RESPONDblog: Why is there Something Rather than Nothing?

gervais

I found this discussion on prime time US TV to be pretty fascinating! I’m always pleased to see when discussion about God comes out of the private places and into the public square where it belongs.

Ricky’s a sharp and witty comedian…and I do enjoy his irreverent humor. But I honestly find his atheism troubling. Not because I find his arguments compelling…its just the way he immediately seems closed to the idea of God.

I thought Colbert asked a great question out of the gate on his show…and he let Ricky off very lightly by allowing him to sidestep his good question.

 

Why is there something instead of nothing?

Why does the universe exist at all? Why are we here?

 

Ricky’s response was,

“That makes no sense at all…surely the bigger question is not why, but how?”

 

Interesting.

 

First – Ricky’s saying first that the question makes no sense. Sure it does. The sentence conforms to the laws of English grammar and syntax. But that’s not what he means. What he means is that naturalism and his materialistic worldview has no good answer to the question “why”. And so rather than admit that, he moves the discussion to “how”. Interesting sleight of hand. But it seems to me that it would have been more honest to admit that he has no answer to the question “why”.

 

Second – he says that the bigger question is not why, but how. Of course…Ricky thinks he’s on solid ground now about the “how” because…well…science. He can engage on that topic because of the great work in cosmology, biology, etc. But is he right? Is “how” a bigger question? I personally don’t think so.

  • Human beings have been asking “why” for millennia. It’s the oldest philosophical question. And I’ve experienced the “why” question many times in my discussions with atheists to this day. “Why” always matters to people – whether you have an answer or not.
  • Why do we exist? That is MASSIVE. I think its short sighted to skip that one because it feeds directly into our own purpose in life. Are you saying you don’t care about that?

 

Personally – I’m of the opinion that BOTH the “why” AND the “how” are important questions. And rather than dodge them…we need to work on them. Maybe we don’t have all the answers yet – which is why we are working on them. David Robertson makes an interesting point,

“Don’t be so dismissive of the very questions that make us human.   Humans are the only animal who ask the why question.  Please don’t dehumanise us.”[1]

Too right – you are worth more than that, Ricky.

 

I also love the part in the interview when Ricky says,

“Can you prove there is a God? You say no. So I don’t believe you.”

I’ve hit this so many times myself. And it’s like…we are stuck together in this odd discussion on proof for God…with the definition of the word “prove” getting tougher and tougher by the second. Yet there are so many things in life that we naturally accept, even though there is no empirical, cast iron proof of them.

  • I have a mind as I am writing this. You are reading this and you are using your mind. You have no empirical proof of my mind. You just choose to accept it. The same for me with yours.
  • What’s more…can we prove we are not plugged into the Matrix as we read and write? No. And neither can I.
  • Can you prove there is a God? No – because someone always pushes the definition of “prove” that bit higher each time.

BUT – is there EVIDENCE for God. Now – that’s a whole different question. Of course there is evidence that points towards the existence of God. For example…

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/does-human-reason-point-toward-gods-existence-or-gods-absence/

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/respondblog-doesnt-order-in-nature-provide-circumstantial-evidence-for-god/

 

And yet…again as Robertson points out about Ricky,

“you have already pre-determined that there can be no such evidence and therefore you automatically dismiss or explain away any such evidence.”[2]

Isn’t that the truth. We come back to what is permitted or allowed by the atheist belief system. Robertson engages with many more of Ricky’s points during this brief exchange…it worth taking a read of his blog.

[1] Ricky Gervais v Stephen Colbert – The Real Answers – An Open Letter, https://theweeflea.com/2017/02/03/ricky-gervais-v-stephen-colbert-the-real-answers-an-open-letter/, accessed 13th Feb 2017.

[2] Ibid.

RESPONDblog: Terror and the Horns of a Dilemma

blog

We live in a post 9-11 world.

Religiously fuelled terrorism is a tragic staple on our news feeds. At a time where people fly planes into skyscrapers, randomly shoot holiday makers at the beach and drive trucks into crowded Christmas markets, man’s inhumanity to man seems to be in no risk of letting up.

What’s fascinating to me is the way many terrorists justify their horrific acts by appealing to God and their religious outlook. For example, “Allah told me to do it.”[1] And I’m sure this line of reasoning isn’t solely limited to Islamic terrorism.

But I feel I need to point something out here.

While this is a common radicalised religious view (referred to theistic voluntarism) …it is not and has never been the Bible’s view of God as properly understood. And despite the Christian church’s failures in living up to it over the centuries…it is not the way ethics is supposed to work in the world.

God is good. It’s his nature. Ontologically speaking, it’s his being. And his offer to all of us – is that with his help, we can be restored to the goodness that he intended for us from the beginning.

“God, God, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin.”[2]

Now at this point…my philosopher friends may nod their heads…and raise their hands. Because one of the founding fathers of modern philosophy, Plato, posed an interesting dilemma that relates to this very issue. It’s become known as Euthyphro’s Dilemma.

There are two horns of this dilemma.

First – is something good because God commands it?

If I say yes…then I’m faced with the possibility of terrorist morality. “God told me to crash the plane – there’s a greater good being done here thru terror – I must obey.” And even though the average person recoils in horror at this…the terrorist feels morally justified. But that wouldn’t make God very good tho…would it? Not by our intuitive sense of right and wrong.

If I say no…then I have another problem. God no longer becomes the source of all moral goodness. And in that case…he ceases to be God. He has no moral basis with which to command anything of me. He “promptly disappears in a puff of logic.”[3]

 

What about the second horn? It goes like this.

Second – does God command something because it is good?

If I say yes…then again, something is already good before God does it. Goodness and morality must exist separately from God. God is expected to obey these moral laws like us. He’s not God any more. He’s irrelevant. Puff of logic again!

If I say no…then this opens the door again to God commanding us to do morally questionable actions.

 

If this mind bender sounds irrelevant…I understand…but actually it isn’t irrelevant. Because it challenges us to answer the question – “What is good, and where does good come from?” If there is no God after all…then good is simply a person’s point of view. And if that’s the case then we’re in BIG trouble.

Relativism might be the law of the jungle ethics for many people…but that does not make it right and good. Christianity demonstrates that this is not how ethics is supposed to work at all.

The point that the Bible makes about God is that he is good…it is his being…it is who he is.

And so the Christian perspective doesn’t respond to Euthyphro’s Dilemma. Instead the Christian understanding of God demands that we reject it altogether. On what grounds, do we reject it?

 

First – is something good BECAUSE GOD COMMANDS IT?

Scott Smith draws a distinction between two forms of goodness. Metaphysical goodness and moral goodness[4]. God is revealed to be metaphysically good. He is transcendent…he just is good. Yet people are different. We are moral beings. There is the potential within us of moral goodness. But there is also the potential that we choose actions which are the very opposite to moral goodness.

Another way to put it – is like this. People’s behaviour is arbitrary. If I have a bad day at work, I’m much more likely to snap at my family and say something I regret afterwards. Yet God’s not like that. He’s good…all the time. People are therefore essentially…ontologically (relating to our being) different to God.

How are we different? Well there’s always a question over my goodness. And for that reason, we have an “ought” hanging over us. There is a way we “ought” to behave and it is good. Yet no such “ought” exists for God. Because there is no question over how he will behave. He is predictable and reliable. God is good – all the time.

Another way to put it is like this. God doesn’t make commands for his benefit. He doesn’t choose whether to obey them or not. We do. And there’s no guarantee we will. But the command itself – by the nature of its existence – performs a governing function for us. It works to try to keep us on the straight and narrow path that God is always on anyway.

So – is something good BECAUSE GOD COMMANDS IT? The question doesn’t work for the Christian understanding of God.

“’God does not, say, keep promises because he ought to (which would imply some external moral standard). Rather, the theist claims that God will keep promises,’ since it is impossible for God not to act morally.”[5]

God simply is goodness. Whatever people choose to say or do.

 

Now the second horn – does God command it BECAUSE IT IS GOOD?

Again, the question doesn’t make sense. Because if God is good, if his nature embodies goodness in a complete way, then there is no risk of arbitrary behaviour and no goodness beyond Him.

Someone might say, “Hang on. I didn’t learn to be polite and act in a good and proper way because God taught me.” Absolutely right. It was probably your mother or a significant adult in your life. But just because there are many ways that we learn how to act in good and proper ways does not mean that there is no God underpinning it after all. Both things are true. Your mum’s moral goodness can ultimately be traced back to the very heart of God. It’s impossible for him to act any differently.

Someone else might say, “God’s redundant. I have a conscience, after all. I have a sense of right and wrong. I don’t need him telling me what to do.” Speaking personally – I respectfully disagree. If only that were true! I have many times seared my own conscience thru my own thoughtlessness and selfishness. And besides, people often disagree over the right thing to do and say. We need an objective standard and his gentle reminder.

 

Euthyphro’s Dilemma might have been relevant as Plato was musing on mankind’s interactions with the fictional, created Greek gods. But it has no place in relation to the God who is revealed through the Bible.

When a religiously motivated person hurts someone else under the banner of “the end justifies the means”, they are on their own. They do not have God in their corner at all. It’s an appalling fantasy that must be rejected…and strongly challenged.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/15/canada-stabbings-allah-police.

[2] Exodus 34:6-7, The Message.

[3] Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

[4] R. Scott Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge: Overcoming the Fact-Value Dichotomy, IVP Academic 2014, p. 32.

[5] R. Scott Smith, p. 34.

RESPONDblogs: God, Morals and Steven Avery

murderer

Over the past few posts, I’ve done my best to lay out the moral argument for God as I understand it.

While doing so…I’ve also been watching “Making a Murderer” on Netflix…which has been a fascinating experience…and resonates strongly with the argument I have been making. I’ll explain why I think that in a moment.

For now – here’s what I’ve been exploring on this blog: 

 

 

1 – The claim that human morality is simply just what society does as it evolves. I’ve explored reasons why this cannot be the case.

2 – The claim that each different human society has its own particular moral code. I’ve discussed why I think this misunderstands what morality is.

3 – I’ve gone on to explore what moral absolutes look like.

4 – And I’ve said that – this state of affairs only really makes any sense if there is a God to provide the code in the first place.

 

 

But – so what? If there’s a moral code imprinted onto each human heart that urges us to look after the poor and the helpless, to care for and respect our children and our elders, to seek justice in this world…so what?

 

 

Here are a couple of thoughts.

First – I think it’s easy to forget just how strong the force of the moral code really is in our lives. The stronger something is – the more important it is to explore its cause and its reason.

Just after the Christmas holiday, Janet and I watched the Netflix series that’s getting a lot of buzz right now. It’s called “Making a Murderer” and it’s a series that documents the life and misfortunes of Steven Avery who has spent most of his life in prison. And the series lays out – using a creative mix of interviews, news clips and recovered footage during the events – that Avery has been sent to prison twice for crimes that he did not commit. And as things stand today – he may never manage to gain his release.

What affect has this had on the people of have watched it? Well – those who I have spoken to, those who I have listened to – have been full of moral outrage on behalf of Steven and his nephew Brendan Dassey. That he would be misrepresented in such a crushing way twice, leading to decades behind bars, makes people angry…and it makes them call for change. Some people take it further…and seek to punish the poor prosecutor Ken Kratz for putting Steven in prison. Kratz seems to have done a good job of punishing himself, if the reports of his impropriety are to be believed!

Director Peter Jackson has written about his feelings on his public Facebook page:

“it’s only by watching the 10 hours of riveting documentary that you will really understand how faulty the U.S justice system currently is, and how badly it needs fixing. That will only happen if you are angry enough to demand it, and “Making a Murderer” does a pretty good job of achieving that!”

This TV show has made a massive impact. Netflix hasn’t released viewing figures…but its impact on social media has been enormous between December and January 2016. The first episode was uploaded to YouTube to encourage non-Netflix subscribers to get on board…and that episode has achieved 1.6 million views since 18th December when it was posted. The official @MakingAMurderer twitter account went from 4000 to 114000 followers over the same period. This show has made a big impact on an international viewing audience, and it highlights just how important the moral absolute of “justice in court” is to the average person.

Our shared call for legal justice in a corrupt justice system points to the creator God who makes sense of our moral outrage. That’s an important point to consider here.

 

 

Second – if God has given us a humane and protective moral code, then that tells us a lot about what his character is like. Because it’s going to reflect the caring protective heart laws we have explored.

Now some would reply – “Stuart, the Bible is the most immoral work of fiction I’ve ever read!” Really? You call the Bible a work of fiction? Are you sure you read it? But I do agree it is full of immoral acts. And I think there are some reasons for this:

1 – The Bible is not completely prescriptive. It does not spend all of its time telling us how we should behave. It doesn’t need to do that because the moral law is written elsewhere (on our hearts). What it does however spend a lot of time doing – is describing the human condition. The immoral problems that humanity wrestles with. The problem is the human heart – the problem is my heart. And the Bible spends a lot of time showing us why we need God’s help.

2 – The Bible was written at a different time in a different culture. For example, the ancient near east was nowhere near as humane a society as the western countries are today. Yet ISIS seems to be trying to take us back into those dark ages. The behaviour of God’s people seems very harsh to 21st century eyes. Yet when viewed alongside the evils of the time that were wrought by other nations…Israel was always progressive in its humanity. An example of this is the way it treated slaves – who were limited in their engagement to 7 years (Exodus 21:2).

3 – When we hear non-Bible scholars accusing God of heinous immoral acts in the Old Testament, you’ve got to ask:

  • where are you getting your sense of morality from in the first place?
  • why do you think you are properly understanding these ancient texts that come from a particular place and time – and are not prescriptive today.

 

 

Humanity is capable of incredible acts of selflessness, love and faithfulness. And I suggest that they reflect the character of the God who made us, who loves us and who has imprinted his goodness onto us.

“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.” Numbers 6:24-26, NLT

RESPONDblogs: Does Society Decide What Is Moral?

chaplin

In my previous blog I talked about why I thought that a relativistic, “Who are you to judge?” culture was so dangerous.

https://respondblogs.wordpress.com/2016/01/08/respondblogs-who-are-we-to-judge/

I’m going to claim that human beings aren’t actually wired up to live this way anyway. And we can see that when we look at people and how we function as part of society. We might live in a culture that is becoming increasingly relativistic, but our intuitive reactions actually rail against the very relativism we are living within.

 

What do I mean?

 

Well – very often, I hear the claim from people that moral absolutes don’t exist. Rather, society itself just evolves …and our moral sensibilities evolve with it. Really? I would suggest that…while a nice theory…that this is patently false when we look at how human beings operate in the real world.

 

First – if it was true that human society decided human ethics, then we would intuitively know that no other society would be at liberty to criticise our society. We would know that…when it came to ethics…we could only act as passive observers of another society’s ethical system. Yet this is clearly not the case. Human history is stuffed full of commentary and judgement on past cultures and societies from ancient Rome to modern day Northern Korea and everything in between. We aren’t passive – we are quick to judge the choices people make, whatever their culture or society.

The hilarious irony here for me is that – usually when this comes up in discussion – the person proposing relativistic, societal ethics will often do so with an air of judgement on my own absolute moral position…thus underlining the brokenness of their own theory. I’m not saying I’ve got a perfect understanding of ethics and morality…but eyes, specks and planks spring to mind (if you get my meaning!)

 

Second – if it is society’s job to decide what is morally right and wrong, then our laws would be unassailable by definition. They would be right by default. Yet this is clearly not the case! There’s a very BIG difference between something being legal, and something being morally permissible. We see this played out in the abortion debate. Yes – it’s legal to terminate a pregnancy during the first 24 weeks in the UK[1]. But is it ethical? There are people on both sides of that debate.

And this issue gets thornier as technology evolves. Recently in the US, the Planned Parenthood organization has been faced with moral outrage over their harvesting of aborted foetal tissue; of going to market with valuable body parts gleaned from the aborted foetus. They are arguing that they are not operating outside the law. And they have a strong legal case.[2]  After all…this is a lucrative business for them. But surely the bigger question has got nothing to do with the legality of their business. The bigger question is this. Is their business morally permissible…or completely morally bankrupt and reprehensible? I know where I stand on that.

My point is – just because something is legal does NOT automatically make it moral. Ethics are not legislated for. Society’s laws are measured by a higher law. Human beings intuitively know this is how it works, and are quick to exercise their right as a moral human being to do so.

If it is right that an evolving society defines its own ethical system – then we have only one option in the face of Planned Parenthood. Or indeed any other atrocity that is committed within the bounds of the law. Our only option is – silence and acceptance. Is that what we see in society? Not at all! We don’t have to go far before we find someone with a moral opinion that they loudly express…I might not even have to go beyond myself. Moral reformers in society act out of a sense that there is a higher moral order that exists…a measuring line. And when we look at the moral reformers of the past, this gives us the third problem with the theory that says, “society defines an evolving morality.”

 

Third – this theory forces us to view moral reformers as the worst kind of immoral reprobate possible, because they are seeking to reform society and society defines what is moral and what isn’t. Consider Corrie Ten Boom who worked to reform Germany under the Nazi Party. She opposed her society’s moral system and, if moral relativism is true, she should be viewed as a highly immoral person. Yet history does not view her as a criminal. Quite the opposite – she is held up as someone who worked to make a positive difference in people’s lives. She rejected Nazi Germany’s ethnic cleansing laws because she was a human being. It had nothing to do with her German nationality.

Social reformers are heroes to us, not villains. And this shows up moral relativism as an incoherent theory.

 

 

Human beings are moral beings by definition; we exercise it. We do not like to keep quiet about it. Silence and acceptance is probably not the pattern in the comment section of a blog discussing moral relativism! And so – Society Says types of moral theories are incoherent.  We don’t sit back and accept every law as right. We don’t hold up moral reformers as evil; very often it is quite the opposite. Ethics is a measuring line that we intuitively appeal to when measuring human society. Therefore, the measuring line exists somewhere else…it is beyond society.

 

But maybe morality works differently. Maybe it’s not the claims of society that define what is moral, maybe it’s just what we do? Or maybe it goes even further. Maybe at the end of the day it all just comes down to personal preference. My conscience is the only thing guiding my own personal morality. Could that be how ethics actually works? More to come in part 3.

[1] “Abortion,” NHS choices, July 18, 2014, accessed July 10, 2015, http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Abortion/Pages/Introduction.aspx.

 

[2] https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/health-and-human-services-planned-parenthood-not-breaking-the-law.

RESPONDblogs: Who are We to Judge?

dont judge

There’s a growing sense in our society that…at the end of the day…relax! Everyone is entitled to their opinion. About everything. And on one level I completely agree and think that is quite right. I have opinions…and I blog about them. Others have opinions about what I say…and so they respond to me with questions. This is all good and right.

But a growing problem in our culture is that people are taking the right to opinion…and turning it into something else. Something that’s not relaxing at all…something downright dangerous.

Some years ago, Francis Beckwith participated in a panel discussion that looked at the possible dangers of violence and sexual content on broadcast media to children. This debate happened years before always on, instantly accessible torrent sites, Netflix accounts…and the shrinkage of traditional TV broadcasters. During the debate, Beckwith suggested that Government censorship was not the answer. Rather, the media outlets themselves had a responsibility to make moral judgements about how their programming may affect young people.

One woman in the audience bristled at that suggestion and raised her hand. “Who are you to judge?” she asked. She wasn’t expecting an answer. She was making the point that – no one has the right to make an absolute moral judgement about an individual or society in general.

This is the dangerous problem I’m talking about. We are taking everyone’s right to opinion – and we are using it in an unhelpful…and actually quite dangerous way. Beckwith’s answer explains why.

“I certainly do have a right to make moral judgements. I am a rational human person who is aware of certain fundamental principles of logical and moral reasoning. I think I’m qualified. Your claim that I have no right to make judgements is ITSELF a judgement about me. Your claim, therefore, is self-refuting.”[1]

 

“Who are you to judge?”

It’s a powerful rhetorical putdown, isn’t it? Yet it poses a great danger to our society. Why? Because it encourages and pushes us towards a place of moral vacuum. Where no one feels free to take responsibility to stand up for what is morally right. The long term effects of this on society are going to be felt as the years pass. But they won’t be good.

Why not? Well – when we are encouraged to deny moral absolutes, then that gives free reign for anyone to do whatever they feel like. Whether it is good and uplifting for society, or whether it wreaks horror and terror on people in society. Both are encouraged in a society where morals are relativized. Both are permissible in a “Who are you to judge?” society.

This society also just plainly doesn’t make any sense!! Beckwith described “Who are you to judge” as a self-refuting statement. What does that mean? Well – a self-refuting statement is one where the statement talks about itself and then makes the statement false. A part of the statement denies the whole. Here are some examples.

“No sentence is longer than 3 words.” Well – that sentence is 7 words long. Because this sentence exists, it denies the premise behind the statement itself. It is a self-refuting claim.

“There is no truth.” This is itself a statement OF truth. And so because this statement of truth exists…it denies the premise of the statement itself. It is a self-refuting claim.

“No one has the right to make a moral judgement about a person or society in general.” Do you see the problem? This statement is ITSELF a moral judgement. It is a heavy burden of judgement for moral human beings to bear. The person who fires this statement at us is themselves declaring a moral judgement. And so it is a self-refuting claim.

 

I think we live in an increasingly toxic culture where no one is allowed to express moral opinion. It’s often called Moral Relativism…its dangerous and illogical…

 

…and I think Moral Relativism flies in the face of how human beings are wired. Why do I say that? More to come in part 2!

[1] Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism Feet Planted in Mid-Air, (BakerBooks, 2011), 12.

RESPONDblogs: I think it’s Great to be British!

woolf

It is a mistake to lump all world religions into the same bucket. Are we learning yet? It appears not.

At the beginning of December, a report on “religion and belief in British public life” was published by the Woolf Institute.[1] This organisation is dedicated to encouraging inter-faith dialogue between the different religious groups in Britain. Their report says that – Britain is no longer a Christian country, so Christianity should not be given priority in public life. Faith schools should be abolished, thought for the day on the radio should be opened to atheists, the next coronation should have input from other religious groups…and so on. Because the vast majority of people in our nation don’t regularly attend church…the Woolf Institute say we need to abandon our society’s Christian foundations.

Okay – there’s some truth here that I know this as a Pastor and a Christian for over 40 years. I know very well that the vast majority of British people do not align themselves with a local church. I agree with them on that. I also agree that there are many benefits to a multi-cultural society, which should be celebrated and protected. But what I don’t agree with – is their next recommendation. Which is to abandon Britain’s Christian roots.

Why don’t I agree with them? Because I’m a Christian and so I’m blinded by my bias? No – because I know how much light that Jesus Christ gives to each person stumbling in the darkness. Myself included. But yes – you’ve got me – I have a perspective on Christianity informed by both my life and from the lives of others. But my disagreement with the Woolf report also comes from historical realities…the part Christianity has played in the establishment of Christian Britain. It has been absolutely foundational.

I do not agree we should abandon this Christian foundation. Because as I read their report, what the report does not do…is describe what should replace those foundations. They have no idea! But the priority seems to be side-lining Christianity from public life. Call me old and “stuck in the past”, but don’t you think someone needs to decide ahead of time what will go in the place of our Christian foundations…so that we can decide whether it’s a good idea and whether we want that? Or is everyone happy just to stumble forward into the darkness together?

Does Britain have a Christian foundation? Well – let me ask another question. Did you notice what both the British Monarch and the Prime Minister said in their Christmas addresses this year? The Queen reminded us that, “Christ’s unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another….and to look for ways of spreading that love to others.” And then she quotes an old saying. “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”[2]

The Prime Minister was even more “on the nose” with his Christmas speech. “As a Christian country, we must remember what [Jesus’] birth represents: peace, mercy, goodwill and, above all, hope….it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none.”[3]

I think they are right. But an honest look at British history would confirm it. Jesus – his life, his words and his church have been foundational to the British nation thus far.

One of the brilliant things about Britain is our diverse, varied society. It makes for a rich tapestry of life. Every part of our society has the potential to make a positive contribution. But the foundation of this country is and has been the message of the Christian Gospel. It is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. This was God’s plan all along.

“The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1:9

Jesus lights up the darkness for everyone, whatever our background. Whatever our life experiences have been so far.

 

There are those who want to stuff that light into a bag jumbled full of all sorts of religions and worldviews. What effect will that have on our country? I honestly don’t think they have considered that question. Can I suggest it’s only going to deepen the darkness and the confusion in our nation?

 

All religions are not the same. Look at them. They all make contradictory claims about God and the nature of life. Purely at the factual level…the religions are incompatible. And yet they do have at least one important place of overlap. One person who they all appeal to in greater or lesser degrees. And that’s the person Jesus Christ. Everyone wants Jesus on their side. All the religions do. Hey – I even know atheists who also want Jesus on their side!

Here’s my point. Britain has looked to Jesus Christ for its foundations. It has been part of our genius.  Are we really sure we want to turn that light off now? Are we sure we want to replace him with secular humanism? To open ourselves up to the sole foundation of the checks and balances of purely human government? Which has a habit of deciding for each of us what is ultimately right – and then forcefully imposing it on us using their might? Personally – I would rather we stuck with the Jesus who changes hearts by his love and grace.

 

Britain is a country where different faith systems can flourish. Christianity has been the foundation for that to happen. It creates an environment where people can exercise free will, while also giving people the choice whether or not to follow Christ. Don’t believe me? Check out other countries where Christianity has not been the foundation. I’m proud to be a citizen of a country where I can discuss matters of faith and belief with people of other religions and those with none.

 

I would suggest…that this sort of open and affirming foundation is one of the things that has made Britain great. So let’s keep it that way.

[1] http://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/practice/commission-on-religion-and-belief.asp

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35178485

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-cameron-christmas-message-pm-to-hail-britains-christian-values-a6785021.html

RESPONDblogs: It Hurts Because Each Of Them Matter So Much

washed_ashore2

The heart rending pictures of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi, washed ashore this week on a Turkish beach, have hit us hard. It is almost like the death of that little boy has brought the plight of the thousands of European migrants into sharp focus. Enough – something must be done about this!

 

Why? Why must something be done to help these suffering people? It hardly needs to be said. We intuitively sense that what is happening is wrong. It is wrong that these poor people should be hounded from their homes and native countries by violent Islamic fanatics, war and poverty. It is wrong that they are being forced to make a treacherous journey by land and sea. It is wrong…and unacceptable that hundreds of people are drowning in the Mediterranean.

 

No more.

 

There has been such an impact, that even the hearts of the politicians have been touched. David Cameron has honestly spoken out and said that Britain will do its moral duty on behalf of these suffering people. Thank goodness for that!

 

Why? Why am I relieved, why is the British Prime Minister doing an about turn on policy at the sight of little Aylan on the beach? Sure – he feels the pressure of public opinion. By what is causing that pressure? Why do so many cry – no more?

 

It’s because human beings are of incalculable value. When it comes to the safety of people, the stakes are high! Sure – saving endangered animals is an important moral issue for us. We feel it is our duty to steward the beautiful nature that we enjoy on our planet. But when it comes to protecting people – there seems to be a greater moral imperative at play. Our reaction to the suffering of human beings – somehow defines us AS human beings. We sense that…were we to continue to look away and ignore their plight…we ourselves would somehow be diminished as people.

 

Why is that? The typical atheistic worldview is scratching its head there. Life is all about survival of the fittest for so many people. If you don’t make the cut…then I’m sorry…but “them’s the breaks”. And yet…even for the Darwinist…the intuitive uncomfortable feeling continues. Why do we just know that the value of human beings is a universal law, a universal constant that presses in on us however much we choose to ignore it.

 

It’s because human beings have dignity, a dignity that is not manufactured or earned or achieved by us. The newest baby has it….so does the oldest grandparent. Our dignity is there because each human being carries around inside of them the image of God. Our dignity is God given. We are made with his imprint inside of us.

 

Is there evidence for this…beyond just an intuitive feeling that some of us agree with and others ignore? Yes – I believe there is. Consider this for a moment. There are all sorts of people inhabiting our planet. People that I personally might relate to well, others that would be very different from me. Some will be smarter than me…others not so much. Lots of people will be better looking than me! Some people are athletic, others of us are couch potatoes. Some are active social reformers, others are active social takers. Yet we all have something in common. We are all different in so many ways – but despite our differences, we are all equal. We share in our human dignity.

The equality of people and the rights of the individual have driven so many movements in our world. Dr King’s African American Civil Rights movement, the work of feminists who seek to rightly challenge engrained chauvinism in our culture…every Gay Pride March calls out for human equality whatever the sexual orientation…the list of movements underpinned by human equality goes on. Why does this argument work? Why is there truth in every human call for equal rights? Because even though we are so different from each other…we actually share a crucial common component to our humanity. We are equal…we are each given dignity by the God who created us.

 

What does that dignity point to?

Well, imagine for a moment that the worst happens – your house goes up in flames. And as you are shepherding your family out of the front door…your eye is caught be two items in the hall way. On the side table there lies a paper pad with old, crossed out telephone messages on it. And on the wall beside the door is a painting your Grandfather did years ago that has been in the family for years. If you were to save one of those two items…which one would it be? I’m guessing that most of us would choose the painting. Why? Because we assess the value of the painting as higher than the value of the paper pad. The painting and the pad are unequal in value. The painting has more value than the pad. So much so that, were someone to choose the pad over the painting, we could be justified in saying to them…why on earth did you do that?! That sounds really dumb…because the painting is worth more.

 

Here’s my point. People are different. Yet I don’t know anyone who would admit that some people are more valuable than others. Unlike the painting and the pad – choose two human beings at random from our world’s 7 billion population…and their value will be the same.  God has clothed us in that dignity.

 

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place— what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:3-5, NLT

 

Bear in mind that merit is a different thing from value. I might do no studying for a test and get an F, while you might prepare well for the test and achieve an A. Rightly so…you merit an A and I merit an F on that paper. Our level of merit is different. But if someone walks into the exam hall with a machine gun and starts shooting…moral outrage is levelled at this act. Because you and I share a common level of value…we have equal rights to be permitted to live our lives safely, even if we merit different final marks on our exam papers.

 

Philosopher J P Moreland comments that atheist lawyer Joel Fineberg, in his book Social Philosophy, argues for the moral imperative of human equality. Yet he cannot justify it. He can’t explain it[1]. How do we justify human rights? If we do not have something like the image of God baked into each and every one of us….it’s hard. So hard that many people will just stop there and say…human dignity is just the way it is…it’s the right thing to do. Well I am going further…and I agree with Fineberg. Equality rests on our common design component…we incorporate the image of God inside of us. That’s why.

 

So what?

 

Well – because we are all equal in our God given value,  that makes it morally wrong to sit back and watch children being drowned in the Med as they try to escape the horrors of ISIS in Syria. I can’t defend a decision just to sit back and watch that. I wouldn’t even try! NO – these people are as immensely valuable as I am. So I am morally obligated to do something to help. Hey – I agree with David Cameron here. Human beings deserve equal rights. However privileged…however under privileged. However rich and however poor. Whether they are comfortable in their home…or whether they are migrating their way through Europe.

 

So what can we do to help?

 

My church, Kingfisher, is planning a project to do just that. More details to come soon!

 

 

[1] J P Moreland, Arguments For the Existence of God, Biola Christian Apologetics Program, Biola University.