Moralism and the Gospel

Albert Mohler posted an article about moralism and its clash with the Gospel:

One of the most seductive false gospels is moralism. This false gospel can take many forms and can emerge from any number of political and cultural impulses. Nevertheless, the basic structure of moralism comes down to this — the belief that the Gospel can be reduced to improvements in behavior.

My own response is that I think this is close to the truth, but there is some clarification missing that makes it seem as though it is focused on the wrong problem.

A simple way to state it is, to slightly turn a phrase: “Christianity is not mere moral teaching, but it is not less than moral teaching”. Moral living is a really big deal in Scripture. John 3:36 teaches that God’s wrath does not rest on sin alone, but on sinners. Over a dozen times in the psalms, we are told something similar.

We tend to completely separate “sin” and “sinner” today, but that seems like a false separation. Our actions and our character and motivations tend to be intertwined, not distinct. At the same time, while it is true that God loves everyone in the sense that we are all created in His Image, He does not love people who are in rebellion for their rebellion in the same way that He -does- love those who are obedient for their obedience. That is a type of love He does not and cannot spread out to everyone, because it is a response.

I agree with the general theme, that Christianity is not mere morality. But I think Christianity -is- at least morality. What I observe today is a very libertarian approach to morality in Christians. The emphasis is on “well, it’s okay if you are doing some sinful behavior, because it’s none of my business”. But the Gospel compels us to confront sin in the world; order, discipline, and love compel us to confront sin in the church.

Perhaps the best approach is to see morality as an intrinsic property of Christianity, not as something to separate from it. Though even still, I think Christians are quite right in pursuing the true, virtuous, and beautiful even in an anti-Christian world since sin and destruction are closely tied, and Christians are called to be lights to the world, not observers.

Rise of Civilization

No, not the actual rise of civilization. It’s the name of a piece of software that has taken nearly all of my free time. I’ve worked off and on various programming projects for nearly ten years and would love to supplement my income someday with them. This particular project is a game; a city-builder to be exact.

The purpose of Rise of Civilization is, unsurprisingly, to build up a civilization. This will involve resource management and choosing a path of development. By implication, this game will have a number of options for the player to choose for technology and aesthetics. My aim is to have a different experience during each play-through, difficult as that is going to be. In order to facilitate it, I’ll be converting a lot of the hard-coded information in the game (from buildings to plants to resources) to XML file-driven data. That’s down the road, though. Up first is actually getting a working game!

The images below are a progression from February 20th through today (March 27th). Not bad for five weeks, considering how busy I have been with other commitments.

Does Human Worth Depend on Quality of Life

Thanks to the curious way that Facebook decides which stories to show its members, I was privy to a conversation about abortion, quality of life, and human worth I would normally never see because the people involved have no relation to me. The conversation is… educational. Educational in the sense that from it we can learn what not to do in a debate about these topics and what views work better than others. It also reveals a trend regarding abortion: while abortion is becoming less and less politically and socially popular, its advocates are falling on emotional appeals instead of a solid framework of human worth.

The thread began with some information about a couple whose child was born with a severe birth defect. The brief conversation progressed as follows, with some moderate editing on my part to remove names and fix spelling and grammar:

Person A:If the parents knew of this condition early in the pregnancy, why did she carry to full term?

Person B:Not everyone is for abortion.

Person A:My question isn’t one of ‘is abortion right or wrong?’ or ‘for or against’? Morality aside, it is about quality of life.

Person C:Sadly largely because it is far less cognitively taxing to say something simple like “I am against abortion” than to carefully consider the actual consequences of such hard line black/white right/wrong stances. It’s unpleasant but we do need to start considering these things. Parents who keep a child who will know nothing but pain and a short pitiless life are really quite despicable. People shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind simple right/wrong binary logic when another life is involved. I get upset whenever someone says in a simple way “I am pro-life” or “I am pro-choice” when we should all be pro-humanity.

The Non-Moral Immoral Moral Question

“A” seems to be a bit confused. He claims that the question “why did the mother carry the child to term [knowing the child had a severe birth defect]” is not a moral question and has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of abortion. Yet it seems obvious that his question entails abortion. By what other means would a mother not carry her child to term sans unfortunate natural causes? Unfortunately for “A”, the question of whether abortion is moral or not is actually the foundation of his entire claim, which is that it is, at least in this particular case.

The particular case is about quality of life, and the person arguing it supposes that the quality of a human life influences whether or not that life should be preserved or in this case whether or not the life should be terminated.

This returns us to the question of abortion. If a fetus is a human being and a child is a human being, advocating for the death of a fetus with a birth defect is no different in quality from advocating the death of a child with a birth defect. Sounds horrific, doesn’t it? The unpleasantness of that thought aside, it reveals the implication of viewing a fetus and a child as equally human. This brings the debate back to where it belongs: does the state of being unborn negate the biological and philosophical realities that make someone human?

No matter what someone answers this question with, it will have direct implications with regards to the “quality of life” argument above; an argument that requires an answer to that question as a premise.

No, YOU’RE the bad guy!

“C” makes three separate arguments. The first is a meandering appeal to relativity which says that this question cannot possibly be one with definite answers. This eliminates a rule-and-exception approach and replaces it with a case-by-case approach, something that seems a little foreign to the idea of human worth.

The second and most subtle of the three arguments is really not so much an argument but an accusation. Assuming that (1) “abortion is not the taking of an innocent life” and (2) “the quality of life matters more than the fact of being alive” as unspoken premises, “C” makes the claim that parents who carry their unborn children to term knowing they may have birth defects is “quite despicable”. However, if either (1) or (2) is a false premise, such parents are behaving as ethically as possible. Despite all of his claims for relativity, C demonstrates that it would require a static and unyielding adherence to his unspoken premises to be anything but ethical and moral, let alone despicable.

The third part of “C’s” claim is that we should all be “pro-humanity”, not “pro-life” or “pro-choice”. Perhaps I’m not imaginative enough, but “pro-life” and “pro-humanity” seem to be synonymous. Perhaps “C” also values the dead as much as the living; we cannot say. And yet given his previous statements, it is clear that he is not “pro-humanity” as such, but more “pro-healthy-humanity-as-defined-by-myself”. That is, when an unborn child does not meet the standard he declares for health, the parents of said unborn child are “quite despicable” if they do anything but terminate that child’s life.

The confusion with both “A” and “C” comes from conflating the value of human life with the quality of human life. If the quality of life affects its value, then those who are in poverty are worth less than those who are affluent. Seems strange for such Progressively-Minded™ folks to say such a thing, but it is a natural implication. I’ll even go so far as to define it as a syllogism!

  1. The quality of human life determines whether or not that life should be preserved.
  2. An unborn child who has a severe birth defect has a low quality of life.
  3. Therefore, an unborn child with a severe birth defect should not have his life preserved.

Of course, you could substitute any measure for quality of life for premise (2) and end up with the same conclusion. Someone who disagrees would have to tell us why an unborn child is not human (so as to control the scope of premise (1) and (2)), but then we are back on the classic abortion debate mentioned above and we are not talking about the quality of human life anymore.

Quality vs Worth

The Christian view is trivially simple in comparison yet more in line with our experience. All human life is priceless in human measurements. Quality of life has no effect whatsoever upon the value of life and often the quality of life in economic, medical, or social terms has no impact on the quality of life from the perspective of joy and wonder. I know several people who have moderate or severe health problems, but they all consistently seem to appreciate life more than I do. In the Christian view, it is easy to determine how valuable their lives are – they are no more or less valuable than my own and I have no right whatsoever to deprive them of their lives.

Quality should be seen as an extrinsic property of human life while value should be seen as intrinsic. The former can change (and often does); the latter is constant.

The Character of Accomplishment

Imagination time!

Imagine that one person – we’ll call him Bob – has the character of a saint. His life manifests the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues: prudence, temperance, justice, courage, faith, hope, and love.

Imagine that another person – we’ll call him Jim – has the accomplishments of a polymath. He has written works on philosophy, history, music, mathematics, medicine, and software architecture that are seen as definitive by the best in each of those respective fields. He is well known, well respected, and well loved.

Neither of those scenarios is impossible to imagine, though both Bob and Jim seem to have almost superhuman abilities. Lets make things interesting.

Suppose that Bob has no accomplishments whatsoever. He has no achievements. He has produced nothing of worth. When he dies, he will be remembered by those who knew him as a saintly fellow, but there will be no surviving written works or creations with his hands. He will have left no money, no wealth, no house; nothing at all. Bob has no accomplishments.

Now suppose that Jim has no virtue at all. He lusts after every women he meets and he is a glutton. He is greedy beyond measure and envious of everyone else who has more. His pride is unbearable. He is cruel and wrathful to anyone who crosses him. He is also as lazy as can be, possessing no diligence at all. Jim has no character.

Does your imagination stretch so far as to have an image of both of those people in your mind? Mine does not. It may be that I’m not creative enough or have not tried hard enough, but I suspect something else may be at fault. I don’t think character and achievement are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think character and achievement depend on each other. I should probably explain.

Someone with great moral character who walks upright in godly fashion is bound to have accomplishments. This is not certain, but it is the natural end of good character. As beings created in the image of a Creator God, we naturally create. Not everyone may be capable of fashioning with their hands, but perhaps their mind is their preferred instrument. Or their voice. Regardless, as the Proverbs amply tell us, there is much fruit born of righteous living; not just spiritual fruits either. For example, is why a farmer who is diligent (which is to say, virtuous) will have abundant food supplies; an achievement in its own right.

Of course, it is easy to think of counter-examples. What if there is a drought and the farmer cannot grow something, for instance? That still does nothing to change the natural ends of virtue, just as husbands and wives who cannot have children for biological reasons does nothing to change the natural ends of marriage, which include childbearing. It is the natural ends we are concerned with.

On the other hand, someone with great accomplishments is likely to have good character, at least in some ways. While achievements can be earned unethically and immorally, they come naturally to people of good character by simply living virtuously. It is hard to imagine someone who has written books on a variety of topics to be anything less than hard-working. It is hard to imagine anyone who has substantial wealth to be anything less than prudent. It is hard to imagine anyone who can give away great amounts of money as being anything less than charitable.

The point of all of this is to say that character often produces achievement and thus that achievement often comes from good character. Some people hold to a false dichotomy: you either have great character or great accomplishments. The dichotomy is demonstrably false in the greatest example of all. God Himself accomplishing the greatest of all things in His Creation and His Redemption of mankind has perfect Character. It would be wiser to say that we should pursue good character ourselves but that we will know others by their fruits. Character and accomplishment are tied together tightly enough that pursuing one probably leads to an advancement in the other much of the time, though there are obviously exceptions.

Gender Insanity

One of the most profound changes happening in the United States in particular and the Western world in general is the complete reversal of the normal and the abnormal. What once was considered standard, every-day behavior is now seen as deviant or hateful. What was once considered a sign of moral and social decay is now expected and celebrated.

There are still people alive today that remember the olden days; that time from about 3500 BC when people began to live in cities and establish civilization until 1960 AD when Marxism finally latched onto cultural issues after failing at economic ones. Back then, there were men and women and children, and no one questioned it. There wasn’t any particular reason to question it, just as we don’t question why we live in communities instead of as hermits or why we plant crops in Spring and harvest them in Fall. Certain things that we do as human beings line up with reality – biology, physics, or even human nature – and certain things do not. The things that don’t get discarded. Reality rules. Or, well, it did.

Facebook announced today that there are now 56 “gender options” available. These include things like “Cs Woman”, “Trans* Female”, and “Neutrois”. I had to look these up, which is strange, considering that, if this is a naturally occurring phenomenon in nature, I ought to have seen it in any of the books I’ve read over the course of my life. It appears one cannot keep up with the times.

A “Cis-” prefix implies someone who “chooses” to be whatever gender that corresponds to their sex as decided at birth. That’s a long and convoluted way of saying a “male” or “female” who doesn’t really feel the need to question it. Because they’re a male or a female. These are biological terms, if you recall from Middle School. They relate directly to sexuality and reproduction, and in turn define myriad other attributes useful in a species divided in two by sexuality. Just don’t emphasize that last bit too much; its offensive!

A Foundation Made of Fault Lines

Psychology is considered a “soft science” which is a polite way to say that it is made up in various proportions of rhetoric, polling data, survey results, over-confidence, theory based on presupposed views, observation, and predictive ability. It has its uses but also its abuses and it is the latter which tends to make the headlines under the guise of “science”.

Psychology is often used as a club to beat people with ideology. The idea of studying human behavior and thought is not novel; it is as ancient as human relations. One can imagine a boy in ancient Greece trying to figure out just how to impress the cute girl he saw at the agora and running over in his mind all the possible ways to do it. What does she like? Will she be interested in me? Maybe she likes flowers. Yeah! But what color? What kind? How many? Will I over-do it?

These are all questions of human nature, intellect, and emotion. They are psychological questions. They are scientific questions! They don’t seek to recreate or redefine human nature – they actually seek to understand human nature itself. That is the point of science, after all, to understand. In our modern lexicon, it may be proper to say that this sort of thing is philosophy, since we tend to think of science as purely physical and psychology, despite the best efforts of materialists, is not a purely physical enterprise. Re-classifying psychology as pseudo-scientific philosophy actually does a great deal of good, because we can compare it to other philosophies to see what parts are accurate and which aren’t.

I know of the perfect place to start. Homosexuality was reclassified from a disorder to a preference by the American Psychological Association in the 1960′s due to scientific inquiry and experimentation. Just kidding! It was reclassified because of protests and public pressure. Just like the heliocentric was declared true because of public pressure. Just kidding, again. The APA was influenced by pressure and changed their decision. This is not what happens in physical science or other “hard” sciences.

Think about it for a moment though. Who really gets to define this sort of thing? The APA serves the role, but by what right do they have to define what is a “disorder” and what is not? They set the definitions and they decide what gets classified. Unlike gravity, there is no experiment we can perform to determine if some behavior fits into some category. There’s no way to determine if some behavior actually exists or if we just claim it exists. Before Facebook and others declared there to be 58 genders, were there not 58 genders? If not, this seems like less of a scientific breakthrough and more of a change in philosophy. I argue this is precisely what it is.

Gender and orientation both seem to find their foundations on a shaky fault-line of postmodern psychology rooted in ideology. Ancient, classical, medieval, and modern thinkers did not even have words to describe what we now have the option of choosing on Facebook. If it is looked at honestly from a postmodern position, this is awfully strange. How did we miss these things for so long? Usually people bring up “two-spirit” people in Native American tribes in response to such claims, oblivious to the error that “two-spirit” requires the belief in a particular religion in order to make any sense whatsoever and postmodern psychology denies the religion. It reminds me of Neo-pagans who practice things that look nothing like the actual Pagans they wish to emulate – like sacrificing children to the gods of the forests or actually believing in Pagan spirits instead of a rational scientific system to explain phenomenon like plant growth. The only thing the Pagans and their nominal descendants have in common is irrationality.

Original Sin

Calling postmodern psychology insane may seem bad enough, but it gets worse. It takes something more than ideology to think you have the right to bypass your actual sex and choose one of dozens of genders. It takes something more than ideology to say that men and women are equal in the face of the evidence (like the fact we can distinguish the two). It takes something more than ideology to condemn the next generation of children to utter confusion. It takes pride.

Pride is the secret sauce, the grease in the gears making all of these pieces slide nicely together. It is the primary motivator. Pride tells people they are more important than other people and ultimately, in the truly insane, more important than reality. Pride is what motivates a person to declare that their own human nature is subservient to their will, because only pride could blind someone from seeing that the will comes from human nature.

The worst part about gender insanity is that its origin is evil. The effects are terrible, to be sure. The logic is poor, and the emotional rhetoric is screamed at those who would dare dissent. There is mockery in store for anyone who lived before the current generation of postmodern psychologists whose view of the world was not insane. Yet with all of these things in mind, the fact that gender insanity is based on pride makes it worse; the fact it is based on pride is the worst fact of all.

All false religions elevate man and demote God. Christianity makes it clear that God and man are not like each other and that man will never be like God, even if he might hope to someday be godly. Gender insanity follows right along. It elevates man as ruler of his own Nature, given to him by God. It demotes God who creates children in the womb of their mothers.

Pride is so focused on self that it is blind to everything else, including the teetering tower on a fault line that exists beneath it, waiting to collapse on a gust of wind, let alone an earthquake. Pride makes an ignoramus out of the prideful man who thinks his will can define his nature. It makes him look even more foolish when he claims to believe in a purely naturalistic and evolutionary account of man which precludes a will existing apart from nature’s control. It isn’t much better for a Christian who would need to approach Scripture as the most out-dated book in history for containing precisely 2 genders instead of 58.

The End of an Age

The world isn’t coming to an end, but an age is. The modern world was extremely rational, to a fault. The postmodern world has bounced towards the irrational with even more force. It is, at present, sabotaging the foundations to a civilization so peaceful, technologically advanced, and wealthy that it can afford some mistakes here and there; it can afford a lot of mistakes. Gender insanity may use up these extra resources.

When you are searching desperately for your next meal because there are no farms and no stores to provide it to you, you don’t care about being politically correct and letting everyone choose their own gender. You care about finding some food so you don’t starve. When you are a man looking for a spouse so you can have children who will survive in the future, you don’t care if you are a Cis-male attracted to Transnormative Cis-Persons. You want a woman who is young enough to have children and help raise them, since you’ll be out hunting or farming all day in a wasteland. That’s all there will be: men and women. Because that’s all there are: men and women.

I’m not optimistic about the future, but I don’t think we’re headed for a dark age. I think we’re at the height of one! We just don’t know it because our technology, practically handed to us by our predecessors, is making life incredibly comfortable for us. The material suffering that might come in the future is a poor place for one’s mind to dwell, but the possibility is very real. Our birth rates don’t match our death rates in most of the world, and we have depended on an increasing population to help get us by. Now we’re faced with a decreasing population. Our gender insanity will only make things worse.

Reality wins in the end. The best thing anyone can do is figure out what is real and what is false and line up their worldview with the former. Stop buying into the insanity.