A couple of reading suggestions

In this video, Princess Genevieve and I talk a little about our new favorite author, David Bentley Hart, and recommend a couple of his books.

Links to learn more about and/or buy the books:
– “Story of Christianity: An Illustrated History of 2000 Years of the Christian Faith” here: http://www.amazon.com/Story-Christian…
– “Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies” here: http://www.amazon.com/Atheist-Delusio…

And a couple of articles online by David Bentley Hart:
– “Christ and Nothing” at First Things: http://www.firstthings.com/article/20…
– “The Anti-Theology of the Body” at The New Atlantis: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publica…

Once again, I couldn’t recommend more the writings, especially these two books, of this great modern Orthodox theologian.

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Why Nietzsche should be every Christian’s favorite philosopher


A couple of weeks ago I posted here about the lack of intellectual honesty in the various objections to Christ and his Church. I stated in that post that I’ve never seen an intellectually honest objection to either. I was mistaken and I take that back; I’ve seen one: that of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche not only produced the only honest objection to Christianity I’ve ever heard, but is also the only honest atheist I’ve ever “met.” He knew what Christianity was/is: a “revaluation of all values.” He was not too stupid and/or ashamed (as all modern atheists are) to admit the fact of the matter: that Christianity is a religion of love (of God and others) and peace, a complete reversal of pre-Christian pagan life and thought. Importantly, he also saw that same pre-Christian paganism for what it was: brutal and selfish.

He found no need to invent lies about Christ’s personal sanctity or to vastly exaggerate the quality and quantity of the Crusades and Inquisition. Indeed, such objections would have been objectionable to him.

He saw it and said it like it was. He, though, chose the brutal, selfish paganism of pre-Christian times over the gentleness of Christianity. Clearly, I disagree with his choice here, but I respect him for making it honestly. Modern atheists could learn much from Nietzsche, and, for that matter, so could Christians.

Plato on relativism and opinion vs. Truth

From Book 5 of Plato’s The Republic:

[Socrates:] Thus then we seem to have discovered that the many ideas which the multitude entertain about the beautiful and about all other things are tossing about in some region which is halfway between pure being and pure not-being?

[Glaucon:] We have.

Yes; and we had before agreed that anything of this kind which we might find was to be described as matter of opinion, and not as matter of knowledge; being the intermediate flux which is caught and detained by the intermediate faculty.

Quite true.

Then those who see the many beautiful, and who yet neither see absolute beauty, nor can follow any guide who points the way thither; who see the many just, and not absolute justice, and the like, — such persons may be said to have opinion but not knowledge?

That is certain.

But those who see the absolute and eternal and immutable may be said to know, and not to have opinion only?

Neither can that be denied.

The one loves and embraces the subjects of knowledge, the other those of opinion? The latter are the same, as I dare say will remember, who listened to sweet sounds and gazed upon fair colours, but would not tolerate the existence of absolute beauty.

Yes, I remember.

Shall we then be guilty of any impropriety in calling them lovers of opinion rather than lovers of wisdom, and will they be very angry with us for thus describing them?

I shall tell them not to be angry; no man should be angry at what is true.

But those who love the truth in each thing are to be called lovers of wisdom and not lovers of opinion.

Assuredly.

There was a thought that struck me as I did the research for my post on the First Ecumenical Council and another that I’m working on about the historicity of Christ. I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding ingrained in the Western (and especially American) mindset, namely, that if all opinions are allowed then all opinions must naturally be equal. We have a very “do-it-yourself,” anti-authority attitude; take, for instance, the popularity of “home remedies” accompanied with the general distrust of conventional medicine. Nobody is willing to “leave it to the experts” anymore. Sometimes we’re not even willing to admit that they are experts! Relativism has invaded every aspect of Western culture, from religion to science to morality.

American schools propound relativism as if it itself were the absolute truth! Take, for instance, this popular high school sociology textbook: “We must recognize that judgments about good and bad, moral and immoral, depend very much on who is doing the judging; there is no universal standard to appeal to.” That‘s what my tax dollars are paying for our children to be taught?

The reason I bring up this topic is because of my surprise at how easy it was to find scholarly information online that very clearly rebutted nearly every sentence in Zeitgeist, the Movie. And yet, somehow, it is still immensely popular. How do the fans and the maker of Zeitgeist respond to this? By claiming that the scholars can’t be trusted. But a “self-taught” “Egyptologist” with a penchant for the occult and a plagiarizing pseudo-mystic can [both cited multiple times as references by the movie’s creator]?

While the ideals that we inherit from the Enlightenment may allow for all ideas and opinions to be equally expressed, this does not mean that we need to give them all equal air time or credence. It also does not mean that one can logically hold an opinion contrary to fact. I cannot be of the opinion that the sky is magenta when it is very clearly blue. Sometimes opinions are wrong and facts are right. Sometimes there really is an absolute truth and to hold an opinion contrary to it is not an exercise of freedom, it is an exercise in foolishness.

It is impossible for there to be multiple truths. There is no such thing as “my truth” and “your truth.” If they contradict each other, then one is, by necessity, false, and what is false is not Truth. My hat cannot be simultaneously on the desk and not on the desk. Either it is or it is not. Similarly, either Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Gospel of John 14: 6 — note the definite articles which are present in the original Greek as well) as he claimed or he is not. To quote C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece Mere Christianity:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

(For more on the topic of relativism and its negative effects on modern thought, I highly recommend C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man)

Ten Lives That Explain America

Rod over at Crunchy Con asks this question:

Which ten American historical figures would you cite that would give a high school student a decent, if incomplete, grounding in American history?

Also thrown in as criteria:

  • No presidents or first ladies
  • “reasonably well-known people whose biographies convey something essential about the American character and experience
  • “exemplifies something critical to understand about the kind of nation we are, or were”>

Here’s my picks (in chronological order, more or less) and why:

  1. Jonathan Edwards – exemplifies the early religious spirit of America, especially Puritanism; if you’re a fan of Max Weber (“Protestant work ethic”), Edwards certainly can be seen as a reason for the strength of capitalism in America; America’s first homegrown theologian; shows that America is not supposed to be so “secular” after all.
  2. Thomas Paine – not only are his writings a shining example of the principles which led to the American Revolution, but the story of his life could also be used to tell the story of America’s early years as a nation.
  3. Dred Scott – this choice falls under that “exemplifies something critical to understand about the kind of nation we are, or were” category; his story and the outcome of the case he gave his name to truly exemplify the lowest point America has hit in its history; demonstrates that the rights we take for granted today were not always easily attained.
  4. Chief Sitting Bull – once again demonstrates that even a nation which such high principles as our own can have those principles compromised; in addition, his story covers the history of much of post-Civil War America.
  5. Homer A. Plessy – ties in with Dred Scott above; opens a new chapter in American history as this list comes into the 20th century; demonstrates that even the greatest nation on earth can be the home of injustice.
  6. Andrew Carnegie – to put it very simply: Andrew Carnegie is the American Dream; the child of immigrants who worked his way up from a minimum wage messenger boy to, at one time, the richest man in America; and then gave away his entire fortune to help those who hadn’t made it as far as himself; if this was a list of one, he’d be the one.
  7. Audie Murphythe American hero; the most decorated soldier of WWII and an example of everything Americans love about their men in the military; demonstrates American values, including bravery, self-sacrifice, patriotism, love of freedom and hatred of tyranny.
  8. Malcolm X – some would probably be very surprised at this choice; most would choose Martin Luther King, Jr., to represent the Civil Rights era, but I think that Malcolm X better demonstrates the level of anger and frustration, even desperation, that African Americans and others had reached by the 1960’s; it was no longer the days of Booker T. Washington’s “eventual” “equality,” it was “the ballot or the bullet,” now and not later. His life story, for those who haven’t read his autobiography (which I highly recommend!), also covers a wide range of events in American history, including the Great Depression and the terror propagated against minorities by groups like the KKK.
  9. Ron Kovic – while Audie Murphy exemplifies the American hero, the story of Ron Kovic, a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran, shows the other side of things, a reality which America has yet to truly face up to; demonstrates what happens when America fails to live up to its principles.
  10. Cesar Chavez – exemplary of the “new immigrant” and America’s continued struggle to live up to the high standards it has set for itself.

My choices are probably surprising to many, and may very well be indicative of my own political leanings (slightly left of center, I estimate), but I think that the overall theme of them is summed up in that last entry: America’s continued struggle to live up to the high standards it has set for itself. I think that American history is probably best summed up by saying that America is a land of great diversity in unity. The United States is the whole world all in one nation; we have people of every religion, every race, every culture, creed, political leaning, etc. and our story is one of all of us trying to live together and, more importantly, together live up to our standard as a nation, the highest standard a nation has ever set for itself: that all men are created equal and that they each and every one have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is not our military might or our great wealth or our scientific achievements which make us the greatest nation on earth; it is simply this: a dedication to the right of every individual to live life as he or she so chooses and, thereby, to prosper.

A Monk on Religious Syncretism

Religious syncretism, in its modern form, regards all paths as possessing equal truth simultaneously, and in so doing is forced to overlook certain basic distinctions, or to offer complicated explanations in order to rationalize these distinctions away. The ancient Christian teachers, on the other hand, took a more honest and discerning approach, which in the end proved to be more simple, natural, and organic. Rather than mixing all the religions together like the moderns do, these ancients understood that there was an unfolding of wisdom throughout the ages. They saw foreshadowings, glimpses and prophecies of Christ not only among the ancient Hebrews, but also among other peoples who lived before Him, and they saw the writings of pre-Christian sages as a preparation for Christ as the apogee of revelation … If we concede that the pre-Christian philosophers did seek truth, and that they did catch glimpses of it, it only stands to reason that their teachings should bear some similarities, to the fullness of Truth in Jesus Christ. Therefore, these similarities need not appear as a threat to Christianity; instead, they offer one more proof of Christ as universal Truth. – Hieromonk Damascene