Friday, 17 February 2017

Round Three: Letters to my Atheist Youth Leader


Hey, Rich. Thank you for your post (here). I was glad to see that we share a mutual appreciation of the metric system – a trait not shared by all our native countrymen. I was also glad to see that your response also touched on the subject of human value and meaning. 

These are weird notions for big clumps of cells like us to possess. As a Christian, I can give warrant for why I believe in value and meaning. But I'm curious how you - in your material Universe filled with atoms but void of fairies and deities - still hold to these notions. 
In this post, we'll see a few weird 
things that set homo sapiens apart

For example, musing on what is of real value you ask,

Think of Doctors Without Borders perhaps. These people literally give their lives to what they do. Is the reduction of suffering and the increase in happiness of these people of value?

The answer is no it isn’t.

Illusion of Value

In your pure materialist Universe, there is no more value in one blob of protoplasm flying from England to Uzbekistan to alleviate a subjective experience called pain than there is any of the chemical reactions exploding right now in the sulphuric atmosphere of Venus. None. There is nothing inherently valuable or meaningful in it. And no science experiment is remotely capable of proving otherwise.

It is only sentimentality (a curious misfiring phenomena of the evolutionary process) that gives us the bizarre sensation that there is anything called ‘value’ in the first place. You concede that in the end, no life will be left and all will be forgotten. But you insist there is a temporal meaning,

Any reduction of suffering in this Universe has intrinsic value regardless of the end state – for those people were able to lead happier lives while they existed.

Intrinsic value? Who confers this? Other humans? What if they are my enemies – and I value seeing them suffer to satisfy my sense of justice? Then an increase of suffering is valuable... to me. 

Perhaps this illusion of meaningfulness once aided some of our ancestors in their quest for food. But in our scientific age, we are free to dismiss such a notion. ‘Value’ is not a material term and cannot be quantified in any empirical way. And, as you wrote to me in your first post,

Should I build my lens for viewing the universe on anything that doesn’t have material and therefore absolutely provable existence?  For me, the answer is a resounding no.

Is there a scientific experiment we can do that proves that one piece of matter is inherently more valuable than another? What experiment proves that I am inherently worth more than helium gas? 

You said in your second post,

If I can’t prove it via the scientific method or direct observation then I have to rely on faith.

Quite.

Believing that anything has inherent value is an act of faith. But, if we are to be consistent in our philosophical materialism, we must dispose of things that cannot be empirically verified. Things like value.

Dawkins & Meaning

Your assessment of human value and meaning is certainly different from that of 19th and 20th Century atheists. Nietzsche, Sartre, Russell, etc. were all resolute that life is meaningless and therefore of no objective value. The 21st Century ‘New Atheists’ are more optimistic. Like you, Richard Dawkins argues that we can still find value and meaning in the face of death. Some of your words reminded me of what he wrote in the beginning of his book, ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’,

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia… We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds… the vast majority have never stirred?

The reasoning here is clear: we should be thankful that we get to exist for a limited time as opposed to not existing at all.

But this argument raises questions that don't give comfortable answers. Why do we need to compare ourselves to theoretical, ‘potential people’ to feel this contentment? In order for Dawkins statement to carry its persuasive force, our imaginations need to bestow personhood on those who have never been conceived.

We must also ask if the argument that Dawkins presents satisfies the human soul. Some may feel that since we exist, we now know what will be taken from us. We must suffer the knowledge of losing everything. 

If we were to take a cynical approach, we could argue that it is easy for a healthy, famous millionaire like Dawkins to feel content in this life. But what of the billions who live in poverty or those who suffer violence or chronic pain? What about those for whom death is an escape from an existence of torment? 

It's a beautiful place to live... 
just don't look up.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes takes the opposite position. He points to the difficult lives in a material Universe (‘under the sun’),

I saw the tears of the oppressed – and they have no comforter. Power was on the side of their oppressors… the dead are happier than the living. But better than both is the one who has never been born. (Ec.4.)

You almost acknowledge that in the long term there is no value, saying ‘Please don’t mix up the value of the end state with the value of the now.’ I grant that atheists can live lives with a sense of meaning. But what sort of value is this if we have to keep our thoughts only on the present? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some force from beyond the sun were to reach into time and lift your head up so that you could look with joy at the horizon as well as your feet?

Why Ought I be Moral?

You neatly respond to my question, ‘Why should I be moral?’ with a double-barrelled reply.

1. Because it makes us feel good – and

2. Because without moral behaviour society would collapse.

Happy

Check before you eat
This response reminds me of soup at a questionable restaurant – best left unstirred. Because if we do, we find that a host of mystery ingredients float to the top.

You say that we ought to be moral because it makes us feel good. Well, yes. Certainly, good deeds can stroke our pride and make us feel like ‘one of the good guys’. Pride is an organ that can be stroked from many directions. But aren’t there many immoral actions that cause a sense of pleasure as well? 

I don't know how it is in Aylett, Virginia, but here in London, many people go out on a Friday night to be happy. And moralism is not the strategy of most to do it. If acting immoral can also make me happy – as I know it can – why ought I to be moral instead of immoral?


Society

And as for the other half of your response, why should I care about the stability of society? If I feel society has screwed me over, I may delight in getting justice on the system by wreaking some havoc.

Things get wild in Aylett 
on the weekends
Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s say you visit a fellow atheist on his death bed. He has succeeded in life in the sense that he has been surrounded by likeable people, had exciting relationships, made lots of money, etc. But he has done so at the price of oppressing many people. There’s blood on his hands. As you talk to him he chuckles and in good Sinatra fashion says, ‘Well, I did it my way… got away with it too. Life’s been good to me.’

In that circumstance, what could you possibly say to him to convince him he should not have lived the way he did? Some immoral people die happy. Some moral ones die in grief.

You speak of ‘inherent’ morality. But inherent does not mean authoritative. My body has lots of inherent impulses. Not all of them are what most of us would call ‘moral’.

Evolution

This whole argument is based on the questionable sand of atheistic evolution. You write,

Altruism is an evolutionary response to the pressures of competition in the world – we can’t help but find it enjoyable

When we stir this, we have three unsavoury issues rise to the surface.

First, when some of our evolutionary cousins eat their own children or when a male forces sex on a female, is this morally wrong? Can animals be immoral? You argue for a universal moral metric stick. But given the evolutionary process, how? Was there a definite moment in history when the organic motions we call cannibalism and rape became ‘wrong’?

Secondly, if altruism evolves, what does this mean for people who do not share our moral metre stick? What about the Khans? Did they act that way because they lived 900 years ago and evolution had not advanced their altruism enough yet? Are we morally superior because 900 years has biologically advanced us? What about ISIS? They do similar things to the Khans. Are they genetically inferior to you and me? If our species is to advance, should we get rid of these altruistic retards?

But then, if morality comes from our evolution, why berate immoral people? Why do you give the ancient Israelis and their primitive genetics such a hard time? You might as well call salmon to repent for not having legs.

Lastly, if altruism has developed to where it is now just in order to help our species survive, we should expect it to change in the future. What if our hard wiring changes so that we see evil as what we now see as good – and vice versa? Birth rates in the West are low. Perhaps our hardwiring will change in order to increase our offspring. It may have us do things to our women that we now consider unethical so that they will have more babies. What if ISIS and their sex slavery, instead of being backwards, is really the next step in the evolutionary process to replenish the species and make a stronger race?

If morality evolved, then that means morality changes – and your eternal moral metre stick is a concept foreign to the material universe you live in. The current morals of homo sapiens are just a stopover on the road to something else. No use in getting too attached to them.

Unless we live in Universe that is more than just material…
_________________
Please Share
See Round One

Monday, 13 February 2017

A Theology of Broken Hearts


We celebrate relationships that bring us joy on Valentine’s Day. Throughout the 20th Century, this has become almost exclusively focused on romantic relationships, but historically this was not always the case. The very first valentine was sent by a pastor named Valentine to his friend on the eve of his martyrdom.

And Valentine’s is a good day to celebrate relationships that are dear to us – be they romantic, familial, friendly, etc. But what about those of us who are dealing with a broken heart at Valentine’s? 

Hearts are broken when they lose something they love. Having a ‘broken heart’ is a term most commonly used to describe the pain of losing a romantic relationship - but it can also be the loss of other types of relationships that are dear to us.

What should we do if we find ourselves more wounded by love than inspired by love?

Three things…

Mourn

1. First, it’s ok to mourn. The Bible is full of laments – there’s even a book that’s nothing but lamenting. In Job and the Psalms, we also see righteous people shedding real tears over real losses. You’re not spiritually immature for feeling hurt, so take time to express your pain and not just bury it.

Talk

2. Second, find someone to share your burden with. That’s not always easy. Sometimes we’re embarrassed by how our heart was broken. Or, we may not be in the mood to share our wounded guts to another human – since it was just a human that hurt us. But Scripture says ‘mourn with those who mourn’ and to ‘strengthen the weak’. We need reliable people who will listen – and to be that person to them when others are hurt.

Sharing your grief with someone often helps get it out of our head – where the pain and injustice seem so large. Verbalising it can help put the situation in perspective. Get them to pray with you. ‘Pray with one another and you will be healed.’ (James 5)

Grow

3. Lastly, Jesus said in his first sermon (Luke 4) that he's come to bind up the brokenhearted. This claim of Christ’s means more than just helping with the loss of relationships (or potential relationships) – but it certainly includes that as well. He cares about sparrows that fall to the ground – and he cares about our tears when life has wounded us.

God gives us a faithful, greater love. It's one that surpasses the lesser love we lose. Paul prays that we would ‘have the power to understand, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep Christ’s love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.

It’s not quite accurate to say that Jesus fills or removes the void. No, the loss is still real, and we must carry it. But God’s love gives us emotional and spiritual resources to carry that loss in ways we otherwise wouldn’t.

Imagine someone cheated you out of £500 ($700). You’d probably be angry. Next, imagine that someone approaches you with a suitcase full of money: £10,000. He gives it to you. No strings attached. Not only that, he plans to visit you on a regular basis to drop off new suitcases. Not because he’s a smuggler or criminal. For no apparent reason, he just likes you.

The loss of the £500 doesn’t go away. That person really did cheat you. But someone else has given you so much, that coping with – and even forgiving – the other debt becomes a real possibility. The wrong you suffered is no longer so big in light of the great goodness that you’ve been smothered with.

Christ’s love doesn’t fill the loss or wrong that broke your heart. But if you know Christ’s love for you, then you will have a strength to walk throw whatever valleys of sorrow the world may send your way. We need to pray, meditate on Scripture, and do whatever we need to help us grow in our understanding of this love. Theology of the purely intellectual variety cannot do this alone. We need to let the love of Christ get into our broken souls. And that means making time and space to open to him,

He shows us love – not by giving poems, chocolates, flowers, kisses, or encouraging words – but by taking our sin in the form of nails and thorns. On the cross, his heart experienced ultimate brokenness both literally and spiritually. He did this so that our broken hearts might be completely healed and whole. 

And though we may rightfully try, he will be more faithfully loving to us than we will ever be to him. And it’s a love we can never lose. 
_____________
(Please Share) 

bkNeed help with a male-female friendship? Check out Forbidden Friendships - available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle in the USA and the UK.

Friday, 10 February 2017

7 Keys for Bloggers (and other Writers)

Tools that help us craft good writing in one genre, can sometimes help us in other genres as well. Here, I share some tips to help bloggers. But I’m confident that other sorts of writers – the love-struck novelist, the broke and angsty poet, etc – may also benefit from some of the points. 

1.Learn to rewrite. Writing is work. The blog that explodes from our fingertips when inspired, should not be uploaded immediately. It should be left to cool till we can read and reread it with fresh eyes the next day. We don’t want the world to see we don’t know how to spell or see that our syntax is lame. Read it out loud as you review it. Really.

The first part of writing may well be the thunderbolt of inspiration that assures us of possessing the greatest idea in the history of blogging. But it’s when we sharpen it against the whetstone of editing and rewriting that our piece develops its edge. Hemingway said we should write drunk and edit sober. He would know. It took more than a bottle of scotch for him to write Old Man and the Sea. The idea may have come in a moment of passion, but the realisation came through long hours of wordsmithery.

2.Avoid clichés like the plague

[ See that? Don’t do that. Write, ‘Flee from clichés like an Egyptian mummy with worse than average garlic breathe.’ ]

3.Select verbs that stand out. Most writers imagine that fabulous adjectives will sell their art. But verbs do the work. Invest in them.

4.Read good writers. Don't just read one blogger – then we risk being a clone. Nor just two – then we risk being confused. But read five or more good writers. Observe their style and feel their rhythms. Then we get understanding – and develop our own voice.

5.Embrace brevity. Rookie bloggers tend to ramble. The goal of blogging is not to create a book chapter of Tolkienian majesty. In blogging, we must make every sentence, noun and verb count. People often read our posts on mobile devices. Design it in bite size pieces so that it's digestible for people on the go. Keep paragraphs short to let readers know they're making progress. 

Experiment with haikus or Twitter. In neither of these are we permitted to waste words. If we are good, readers may give us three to five minutes. Not ten. Aim to keep it under 700 words (This post has 480). This is hard when we feel we have something important to say. But we must ruthlessly carve out the unnecessary so that the necessary can shine forth.

6.Ask for feedback. Ask from a variety of qualified sources. Not just our mums or best friends. Ask people who know a thing or two about writing or who are well read.

7.Have fun. Writers who enjoy themselves tend to write with a boldness that is enjoyable to read. We can think of writers whose content we disagree with, but whose style is engaging nonetheless. Make your writing sing in such a way that even your detractors will want to read more.
_____________
(Please Share) 

bkNeed help with a male-female friendship? Check out Forbidden Friendships - available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle in the USA and the UK.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Dear Left-Wing Friends,


Dear Democrats and Left Wing friends,

We need you. Over the decades, you have accomplished some great things for which all Americans can be grateful. No political party is without its dark stains, but you have accomplished much good. Thank you.

Who am I? An American by birth who immigrated to the EU after high-school and have lived here ever since. My wife and children are Scandinavian. I've developed a fondness for their welfare state - one that usually works. I'm still an indie-voter in American elections. But I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either Hillary or Trump in the last election. I was somehow hoping both would lose. In some causes, I’m more sympathetic to the Left. In others to the Right.

I’m writing to you because – though I am concerned about some of the things happening in the White House – I’m far more concerned about your reaction to these things. You used to be champions of Free Speech. When did the Right pick up that baton? On Inauguration Day the world saw violent anti-Trump protests. Recently, there were two student riots (one in Berkeley and one in NYU) when a conservative student group invited a conservative speaker on campus to talk to them. Hundreds of Left wing students felt that the natural way to react to right-wing views was to dress in black and destroy stuff. We're not speaking of a one off here. This is becoming normal.
Over $100,000 in damage done at Berkeley alone

Dressing in black, setting things on fire, and smashing windows…in order to ‘protest fascism’? I hope you're still not so enraged by the results of the last election that you're blind to the irony. (An irony made more pointed when one realises that the conservative speaker in question was also a gay Jew.)

Many of you prefer the term 'progressive' to Left-Wing. Fine. What does progress in behaviour look like? What are we trying to progress towards? Progression and regression all simply depend on what direction we're aiming for.

I'm not trying to generalise or paint a strawman image. I know most of you aren’t violent. But right now the popular image of you is someone who throws violent temper tantrums when you lose instead of engaging in intelligent debate. You can change that image. You need to be the first to denounce the violent Alt-Left among you – don't let Breitbart News beat you to it. Correct those in your midst who deny free speech.

The Republicans have won a majority in the Senate, the House, State Governors, etc. You speak of being ‘The Resistance’. But right now, your ‘resisting’ seems to consist of rude protest signs, dressing up like female genitalia, Facebook memes that call Trump supporters ‘misogyists’ and ‘xenophobes’, and the occasional bit of violence.

Friends, if you do not engage in thoughtful, listening, civil debate, you will continue to lose elections. And America will be the weaker. It may be a cliché, indie-voter thing to say, but an eagle needs two wings to fly. I would not like to see America trying to fly with nothing but its right wing. 

And yes, I have concerns about the Right too and I've written about the dangers of nationalism and the Alt-Right elsewhere on this blog. Yes, they have their issues. I do NOT want my sons to grow up to be like President Trump in many regards. If you're looking for faults, he has plenty. But there was a clever chap once who once said something about specks, logs, and eyes (google it). 

If we look at the man in the mirror (as another, not quite as clever, chap spoke about) then we can see an example of this Leftist malaise. Let's simply compare last month’s two DC marches. One was a (largely conservative) pro-life March. Watch on YouTube the main speeches given at each. Please, simply compare them.

You will see that Vice-President Pence spoke at the one and gave a calm and dignified speech (whether you agreed with his ideas or not). He never once vilified those who disagreed with him. He called his fellow Pro-Lifers to be more compassionate and better listeners. By contrast, the ‘Women’s March’ that happened a week before chose as its main speakers Madonna and Ashley Judd. Both demonised their ideological opponents. One threatened to blow up the White House and the other called women to be more ‘nasty’.

Democrats, you were the party of Jaqueline Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt. They were classy. What happened? 

When a left wing speaker comes on campus, right-wing students don’t violate Starbucks. They may say dumb or rude things about them, but they don't try to deny them the right to speak. 

Please… I’m appealing to the good in you, get your house in order and regain your lost image of civility so that balance can be returned to the force. Don’t be the movement of rioting, ‘nasty women’, strawmen FB memes, anti-free speech, and burning stuff. We need your intelligent voice again.

Sincerely,

An Indie-Voter

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Round Two: Letters to my Atheist Youth Leader

Hey Rich, 
I thought I was being overly enthusiastic when I wrote my original post of 940 words to you. But as you have responded to me by writing three separate posts (8,051 words in total) it seems that my coyness was a bit premature.

The amount of material you produced highlights your commitment to this discussion. Thank you, I’m honoured for your time. But in constructing that impressive written edifice it seems that you haven’t actually answered my question.

So, I will continue to develop it here. 

Why be Moral?

I’m asking why we should be ethical. You have a strong moral compass. You denounce YHWH and the ancient Israelis with all the passion of a Pentecostal preacher looking for revival. Comparing them to Hitler and ISIS, you decry their evil ways. Your sermon is moving. I just want to know about that pulpit you’re standing behind.

Let’s assume for now that YHWH, and the ancient Israelis really are as bad as you paint them out to be. You say of this God, ‘His morality is situational and he espouses a set of laws no better than that of Himmler or Ghengis’. Ok. My question is, so what? Why is it bad to be situational? What’s wrong with being like Ghengis Khan?

You declare, ‘I believe that we have the moral right and power to judge certain acts regardless of the environment it was committed in.’ Obviously, you do. But where does that faith come from? What book are you preaching from when you call the guilty to account? What exactly is this ‘universal moral yardstick’ you speak of in your post? Where does it come from? And, most importantly, why should any of us care?  

I’m afraid referring to it as ‘innate morality’ doesn’t even begin to answer the question. It simply raises a few more. Let’s just focus on two of them.

Evolutionary Morality: Two Questions

First of all, let’s assume – as you argue – that ‘evolutionary pressures’ have left us humans with some altruistic impulse that may have helped our species survive. The question still remains: Why should we listen to these genes? Why ought we to obey that impulse (which as you’ve pointed out varies a lot from person to person and culture to culture) but deny listening to our other biological impulses that crave sex and power? Why should we scratch our altruistic itch – assuming we all have one – but not our itch to dominate others? If I can deny my altruistic impulse and still die happy – why should I submit to it?

Secondly, we should rightly ask about the future of this evolutionary process. If humans have developed a sense of not wanting to cause innocents to suffer (we’ll leave out who gets to define ‘innocents’ for the moment) could evolution not cause us to discard this later down the line? 

In your response, you misunderstood me to be saying that in the Old Testament 'widespread rape was ok'. You then asked, 'When did it stop being ok?' But don't you see how vulnerable you are to your own question? We may equally ask, 'When in the evolutionary process did forced sex stop being ok? When did verbal consent become a moral necessity? You say that if rape is wrong, it was always wrong - even back in the Old Testament. Yes. Agreed. But on what basis do you come to that conclusion given materialistic evolution? On what date did forced sex in the animal kingdom become wrong? 873,457 BC?

Consent? No thanks! Evolution won't develop
that concept for a few million more years
More to the point, if evolution made things like verbal consent necessary, can it make it unnecessary again? Since we’re wired to reproduce, it’s easy to imagine that in the near future our evolutionary sex drives might eliminate such an inconvenient concepts like consent and monogamy. But it’s not just about sex. What if we lose our altruistic impulses and develop an ‘evolutionary imperative’ to eliminate the weak? Will that be ok? 

You argued that we need a moral yardstick which is universal, ‘Because if it’s not [universal] we have to face the fact that one day Auschwitz may be accepted as righteous and good.’ And if evolution takes us there… why not? Survival of the fittest, right?

The Original Question

You say that what the Israeli’s did are evil. But why should they care what you think? By your own admission as a philosophical materialist, they are but accidental pieces of stardust shrapnel. You are nothing more than a random collection of protoplasm – more opinionated than most perhaps, but not anymore authoritative. You can argue that if everyone is altruistic it might help the human race as a whole last longer. But why should I care about the future of organic matter here on earth any more than I care about the fate of sulphurous gases on Venus?

It all beautifully adds up - until you subtract the only thing that really matters. 

The sun will one day grow large, then fade. There will be no one around to remember that human’s ever existed. We are just a momentary flash in the Universe’s long and meaningless history. Human genocide will be no more consequential than stepping on a collection of ants, bleaching my toilet to wipe out the germs, or even kicking up a pile of sand. Whether we are good or bad to each other here and now will make no difference whatsoever.

So, why ought we to be moral?
_____________________________
See Round One here.

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