Wednesday, April 1, 2015
Saying that, here are so more things Augustine cared about.
3) Evil Doesn't Exist
Now this is a strange one because Christians (at least us conservative ones) find themselves fighting against relativism at every turn. Surely, evil exists, because Hitler. Though to be honest, I've never met a true ethical relativist. I would assume that true ethical relativists have more money than I do and have never had to stare down evil in the face.
Or they smoke a lot of weed.
The point is, evil doesn't exist because evil doesn't have a substance. Evil is not a thing, it is the lack of thingness. To those of you who have read CS Lewis, this is sounding awfully familiar.
St. Augustine put it shortly: "For evil has no positive nature, but the loss of good has received the name 'evil'" - Book 11, Chapter 9
I'll be honest, I don't know how well this holds in modern academia. But it does help support the idea of a natural law, that things work better when things are going "naturally" and things go bad when things are going "unnaturally". It also implies that if things go naturally (like sex), that it is a good thing. In fact one would be wild enough to say that all of creation is good, even the person who feels like they might be lacking.
At the very least, it is interesting to see the seeds of many philosophical systems to come in Augustine.
4) All Civilizations will Fall but God will Handle It
The fourth item is the reason I started to read the book. I really do think this country is going to heck. In fact, I wish Florida would secede and make more money as a tourist destination. But my own absurd politics aside, when one is a student of history, I'm sure a question crosses everybody's mind; "When is civilization going to fall?"
Or for those who are younger "How will l I survive the zombie apocalypse?"
But when it comes to Western European civilization, we've persevered, though there is a teenager somewhere in America that longs to be a Patrician.
But that was the point Augustine was trying to make. All civilizations change and shift. And the pagan gods won't certainly involve themselves, especially if they're as mean as they seem to be in myths.
And regarding whether the pagan gods can protect the Romans? He wrote "For why did these gods permit the disasters I am to speak of to fall on their worshipers before the preaching of Christ's name offended them, and put an end to their sacrifices?"
Money (Moneta), sex (Venus) , and power (Jupiter) didn't save the Romans and it won't save us now. So how is God involved in the middle of this?
"As for those who insult them in their trials, and when ills befall them say. 'Where is thy God?' we may ask them where their gods are when they suffer the very calamities for the sake of avoid which they worship their gods, or main they ought to be worshiped; for the family of Christ is furnished with its reply: our God is everywhere present, wholly everywhere; not confined to any place. He can be present unperceived, and be absent without moving; when He exposes us to adversities, it iseither to prove our perfections or correct our imperfections; and in return for our patient endurance of the sufferings of time, He reserves for us an an everlasting reward. But who are you, that we should deign to speak with you even about your own gods, much less about our God, who is to be feared above all gods? For all the gods of the nations are idols; but the Lord made the heavens'" - Book 1, Chapter 29
Money, sex and power can't save. Those things die. God is eternal, He is incapable of death. When everything fades away, it will be the soul encountering God with no mediation. For the Christian, for those who love God's kingdom, that is a wonderful thing. It is a wonderful thing to be prepared for God's coming kingdom through evils. It is a wonderful thing that God is so sovereign that He uses the calamities of the world for our good.
And for those who worship money, sex and power? I assure you, you're going to have a miserable time in God's kingdom. At the very least, you're going to be poor, ugly, and powerless on day. Heck, some of us are already there!
But it should be noted, we can only trust God because God seeks to bless us in Christ. This leads to my last point.
5) All Felicity Returns to God
Apparently Blaise Pascal once said that a man commits suicide because he seeks to be happy. St. Augustine once wrote that all of paganism can be reduced to one god: Felicity. Fortune. Luck. Blessing.
Again, if you're read CS Lewis, you know where I'm going with this.
With Augustine trying to dismantle polytheistic paganism, he makes a brilliant statement. Felicity is the only god necessary for all of men's dreams to come true. What did he mean?
"But how does it happen, if their books and rituals are true, and Felicity is a goddess, that she herself is not appointed as the only one to be worshipped, since she could confer all things, and all at once make men happy? For who wishes anything for any other reason than that he may become happy? Why was it left to Lucullus to dedicate a temple to so great a goddess at so late a date, and after so many Roman rulers?... For, in presence of Felicity, Fear and Dread would have disappeared - I do not say propitiated, but put to flight... Felicity, however is certainly more valuable than a kingdom. For no one doubts that a man might easily be found who may fear to be made a king; but no one is found who is unwilling to be happy". - Book 4, Chapter 23
We turn to money, sex, and power, because we want joy. If I might be so bold, eternal joy. In fact, Augustine goes as far to say that a man would rather happy than be king. Though to be fair, being a king also upped your chanced of being assassinated.
But you get the point.
But here's the trick, only God can bring joy. Eternal joy, even. The gods can't bring eternal joy because they're terrible people. Money, sex, and power can't bring eternal joy because those three things are fleeting?
But God? He hung Himself on a cross and died so that we might be reconciled to Him. And it's having faith in what God has done in Christ that brings joy. God suffered the curse of being a human in a sinful world in Jesus Christ, all the way to the cross, so that we may live with Him in new bodies in his kingdom.
But that's another blog post, I think.
Granted, I'm not saying you're going to have any psychological health imrpovements. But what I am saying is that Jesus came back from the dead, and that when He returns, His kingdom will be one of eternal felicity.
At the very least, Zeus is a terrible person and the economic woes of the last decades don't pain a strong picture for faith in what we see.
With that, that is what I've gleaned from Augustine so far, or at least, as much as I can fit in a blog post. I didn't want to talk about Roman history, Augustine's Platonic undertones, and his problem with the gods which can go for hundreds of pages.
Take care, God bless.
Okay, well there's more.
I'm also unemployed and unsatisfied with the state of American politics. In fact I'm unsatisfied with the state of American evangelicalism to the point where I refuse to call myself an evangelical, no matter how many times a person might try to inform me otherwise. Indeed, I am a Reformed Christian, which means I think I'm right all the time. It also gives me a +3 in irritability.
Though in all seriousness, when one is down on their luck, a person tends to think about "higher" things. In my case, as somebody that has a degree in history, their first instinct is to see what a dead person has written about "higher things", especially since the result of said dead person's work has been paradigm shifting for Western civilization.
In other words, a little wisdom never hurt anybody.
I should note that the City of God has two main divisions. The first ten books are concerned with "Why Paganism is Wrong and Why it's Stupid to Put Your Hopes and Dreams in Pagan Thought And in Fact You Should Stop Looking to Rome for Your Salvation".
The second part, the next twelve books, can be argued as "This is the Story of Christianity and How it Fulfills All Your Hopes and Dreams Unwittingly and PS Paganism Is Still Dumb".
Granted, that's not how Augustine of Hippo wrote it, but it gets the point across.
And seeing that I just entered the second part of Augustine's 1,000 page tome, I'll focus on what I've learned about the world from Augustine, so far.
1) Slut Shaming is Bad
Our culture, or at least the people around me, seems to think that calling a woman a slut is bad. I would agree with that. Though, I do think that women's issues are given more attention than they should, if only because I fee the press is trying to use identity politics to take away my money.
But my general irritability aside, there is a very real issue with sexual abuse in the Church. If you doubt me, one only needs to think about the Sovereign Grace scandal or the Catholic Church. Or if you just want to talk about abuse in general, one only needs to look at Mars Hill Church in Seattle or one of our wonderful local megachurches that care about witnessing to the kingdom of God.
(That last part was sarcasm)
But in all seriousness. It's been my experience that the Church doesn't know how to deal with sexual politics. So imagine my surprise when I read what Augustine wrote about a bunch of women who were raped by barbarians:
"Let us rather draw this conclusion, that while the sanctity of the soul remains even when the boy is violated, the body is lost when the sanctity of the soul is violated, though the body itself remain intact. And therefore a woman who has been violate by the sin of another, and without any consent of her own, has no cause to put herself to death; much less has she cause to commit suicide in order to avoid such violation, for in that case she commits certain homicide to prevent a crime which is uncertain as yet, and her own". - Book 1, Chapter 19
At the very least, any accounts of Augustine being a misogynist should be tempered. And at most, the Church has a lot to learn from this quote, at the very least, that a woman doesn't need guilt and shame to be burdened upon her. In fact, Augustine is trying to remove it by telling the woman that she has no need to kill herself because she is still pure, no matter what her body tells her.
2) God is Sovereign Because We Need a Will
If it hasn't been drilled into your head already, I am a Calvinist. This means that I have a strong view of the doctrine of predestination. Saying that, people seem to think the doctrine of predestination implies that we don't have a will. Other people seem to use the doctrine of predestination without understanding why it exists: to bring comfort to those who have faith that God loves them.
But St. Augustine? Well he does something that we can learn from. God's exhaustive sovereignty establishes our will, because
"In His supreme will resides the power which acts on the wills of all created spirits, helping the good, judging the evil, controlling all, granting power to some, not granting it to others." - Book 5, Chapter 9
He goes on to say that He does not give evil wills, because the Good cannot cause evil. In this sense, the origin of evil is a mystery, and perhaps it's good enough to know that God is sovereign and cares for me.
It should also be noted that the options for God's sovereignty weren't plentiful in the ancient world, according to Augustine. It was either Fate did everything and we have no will, or God had no will and we had a will. One made us animals, the other makes God not God. Augustine really tried, you must admit.
At the very least, I think it lays the ground work for the argument from the Unmoved Mover.
I feel like I've written too much. I have three more things to write about regarding the first half of the City of God. So, I'll leave you with the two things I wrote and my introduction. With that,
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Ray Kurzweil, 2005 "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology."
He describes an exponential increase in technologies like
Questions for reflection:
1) If what Kurzweil is predicting is true, what are the dangers?
2) What are some theological issues involved in human technological evolution?
3) What are the social issues involved? What about ethical issues?
4) Kurzweil believes that the human brain will be reverse engineered by 2045 and shortly afterthat will be downloadable as software into super computers (and believes in looming A.I.).
How do we think about the human soul and singularity?
How will further technological development affect how we think about evil and redemption? What potential for evil use of technology is presented by his predictions?
Historical evolution of human technologies
How should we prepare?
How will it effect business, education, family life, religion and church life?
What new human needs will appear?
How does this change the way we relate to history? to sacred tradition? or does it make it more necessary?
and finally, how should we prepare our children and grandchildren?
Ray Kurtzweil's predictions on Wikipedia:
Sunday, February 1, 2015
Does the Spirit ever speak to you through melodies? Or through musical lyrics? Of course, for a church attender, the voice of the Holy often speaks through the lyrics of church hymns. That is not what I am trying to explain.
I had found the melody that had been haunting me for weeks, but why?
When I returned from Brazil, we received further bad news. The cancer was stage 4 and terminal. Seven years went by, seven wonderfully difficult years full of danger, courage, adventure, romance, grief and joy; and then Debbie died. Now I find myself wandering and feeling lost in a jungle of a different kind, no longer so sure of my metaphor.
Yesterday, I played The Mission for my religious studies students as I do every semester. Whenever the theme of Love surfaces in the film, the faint melody of Gabriel’s Oboe can be heard in the background, like when Mendoza (Robert De Niro) is finally shot, defending the Guarani that he once hunted and enslaved. He strains to look for his friend, Father Gabriel until he sees that Father Gabriel is also killed while carrying the sacramental host. While the melody continues to play, Mendoza closes his eyes and follows Father Gabriel into the next world.
A few years ago Sarah Brightman received Enno Morricone's permission to write lyrics to go with Gabriel's Oboe in Italian titled "Nella Fanstasia"
I still cry when I hear Gabriel's Oboe, but now the metaphor has changed.
Now I am no longer the heroic missionary who courageously enters the jungle and plays the oboe for the benighted natives. Instead, I am just another lost soul myself, floundering around in the darkness of the secular jungle (with the community of lostness) and Someone is playing an enchanting melody of love and hope which forever draws me forward and toward that same Someone, and toward a dream of a better world where each night there is a little less darkness, a "dream of souls that are always free, like clouds that float..."
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Faithful Presence accurately describes the attitude of Daniel and his three friends as they served in public administration under Nebuchadnezzar’s rule in the Babylonian Empire. They did not defensively resist the empire (although some Jews did, such as those who escaped to Egypt), they did not assimilate to Babylonian Culture (witness the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace) and they did not withdraw from active participation in the life of the empire in order to maintain their purity (although some Jews did, think of the exiles who laid down their harps and refused to sing songs of Zion). Daniel and his friends provided a faithful (and non-political although quite public) witness and had the privilege of helping to interpret the Emperors’ dreams.
Friday, January 9, 2015
(Note: to better understand what Davison means by elite institutions and networks, click here to read a selection on Cultural Capital from pages 84 to 90)
Monday, December 8, 2014
So what is the way forward? Is there a better way to approach issues of sexuality? “The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind” … solo agape. There is a great scene in the classic movie The Mission (1986) with Robert de Niro. DeNiro plays a Spanish slave trader and mercenary, Mendoza, consumed with guilt over the killing of his younger brother in a duel. The Jesuit Father Gabriel (played by Jeremy Irons) challenges him to a strenuous act of penance by climbing the forbidding water falls while tied to his armor and weapons.
Through much pain and effort, Mendoza succeeds in making it to the top of the falls with his heavy load of weapons and guilt.
The Guarani Indians, the very people he formerly hunted and enslaved, decide to spare his life and cut him loose from the heavy pack his was dragging behind him (and symbolically from his prison of pride and guilt). Mendoza breaks down in weeping and laughter as he is set free from himself.
(Robert DeNiro reads 1 Corinthians 13)
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body [a]to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails …
1 Corinthians 13:1-8
Saturday, October 11, 2014
It turns out that my Facebook friends list broke down to about a 55/45 split between liberals and conservatives, although enough conservatives have “unfriended” me (or I, them) that it is now closer to 60/40. This has given me a unique opportunity to engage both sides of the severely polarized ideological divide in civil (for the most part) discourse. I think this is strength and a blessing for me that helps me avoid partisan thinking and helps me maintain a relatively unbiased critical thinking. In other words, I can see both sides of most issues with help from my conservative and liberal friends. On some issues (especially social issues) I find myself thoughtfully coming down on the more liberal side. On others (especially fiscal issues) I lean toward a conservative or libertarian view. On military issues, I have returned to my non-militaristic, peacemaking Quaker roots.
Friday, September 19, 2014
Social Media: banality, horror, anger and angst, brutal terror and tragedy liberally mixed with generous portions of useless opinion
Saturday, August 30, 2014
I am calling on my fellow citizens to please stop beating the war drums for intervention in Iraq. We tried that already, it didn't work the first time around and it will not work the second time around...
I am not opposed to defending our borders or some strategic air assistance to regional allies. But this is THEIR war to fight not ours. In retrospect, we were wrong to invade Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 in our thirst for vengeance. We could have invested a trillion dollars in enhanced border and homeland security and thousands of young Americans would still be alive, and 10s of thousands innocent Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have been victims of collateral damage, would also be alive. There would be less terrorists than we have now generated (many are outraged relatives of dead victims of collateral damage). If we had not invaded Iraq, chances are that the Islamic State would not even exist. Violence only breeds more violence.
We Christians had our religious wars from the sixteenth century from the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572, 70,000 dead) through the Thirty Years War (1618-1648, the death toll was so great that the population of Germany fell from 25 to 40 percent) before Catholics and Protestants had their fill of bloodletting and nearly destroyed Europe. After exhausting themselves with religious killing, Christians of both persuasions came to the conclusion that a better system was warranted and created the modern nation-state system in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.
Separation of church and state and religious pluralism soon followed and we have our modern democratic systems guaranteeing individual and human rights (far from perfect, but better killing people you don't agree with). If Sunnis and Shia extremists need to “fight it out” until moderate Muslims have had enough come to the same conclusions that Christian civilization came to in 1648 (and later in 1776 with guarantees of religious freedom), then leave them alone and stay out of it, or give some strategic and limited assistance to whoever seems more moderate and committed to human rights (although I have my reservations about this).
But PLEASE, to my fellow citizens and most especially to my fellow followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace, PLEASE stop whipping up fear and hatred, please stop beating the drums of war. We should have learned our lesson by now. PLEASE JUST STOP AND PRAY. If you don’t pray, then please JUST STOP whipping up the fear and hate.