, I find it essential that Christian thinkers learn to put science in its proper limited place. What is needed in our time, as much as anything, is a new popular understanding of what it means to know and what it means to have assurance regarding truth that resides outside the realm of detached objective fact.

Science, which over the last 300 years has become the dominant approach to knowing and learning, due to its detached and purely objective nature, de-emphasized as non-factual all human claims to knowledge which motivate commitments and statements of relative value.

If we were to be truly objective and placed no particular value on one reality over another, we would not even give a second thought to the study of human experience and the history of mankind as our planet is less than a speck in the context of the entire cosmos. But no one lives as if man is inconsequential because living at this purity of objectivity is absurd. Detached objectivism does not resonate with human experience and therefore, science is an incomplete method to come to know all there is to know as a human. The difficulty is in defining and justifying a epistemological system that does not end in the quagmire of doubt and nothingness of subjectivism.

The Copernican Revolution

The gravitas of the Copernican Revolution cannot be underestimated. In developing a mathematical model of the cosmos which proved to be true and yet was counter to human experience which sees the cosmos moving around the earth, Copernicus and his legacy inadvertantly set at odd the facts of detached scientific theory and the often deluding perspective of human experience and thus began the separation of fact and value. It is this separation which has relegated the pursuit of meaning and value to the realm of fantasy and has only permitted objective fact to be raised to the level of knowledge. Our values and perceptions are to be doubted as subjective while only objective fact, which can be proven without any regard for the experience of the knower, is to be given the honor of being called knowledge. We only know fact. All else is fancy. The public discussion of one’s personal commitments and wisdom to guide one’s experience became old-fashioned, bigoted, and private. Such commitment in that they are considered non-scientific are seem in public dialogue as subjective and therefore unworthy of value and commitment. In fact, such commitments are seen as dangerous and reactionary. The root of this response against personal value and claims of knowledge regarding things which are not scientific or purely objective is the result of the wholesale embrace of detached objectivism or science as the sole path to assured knowledge. The problem is human beings do not live in a detached manner. Life is experienced in the realm of commitments to things that we value and have affections for. Is all that is human living to be considered delusional or is there something incomplete and even debilitating about a detached and purely objective definition of legitimate claims to knowledge? But is there another approach to knowledge and a another approach to what is considered valid commitments to knowledge which can bridge the gap between human experience and objective reality? Is there a view of knowledge which can capture both the objectivism of science and also give validity to the commitments human beings hold as precious and valuable?

The Very Real and Historical Conflict between Previous Held Values and Supposed Objectivism

The power of the Copernican Revolution has so resonated with the public consciousness as to empower revolutionaries in all areas of life. The errors of human perception as codified in the Ptolemaic system became symbolic of the need to overthrow the entire system of human commitments and sentiment.

National Socialism and Fascism

It is precisely the unbalanced approach of pure objectivism which empowered the arguments of Hitler and his national socialism. To the public mind of mid020th century Germany, Hitler’s rhetoric was overwhelmingly compelling. The objectivity of Hitler’s revolution was argued as follows:

Does not reason tell us that survival goes to the fittest and the mightiest? Is not it merely human sentiment which holds a nation back from forcing its will on others and promoting its own survival? If mankind is to progress, we must no longer be held back by the sentiments of our values and commitments. Is it not our weakness and unwillingness to force our will on others which has led to our present suffering? If we as a people unify under the leadership of our monarch and as one force the national will upon the weak, we will survive and ultimately promote that which is truly good, our strength. Nature tells us that this is the true facts of life and all silly values which impede the power of our will must be crushed. Did not these values come to us from the weak who could only use these deluding ideas of sentiment for there own survival. The strong must live by the standards of the strong and remove from the face of the earth all these sentiments which only serve to protect the weak at the expense of the prosperity of the strong.

World War II was in many respects a battle between the commitments of the American and British nations on one front against the cold detached objectivism of the German Will to Power. The fact is that American and British commitments to a vision of life, an aesthetic, emerged victorious over the detached objectivism of National Socialism. We must ask ourselves why these sentiments survive through the centuries. It is said that facts are stubborn things but it must be accepted that human values and commitments to values and affection for beauty historically have proven still ore stubborn than detached objectivism.

Marxism and the Cultural Revolution

The Copernican revolution empowered in many ways all the ill conceived revolutions of the 20th century. In the scientific naturalistic socialism of Marxism, all the commitments of the past were described not as the products of inferior or weak races, as in Fascism, but as the commitments of the upper classes to control the instincts of the masses for power and survival. Religious commitments to moral beauty were ridiculed as the opiate of the masses and as the oppressive instruments of the bourgeois. Marxism like National Socialism was surely a result of the one-two punch of the Copernican and Darwinian assault on human sentiment and religious commitments. Ideologies, under Marxism, were the tool of the ruling classes. All previously held ideologies, especially non-scientific commitments, were to be forcefully destroyed. The result of this detached objectivism, which pitted the survivalistic facts of life against all forms of human value commitments and sentiments, was the murder of all the religious, artistic and creative elements of those societies ruled by the totalitarian despots of scientific naturalism.

Is not our current Western culture experiencing a similar despotic reign of fact over value? No longer is a spokesman granted authority from one’s appeal to a common knowledge of what is beautiful. To allow oneself the indulgence of moral commitments is seen as self-deluding. We have become intoxicated by the bitter pill of detached objective fact. In so doing, we are unable to appeal to the values that we all know but have been deemed unspeakable.

What is needed is a new definition of what is considered valid knowledge? Such an epistemology must restore to its proper place personal commitments and affections for moral values and sentiments which are seen as universally beautiful by all sane actors. The pursuit of knowledge is the product of personal commitments to beauty and personal affections for the precious. It is this appeal to the universally beautiful which granted authority to the words of our heroes. Martin Luther King is a quintessential iconic example of the unabashed appeal to beauty and sentiment that maintains authority in the public consciousness. Dr. King boldly proclaimed the values to which we all hold commitments.

As the keepers of such commitments, we the faithful must hold in our arsenal a defense for these commitments as valid knowledge and as Truth. The preservation of all that we hold dear and all that we value relies on us who defend moral truth to equip ourselves with a defense against the bigoted epistemology of detached objectivism. istorVery

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas and the Generosity of God

This Christmas season I have had more than a few conversations with Christians who are anti-Christmas. It is true, Christmas has become pretty twisted. It seems to have become a celebration of greed and over indulgence. People speak of how to deal with the stress of the season. There is so much obligation to give to the greedy and prepare for the over indulgent that the giver can become quite over whelmed. So to some the option is to well, skip Christmas.

Not me. I like Christmas. As for me and my household, we will celebrate Christmas. The question is with all the twisted nonsense of a world gone to Nordstrom’s, “how can we keep Christmas spiritual?”. The key is to stick to the theme.

Don’t Get All Holier than Thou About Christmas
Some in attempting to keep Christmas spiritual teach the moral lesson that it is better to give than to receive. Of course it is true that it is better to give than to receive. But this moral lesson is not the message of Christmas. Neither is the message of the cross that we ought to love our enemies. The cross is about God’s love and perfect atonement for our sin. So too, the theme of Christmas is that our God is a generous and gift-giving God. God gives good gifts to His children. He sees our need and he provides salvation and wisdom and friendship. On Christmas, we celebrate God’s extravagant generosity.

The moralizing crowd, that tries to focus on the better to give than to receive principle, focuses on charity on Christmas. They say, “we all have so much. How about giving to the needy on Christmas?” Nice thought, but to this I say, “The poor you have with you always. There are 364 days to give to the poor. Give to the poor on those days. But on Christmas celebrate God’s generosity. Celebrate the singing of the angels to the shepherds. Celebrate the satisfaction of Simeon and Anna. Party and give good gifts to your children. Put up decorations and lights and make festive. Drink a little wine and eat a feast, for God is good and generous and there is a time to celebrate His gift giving.

So tell your children and tell them often: “During Christmas, we celebrate God’s generosity to us. We give good gifts to our children because our God gives good gifts to His children. We honor God by being happy and enjoying ourselves. And we worry about the dishes and the credit card bill – tomorrow.”

Merry Christmas


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Small Opportunities to Learn the Cross

A Note Before I start:
I realize I have not been posting much, but, WOW, we are having a great time in our new faith community. My current thinking on discipleship is around taking up our cross in the small things. As a community, we are meeting in church Monday, Wed, Thursday, and Sunday. These are very relaxed natural meetings of families, in homes, which involve our kids and are bearing great fruit. We all feel like we are closer than ever to having a culture that is heavenly and a wineskin that effectively teaches the ways of Jesus. Speaking of the ways of Jesus...

Small Opportunities to Learn the Cross
One of the big problems in learning discipleship is to miss the endless small opportunities to practice and learn the cross. We often expect something special and noticeable but the cross is first learned in a silent unnoticeable way.

Just this morning, I was car pooling with a friend and I was aware that I had not been practicing the cross with much intentionality this week. So I asked for an opportunity to learn from Christ. Immediately, I noticed how much we speak about other people in our work place. We are constantly complaining about people. To be aware of the insidious activity of “self”, we must have discernment. By simply becoming aware of the normal worldly talk and how it is harmful to other a whole new world of discipleship opens up to us. When this world is seen by us, we find we have to practice the cross all day. We are now practicing the cross for many hours every day. We will soon become quite proficient in the basic exercises of the cross. If we become aware that all talk that speaks poorly of another person or group of people is simply a violent activity of the flesh or the self, we will see before us a whole new world of walking in the Spirit, a way that is contrary to the desires of the flesh.

Here is a small matter or so it appears but, in reality, by holding ourselves to a standard of perfect love with our speech, we find an entire new way of life. If we say to ourselves that only speech that builds others up is acceptable, we find often 100 repetitions a day of denying ourselves and taking up our cross that we never saw before. If we now make it sinful speech to tear down another person, especially if they are not present, we will begin to notice how unclean our speech really is. We as Christians understand that we are not to curse. We are not foul mouthed, but what really is a curse? Is slang cursing or is complaining about another persons work ethic or reliability or character? We are cursing when we are not blessing a person. If that person was present would he or she feel blessed and built up or would he find the need to defend himself?

Our Lord has not taken us out of the world that we might be lights. It is in loving speech, perfectly loving speech, that blesses the good and the bad where we are given almost moment by moment opportunities to shine.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What to do with our Luxury Time?

Let’s just pretend that you had the opportunity to have a great deal of free time for the rest of your life. Let’s say that you paid off your house or ran a business that did not take up all your time, and, therefore, you had time during the day that could be used according to your discretion. This is the plight of the retired or the well off financially. Let’s say that your free time can be any time during the day. For example, let’s say that you could be free from noon to 4:00pm every day. Maybe, your free time would be from 8:00pm to midnight. The point is that you have a significant portion of every day in which you have no absolute obligations to either make money or to the family. The question is “what would you or I do with the time?”

Daily Luxury Time!!!
The daily cycle.

In our daily cycle, we have some discretionary time. We may think we do not have any free time at all. But this is not true. We all have free time. Creating free time during the day is vital to a healthy daily cycle. The question is what do we do with our discretionary time. Do we relax? Do we tend to the garden? Do we read? Do we pray?

Some of us have more than others. If you are reading this blog, you have discretionary time, and you are using it quite wisely I might add. If you are retired or work for yourself, you probably have more discretionary time than most. So what are we to do with this time. I have been thinking about this a great deal lately.

So let’s take a little stroll down fantasy lane and consider, what would we do if we have four hours a day of luxury time?

First what do most people (worldly) people do with such luxury time?
Do Nothing
Most people either completely waste this time by relaxing. Most relatively wealthy people simple work a shorter day and slow down the pace of life. They take longer meals, get ready for work a little slower, come home a little earlier, stop at an acquaintances on the way home, take longer to prepare the dinner meal, etc.
Most people couple this more relaxed pace with exercise. Exercise is the luxury of the rich. Looking good is the luxury of people with too much time on their hands. Many people take up a sport like golf or tennis. Today, people with luxury time often “work out” or go to the gym. Some people, knowing that extended aerobic exercise is the key to long life take up running. This is my personal tendency. I love to run long distances. Running is truly one of my joys in life though for the last fifteen years I have only been able to run like once a month.
Fiction Reading
These first two options in my mind are almost always pure hedonism. Admittedly exercise is a somewhat virtuous means to a virtuous end of living longer but a great deal of the motive is to look good and feel good which is total worldly motivated status driven hedonism. So in an attempt to better oneself and appear at least somewhat seeking something valuable people often pass the time by reading fiction. The rich join book clubs. We sit together and appreciate good art. Even as I write this I start to get nauseous. Somehow the ability to appreciate culture is seen as virtuous. This option feeds only our aristocratic pride. I can almost understand the motives of the Cultural Revolution. If I didn’t do my resentments inventory on a regular basis, I imagine I would be a mass murdering leftist revolutionary.

Next we get to options that I personally would consider.
Becoming an Intellectual and a Writer
I have on my self many very interesting books that I have not had the time to read. I have cracked the cover of many Daniel Boorstein books. I read Dave McCullough to my children. Here is the strange problem with becoming an intellectual (assuming one has the gifting). It is so much easier to be a pundit and commentator of history and the changing world than to be an actual doer. The world has too many books as it is. This is my conviction. One more great book is not going to solve the problems we face. It is helpful to write a book that chronicles one’s work in life. I appreciate “Organic Church” or Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Church” because these books are written after the work was done and are summaries of lessons learned so far in ministry. I can see writing a book like this but not until I and our church has learned how to expand the kingdom in our sphere. Then we can write a book that memorializes the lessons we have learned. But to write pure theory without practice, this is pure punditry and the world has far too many armchair quarterbacks. Whoa to any of us who say we know but do not do. So though I would love to write books, writing about the kingdom without doing the kingdom is of little value and holds little authentic wisdom.

Becoming a Student of Music
I love music. I cannot listen to music and talk at the same time. I am completely carried away by music when I hear it. In fact, I cannot do much of anything at all in life because I am so carried away by music that is only in my head most of my waking life. If I am not lost in thought; I am lost in music. Now, I can justify becoming a student of music and learning to play music with more excellence as a mean to mission. I love to party and play music at parties. I think music is a good means to inspire. Music is a good form of preaching and teaching. If we are both musicians and poets, then we can lead people to good works through music. Music is a step closer to doing than purely being an intellectual because music is played in the world. So having a good band and writing music is pretty close to a valid use of one’s luxury time. I would love to and I very well might become a student of the guitar. I am not a good solo note guitar player. Becoming a good solo note guitar player and using this to write music and preach through music and becoming more involved in evangelism and open air preaching through music is a pretty virtuous use of my luxury time. But only if the mission is actually being accomplished in the music. If the music doesn’t go out to the world, then the whole exercise is pretty self serving. So working on the sound of the band is a good option.

Becoming a Student of Jesus using Western Methods
By this I mean making it my life work to know and teach the words of Jesus. Let’s again imagine we have four hours a day of free time and we use this time studying the words of Jesus and teaching them to others. Would it not be a great work of devotion to spend one’s life being immersed in the words of our Lord. Ought I spend my life in contemplation of the cross and the words of the crucified savior. As John Piper is a student of the reformed approach to the bible and is a champion of a God-glorifying God-centered worldview, my passion is the teachings of Jesus. Would it not be an act of devotion to be the John Piper of the person and work of the Crucified Savior. Think if every person in the church spent the majority of their luxury time as a student of the words of Jesus and equipping themselves to teach others the way of the Messiah. It would but for one problem. Our emphasis in how we learn needs to be not through contemplation first but doing first and contemplation second. Here is the western problem. We teach the theory first and call this knowledge. Instead we should learn through a cycle of instruction in doing, practice of the principle and then contemplation and reflection. Which leads me to the highest use of one’s luxury time.

I know some people who would spend this time in contemplation of God. It is said of A.W. Tozer that he spent six days in heaven and one day telling us how it was. Surely, the knowledge of God is foundational to doing any actual spiritual good if like Piper says “God is the Gospel”. Is it possible to do any spiritual good if we do not know God intimately? Certainly at least a part of any time we have at our discretion needs to be spent in devotion to God and contemplation of His person and work.

Community – Being the Church
Lately in our faith community, the topic has been in what ways does living as community require death to self. In many ways, living in intentional relationships is an option which we take as opposed to just relaxing. We say I could just hang out at home or I could bring the family over to the Jones’. We take these intentional steps because by cutivating community with the Jones’, we create an environment where the seeker can see the kingdom and become part of the church in his daily routine. This simple act of making community is a positive and necessary part of our daily lives. The early church took meals together daily. It is not possible to make disciples unless we create such community. Our leisure time needs to be turned over to this purpose as well.

Becoming a Student of Jesus by Following Jesus into Good Works
So now we come to the last and I believe the highest use of our luxury time. We all have luxury time. The question is “how can we best use our luxury time?” I often leave the house at 8:00pm at night to spend time with like minded followers of Jesus. It is also possible that in the future I will have more luxury time. We all have weekends. What do we do with our weekends to make them productive? Do we tend to our lawn? Do we read books? Do we watch sports? Do we vacation with the family at the local park? Do we play sports? Do we study the bible? Or do we take up our cross daily and follow Jesus? As I consider the possibility of having luxury time, true repentance is to give this time over to doing good works by meeting the needs of others. This practice of compassion and charity is the ethic of Christianity that all our faith is working toward. The journey into the life of Christ is to think very immediately and consider what is my greatest ambition? This ambition comes out in how we use our free time. As I consider all the things I would like to do I land on what so obviously is neglected.

Jesus went about doing good. Do I know those around me who have needs. When we lose our religion and embrace just following Jesus, we have no obligations but to love. Here we are now truly free and our free time is spent not in attaining any position in the organization or community but in doing good.