Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Social Justice is Evil

  "And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us...full of grace and truth." John 1:14

  "...of some have with fear, pulling them out of the fire...." Jude 22-3

  It is hard for a me to take social work and programs seriously. No matter how "Christian" the whole "compassion for others" tag-line sounds, it still doesn't change the fact that much of what passes as social "work" and/or "justice" in the modern West is essentially linked with two enemies of the Christian Faith. One is liberal politics and its necessary destruction of all traditional values and truths (esp. Christian values and truths). The other is the diabolical Social Gospel, which redefines (re: replaces) Sin as poverty and racism and Redemption as legislation and lobbying. In sum, the former seeks the destruction of Christian essentials while the latter completely perverts the Gospel; thus, both are the enemies of the Christian Faith, and yet both seem to be necessarily ancillary to having "compassion" for "the least of these." This is why social justice (as it currently stands and is defined) is evil.
  Obviously, we need to understand (and unashamedly assert) what people really need, i.e., salvation from the wrath of God against Sin. This post, however, will strive to address other fundamental flaws (other than, though building off of, the two mentioned already) in current social work paradigms by doing some demolition work against the word most used (and thoroughly abused) by social advocates: compassion. It is my hope that this demo work will help redefine social justice away from its evil contexts and connections and restore it to its proper place as a work of holiness.
  Compassion devoid of reason and common sense is not compassion but rather the worst kind of cruelty, unleashing further hellish effects by its good intentions. Yet we in the West seem struck with a curious malady that deems all acts of thoughtful contemplation and consideration (i.e., critical thinking) as hesitation, and hesitation is deemed as heartless indifference. Thus, many fly into the fray, helping one and  damaging a hundred. We seem to have truly forgotten that grace and truth must work in tandem, and those who would make them foes commit a most egregious and unnecessary divorce. This erroneous separation is one of the first misunderstandings that must be purged from compassion: compassion is not the enemy of truth; there is no compassion without truth.
  Such a separation between compassion and truth does not exist in Scripture. On the contrary: "[Love] rejoices in the truth" (I Cor. 13:6b). What business have we to claim compassion at the expense of truth? What right have we, in pursuing social "justice," to support and enforce programs and/or legislation that does damage to nations and morals? In addition, the great need of man is answered in the blood of God spilled at Calvary in Christ, and not in freshly upholstered furniture, affirmative action, or no child being left behind. Why would we dare assert otherwise? We must not sacrifice truth on the altar of sentimentalism, which is all our "compassion" is without the truth.
  The issue of sentimentalism is the other misunderstanding that must be purged from compassion. Compassion is not sentimental; it is heroics in action. For many, the way that "compassion" has been presented by social advocates is a highly soft picture (weeping children, sad music, and guilt-trip inducing lectures by some pious social worker with shiny eyes). Thus, compassion, is viewed as sentimental, i.e., a great welling up and overflow of shallow emotions produced by some external stimuli. Consequently, many  can see compassion as synonymous with weak or even weakness. To have compassion seemingly means to have a complete breakdown in the face of emotional propaganda. Thus, many average people (esp. men) find it hard to get involved in "compassionate" programs or ministries because they see such things as weak and shallow.
  The solution to this is to return to viewing compassion as a type of heroics. Rather than an effect caused from without, it is now caused from within, from the righteous disposition that comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit. True compassion is not a result of outer stimulatiuons but rather from inner righteousness, an inner and innate grasping of right and wrong coupled with the desire to see the right prevail. Compassion is not about feeling sorry for people because the sight of their plight momentarily affects our emotions; rather, it is a "pulling them out of the fire," a heroic rescue initiated by the Spirit of God from within. Compassion that is not based on that fire will fizzle out eventually. Compassion is not to end in tears and pity, and it especially is not supposed to end in liberal politics or Social Gospel. Compassion ends in rescue and nothing less. Perhaps if we let people know this, more would flock to help.
  Christ, of course, is our example. He took the greatest plunge into the fire when he became flesh and dwelt among us (Phil. 2:5-7). He did not lobby for appeals; He came to us "full of grace and truth." Not half and half, but both burning at full capacity without apology or contradiction. Look at the woman at the well (John 4): Jesus simultaneously offered her the water of life with one hand and exposed her immorality with the other. He is neither afraid nor ashamed to offer people grace and call them sinners (for who needs grace more than a sinner?).
  A fear of the truth, of calling people sinners, or being "divisive," are all enemies of true compassion. True compassion is the work of holiness in that it either (a) pulls sinners out of the fires of Hell or (b) produces the fruits of the Spirit, which are of the character and quality of God. That is why social justice (again, as it currently stands and is defined) is evil, because it does not have God. Its liberal leanings either debunk Him or relegate Him as an irrelevancy, while its Social Gospel leanings pervert His image into a lobbyist and legislator rather than Savior and Lord. As Christians, called to imitate Christ (who is God), we must redeem social justice from its currently evil contexts and connections. We must redefine what we mean by "compassion" and reassert the true Gospel of Christ.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

Prelude to a Larger Post: Newman on Faith, Reason, and the Supplanting of Objectivity

The following is from the fourth section of the second discourse in The Idea of a University (for clarity's sake, I have broken the section into paragraphs and added emphasis where necessary):

     The religious world, as it is [now beginning to be] styled, holds, generally speaking, that Religion consists, not in knowledge, but in feeling or sentiment. The old Catholic notion, which still lingers in the Established Church, was that Faith was an intellectual act, its object truth, and its result knowledge. Thus if you look into the Anglican Prayer Book, you will find definite credenda as well as definite agenda; but in proportion as the Lutheran leaven spread, it became fashionable to say that Faith was, not an acceptance of revealed doctrine, not an act of the intellect, but a feeling, an emotion, an affection, an appetency; and, as this view of Faith obtained, so was the connection of Faith with Truth and Knowledge more and more either forgotten or denied. At length the identity of this (so called) spirituality of heart and the virtue of Faith was acknowledged on all hands. Some men indeed disapproved the pietism in question, others admired it; but whether they admired or disapproved, both...found themselves in agreement on the main point, viz., in considering that this really was in substance Religion, and nothing else; that Religion was based, not on argument, but on taste and sentiment, that nothing was objective, everything subjective, in doctrine.
     I say, even those who saw through the affectation in which the religious school of which I am speaking clad itself, still came to think that Religion, as such, consisted in something short of intellectual exercises, viz., in affections, in the imagination, in inward persuasions and consolations, in pleasurable sensations, sudden changes, and sublime fancies. They learned to believe and to take for granted that Religion was nothing beyond a supply of the wants of human nature, not an external fact and a work of God. There was, it appeared, a demand for Religion, and therefore there was a supply; human nature could not do without Religion. [...] Thus Religion was useful, venerable, beautiful, the sanction of order, the stay of government, the curb of self-will and self-indulgence, which the laws cannot reach; but, after all, on what was it based? Why, that was a question delicate to ask, and imprudent to answer; but, if the truth must be spoken, however, reluctantly, the long and the short of the matter was this, that Religion was based on custom, on prejudice, on law, on education, on habit, on loyalty, on feudalism, on enlightened experience, on many, many things, but not at all on reason; reason was neither its warrant, nor its instrument, and science had little connection with it as with the fashions of the season, or the state of the weather.

     In this second discourse of The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman argued for the presence of Theology to be taught in the universities, his final reason being that Theology is the "queen of the sciences" because it gives us knowledge about God, who is the source of all things, including reason and the laws of the universe (Discourse III, Sections 8-9). In this fourth section, he outlines what he sees as a heavy trend in the culture regarding religion (esp. the Christian religion) and consequently Theology, viz., all religious/spiritual matters are subjective and emotional in essence rather than objective and rational. Such a dichotomy should sound familiar: the whole of Modern Christendom (esp. the Emergent Church) is infected with this fashionable religious sentiment, i.e., spirituality is a result of our own subjective experiences rather than an objective truth (like God's revelations, both general and special).
     I quote Newton as yet another setup for my own thoughts on Christianity's answer to the post-modern objection, i.e., there cannot be an absolute truth because all we can know are our own subjective experiences, and they are too varied and complicated to be summed up under an essential quality. In other words, there is only emotional subjectivity and no rational objectivity; there is only the infinite ocean with no stars in the sky (except of our own making). I hope to answer this objection with what I see as the truly Christian answer, i.e., the ocean is infinite, but so are the stars in the sky.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Prelude to a Larger Post: Oswald Chambers on the Whole and the Particulars

From the December 9th entry of Still Higher for His Highest:

If you take all the manifestations of God given in the Old Testament you find them a mass of contradiction--now God is pictured as a Man, now as a Woman, now as a lonely Hero, now as a suffering Servant--and until we come to the New Testament these conflicting characteristics but add confusion to our conception of God. But immediately we see Jesus Christ, we find all the apparent contradictions blended in one unique Personality.

Oswald is here hinting on a point that I hope to expand on in the very near future. One of the objections that our post-modern world has against absolute truth is that if there really was an essential, absolute reality to things, then things would be simpler. As it is, the presence of complications and complexities negate the possibility of any such essential, absolute reality. The particulars are too vast for any whole to encompass them (I dealt with a similar issue last year).

The big mistake that Christianity (esp. Emergent Christianity) has done in response to this claim is to agree with it and then try to maintain (re: redefine) the Christian Faith in the midst of it. I'm telling you right now, it cannot be done: essential, absolute realities are absolutely essential for Christianity to be Christianity. Take those away, and Christianity goes away as well. What is left in such a situation is slightly moral, incredibly trendy, and boasting a "Christian" veneer. It is not, however, the Christian Faith whereby men can be saved.

What Oswald points out (and what I plan to greatly expand on later) is the groundwork for a truly Christian response to the post-modern objection. That response is this assertion: Complexity and "apparent contradictions" amongst the particulars do not necessarily negate the presence of an essential and absolute whole. This is because the whole is great enough to encompass all the myriad of particulars into itself. The error that modern/post-modern types make is assuming that the essential, absolute realities or qualities are necessarily simple. I believe the proper Christian response is to assert that they are not simple; rather, they are infinite. The essential whole is just as vast (if not more so) than the various particulars.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Against Vulgar Professionalism (A Warning)

I understand a need for formality and presence when in certain situations. I would like to distinguish, however, between a "professionalism" that is a result of maturity and a "professionalism" that is a result of inhumanity.

When I would administer PRAXIS tests for my school (sort of a ACT for teachers), I am required to read verbatim to a room full of adults the test instructions written within the associate supervisor manual. The very first paragraph even says, "I am required to read these instructions and I cannot deviate from them." Each time I would read that particular line, I would quickly add, "So don't hate me." This lone addition would in turn result (without fail) in a distinct murmur of laughter from the test takers and a subsequently relaxation of the room's somewhat tense atmosphere.

Once, however, after I administered such a test, I was rebuked (not at all rudely) by a fellow associate who stated that I must avoid such humorous addendums in the future in order to maintain a sense of "professionalism" during test administration. Though my naturally amicable nature inclined me to initially approve of their sentiment, in truth I vehemently disagreed with it. If that is what "professionalism" is, then professionalism is for the birds; or better yet, for the machine, for only a machine can vomit any recitation without inflection or addition.

I am not a machine, nor do I address (in a test administration or any other aspect of real life) other machines. Speaking specifically to the test administration, I am a human addressing other humans who are currently in an environment of immense pressure and tension caused by (1) a test that holds their careers in its hands and (2) being in a room full of strangers. Nothing breaks such awful tension more than a sense of communion with other humans, and laughter is communion.

Thus is what I call vulgar professionalism, and I am defiantly opposed to it because it is a mechanistic adherence to inhumanity and therefore must certainly be a severe damage and detriment to one's soul. If your "professionalism" reveals a mature and advanced mind, capable of an acute awareness to environment or human needs and the communion that can address them, then you are guilty of no transgression. If, however, your "professionalism" reveals the machine, take heed to yourself and amend your ways. You continue at your own peril and the peril of others.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On the Validity of Self-Identification

I know that the Bible is the inspired word of God because it says so.

This is not circular reasoning. Circular reasoning requires two objects that alternatively serve as the necessary proof for the other ("I know 'X' because of 'Y'; I know 'Y' because of 'X'"). The statement "the Bible is God's word because it says so" cannot be circular because it has only one object, i.e., the Bible. It has nothing to "circulate" to. It stays with itself. It is its own referent; it does not refer to something that alternatively refers back to it for validity.

In addition, calling such a statement "circular reasoning" is fallacious because it reveals a lack of understanding about the nature of the Bible. The Bible is not a code book of maxims and creeds. It is a verbalized revelation from another person; in short, it is a message. A message implies de facto a sender, and it is certainly not uncommon (nor implicit of circulation) for a sender to identify themselves in their message (we would find it odd if they did not). Thus, the real question is not, "How do we know that it is God's word?" The real question is, "Why should we not accept it as God's word?" After all, the sender identifies themselves, just like my friends identify themselves when they send me a letter. Why then should I accept their self-identification but not God's?

-Jon Vowell

Monday, November 23, 2009

Against Emergent Doctrine (A Tidbit)

Faith is not doubt. It is the certainty of that which is, for the moment, empirically unprovable ("the evidence of things not seen"). I cannot (as of yet) empirically prove the existence of God, but I have no doubts about His existence. This certainty is based on (1) His objective revelations and (2) my subjective experiences (with my subjective experiences seen in the light of His objective revelations).

-Jon Vowell

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thoughts on the Spiritual: A Conversation between The Phoneix and I (Part 4)

Continuing from previous post(s):

In regards to our "protection" from spiritual evil, we are protected from spiritual evil by the blood of Christ, but that protection does not suddenly sever us from the spiritual world. We can still be witnesses to demonic activity (Jesus and His disciples certainly were), though through Christ we (1) are shielded from it and (2) have authority over it.

Your mentioning of "the judgment" after death (as King Jimmy calls it) was going to be my "further thoughts" about ghosts, viz., the nature of the afterlife. How you view the afterlife directly affects your view of ghosts; and as you pointed out, orthodox Christianity believes that once death occurs, the soul does not linger here. It goes on to "meet its Maker".

Of course, that just makes the ghost question more complicated. If they are not lingering souls nor demonic activity, then what are they?

I propose some pseudo-heterodox speculation on the subject. It should be fun, if for no other reason then it would provide an excellent plot line for some story in the future. 8^D

I shall begin, then you can respond to mine and then offer a pseudo-heterodoxical speculation of your own.


There is a concept within the Old Testament (and one that lingers in the New) that death is actually just "sleep," i.e., that the soul remains dormant in the body until God calls it to judgment. This could be what is behind those phrases in Pauline epistles where he talks about those who "sleep in Jesus," and how when Christ returns "the dead in Christ shall rise," seeming to suggest that their souls have not yet left their bodies (I Thess. 4:14, 16; actually, the entire passage of I Thess. 4:13-18 has several mentions of "those who sleep").

If we take it that in death the soul merely "sleeps" until it is called to judgment, then we can then perhaps explain why some people say a place is haunted because some poor soul "cannot find rest". The default idea behind hauntings is that something terrible and/or unjust occurred to someone and now they can have no rest until it is rectified. Perhaps this can be connected to the whole "soul-sleep" theory, viz., at death, a soul normally sleeps until the call to judgment, but in instances of wrong (an upsurge of horrendous spiritual evil) the soul is incapable of resting until justice is met, whether in this life (by some avenger) or the next (at the throne of God).

The Fall could definitely explain how this is possible: the introduction of Sin into the world has disrupted the whole of Creation (including the spiritual side), causing all that ought to happen to be thwarted. If "soul-sleep" is the proper and natural result of death (i.e., what ought to be), then it is completely possible that Sin can (or has) disrupt it as well.

Thus, perhaps the old story (i.e., they cannot find rest) is actually the true story: Ghosts are souls that cannot sleep because of the terrible evil that happened to them, and thus are left to linger until justice is served somehow.

Thus is my first speculation. I await your response.

-Jon Vowell

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Thoughts on the Spiritual: A Conversation between The Phoneix and I (Part 3)

Continuing from previous post(s):

My thoughts on ghosts are interesting precisely because I am unsure about them.

Having been raised in a fundamentalist background, I was taught (and thus believed by default) to treat all paranormal activity as purely demonic, a mere method of deception to turn people from God and towards Satan.

Lately I am unsure, however, and that for two reasons.

If I've read C.S. Lewis correctly, one of the devil's favorite tactics is secrecy, not only in regards to himself but in regards to the spiritual world as a whole. He would much rather you be ignorant of a spiritual world (and subsequently spiritual beings) because such knowledge can lead to all sorts of nasty questions about the afterlife, your soul (its existence and nature), and even God and Satan. The presence of ghosts seems detrimental to such ends. If there are ghosts, then two things must necessarily be true: (1) we have a soul, and (2) that soul will live beyond the life of the body. Such acknowledgments are dangerous for the purposes of the demonic, for although they can lead one astray, they can also lead one straight into the arms of religion, specifically God's religion. So, in sum, my first reason is that the presence of ghosts seems detrimental to Satan's purposes since they give acknowledgment to the spiritual side of things and thus can lead people to start taking spiritual questions seriously.

My other reason for being unsure about a "purely demonic" understanding of the paranormal is that if it is an operation of Satan, then it is an incredibly slip-shod operation. Watch any of those "ghost shows" and you'll see what I mean: the activities of the demons (if they are demons) seem highly confused and unorganized, spending most of their time slowly opening doors, dropping things, making it suddenly cold, or muttering useless comments that vaguely identify themselves with whoever or whomever last occupied their haunting grounds. Honestly now: If I was a malevolent spiritual entity bent on deceiving humanity through paranormal activity, why would I waste my time and energy having my minions doing such asinine activities as making noises and muttering nonsensicals? Would it not make more sense to have them do something more obviously "pro-Satanic," like saying "Satan is awesome" or writing it on a wall somewhere in bright burning letters? In sum, I guess that my second reason is that I like to give my opponent (i.e., Satan) the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is indeed colossally foul but also colossally brilliant, and that his true activities are far more dreadful and effective.

I have further thoughts about ghosts, my dear Phoenix, but I shall break for now so neither you nor I grow weary with my words. Send me your thoughts and whether or not you want me to continue or if I should just shut up and go read a book or something.

-Jon Vowell

Thoughts on the Spiritual: A Conversation between The Phoneix and I (Part 2)

Continuing from previous post:

I believe in angels and demons, i.e., I believe that the spiritual side of things contains spiritual beings, with one sect being wholly bent towards evil and thus wholly bent towards causing destruction and damnation either directly or indirectly, and the other sect being wholly bent towards good and thus wholly bent towards causing restoration and redemption either directly or indirectly. I believe them to be personal intelligences and not impersonal forces (or even impersonal intelligences, i.e., they are not mere machines).

I believe that human beings (since we are intimately connected with their world as much as they are to ours), in aligning themselves with either the good or the evil, can be aided by one and consequently assaulted by the other, since they are at war with each other because their very essences and purposes are antithetical (destruction vs. restoration, etc.).

Thus (in regards to this warfare), I believe in "magic," but not in the naive since of mere "power". I see magic as a form of communion, communion with one or the other of those "personal intelligences," whether they be good or evil. The "magic" of the good consist of prayer, the reading and quoting of scripture, worship, and various subjective experiences where we come in contact with and thereby commune with the good (who I obviously recognize as God). The "magic" of the evil consist of different things, whether they be the more spectacular stunts common to (or at least claimed by) plain witchcraft in all its forms, or the more subtle nature of a mere "influence," so to speak (e.g., Hitler's ability to mesmerize audiences; I am convinced that it was demonic magic). In either case, "magic" is the natural result of communion with the personalities of the spiritual world (whether they be good or evil), and I believe that this "magic" (as I have defined it) is the weaponry of this warfare. As humans (belonging to the spiritual just as much as the physical), we are capable of utilizing both (although, to be orthodox about it, we are incapable of using [or fully using] the good until salvation by grace).

By the way, as an addendum to my two points in the previous post, I also believe that the spiritual good is more powerful than the spiritual evil, and thus the evil can never ultimately win. My reasons for that are another issue, however. Let's move on to a final issue: ghosts.

-Jon Vowell

Thoughts on the Spiritual: A Conversation between The Phoneix and I (Part 1)

A facebook correspondence on the nature of the spiritual:

Allow me to be flatly obvious and then become perhaps more interesting.

As a Christian, I believe fully in a spiritual world.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's get to the specifics.

I believe that the relationship between the physical and the spiritual is hierarchical, i.e., they stand in relation to each other as the "lesser" and the "greater," with the physical being the lesser and the spiritual the greater. This is not a kind of Gnosticism (i.e., I do not think that the physical is bad). I simply hold that the spiritual side of things is the important side of things if for no other reason than that is were all the "action" is. To put it in a simpler way: though the physical obviously has its consequences, I believe that the spiritual side of things is of greater consequence to our lives than the physical (e.g., "the body they may kill, / God's truth abideth still")

I believe that the relationship between the physical and the spiritual is intimate, i.e., they are completely connected. The physical is not "right here" while the spiritual is "over there" or "out there," nor is the spiritual "compartmentalized" apart from the physical. They are both bonded together. We live in a completely spiritual world just as much as a completely physical one, and actions in one directly influence the other. A somewhat simple example would be the effects of food upon the soul: if it's good and warm and satisfying, it creates a sense of joy and peace and refreshment.

Alright: having established those two points, lets move on to "spiritual warfare" as well as "demons and ghosts and stuff."

-Jon Vowell

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pessimism and Optimism in the Christian Worldview

From Charles Williams' book War in Heaven:

Mornington suspected his Christianity of being the inevitable result of having moved for some time as a youth of eighteen in circles which were, in a rather detached and superior way, opposed to it; but it was a religion which enabled him to despise himself and everyone else without despising the universe, thus allowing him at once in argument or conversation the advantages of the pessimist and the optimist.

Williams here states (in his unique style) the way that Christian doctrine(s) (viz., the fallenness of man and the holiness of God) give to the Christian the best parts of other philosophies while avoiding their errors. Within the Christian worldview, one finds a healthy cynicism and a healthy idealism perfectly wedded.

-Jon Vowell

Thursday, July 23, 2009

L'Engle and the Dehumanizing Effects of Victimhood

From Madeleine L'Engle's book Walking on Water:

Sin, that unpopular word again. The worse things get, the more we try to rationalize and alibi. When we do wrong we try to fool ourselves (and others) that it is because our actions and reactions have been coded into our genetic pattern at the moment of conception. Or our mothers didn't understand us. Or they understood us too well. Or it is the fault of society. Certainly it is never our fault, and therefore we have not sinned.
[By] such dirty devices, any shred of free will left in the human being is taken away. If I do wrong, I may do it unwittingly, thinking I am doing something for the best; but if it turns out to be wrong, I have done it, and I must bear the responsibility. It is not somebody else's or something else's fault. If it is, [then] I am less than human.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Pertinent Question

There is a story in the Gospels (I forget which) where Jesus heals a man that has been lingering next to a pool of water for some thirty years. The water was supposedly disturbed every once and a while when an angel came and touched it, and the first person to bath themselves in the water after it was disturbed would be healed of their ailments. The man in question was a paralytic, however, and had no one to take him to the pool. So he sat unmoved for around thirty years.
When Jesus found him, his first question He asked him was, "What do you want?" I believe it was John Eldridge who pointed out that this is an astounding question. It seemed that Jesus' first step in healing the man was to get him to reestablish what his desire was, his goal, his end game, for sitting near the pool. It is not unreasonable to assume that, after having sat still without success for around thirty years, that he had eventually forgotten what was the point of it all.
I believe that Jesus' question to the paralytic is highly pertinent to our current culture and society that has been terribly paralyzed by the grip of post-modernism. We would do well to ask people, both liberal and conservative, atheistic and spiritual, secular and religious, what it is exactly that they want. When faced with the tumultuous lot of faddist and trivial institutions, ideologies, parties, minority groups, voting blocks, revolutions, moralities, and philosophies that our current culture and society parades around like next year's fashion, perhaps the best question that we can put forth is, "What's the point?"
I recently read an article in the August edition of Chronicles, a monthly mag that I don't always agree with but I still heartily recommend, and found its author (Thomas Flemming, the mag's editor) implicitly agreeing with Chesterton's What's Wrong With the World, where Mr. Chesterton states in the first chapter that what is wrong is that "nobody knows what is right," i.e., no one has an ideal, an end game, a goal, a purpose that their energies are aiming for. As Mr. Flemming stresses, we would do well to ask "what's the good of" all the scared cows and beloved dogmas of the current trend-setters and socio-political philosophers.
Of course, if this question is posed, people on every side of multiple different fences will fire back with culturally approved buzz words like "growth" or "prosperity" or "equality" or "liberty" or "freedom" or whatnot. These words, however, do not solve the problem; they only push it further and reveal a peculiar ignorance (and subsequent arrogance) of our time, viz., that the things that those words signify are goods in and of themselves. Thus, if we ask someone, "What's the good of growth, etc?" they will probably have no answer, other than that those things are good, which they are not.
That last statement may seem odd (maybe even blasphemous), but it should be an obvious truth. Those things are not goods unto themselves; they are goods only in regards to their ability to secure another good. In other words, they are means, not ends. "Prosperity" and "liberty" are meant to achieve something other than themselves. What exactly is the identity of that "other" thing is up for debate; the point here is that no one even debates it precisely because they view the means as ends and thus can see nothing beyond them. The result is that we have a slew of methods, but no ideal to apply them to; we have more than enough tools, but nothing to build.
Growth, prosperity, etc. must have an ideal that sets their energy and movements within a proper context. Left to themselves, they hopelessly degrade into all manner of evils that have and will continue to plague mankind from one end of history to another. So "growth," left to itself, becomes greed. "Prosperity" becomes decadence and apathy. "Equality" becomes conformity and tyranny. "Liberty" becomes licence. "Freedom" becomes anarchy. Set outside of a clear-cut goal and guidelines, these things run wild, and cause massive damage after creating pleasure for a season.
The next time the gurus of the modern/post-modern dark ages, both inside and outside the Church, come to us whispering sweet nothings, it would be wise of us to check our itching ears at the door and instead ask them what exactly is going on? What's the point? What's the good of it? What's your goal, your aim, your ideal? "What do you want?" said Christ. We would do well to ask the same question. Even if the ideas presented to us (after much tiresome digging) are not at all what we would call ideal, at least then we have something with which to wrestle with and talk about. Until then, this society will continue to go nowhere at all as it has no ideal or goal, only pleasant feelings in the pit of their stomachs over wonderful soundbites and bumper-sticker slogans.

-Jon Vowell

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Trinity: Argument from Beauty

The following musings are the result of reading some of Jonathan Edward's thoughts on the nature of beauty, specifically an essay called "The Beauty of the World" and a piece called "Excellency" (which is a subset of an essay called "The Mind"). After reading these two selection and carefully dissecting them (quite an arduous task), I stumbled upon what seemed to be a small side argument for the existence of the Trinity. I'm not saying that the argument is gospel, but I did find it interesting, and I thought I might share it.

In summary, beauty (or "excellency") is a type of proportion, regularity, equality, and/or symmetry between individual elements of reality, while ugliness is the opposite of such (disproportion, irregularity, etc.). In other words, beauty is order and structure (which Edwards called "being"), while ugliness is disorder or chaos (which I'm calling "nothing"). In addition, the more an object increases in these qualities, the more pleasure it produces to the subject; conversely, the more it decreases in these qualities, the more pain it produces. Still with me? Good, let's move on then.
The reason pleasure and pain is produced is because the more and object increases in proportion, etc., the closer it gets to absolute order (which Edwards called "Being"), which is the highest and most excellent good; likewise, the more it decreases, the farther it gets from absolute order and the closer it gets to absolute disorder or chaos (which I'm calling "Nothing"), which is the lowest and most debased evil. In short, the imitation of the Good produces pleasure and the imitation of the Bad produces pain. Still got it? Great, let's keep going.
Now here is where the argument begins. Edwards calls this increase of proportion, etc., the "consent of being," i.e., beauty is consensual. This is because proportion, etc., necessarily requires two or more parties: a circle is "symmetrical" only after you divide it into two or more parts and compare the parts to each other. As Edwards put it, an aboslute whole (or a "singular") can only be beautiful/excellent by a "consent of its parts," i.e., because its oneness contains a "plurality." Thus, a "singular" without a plurality necessarily cannot be beautiful because beauty is contingent upon proportion, etc., which is contingent upon consent, which implies plurality. Therefore, beauty necessarily implies plurality. As Edwards put it, a singular "that is absolutely without any plurality cannot be excellency, for there can be no such thing as consent or agreement."
Perhaps you are beginning to see where the argument is going. If we admit that God is the Creator of all things, He is therefore necessarily the source of all things (i.e., all things come from Him). That means that whatever can be found in reality finds its absolute realization in Him. For example (and in regards to the argument), if we find beauty (proportion, etc.) in reality, then that necessarily means that beauty is in God as well (albeit, in an absolute sense, i.e., Beauty, or to use Edwards' term, "Being"). However, if beauty necessarily implies plurality, then that means that in order for God to be the source of beauty, He too must be a plurality; or, to phrase it another way, for God to be the source of beauty, His oneness must necessarily contain a plurality. Question: What do we call it when God's oneness contains a plurality?

A: The Trinity. I rest my case.

Caveat Emptor: This post is about how the nature of beauty could possibly give us reason to believe in the Trinity. This post does not presume to explain how this oneness/plurality dynamic works in detail within the Godhead. Thus, I don't need any of you nit-pickers out there getting hung up on my use of words like "divide," divided," and "parts." I am not making a comment on how the thing works; I'm simply stating what may be a reason to believe that the thing is real.
-Jon Vowell

A Nugget (food for thought)

Related to this post.

Rabid post-modern emergent Christianity and rabid militant atheism have this in common: both are prideful rebellion against God. The former's pride exalts man's experiential subjectivity above God, while the latter's exalts man's fallen and limited intellect. The former interprets God through their individualistic experiences, while the latter interprets through strictly naturalistic scientism. Neither one allows God to interpret Himself by His own revelations (viz., the Bible). Thus, they exalt themselves into God's position, which is the very essence of pride itself.

-Jon Vowell

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Truth About Truth (or, Fighting for Virginity)

To say that modern man has lost any true desire for truth is more of an over-simplification than an understatement. Read any popular magazine, newspaper, or blog article, and you will find this or that party or group clamoring for “the truth” or “the facts” of the matter or issue currently in fashion. Much to the chagrin of post-modern sentimentalist (from religious emergents to political pundits), the average person still wants the truth and nothing but the truth. As Chesterton put it, they want to close their minds on something solid. This, of course, is a characteristic common to all of mankind, though recently we have done our very best to hide it. As much as stuffy academics and snobby coastal elitist speak to the contrary, the truth is that we still believe in truth, a fact easily verifiable at every drive-thru, playground, or family reunion across the globe. Thus, it is a bit over-simplistic to say that modern man has lost a desire for truth, as though to say that they are fundamentally illogical and irrational, when the truth is that all humans are fundamentally (though incompletely) logical and rational. The deeper reality of this issue is not that we do not desire truth per se, but rather that we desire truth to be ultimately unobtrusive to ourselves, to be uncomplicated and tidy. We want the truth, but we also want the truth to be simple; and as Mr. Wilde once said, the truth is never simple.
An example is in order, and it must be a rather frank one so that I may have your attention. There is a slogan I saw recently, plastered across some demonstrator’s sign like typical asinine bumper-sticker philosophies, that said, “Fighting for Peace is like F—king for Virginity.” Of course, the unidentified demonstrator did not edit any of his obscenities, but I have; I want to capture your attention, not drive it away. I find this slogan to be a bit odd, precisely because it seems to make sense on the surface but is utterly absurd reasoning when one actually thinks about it. It looks simple enough: it is a comparison of opposites in a causal relationship; “fighting” cannot lead to “peace” anymore than sex can lead to virginity (though Donne may like to argue that latter point) because both sets contain opposites. So far, this is all smooth sailing, or so we initially think.
Thinking, however, is a dangerous business, and whether it is domesticated or left wild, it can pull down strongholds all the same. For example, when one actually thinks through the slogan for a moment, it seems that those who claim that you cannot fight for peace understand neither peace nor fighting. Fighting, in its proper sense, is not primarily destructive; it is primarily preservative in that it fights against that which is destructive. This is common sense: a man fights for his home or wife and children, not for the burglar that has broken down his door; it is the burglar that he fights against. Of course there are exceptions, but this is the rule: fighting strives to maintain what the fighter views as good, right, and proper. Likewise, peace, in its proper sense, is not the absence of conflict; in truth, it is not an absence at all. It is a presence, a presence of justice and wisdom and virtue, etc.; in short, it is the presence of all things commonly held as good, right, and proper. I am quite sure that a mere glance at any brutal despotism in history will easily yield times that contained what can be called an “absence of conflict,” but it most assuredly had no peace, because that which is good, right, and proper had been suppressed or outright removed (sometimes, ironically, in the name of peace!). European appeasement of Nazi Germany certainly created an “absence of conflict,” but not peace. An “absence of conflict” is more often a sign of passivity than peace.
Thus, if we view “fighting” as the maintenance of that which is good, right, and proper against that which would destroy it, and if we view “peace” as the presence of that which is good, right, and proper, then there is no reason to believe that one cannot “fight for peace.” To say otherwise is like someone saying that St. George cannot slay the dragon in order to save the princess because princess rescuing and dragon slaying are somehow opposite, which is an obviously absurd statement. In fact, take the earlier mentioned slogan, replace the phrase “Fighting for Peace” with “Slaying Dragons for the Princess,” read it again, and you will see how absurd the slogan really is. Of course you can fight for peace; like a princess, it is perhaps the only thing worth fighting for.
That the truth can maintain the intimate bond between “fighting” and “peace” succinctly demonstrates modern man’s problem in regards to the truth: we want it to be not only logical and rational but also manageable and simple. We want it to be plastered across signs and bumper-stickers and metas rather than charted in a book or spiritedly debated over drinks and cigars for days and weeks. From The Daily Show to The O’Reilly Factor, we prefer our discussions in bit-sized chunks, as though we seriously believe that anything substantial could be meted out in five to ten minute intervals. In addition, when we actually do begin to delve into the inky black depths of truth, we are shocked and awed that it is highly complex, even paradoxical (as with “fighting” and “peace”). The truth more often than not frustrates us because it not only wants to have its cake and eat it, but also seems to succeed in that very endeavor.
In short, I said earlier that any disparaging statements about modern man's desire for truth are merely over-simplifications; and they are over-simplifications precisely because the modern world’s notion of what “truth” is is overly simple, some would even say naïve, like a child thinking it can capture The Divine Comedy in a nursery rhyme. If we are to have any truly substantial dialogues about truth that get us anywhere anymore, we must put away our naiveté, tear down our protest signs and bumper-stickers (like modern iconoclasts), and return to the dangerous business of actual thinking (preferably with other people over drinks and cigars) while realizing that the truth is ultimately mysterious in that it is often hidden and always meant to surprise.

-Jon Vowell

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I Couldn't Have Said It Better

See. Christians aren't the only ones who are sick of atheism.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

God Incomprehensible

"The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. [...] This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved."
-from "The Creed of Saint Athanasius," from The Book of Common Prayer

"There is in God (some say) / a deep but dazzling darkness...." -Henry Vaughan, from The Night

"I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you / which shall be the darkness of God." -T.S. Eliot, from East Corker
It is often taught (and correctly so) that the great tragedy and angst of modern man was the loss of God in the midst of the senseless brutality and chaos that was the 20th century. That, however, is the secular reading of events. A sacred reading is far more peculiar (and interesting).
For the Christian, two facts must be realized above all else in regards to that cruel, cruel century: (1) many things came out of it: atheists, agnostics, absurdists, existentialists, nihilists, etc.; and (2) God yet remained in spite of it all. Even after all of those other ideologues went in and out of fashion, each stating in their own way the apparent obviousness of a God-less, senseless, purposeless, absurd universe, God Himself stubborning refused to bow out like a good little boy when He was supposed to. Perhaps it can be argued that we would be much happier if, in the face of 20th century atrocity and mayhem, God had just died like Nietzsche predicted before he himself descended into madness. At least then we would not be left to face the awful burden of trying to reconcile the facts of His character with the facts of our modern lives.
He did not die, however. He is still here, in churches, in classrooms, in debates, in papers, in blogs, in the subconscious, in mouths, and on lips. We are caught in the horrible conundrum of having both the 20th century (with all its inhumanity) and God (with all His holiness) standing side by side, daring us to explain them away, and our reason will fail us yet again in the attempt.
However, God's refusal to go away when history seemingly deemed that He should, His lingering presence in spite of it all, is the salvation of modern society. The God that our parents so easily boxed in, explaining and/or explaining away, has left those boxes in shattered fragments on the ground. Suddenly, the saviors of the modern world (i.e., our meager and limited human reason and science) could no longer serve or save us, as the terrible Almighty is no longer so easily tamed. Whether we believed in Him or not, we thought we had Him wrapped around our finger, safely categorized and defined, and put away in our upper desk drawer. Now, perhaps, with fear and trembling, the realization is dawning on us in the form of a question: if God is still there, even after all that has happened, what are we to do? How can we explain it? The holy places have indeed become dark places, and we are lost in their shadow.
It is this darkness, this necessary element of mystery, that could very well be the salvation of our current generation. It is possible that the Emergents (for all of their heresy) are actually right, though not quite like they planned. Uncertainty, mystery, can possibly bring back our sense of worship, our capacity for pleasure and pain. Not uncertainty per se, but rather the radically orthodox ascertain that (aside from what He reveals to us) the ways of God are actually mysterious, with the end game hidden deep within the shadow of the Almighty. Christianity has traditionally always been comfortable with the incomprehensible; perhaps it's time we passed that comfort around.
The reasserting by the Church of the mystery of God may be the very spark of the sun that sends a piercing stab of light into the prison-like dark ages that is modernity. We have often been caught with our pants down as we frantically try to explain (as our parents did) the absolute uttermost of the divine mind. As necessary as I find apologetics, perhaps they have deadened us to the fact that God (as He is now revealed to us) is not completely knowable. In light of this, perhaps what this world needs more of is not lengthy and desperate explanations about things that we don't know, but rather the reassertion of some facts that we do know; namely, that we are indeed in the hand of the living God, whose "thoughts are unsearchable" and whose "ways are past finding out" (Rom. 11:33).
Come, brothers and sisters, and let the awesome mystery of God silence the skepticism of fools. Let the horror of His great darkness confound the disillusioned self-confidence of the post-modern wise-man, and let the "foolishness of preaching" once again save many (I Cor. 1:21). God has never let his people get away with easy belief. He will seemingly stack the deck against Himself, all the while eyeing us intently, refusing to explain Himself, and constantly asking, "Do you trust me?" What this world needs is the reassertion of faith; not blind ignorance, but rather the trust in the mysterious God who is still there and is still not silent.

-Jon Vowell

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thoughts in the Night (or, Perhaps)

To be human is to exist in the tension between despising the world as it is and knowing that you can do nothing about it. Perhaps that is why suicide is so damnable: it is a rejection of your humanity, of that glorious struggle against that which cannot be beaten, i.e., the world as it is.
Cooperation as redemption is a lie because cooperation is not possible. History is littered with examples of where humanity, in a glorious attempt to coalesce and rise out of the ashes, is immediately consumed by some former or new ill unperceived and yet somehow of our own making. Perhaps history is no more than collective humanity's record of when and where it slits its own throat.
Perhaps the image of the ghost is apropos for humanity: unreality trapped in ceaseless deathlessness. Like all ghosts, we are bound by some damnable link to the region of our demise where we walk as disembodied shades in the night; and no matter how many times we band together in humanistic coalitions, we remain in the land of the dead.
Yet the image of the phoenix is apropos as well, for it is a startling quintessence of human nature: hope that never dies, the indomitable spirit. Beneath (and perhaps in the midst of) our troubled layers, there still burns a last vestige of desire, a yet unyielding ember that dreams of restoration, eucatastrophe, redemption, victory. When the breath of God blows on that dying coal, what a fire it kindles!
It is indeed victory that God promises those who follow Him; not meaningless words and phrases, but victory, final and sweet. Victory over the world, victory over death, victory over guilt, victory over the monsters, victory over all the things that have haunted mankind out of the depths of our dark antiquity. That is perhaps the greatest goodness that the gospel produces.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Told You So

Back in 2007, in the hey day of "The Counter Hour Movement" and other such collegic oddities, I wrote a blog entry titled “The Direction of a Certain Liberal Arts College,” or something like that. In it I said basically everything that a friend of mine said (although she said it with much more detail and passion than I). In this long lost entry, I made a prediction of sorts that went something like this: due to the current misguided and destructive administrative agenda foisted upon the college, within ten years Crichton College will be no more.

I made that prediction at the end of ’07. Crichton officially folded at the beginning of ’09. I suppose a little over a year is “within” ten years.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I seem to recall that Crichton didn’t have financial problems. Yes, we were a small college. Yes, we sometimes felt like we were running on a shoestring budget at times; but ultimately the college soldiered on with fresh tuition and interested donors. Why? My fervent claim is because we knew who we were and what we were about, and that identity gave us strength.

What exactly were we? Well, we were not an urban missions hub. We were not an open door, pandering, lackluster academic institution. We were not a ‘jonnie-come-lately” to bigger, badder Christian universities. We were not a collection of “recovering racists.” We were a Christian Liberal Arts college, dedicated to academic excellence and strong spiritual development. We were dedicated to the bizarre and absurd proposition that our students could change the world, not through racial reconciliation, not through education to all regardless of their academic credentials (e.g., can they even write?), not through urban development, not through “reaching upward,” but through critical thinking and spiritual growth. That, of course, is the hidden truth behind Crichton’s old motto (does anybody even remember it?): “Think Critically, Grow Spiritual, Change the World.”

This sense of academic excellence and strong spiritual development, this love of learning and love of God, was the sole tie that bound us together. We didn't need racial reconciliation awareness, we didn't need “red revolutions,” we didn't need open dialogue. All we needed was that beautiful scholasticism, the dance of faith and reason. We were united as thinkers and saints; we became divided as whites and blacks, “snobs” and “victims,” “Pharisees” and everyone else, and a house divided against itself never stands. Perhaps, just perhaps, if Crichon had not lost that initial vision and purpose, if it had not lost its mind, then perhaps the board of directors (when deciding the fate of Crichton's Liberal Arts program) would have found something worth saving. Apparently, they didn't, and that to our shame.

Farewell, dear Crichton. We knew thee well and loved thee more, though many loved you less.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Behold the Modern Man

Spoken by Malcolm Muggeridge from the book "Seeing Through the Eye: Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith":
It has become abundantly clear in the second half of the twentieth century that Western Man has decided to abolish himself. Having wearied of the struggle to be himself, he has created his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, his own vulnerability out of his own strength; himself blowing the trumpet that brings the walls of his own city tumbling down, and, in a process of auto-genocide, convincing himself that he is too numerous, and labouring accordingly with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer in order to be an easier prey for his enemies; until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keels over a weary, battered old brontosaurus and becomes extinct.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Read it and Weep

All I can say is that it's about time someone said it.

Though I am a Conservative (more precisely, a Federalist Republican Conservative), I have avoided like the plague discussions about President Bush amongst my peers and even my friends precisely because nobody engages in a serious and honest discussion about him. Everyone either melts into a stinking pile of irrational and virile hatred, or they try and be both clever and popular by taking seemingly innocuous pot-shots at the man with either irrelevancies (like his supposed speech impediment) or media-perpetuated myths (like "cowboy diplomacy" or "spying on Americans"). Throughout the fashionable days of Bush-bashing, I found myself forced to sit back and keep my mouth shut.
However, now that Bush is on his way out, and everyone is going gaga over the newly Anointed One (I swear, the guy's more popular than Jesus right now), I will fling my cards on the table, if for no other reason than to hear myself state what I have believed for eight years:
I do not agree with everything that Bush did (illegal immigration policies, some expansion of government, and lack of communication with the American people to name a few), but I honestly believe that come some ten to twenty years down the road (maybe even sooner), we will look back on the Bush presidency and realize that it wasn't even 1/100th as bad as we were lead to believe. We will look back with shame at calling his presidency "the worst in American history," and will return that particular infamy back to where it belongs: with Jimmy Carter. We will look back with regret at how unfairly and cruelly we treated a man who protected this nation for eight years and struck fear into the hearts of our enemies. We will look back in anger at not only the deceptive media who lead us along in Bush-bashing like lambs to the slaughter, but also at ourselves for being so easily strung along. That is what I believe. The man was not perfect (who is?), but I vehemently deny that he was the devil incarnate, an idiot, or any of the other disgraceful epitaphs that have been shameful dumped upon him by an atrocious media, pinheaded west/east coast elites, and a foolish American public. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.