To be, or not to be, that is the question.
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep.
This is ridiculous. I’m going to try and live blog the RZIM triaining day – Relatively Godless. With Michael Ramsden speaking at, I expect, his usual machine gun pace this could prove impossible. Anyway, some worship to get us going, (I’m not going to live blog that).
Session 1 Michael Ramsden on Objectification
Session 2 Tom Price on Downloading Hope
Session 4 – Sharon Dirckx: The morality of God, responding to objections to God’s character
Michael Ramsden starting off with the topic of Objectification: From connection to consumerism
When considering the day, thought about talking about morals, but if we advertised it as such people would think we were rushing to certain issues and asking whether they are write or wrong. Instead we wanted to take a step back and see a much bigger picture. Schaeffer: “We never see the totality of reality”, this allows us to pick and choose.
Today we’ll think about the table top rather than the issues that are on the table. What does it mean to say that relationship is possible, rather than think about particular moral quandaries. When we think about love, we are asking, what does it mean to be moral personable beings in relationship with one another.
What happens when we have a lack of clarity that leads to confusion, when we see moral contradiction and think that none of it makes sense. What does it mean, as we look to the future, to have hope faced with the world around us? Are we just enduring, waiting for it to end or find a way out?
Is there is a place, a necessity, to look at the world with a strong view of morality, and what is lost if we lose it? What does it mean when we think about love and relationship? Think about Jesus and the prostitute anointing his feet, would we try and stop her from doing it? Would we get in the way? We’re in a culture of contradiction when people will condemn those that make pornography available, but consume it in secret.
1 Corinthians 13. There is a structure surrounding it, in chapter 11 focused on men and women in worship, in 12 on spiritual gifts, and negative issues, chapter 13 on love, then spiritual gifts and positive issues and then about men and women in worship. Within chapter 13 there is a similar 5 part subdivision.
Verse 3 of chapter 13, is it give up my body so it may be burnt (as in traditional translations), or boast? Early translations were boast, but from 5th Century burnt came into usage. Paul wrote this around 50AD, at this time Christians weren’t being burnt for their faith. Boasting can be seen as a negative thing, not something to be promoted, Paul can’t mean this so it must be about something else. Paul talks elsewhere about boasting about the church on the last day of judgement. He wants to be able to boast in what God has done in and through us on the final day. When the truth comes out it is something to be celebrated.
Even if, on that day, he is able to talk positive about you, but it has not happened in love, then I have gained nothing. It’s not that you are nothing, but that he has gained nothing. If the gospel Paul taught was taken, and received, but was not done in love, then he gains nothing.
Love as the way that connects everything else, the high mountain pass, it is what makes sense of everything else.
The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, shows a increased disapproval of adultery, and a lower level of lifetime sexual partners than ten years before. But the reason love and the breakdown of relationships is the major topics of much of cultural communications , covered in TV, films, newspapers. The worst thing that can be said about relationships is that we have been used. We’re not used to talking about people as objects, instead we think of them as subjects. If we use a hammer to hammer in a nail there is no problem, if we use a person we do. We have a problem when a person is used in an non-personal manner.
Non-personable objects do not have dreams and hopes of their own. But personable objects do have their own hopes and dreams. We are capable of disappointment. The Latin word behind consume literally means, to use. What does it mean to consume, or to use, in the sexual realm. In the sexual realm it is very obvious that people can be used in a way that is non-personable. We fool ourselves into acting in a way that is loving and intimate, but actually we are using them and violating their own hopes and dreams.
When we talk about love in a consumption culture we have a problem that we live in a scientific material culture. Is it simply that we exist to allow our reproductive organs to do their job, does this explain ageing, that once we’ve reproduced we lose purpose? Once we go down this path re reduce ourselves to bio-mechanical machines.
Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged – I’d gladly give up everything in my life except that I am a luxury object for your amusement. The morally dishonest people, in her view, are those who talk about love, and marriage, and friendship. These are things we use to get what we want. The honest people take what they want and use it. The rapist is the morally pure actor because he knows what he wants and he takes it and isn’t lying about marriage and love and friendship.
Grey’s Anatomy – you have sexual urges, I have sexual urges, and there’s a broom closet over there, I’ll see you in a few minutes.
When we use the word hypocrite we elevate behaviour, you say this but don’t do that. Alternatively you could reduce the standard. We now live in a culture that reduces standards, and to not be hypocritcal means to not have standards of behaviour.
This makes all forms of traditional intimacy outside of the physical impossible. Loving intimacy that is more than getting what we want or desire falls by the wayside. The marketing character only sees value in themselves as far as they see value in themselves that others are willing to pay for it. Oliver James, picking up on that we think about people as resources – i.e. Human Resources departments. From Affluenza:
Sin dehumanises people, we use them in the hope to feel better about ourself. It isn’t just that intimacy is destroyed, what it means to be human is destroyed.
Coming back to 1 Corinthians 13: the first and last part of the first half of the chapter talk about love, patience and both imply a sort of seeking. They have different meanings, at the start patiences is to create a large amount of distance between you and an event. David, when faced with the opportunity to kill Saul, has a distance from the anger that he feels, and the activity which he decides is best. Instead of acting out of anger he acts on reflection. The second and later use of patiences is often referred to as enduring, as being under something, not an English notion of grinning and bearing it.
The first sort of patience is what we need if we have power, the second if we are the victim, or enduring through it. Both require the bigger picture.
Love does not calculate wrongs. Do we maintain a record of what people have done, do we recall it and act off it? Love covers all, in the Greek, love doesn’t leak. We protect against leaks to either keep something in or keep something out, both senses are meant by this word. The love that we get from God covers us and protects us (i.e. keeps out the rain), but it is also meant to keep something in, conceals something, God asks us to give him the treasures of his heart and they will not leak out, they will remain.
Love speaks into the challenge we face today as a culture. When we talk about the moral table top one of the purposes is that it allows intimacy and relationship. This is because a moral commitment is both made and kept. The hallmark of any loving relationship is that it delights itself in the other.
As Paul talks in 1 Corinthians, he talk about love and that he would be like a hammered brass if he did not have it. Later he talks about looking in a mirror dimly. Right in the middle of Corinth is a statue and she is holding a hammered sheet in which you can see your reflection. When you went to get a mirror the merchants would carve images of your gods, so yours would be seen alongside theirs.
When Paul says we see in a mirror darkly we see both ourselves, and in some way God himself. Because it is polished brass we only see dimly. But one day the mirror will be taken away and we will see God in the way that he now sees us.
Why does Paul end on this note? In the middle of chapter 13, ‘love is not self seeking’, love is not seeking to find fulfilment in itself. Love is found by looking into the very face of God and letting that reflect back. It applies both a reflection and a goal, ‘this is what my life should be like’.
The purpose of relationships in a world when use becomes the way we think about peopl,e we no longer connect with them, but they become objects of our consumption.
We live in a world when we are increasingly defining ourself by consumption, one in which we are used, and willing to use other. The consequences could be catastrophic. Our response should not be to make a serious of moral judgements, but by focussing on what love is like. When we see that, we see the love of Christ, and when in turn we speak to issues we speak in a way that is modelled by the love of Christ.
Session 2 Tom Price – Downloading Hope: The challenge of emerging technologies
CS Lewis wanted to interact through his stories with science, and what science authors were writing about. HG Wells was very clearly in his sights.
Modernity says that we should analyse aa problem, a challenge to nature, for example death. We will analyse it and using our tools we will figure it out, and using those tools we will master it. Worldviews sooner or later come to be expressed in visual forms. The symbol of modernity, if anything is of the Archimedean man. Science fiction was written from this perspective that we will master space and it our own.
Lewis wanted to create a positive, theistic, science fiction. He wasn’t anti science but wanted to challenge whether science had ran ahead of our ability to consider the moral and ethical framework in which to use those technologies. Where we don’t have a system of regulation, are we just trying to bolt the stable door after the horse has bolted?
He was doing what Paul was doing, he was going to where they were in culture and building common ground. He was writing about what they were interested about but he was also challenging and subverting, and levering open the door just enough to provide a picture of hope.
CS Lewis’ third part of his science fiction trilogy, That Hideous Strength. The NICE (national institute for coordinated experiments) recruits the main character, he knows he is selling out, but wants to be important. He lacks noble thoughts, but wants to know what he will be doing, Lewis identifies the masks and power plays, and shows how language becomes a power play. No one can work out what the boss says but knows that it is laden with threat. Lewis calls it verbicide, the lethal separation of words and meaning, the powerful use language to exercise control over those without power.
The contrast between the good guys and the NICE is stark, the NICE dehumanises people by not taking them seriously, they treat them as objects. The good guys genuinely value people (and animals) for what the are.
CS Lewis was prophetic in seeing that humans do not want to die and will use technology to try and give themselves the gift of immortality. Evolutionary humanism, Julian Huxley, since biology and evolution culminated in the creation of man, then there are further developments ahead of us. Today they are many people considering and studying this, it is now known as trans-humanism.
It is a moral and ethical framework of what you can and cannot do, but also an anthropology about who and what we are. A reimagining of the Archimedian man, but with a robot instead of a human in the middle of the circle. In the Iron Man films, the posture Stark adopts when he transforms is of the Archimedian man. For the trans-humanist there is no divide between the natural and the unnatural.
While only slowly growing in academic spheres, for example Nick Bostrom, it is widespread in films and contemporary media.
Worldwide humanism: we believe that humanity’s potential is mostly unfulfilled. Nick Bostrom writes back to himself, calling on us to help us bring him into existence. A determination to gain power over our fate. Trying to bring everything under our will. Another name for someone with everything under their will is god.
There is no distinction for trans-humanists between natural and unnatural technological advances, therefore why not augment our body’s functions?
In the future parents will be expected to use technologies to bring about offspring that have enhanced capabilities. Being a generally libertarian movement it probably wouldn’t enforce it, but it would be expected.
Human character development is cut short by ageing, what would Mozart or Beethoven be like if they had carried on living? The promise of this gives us reason to try and do this. 98 individuals have already undergone cryogenic freezing in one centre, the hope is that one day technology will enable them to come back to life, the use of nanotechnology to create molecule level sized robots and use them to manipulate physical reality with the precision of a programmable machine. Nanobots could be used to create a 3D image before your eyes which is indistinguishable from our vision.
What if this goes wrong? What if they turn everything to goo? It could be a very devastating situation. The hope for those who are frozen is that nanobots heal their internal organs. In That Hideous Strength NICE want to create a robot they can stick the head on. Trans-humanists love the Greek story of Prometheous, stealing the fire from the gods. Is transhumanism atheism without hope? Is it an admission that atheism without transhumanism is lacking something? Is it a technological advance of naturalism?
There are good impulses in transhumanism, God gave us minds and science and we are to use them. The efforts towards better health are noble, but we also need to understand justice, and the impact the technologies will have.
For many of the technologies they are possible within the worldviews we already have. Even if only a little is put into practice it poses serious questions, that we are in a different era and relationship with technology. Should we augment our abilities to enable us to be more effective? How do we make decisions in this context?
The word human refers to more than the bodily form or the rational form, but also the community that unites all men and women on earth (CS Lewis Perelandra).
Part of our humanity is that we are not self sufficient, that we need others, even the help of strangers. John confronted the gnostics of his day, arguing against those who said that Jesus didn’t come as God in flesh. Jesus, through his incarnation, atonement and redemption affirms the body. Our motivation should be that we are dying to self, not more of us, but less of us and more of you (God). We are surrendering to God that he can be our shepherd and determine when we live and die.
Is transhumanism a good stewardship of resources? Mind boggling sums of money being used on it. We live in a world with criminal injustice because the resources are in the wrong place.
Within boundaries, community, being embodied, not escaping God, stewarding resources, global justice, can Christians embrace transhumanist advances? Yes, but only with a careful eye to these challenges.
What is it that provokes us to write angry emails? Maybe there is an opportunity there for us to get involved.
What are we hoping in? What, moment by moment are we putting our trust in? Moment by moment we can live with our hope in technology and mankind. Or is our hope in the Jesus of the Cross?
If transhumanists managed to bring about immortality would we be willing to entrust ourselves to God instead of technology? And will the church be known as the people who die? And would you be willing to be a part of it?
Session 3 – Questions & Answers
The romantic view of love, the idea of a soul partner developed significantly by Mary Shelly. In marriage services usually says ‘Do you take this man… I do”, but Christian marriage service is “will you take this man… I will”. It is a commitment rather than a statement of fact. The idea of love in film and literature is very different than what we see in scripture, we separate our the emotional and physical with the existential and commitment parts of love. In the Bible these aren’t separated out. In contemporary culture we think about love as an all encompassing excuse, it becomes an emotive tone to justify any course of action we felt was right at the time.
Social media is like many parts of culture, what is our approach, is it Pharisaical when we disengage (but smoke still comes under the door), or we gluttonise, we don’t ask questions, but the third is to engage but to walk with holiness through it. Technology presents questions of disclosure and usage, but it is a gift of God for us to steward wisely. Some of the enhancements to relationships is also worth mentioning – adding visual contact for relationships where before it otherwise would be absent. It also shows that we are relational beings, we do want to connect with people as a deep part of our being. A challenge in culture between how we handle the immeddiate and the long term, technology can enslave us when we feel we have to respond immediately and it means we ignore the people we are present with, what Os Guinness describes as the ‘absent generation’.
What are going to be the big issues in future technology? Around communication, around bodily enhancement, some of what is being talked about won’t happen, but some is already. The challenge for us is whether we can ask questions about trans-humanism that question the ends it is working towards. Often we miss what is coming and end up legislating and regulating too late after significant changes have already occurred.
Technological advances are big themes in culture because it addresses big questions about how we will be rescued from our own predicament and darkness.
What are the long term implications of virtual church? If you asked a church leader if he could have large congregation, regular tithes and not have to deal with people then he’d say ‘any day’! But in a consumer driven culture and the idea to use people to make ourselves feel better this can spill over into our relationship with God. We come to church not to connect with people and God, communion, but to consume, and to consume in order to make us feel better about ourself. But church becomes no longer relational. Imagine a child that only comes to a parent for money, parents will often step in, but if that pattern is continued, the only connection is when the child wants something, then the connection becomes meaningless, it is only about what they get out of it. At each iteration it becomes harder to even convince themselves that this is about relationship, but instead about satisfying their need. If church is about consumption then it is a spiritual ATM, we consume and feel better about ourselves, but it becomes meaningless and we start to question why we’re there and whether it is doing any good. Technology can be very meaningful to help people engage with church when they might otherwise be unable to, but if this is the only connection how can it become a meaningful part of the communion of the saints and communion with God. There’s a different between someone who would go if they could and someone who can’t be bothered and is choosing not to make the physical commitment. Sometimes people find church hard to approach because they have been hurt by it, how can we engage with them to help them heal and restore there relationship. Sometimes reluctance to go isn’t about wanting to treat it by an ATM, but also through restored relationship we can deal with pain and hurt and develop a connection with church that is not about consuming.
At what point does a life end, and at what point should we accept the end of life, and when should we do our best to maintain life? An opportunity for the church to say meaningful things into culture, but we have to do significant work to understand the medical issues, the theological ones, and the pastoral concerns.
How do you respond to a person who has genuinely got into a relationship where one partner is using the other, and that’s the only reason they are in the relationship? The idea about annulment is that its lack of consummation or fraud. We’ve lost such sight of what it means to be honest that sometimes we think fraud is okay as long as we’re open about it. You can’t keep relationship if there is no relationship to be kept. What would we do as fathers, brothers, etc, if our children or sisters were being used in a relationship. Our inclination to put people in the fire becomes more tangible. Have we seen people fall in love with someone and is convinced that the other person is in love with them when they are not? Have you ever tried speaking the person, and has it gone well? If we’re trying to speak into these situations our task is to bring a mirror so they see what is going on rather than what they think is going on. The difficulty comes that we tell ourselves lies about that which we want to be true even when it patently is not. The use of stories and questions are often the best approach and what is seen in scripture. We need to help people see how moral judgements are found, often in parallel spheres, and then how that applies to their lives. No one should be expected to go through something along, the church community is vital.
The nature of Christian apologetics, often about excellence, about having excellent minds, and being able to deal on a parity with their attackers. How do we deal with the potential lust for excellence? How do you balance wanting to be excellent without falling into the lust for that? Every idea and gift that we have is a gift from Jesus. None of us deserve to be here, doing this, if we have the right heart, which is focused on the gospel, if we acknowledge we do not have a right to goodness or power, if we start from that perspective and use them from an attitude of worship, then we are come to a situation from a place of a beggar who has found food. If we approach apologetics from a point of humility, that it is a gift and a spiritual practice, then that shapes the attitude with which we do apologetics. That pushes us to ask for an even better apologetic and the ability and opportunity to give even better answers. Knowledge can puff up and lead to pride, but with worship and positioned in the scriptures we can have the right attitude.
Session 4 – Sharon Dirckx: The morality of God: responding to objections to God’s character
What questions would young children like to ask about dinosaurs? How did dinosaur’s turn into fossils, how did they die out, how did the T-Rex go to the toilet? The questions we ask show what we want to know about God, others, and ourselves. The questions we ask God instruct us about ourselves. Many of these are objections to God’s morality: I am a good person, isn’t this enough for God, why does God allow suffering? Beneath many questions is the idea of God restricting freedom, God’s responsibility for suffering.
If God is so powerful why does he not stop evil? Is God lazy, has favourites, with a split personality? What if God is not loving but indifferent? Why doesn’t God do something, or is he inactive, those who do nothing in the face of evil are also responsible for evil.
Suffering is not just an intellectual question. We see it in the world around us and we see it in our own lives. We see loneliness, depression, grief, long term illness, family breakdown, stress. In an age when science should be able to do anything why are so many people faced with the answer: “there is nothing we can do for you”. As we look at suffering not saying we have the answers, it often remains a mystery, but not having all the answers does not mean we have no answers at all or should remain silent. Just because we cannot say everything does not mean we cannot say anything. There often are things we can say, often sharing from our own experience.
1.) If we have ever asked why, have we thought about to whom we are addressing the question? If we do not believe in God then we do not have anyone to address the question of God’s inaction, suffering is only a problem if we believe God exists.
2.) We hold God to absolute standards, we invoke a morality for God that we would shun for ourselves. We only want morality when we want God to answer to it. Either morality exists and it applies to both God and man, or it does not. The very question the new atheists ask of God have no meaning if they do not apply them to both. Do we realise moral absolutes are being invoked and where are these coming from? One popular view is that they come from within, what is right for you is right for you but may not be the moral right for me. But what if that brings harm to someone else? Looter in 2011 saw an opportunity not to be missed, but was outraged at the thought that his own house would be looted. We change our view of what is right and wrong when they affect ourselves. There’s a view that maximum individual freedom will lead to maximum freedom as a society, instead it leads to anarchy.
There is a second view that natural process has developed a sense of what is right depending on what aids the survival of the human species. We cannot get is from ought. Science encumbers knowledge, factual statements about what is. Ethics talks about what ought to be, but you cannot derive ethics from science. You can describe beauty of science but you cannot build a foundation of ethics from science. It is hard to account for acts of altruism from natural processes, the old, the infirm would be a burden on the evolutionary process. Caring for one another is hard to explain, and atrocities become justifiable if they help the human race to survive. If it is random and unguided then there is nothing to derive either from the direction of evolution or the product it reveals. If you derive morality from biology it could go in a different direction dependent on how evolution progressed.
But instead, goodness is derived from God, the being who is the ultimate definition of good and imprinted those values on the people he made. Evil is not just the absence of good, but the presence of evil. The Christian says that it is the reality of God that enables us to see somethings as wrong and call evil evil. We have a crucial role in asking questions of what views of morality we are talking about and what the implications of those views of morality are.
Our capacity to live out the truth is a marker of its truth. The idea there are no moral absolutes might work in the academic context but it doesn’t work in the world around us. Police need no convincing of the existence of evil because it is what requires their job. The capacity to live out a belief is testament to its truthfulness.
3.) Do we have a distorted view of God’s character or morality? It is what the serpent sought to do in the Garden of Eden, by distorting the image of a God of love and freedom into something who is restrictive and power hungry. Many of our problems can be traced back to four words “Did God really say?”. Our role as apologists is to put the words of God back into their proper context, to show that God is trustworthy. It is our task to show that we are trustworthy, and the God we claim to represent is too. Are we misunderstood in our own minds about God’s character? What is the first thing that comes into our mind when we think about God? Tozer: this tells us the most important thing about us. What we believe about the character of God will impact our effectiveness as witnesses. Part of what it means to grow as a disciple is to develop an understanding of God that is less tarnished by the world and more informed by him.
What are the common objections that people have?
How could a loving God allow people to suffer? Imagine for a moment that you are God and given the task of creating the world, you are given just one thing to uphold, it must be the most loving, moral, thing it could be? How would you set up the world? Would you include water, without which there would not be life, but with which there is risk of drowning? Would you exclude physical pain, which would prevent them from knowing when something is wrong?
Would you make people selfish or selfless or both? Creating a perfect world is less straightforward. Would an alternative world be better than the one we have with real freedom and real evil?
1. We could have a world without freedom, if every decision leading to evil stopped. If every gun about to be fired stopped, if every urge to cheat stemmed, if every thought overruled. It is hard to imagine such a hypothetical world, but it could lead to a sense of meaningless and contempt for a God that treats people like puppets or pieces on a chess board. Why would we be willing to attribute an unethical use of power to God?
2. We could have a world in which people always choose the good. But this would not be a world with real moral freedom. God can not both assign freedom and control it. God cannot do the nonsensical. .We can attribute miracles to God but not nonsense… meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two words “God can”‘ (CS Lewis The Problem of Pain).
3. We could have a world with an appearance of freedom. The Truman Show. We want Truman to have real freedom, hiding the truth requires dishonesty and deception, it would not be a more moral world than we have now.
The God who is love has created a world where people have real moral freedom because the most loving world is one where people are able to make their own choices. Much suffering occurs because of wrong choice.
Have we ever asked whether we are responsible for anyone’s suffering? When we suffer at the hands of other people it isn’t a personal punishment from God for something you need to learn that others do not but it is a consequence of the fact we are given real moral freedom.
Does God care about our suffering? Saying get well soon is all very well when you have a broken leg but not when the doctors have said there is nothing they can do. If God is real, what is his reaction to our suffering? It’s all very well saying he has given us freedom but he hasn’t had to experience it, why doesn’t he do something?
To ask this question in most other religions means you are only part way there, you’re asking personal questions. Eastern thought is about discarding the personal. Where then does our personal question find its home? Where can it stand? The place it finds a home is in the place where God has become as personal as he can be by stepping onto earth as the person of Jesus Christ, by raising the dead, healing the sick, restoring dignity, knowing what it is like to suffer, experience grief, anger and be close to the broken hearted. He experience much of what we do. And beyond that, he willingly went to death to deal with the root cause of our suffering. The Christian religion has at its centre a God who was arrested and tried unfairly, betrayed by Judas, sentenced to death, who experienced every form of suffering, disowned by Peter, deserted by everyone else, flagged and beaten, and left to die. Jesus is not familiar with suffering in an academic sense, but he has experienced it himself.
The greatest form of suffering, what no movie can portray, is the utter aloneness, of what it felt like to be without the father. To bear the weight of every sinful choice, and to be judged for all that we have done. Jesus was separated from the father, so that when we suffer we never have to be separated from God unless we choose to say no thank you and do it our own way. Sometimes suffering does wash over us, but there is no trauma too deep that God cannot pull us out of.
The amazing thing is that God did all of this without destroying our freedom. The ultimate purpose of being given moral freedom is that we would use it to choose God.
If God was so powerful why doesn’t he remove evil altogether? How do you fix a broken story? Atheism tells you there are many individual stories so we should make the most of what we have now. Eastern thought says there are repeated stories that we can hope to improve in the future, that our deeds in this life will help the next.
Christianity says we are part of a bigger story, one in which evil has been defeated, and the reason it hasn’t been fully removed is to offer the opportunity for many to see the one who defeated evil. One day there will be no more pain, sorrow or pain. And through Christ it is possible until that day to know forgiveness, comfort and hope.
3 thoughts on “Relatively Godless: To Be Or Not To Be – live blog”
Reblogged this on apologetics workshop and commented:
Live Blog of RZIM’s triaining day – Relatively Godless…
Wow, pretty impressive live-blogging!
[…] want. This is a problem that is legion across out culture and he is right to point it out. At the RZIM training day on Saturday Michael Ramsden addressed this point, when we treat church and its component parts as something we […]