Does “Love Thy Neighbor” Require Accepting All Behavior?

Bill Maher, who is a television entertainer, is no friend of religious people. His regular attacks on anything religious are often couched in jokes and ridicule. He has stated in public that:

  • Christians have been twisting the Bible to make “love thy neighbor” mean “hate thy neighbor.”
  • Supporting a strong military violates the command to turn the other cheek.
  • People who practice loving their enemies are true Christians. An example is Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.
  • When Jesus says “do not repay evil for evil” and “do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you,” he precludes anyone from supporting war.
  • Jesus was always non-violent. Therefore all true Christians would be non-violent.
  • If anyone ignores Jesus commands to be non-violent, which includes in all respects, you are hypocritical and not a Christian.

Slightly more serious atheists regularly make claims that opposing pro-LGBTIQP laws is hypocrisy because Christians are to “love thy neighbor.” Opposing these laws is not treating others with kindness, love, and compassion.

Although usually not stated directly, the general idea seems to be that these reasons give atheists a sufficient basis for ignoring Christians and their message. They seem to also be saying that if Christians renounce any people or viewpoint, and do not embrace every type of people in love, then we are bigots and not Christian.

Several responses are in order.

First, Maher, as an atheist entertainer, has the right to say what he pleases. However his claims are couched in jokes which go beyond humor into ridicule. The statements above are couched in language not fit for polite company, yet has his guests and audience snickering and laughing. The claims are apparently to be considered valid, and not merely instruments of a comedy routine, yet when presented without the jokes, they ring hollow. Does he seriously not see the difference between what the Bible passages say to individuals and what a Christian can support for national policy? It seems he is merely using these ideas as a platform for ridicule and exaggerated humor simply because he disagrees.

Certainly he would not agree that it should be our public policy in the US that if a policeman sees a thug beating a woman, the policeman should stand in line to be beaten also. Certainly he would agree that we should apply the Biblical principles in ways that are balanced with other concerns of life. If not, then I hereby request that Maher send me his entire life’s savings, for the passages he refers to call for just such an action on his part. If he does not, then he is just as guilty as the Christians he criticizes.

It is telling that his comments are bitingly sarcastic and aimed at ridiculing religious people. While hypocritical Christians are not excused, he seems equally guilty as the claims he is making against them. If he were not holding to the Biblical ethics he criticizes, he would not be upset that Christians violated the ethic. It would seem that he does hold to the ethic of loving his neighbor, but his ridicule shows that he is not doing so himself, the same type of hypocritical act that he is railing about.

Second, the simplest answer to his criticism is that Jesus presents an interpersonal moral system, not a mandate for national defense or public social policy. We can be sure of this because the passages he seems to be referring to are as follows:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18)

I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:39-42)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19)

Yet the Bible also contains passages such as the following:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:3-5)

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. (1 Cor. 5:1-2)

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. (John 2:15)

If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows. (1 Tim. 5:16)

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (1 Thess. 3:10-12)

There are more, but these are ample to prove a point. The main criticism of the atheists here is that Christians should be loving, not judging, giving to all who ask, and not fighting back when attacked. They are not to be disrespectful of people with which they disagree. While the first set of passages do teach these ideas, the second set qualify them. Christ himself took a whip and physically struck the religious leaders. We are not to give money to people who could make their living by working. The government has the authority and responsibility to punish evil, even of “the sword,” which in context includes capital punishment. Churches are commanded to remove sexually immoral people from their midst. God has a wrath and will punish evildoers, and the government is in God’s place on earth for this purpose.

Therefore taking some passages without the balance of others is skewing the truth and mishandling the teachings of the Bible. The passages brought up by Maher and the atheists are clearly for an interpersonal moral system, not one that necessarily must be followed in every single instance by church and national leadership.

Third, even if Christians are hypocritical, it does not disprove the fact that God exits, the truth of the Bible, or the need to trust Jesus. It is a non-sequitur to hold that since Christians do not follow the commands of the Bible, then the entire Christian message can be dismissed. In fact, the Christian message includes that all are sinners and disobey God, including those who attend church. The fact that Christians disobey God merely proves the Bible true when it claims that all are sinners (Romans 3:23).

Fourth, the main part of the passages to which Maher is referring are from the Sermon on the Mount. A careful reading of the entire gospel, not merely a few passages, shows us that the Sermon on the Mount is giving a kingdom ethic, a moral system from a divine perspective. It is impossible for sinful humans to follow it perfectly. As examples, in the same passage Jesus tells us that if we call anyone a fool at any time in our life, then we are guilty enough to go to hell. If we look at someone with a lustful eye, we are guilty of adultery. If that is not enough, Jesus concludes with “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Even the most self-righteous person would have to admit that he is not as perfect as God. Everyone is therefore guilty.

The point of the sermon on the mount is to show us ethics from God’s perspective, demonstrating to us that we are all guilty of disobeying God. It is an ethic so high that no human can keep it. If the atheists are trying to hold Christians to the standard of the Sermon on the Mount, then we admit our guilt. We then ask Maher and his cynical friends “how are you doing at keeping it yourself?” If they are honest, they will admit equal guilt. Their irreverent, impolite ridicule demonstrates their guilt for all to see.

This brings us to our last point. We Christians have the benefit of having our guilt erased and do not stand condemned. This is because Jesus, while showing us our guilt, also paid the price Himself, freeing us from all guilt and shame. 1 John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins and trust Him, we are cleansed of all unrighteousness. No one, not Martin Luther King, Jr., nor Gandhi, nor anyone else, is a Christian because of loving his neighbor, or giving money, or any other work. We are all too guilty for that to do any good. Instead, we are Christians because we trust Jesus and ask His forgiveness.

Christians and atheists alike would do better to realize their own guilt and submit to God for mercy. Jesus is the only one who lived a righteous life, and if we want life, we get it through Him.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Atheism, Bible, Bible Questions | Leave a comment

How Should We React To Muslim Desires in the Western World?

 

Posted in Culture | Leave a comment

New Book: Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics

New book out, hot off the press: “Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics” by William Dembski, Robert Marks, and Winston Ewart. These men are all math modelers, and they are claiming that there is no math model to explain evolution, and as such, it mathematically has not been proven. Written at the level that us non-math folks can understand.

 

Dr. Robert Marks says “There exists no model successfully describing undirected Darwinian evolution.” Without the math to back it up, it is difficult for scientific explanations to hold for very long. 

This work will likely be very influential.

 

Posted in Evolution | Leave a comment

What is Metaphysics, and Why is it Important?

An introduction to metaphysics is in order. When we speak of metaphysics, we are not speaking of the odd, occultic section of the used bookstore. Instead, we are speaking of the branch of philosophy that studies how things exist.

Thomas Aquinas wrote what is arguably the pinnacle of the expression of metaphysics as it applies to God. Let us examine a statement of metaphysics and try to explain it.

Potency and act divide being in such a way that whatever is, is either pure act or of necessity composed of potency and act.

No doubt such a statement appears gibberish to the common ear. To understand such a statement, we must explain the terms.

The terms potency and act are old ways of saying potential and actual. A man is potentially strong, then he exercises and lifts weights and becomes actually strong.

In metaphysics, the term being has more than one sense.

  • A being is a thing, in the sense of a human being. In this sense, being is a noun.
  • Being is an action, in grammar a participle, such as running, jumping, sewing, or hitting.  Just as running is the action of one who runs, being is the action of one who exists.

In English, the two senses of being can be easily confused. Many of the original writings about metaphysics were in other languages, where the two senses are different words. Latin speaks of ens, being as a noun or thing, and esse, being as a participle or action.

We get more confused when we realize that the noun being (ens), must necessarily include the act of being (esse). A thing must exist to be a thing, therefore whatever exists includes the act of existing.

So our sentence above might be rewritten in terms that makes more sense to us:

Potential and actual divide things that exist in such a way that whatever exists, is either purely actual or of necessity composed of potential and actual.

This statement is significant. Whatever is purely actual, with no mixture of potential, cannot get better, or stronger, or change in any way. A purely strong man could not do anything to get stronger. If he could potentially get stronger, then he would have potential that has not been actualized and his strength would not be purely actual.  A man who could get stronger is composed of potential and actual.  All composed things are limited, for they have not yet actualized their potential.

So, to repeat, if a thing were fully actualized, it would have no potential to get better, stronger, wiser, or any other way. If a thing is composed of potential and actual, it has some strength or some wisdom, but has the potential to get stronger or wiser.

So the statement above is saying that whatever exists is either purely actual, in which case it cannot increase in any way, or is a mixture of potential and actual.

Why does this matter? Because everything we observe in this world is a mixture of potential and actual. Everything could get warmer, or denser, or stronger, or wiser. Everything that is a mixture of potential and actual was caused to be that way, and could not have caused itself. Therefore there must be a thing which is purely actual, with no mixture of potential. This thing that is purely actual, therefore necessarily exists, and this we call God.

But this concept of potential and actual has more applications. When humans think a thought, we move from potentially thinking to actually thinking. Only something that is already actual can cause something to change from potentially existing to actually existing. Since we have some things about us that are actual, it is logical that we can cause potentials to become actual. For example, if we are potentially strong, we can do exercise and become actually stronger.

Therefore this concept of act and potency supports the existence of God and human free will agency.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Human Agency is Consistent with First Mover Arguments

In considering arguments for the existence of God, we sometimes encounter the argument of the first mover, now often referred to as the first cause. This first cause argument comes into play when we try to speak of human agency, or the human ability to have free will. First we must give a bit of background to set up the discussion.

Briefly, the first mover argument says that everything in the universe is caused to exist by another, yet this chain of causing cannot go back infinitely, for then every event in the chain is an effect. Aquinas used this in the first and second ways of his five ways. Aquinas was speaking of current, ongoing causation, as demonstrated by his analogy of a stone being moved by a stick, which in turn is moved by the hand. The motion would be ongoing and current, or the stone would not move. Since the stone cannot move itself, there must be something stationary causing the chain of movement, for an infinite series of sticks have no power in themselves to move anything.  William Lane Craig uses the first mover in explaining the Kalam Cosmological Argument, going backward in a logical series, and giving several arguments of why an infinite series of causes cannot exist. One of his reasons is that an infinite cannot be crossed, therefore there cannot be an infinite series of causes prior to now. An ever-increasing finite is not an infinite. The original first mover argument is found in Aristotle.

But when considering the nature of chains of events and the possibilities of infinites, it is sometimes argued something like the following:

  1. If the first mover argument is true, and since effects must have a cause, humans cannot generate thoughts or actions without the actions being previously caused by another.
  2. If humans, on their own, can generate thoughts or actions without any previous cause, then we have a counter-example to the first mover argument. Arguments for God will fail, including those from Aquinas and Craig.
  3. If humans, on their own, cannot generate thoughts or actions without any previous cause, then there is no free will, no moral accountability, and the world is determined. At best, God then becomes irrelevant; at worse, arguments for God from contingency or morality will ultimately fail.

Such reasoning then gives skeptics a tool to have fun running in conversational circles with theists, which they seem to do with glee. One suspects they really are looking for excuses, or they would not argue from such a position, for their arguments fail.

The simple answer is that as humans, we have been given the capacity to have free will acts and generate movement and thoughts. Human movement and thoughts are not generated with no prior cause, but from the human agent, who was caused to have the capacity to generate actions. Actions are when a potential moves to an actual, and humans have the ability to move potential thoughts to actual thoughts, and potential movement to actual movement. We were caused to have this ability from the first, uncaused cause, which we call God. So human actions do not come from nothing, and the human capacity to generate thoughts and actions does not come from nothing. All things are caused but not determined, for humans were caused to have the capacity to make free-will thoughts and actions.

I completed a lengthy series on the justification for human agency, the first of which you can read here.

To this we add the words of Aristotle. The following section is from Aristotle’s De Anima, in a section where he is describing how humans move. He writes quite a bit about the various aspects of the human soul having the capacity to generate, mentioning movement quite a bit:

It is because of the movement started by the object of desire that the thinking produces its movement . . . There is really one thing that produces movement, the object of desire. . . in fact it is not clear that the intellect produces movement without desire. . . the movement produces by reasoning being invariably accompanied by that produced by wishing, while desire even in the face of reasoning produces movement . . .

We have shown, then, that it is the sort of capacity of the soul that is called desire that produces movement. (De Anima, III.10, 433a)

We are not concerned here with Aristotle’s conclusions about what parts of the soul cause what type of action, but rather the pervasiveness of his mentioning that the human soul does indeed cause action, and does so of its own accord, with no direct, efficient cause of the action other than the human soul having the capacity to do so. Aristotle’s main thrust is explaining just exactly how he thinks the soul operates, and does not question whether the soul is able to do so. Aristotle seems to not even consider whether a soul would not have the capacity to generate thoughts and actions of itself. The idea seems so obvious as to not need discussion.

Aquinas’ writings are similar. In the Summa Theologia, he speaks at length about human abilities, frequently mentioning agency. But he brings in the idea of agency as if it was a settled fact, which is amazing considering the length and depth of the Summa, where he questions more things than we ever thought it possible to question. That Aquinas would not question agency is telling.

We can therefore conclude that at least Aristotle and Aquinas held it obvious and not contradictory in the slightest to both hold to an argument of a first mover and full human agency. Humans have the capacity to cause thoughts and actions, which is sufficient to do so. It was given to them by their creator God.

 

 

 

Posted in Aquinas, Philosophy | 4 Comments

A Theoretical Physicist Evaluates the Bible’s View of Creation

Posted in Apologetics, Bible | Leave a comment

Hume’s Explanation of Cause and Effect

In David Hume’s An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he includes a section on the connection between cause and effect. He draws examples such as one billiard ball moving and striking another, then the second ball moving. Hume goes to some length to convince us that we have absolutely no idea of why one event would cause another. All we have, he says, is a sequence of events that customarily follow each other over repeated experiences.

We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse one billiard-ball is attended with motion in the second. This is the whole that appears to the outward senses. The mind feels no sentiment or inward impression from this succession of objects:  Consequently, there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion. (sic)

Hume mentions many times in this section that we have no idea of how a cause can be connected to an effect. How does heat come about from a flame? How are our limbs moved by our will? When a string vibrates and we hear a sound, we cannot know why we hear a sound, but merely that one customarily follows the other. Indeed, “even in the most familiar events, the energy of the cause is as unintelligible as in the most unusual, and that we only learn by experience the frequent Conjunction of objects, without being ever able to comprehend anything like Connextion between them.”

Hume was very insightful to make this observation. However, he confuses how we learn the connection with whether or not we can investigate it and prove that the cause generates the effect. Yes, we typically learn cause and effect from repeated observation. However, it is not true that the most common effects are as much a mystery as the most unusual and mysterious ones. When we encounter an effect, it may take us a while to learn why the cause generates it. Indeed, in the case of the human mind and will, we may never fully understand all aspects of the cause. But it is not the case that all cause and effect relationships are this way.

In his billiard ball example, we can understand and explain the physics of objects and motion. Newton helped us demonstrate that objects with mass, when in motion, must expend that energy when striking another object. We know why the second ball moves because we know the laws of physics involved in objects in motion. Concluding that the second ball will move is not a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

In Hume’s logic, we would have to lump such things as roosters crowing before the sun rises with billiard balls striking each other. Even if we do not understand a particular cause, it is not the case, as Hume explains, that “We have no idea of the connexion, nor even any distinct notion what it is we desire to know, where we endeavour at a conception of it.”

Sure, Hume is correct that when we see an object for the first time and are ignorant of its properties, we are not able to predict what it will do. And he is also correct that we need repeated observations to first learn the connection between the cause and effect that we observe. But once we do, then we are confident about how billiard balls and violin strings cause things because we know how they work. It is not the case that we forever assume the effect follows the cause merely because one customarily follows the other.

I am reminded of a very old TV show called The Beverly Hillbillies. In the show, a hillbilly family who has never seen modern life is transplanted to a mansion in Beverly Hills. One of the running gags is that when the doorbell rings, the family does not connect the sound of music coming from the walls with the fact that someone pushed the front doorbell button. They merely say that whenever that music comes from the walls, soon after someone always knocks at the door. Hume would have us forever stuck in the Beverly Hillbillies show, never realizing how the doorbell works. However, once we repeatedly observe the effect, we can understand how the mechanism works, and we do indeed know how the cause generates the effect.

Posted in Philosophy, Skepticism | 1 Comment