Friday, February 17, 2017

Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller

My love affair with the writings of Timothy Keller continues. I covet his level of intellect and especially his ability to lovingly yet strongly make significant philosophical and theological points with absolutely no regression to snark and put-downs. It is a level of intellectual maturity that I gaze in wonder at, and which puts me to such shame that I cry out for God's help to better emulate Reverend Doctor Keller's example.

For those familiar with how I read, this book now has a forest of tabs sticking out of it, and the inside is extensively marked. I find it to be nothing less than a potential basis for a igniting a new 21st century revival in the west to correlate with the rapid rise of Christianity in China, South America and Africa. The brokenness of North America and Western Europe in spirit, philosophy and community is glaringly obvious. This book provides a strong laymen's case for:
1). Why belief in God is rational as a basis for society
2). What happens when such belief wanes
3). Why the specific God -man Jesus Christ is the only basis for faith that works in our age (or any age)

The book is heavily sourced, so I'll try to give pages for specific quotes that will often have been sourced into the book ... I'll leave it up to the interested to run down the original authors.

p13 "The ideals of freedom ... of conscience, human rights and democracy are the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. ... To this day, there is no alternative to it". 
What we believe is always built on faith in SOMETHING. Morality must be based somewhere or it does not exist. What the west holds to be "self-evident" is only so because of our Judaeo Christian heritage.

Everyone needs to spend some quality thought time on the idea of the "Critique of Doubt" on page 38. Were this understood, everyone's level of smug would have to drop a ton, and that is ALWAYS great for the prospect of community!

"Polanyi agrues that doubt and belief are ultimately "equivalent". Why? "The Doubting of any explicit statement denies one belief in favor of other beliefs which are NOT doubted for the time being." You can't doubt belief A except on the basis of some belief B you are believing instead at the moment. So for example, you CANNOT say, "No one can know enough to be certain about God and religion," without assuming at that moment that YOU know enough about the nature of religious knowledge to be certain of your statement!

Page 74 reaches the following sad summary of current western culture than goes into a few pages of how it is that Christ is the "logos" (meaning) the Greeks intuited ... to which I would add "Man's Search For Meaning" as a worthy sourcebook.

"Western societies are perhaps the worst societies in the history of the world for preparing people for suffering and death, because created meaning is not only less rational and communal, but also less durable." 
Why is this the worst? Because without shared meaning, there is nothing to say to the suffering, dying, and bereaved. There is no shared community meaning of life, but rather the lack of shared meaning kills any sense of even real community. Thus, many suffer completely alone, bereft of even family as they struggle to seek blessing from the faceless government bureaucracy they realize they ended up worshiping by accident.

On page 105, in the midst of discussing why our attempt to make "freedom" the only moral value ... "Today, it is said, the only moral absolute should be freedom and the only sin should be intolerance of bigotry.", Keller points out  ... "Even in our supposedly relativistic culture, value judgements are made constantly, people and groups are daily lifted up in order to shame them, public moral umbrage is taken as much as ever. It is hypocritical to claim that today we grant people so much more freedom when we are actually fighting to press our moral beliefs about harm on everyone."

As Reagan put it, the secular left will "defend your right to AGREE with them to their dying breath". They will however not acquiesce to your right to DISagree with them, and will seek to silence you by any means including violence  -- because your lack of agreement is a threat to them and makes them feel moral umbrage. They have no admonition in their secular religion against judgement -- in fact, their judgement is one of the things they are most certain of.

On page 125, "We need someone we respect to respect us. We need someone we admire to admire us. Even when modern people claim to be validating themselves, the reality is always that they are socializing themselves into a new community of peers, of "cheerleaders", of people whose approval they crave."

Even more sadly, the requirements of conformance in your secular group are always increasing -- maybe you were fine with everything up to gay "marriage", or even transgender", however you were uncomfortable with that next step. Perhaps you are an atheist who finds Islam no more, and possibly less acceptible than Chritianity. You looked at it's tenets and see that as crusade era Chrisianity was, Islam can be violent, and you feel that it is obvious that a "progressives" should point that out.

You will likely run into this situation somewhere and find that compliance is NOT optional -- if you want to continue to be accepted by your group, sworn to the statement that  "individual freedom is all that matters",  you MUST comply with ALL their positions! Typically, you most often will shut up and comply, but at least subconciously you no longer really believe the group practices what they preach. (No Christian church or Christian does either -- that is why we repent and take communion over and over, we accept that perfect human consistency is impossible).

I'm getting long. The SUMMARY of this book is "simply":

  1. It is every bit as "reasonable" to believe in God as it is to be an atheist. Increasingly, even MORE reasonable if one is bothered by the "anthropic argument" (we are here because we are here), or the latest physics asserting that there "must" be something like 10**500 UNIVERSES in order to support our existence being "likely".
  2. If you want community and morals, there is scant basis for these elements of human existence outside of religion, and in the format we are familiar with in the west, outside of Christianity. Throwing the "baby" of shared values and community out with God/Christianity for the hope of "perfect freedom" is fraught with peril.
  3. It's all about Christ. There is a really good reason that history is split into BC and AD. That difference is the divine person of Jesus Christ.
Outside of Christ, the world quickly descends into weeping and gnashing of teeth. It's going on all around us today -- families fall apart, people kill themselves to end meaningless lives, any tiny sense of community is trashed over smaller and smaller issues -- it is the politics that makes me cry when I look away from Christ. The Jim Jones cult of our age is the worship of the secular state. 

Christ is the BEST summary of the book -- keep looking at Christ and the Cross. Pray for your family, friends and community who have fallen into faith of the secular. 

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