Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Morals post: Off The Cliff on a Hang-Glider !

Yes. Flying is definitely the way to do it!

Last time (I would like to say “last week” but I'm running late again!) I told the story of Colonel Patterson and the pair of huge (they are now in the Chicago Museum) rogue male man eating tigers so fierce that his workforce thought they were demons and un-killable. Patterson did not let these claims spook him but trusting in the rifle he had used in the past hunted and eventually killed them.

So how does his example solve my problem with moral theories?

Simple! Well simple after you think of it.

People who want to work out a moral system starting with the assumption “there is no God” are just like the people who thought that the tigers “the Ghost” & “The Darkness” could not be killed with bullets. They have been proclaiming for the last half century or more that one cannot bring religion into moral discussions.

Christian moralists on the other hand have been nothing like Colonel Patterson. We have believed the atheists without question! We have blindly accepted the notion that Christian ideals and Biblical insights have no place in determining "right” and “wrong” human conduct. We have followed the atheists like lambs to the slaughter, even whole churches throwing away their moral heritage in order to run after the latest non-Christian (or even straight out anti-Christian) fashion in morals.

I would like to sound surprised that we have been so stupid … but God's people have a long history of such stupidity. For instance Jeremiah prophesied to his generation:
    “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
    Jeremiah 2:12-14
But that does not excuse us! If Patterson had acted as we have done he would have packed away his rifle believing it was useless and gone back to England leaving the local Africans to be eaten by the lions! Come to think of it, we have left people – not to be eaten by lions but to have their lives and the lives of others damaged and even destroyed for lack of moral teaching based on how the world really is.

But luckily for the Africans, Patterson had more sense than us. He used his rifle. It did work.

So my simple way off the cliff is to recognize the claims of atheist moralists for the sham they are! 

I had already worked out that if there is no God, then there is no basis for moral argument at all, but if God is, then the real – and only – basis for moral argument is God's moral character.

Use the rifle stupid!

The way forward is for  there to be effective Christian moralists. Competent moralists who unashamedly base their work on God. Who refuse to engage on any other ethical theory.

The first problem I see is that after decades of total surrender to atheist theories, I don't know how many Christian moralists are capable of doing this! I got involved in studying moral philosophy precisely because I was appalled that my own denomination was putting out material that a first year philosophy student should have been ashamed to hand in! I mean they were not only unthinkingly trotting out the atheist line but with such wooly thinking that they had none of the rigour that even atheist ethicists were bringing to their work. It was truly embarrassing!

The second problem is that finding out how God's moral character answers complex modern situations is a participatory thing. That is it involves practical, not theoretical exercises. It is not just a matter of reading the Bible the way a sharp lawyer might read the statute books – Jesus versus the Pharisees demonstrates that. It involves a relationship with God, certainly with much reading the Bible, but then putting into practice ourselves what we learn.

Actually it is more accurately being active participants in the real life process of God re-creating us from the inside out.

The Bible study then becomes an iterative experience. We learn a bit about God, we are drawn to that, he makes an incremental change in our outlook, from this improved “viewpoint” we can see a little better to understand what the Bible is saying, so we learn a bit more about God …. and so on ….for the rest of our lives.

This is SO different from studying the Bible in a theoretical way that it is really not surprising that such people have throughout history “proved” the wackiest things from the Bible

I heard a great line condemning a preacher which went: “He uses the Bible the way a drunk uses a lamppost – more for support than for illumination”

Also in this modern world of specialised knowledge, the complexities of moral problems faced by someone in a particular field are not likely to be fully understood by the Bible “expert”. So for instance, church leaders pontificating on what scientists, medical practitioners, business or union people, or for that matter leaders of government should do in this case or that case is not the way. The real way is for churches to be helping “lay” people in this process of knowing and being inwardly renewed by God. Then these people – the ones who are actually engaged in these fields – can apply general principles to work out and adopt the right course of action.

So the task of recovering the proper place of Christian morals is an extremely difficult one. But it all starts with recovering confidence. There is a God. So moral discussion must revolve around him. “God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself” - so we must never be ashamed of our Christian heritage and Biblical understanding of God and human nature. We should however be utterly ashamed and stung into doing better when non-Christians using what revelation they have, manage to outdo us in embodying God's character.

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