Kierkegaard on Love

‘What is it that makes a person great, admirable among creatures, and well pleasing in God’s eye? What is it that makes a person strong, stronger than the whole world, or so weak as to be weaker than a child? What is it that makes a person firm, firmer than a cliff, or yet so soft as to be softer than wax? It is love. What is older than everything? It is love. What outlives everything? It is love. What is it that cannot be taken away but itself gives it all? It is love. What is it that cannot be given but itself gives everything? It is love. What is it that stands fast when everything falters? It is love. What is it that comforts when other comforts fail? It is love. What is it that remains when everything is changed? It is love. What is it that abides when what is imperfect is done away with? It is love. What is it that bears witness when prophecy is dumb? It is love. What is it that does not cease when visions come to an end? It is love. What is it that makes everything clear when the dark saying has been spoken? It is love. What is it that bestows a blessing on the excess of the gift? It is love. What is it that gives pith to an angels speech? It is love. What is it that makes the widows mite more than enough? It is love. What is it that makes the speech of the simple person wise? It is love. What is it that never alters, even if all things alter? It is love. (Soren Kierkegaard, ‘Spiritual Writings’, p. 227-228)

Resurrection History

Here’s some short videos by Mike Licona on the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, each dealing with a different common objection:

These are good brief overviews of an historical approach that’s seen a lot of attention recently – N.T. Wright, Greg Boyd and Mike Licona are just a few of the bigger names doing quality historical research on the Resurrection. Here’s a few good books dealing with the same topic:

http://www.amazon.com/Lord-Legend-Wrestling-Jesus-Dilemma/dp/1608999548/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1333240869&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Resurrection-Christian-Origins-Question-Vol/dp/0800626796/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333240936&sr=1-2

http://www.amazon.com/The-Resurrection-Jesus-Historiographical-Approach/dp/0830827196/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333240950&sr=1-1

Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, with Stephen Law.

Here Alvin Plantinga presents and defends his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism with/against Stephen Law, himself not a theist. A fascinating argument and a fascinating discussion well worth your time.

Roughly speaking, the EAAN has its roots in C.S. Lewis’s book ‘Miracles’ where he states that naturalism undercuts its own justification. Plantinga has developed it into a fairly formidable argument.

‘Naturalistic evolution gives its adherents a reason for doubting that our beliefs are mostly true; perhaps they are mostly mistaken; for the very reason for mistrusting our cognitive facultiesgenerally, will be a reason for mistrusting the faculties that produce belief in the goodness of the argument.’

– Alvin Plantinga – taken from http://www.bethinking.org/science-christianity/an-evolutionary-argument-against-naturalism.htm – an outline of a lecture Plantinga gave on the argument. Again, well worth reading. It’s fairly technical but provides good context for the argument.

Christianity and Antiquity

‘For indeed Christianity was complicit in the death of antiquity, and in the birth of modernity, not because it was an accomplice of the latter, but because it, alone in the history of the West, constituted a rejection of and alternative to nihilism’s despair, violence, and idolatry of power; as such, Christianity shattered the imposing and enchanting facade behind which nihilism once hid, and thereby, inadvertently, called it forth into the open.’
― David Bentley Hart

Some Thoughts on Justice, Rights and Worth

‎’Only someone who is religious can speak seriously of the sacred, but such talk informs the thought of most of us whether or not we are religious, for it shapes our thoughts about the way in which human beings limit our will as does nothing else in nature. If we are not religious, we will often search for one of the inadequate expressions which are available to us to say what we hope will be a secular equivalent of it. We may say that all human beings are inestimably precious, that they are ends in themselves, that they are owed unconditional respect, that they possess inalienable rights, and, of course, that they possess inalienable dignity. In my judgement these are ways of trying to say what we feel a need to say when we are estranged from the conceptual resources we need to say it. Be that as it may: each of them is problematic and contentious. Not one of them has the simple power of the religious ways of speaking.

Where does that power come from. Not, I am quite sure, from esoteric theological or philosophical elaborations of what it means for something to be sacred. It derives from the unashamedly anthropomorphic character of the claim that we are sacred because God loves us, his children. (Raimon Gaita, ‘Thinking about Love and Truth and Justice,’ p. 23-24, quoted in ‘Justice: Rights and Wrongs’, by Nicholas Wolterstorff, p.324-325)

Gaita is not himself a theist – but this is an interesting observation. I do think that Christian theism can offer the most solid account of rights/justice/ethics, and that while there are secular accounts, most of them seem to fail at providing a solid grounding.

The above has the feeling of someone who has taken seriously the thought of people like Nietzsche and has the consistency to see the consequences of such thinking. Religious thought, and in particular Christian thought, seems to offer the strongest and most powerful account of human worth, rights and justice.

A Merciful Heart

 

“What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”

– St. Isaac the Syrian

Thoughts on Pascal

I really do think Pascal is one of the brightest thinkers in the Christian tradition. I’ve not seen too many other apologists who tackle big problems head on like Pascal – for instance, the hiddeness of God (see the ‘Pascal’ category for my thoughts on his famous wager). I think that if Pascal’s style of thinking were taken more seriously, Christianity might be in a better place.

A Little Bit More on Innate Knowledge

The more I think about it, the more I see a harmony between language as both acquired by community/context (Wittgenstein) and as a more innate idea – so far, I see no reason the two cannot coexist peacefully. It is quite clear that language is a public and communal kind of thing, but it also seems clear that there is an innate ability in us to grasp the mechanics of language. Interpretation plays a role here as well – every word requires interpretation. I suppose people would interpret according to their contexts and values – how else could one interpret anything?

So the meaning of language seems to me to be almost wholly based community and interpretation, while the more mechanical side of language seems based on an innate understanding of the workings of grammar.

But are words given their value and meaning through interpretation, if every word requires interpretation?

Pascal on ‘The Fundamentals of the Christian Religion’

‘The Christian religion, then, teaches men these two truths; that there is a God whom men can know, and that there is a corruption in their nature which renders them unworthy of Him. It is equally important to men to know both these points; and it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it. The knowledge of only one of these points gives rise either to the pride of philosophers, who have known God, and not their own wretchedness, or to the despair of atheists, who know their own wretchedness, but not the Redeemer. Let us herein examine the order of the world and see if all things do not tend to establish these two chief points of this religion: Jesus Christ is end of all, and the centre to which all tends. Whoever knows Him knows the reason of everything.

Those who fall into error err only through failure to see one of these two things. We can, then, have an excellent knowledge of God without that of our own wretchedness and of our own wretchedness without that of God. But we cannot know Jesus Christ without knowing at the same time both God and our own wretchedness.

Therefore I shall not undertake here to prove by natural reasons either the existence of God, or the Trinity, or the immortality of the soul, or anything of that nature; not only because I should not feel myself sufficiently able to find in nature arguments to convince hardened atheists, but also because such knowledge without Jesus Christ is useless and barren. Though a man should be convinced that numerical proportions are immaterial truths, eternal and dependent on a first truth, in which they subsist and which is called God, I should not think him far advanced towards his own salvation.

The God of Christians is not a God who is simply the author of mathematical truths, or of the order of the elements; that is the view of heathens and Epicureans. He is not merely a God who exercises His providence over the life and fortunes of men, to bestow on those who worship Him a long and happy life. That was the portion of the Jews. But the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Christians, is a God of love and of comfort, a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom He possesses, a God who makes them conscious of their inward wretchedness, and His infinite mercy, who unites Himself to their inmost soul, who fills it with humility and joy, with confidence and love, who renders them incapable of any other end than Himself.

All who seek God without Jesus Christ, and who rest in nature, either find no light to satisfy them, or come to form for themselves a means of knowing God and serving Him without a mediator. Thereby they fall either into atheism, or into deism, two things which the Christian religion abhors almost equally.

Without Jesus Christ the world would not exist; for it should needs be either that it would be destroyed or be a hell.

If the world existed to instruct man of God, His divinity would shine through every part in it in an indisputable manner; but as it exists only by Jesus Christ, and for Jesus Christ, and to teach men both their corruption and their redemption, all displays the proofs of these two truths.

All appearance indicates neither a total exclusion nor a manifest presence of divinity, but the presence of a God who hides himself. Everything bears this character.’ (Blaise Pascal, ‘Pensees, 556’)

Here, at least, what we call “god” is needed pt. II

‘The fatal mistake of the Church was trying to ‘prove to a world come of age that it cannot live without the tutelage of “God” ‘ . The inability to maintain this in the face of the world’s autonomy leads to the ‘ultimate questions’, where God now takes refuge. Here at least he is needed.

At this comes Bonoheffers most quoted question, a rhetorical one: ‘But what if one day they [i.e. these ultimate questions] no longer exist as such, if they too can be answered without “God”?  (‘Christ the Center’, p. 12-13)

Where does this leave Christianity? The more I think about it, the less I can avoid the thought that this is the cold, hard truth – that the ‘ultimate questions’ are the last bastion that God has in the world.

This thought prompts this question: if this is in fact the case, what is Christianity supposed to be?  Another question: how did Christianity arrive at the state it did?

Briefly, a glance at the New Testament seems to show that the very early church wasn’t terribly interested in providing the answers to ultimate questions – it proclaims a very simple, but very powerful idea: that Jesus Christ is the son of God, the Messiah as foretold by the Prophets, who was crucified, buried and resurrected, and in doing so broke the powers of sin and death over creation and opened up the divine nature for us to partake of.

In a nutshell, that’s about it. There certainly are questions that are answered – but so far as I can tell the early church did not see it’s message as an answer to ultimate questions that the natural world was incapable of answering.

Where does this leave us, and me? I don’t know. I think, however, that Christianity as a whole needs to be re-thought if its going to survive in this world come of age.