Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why you can’t believe in Dandelions (Part II) - True Love

I thought this would be a simple task, but it's turning out to be a lot longer than I first expected. So what was going to be a 2-part post will be significantly longer. I'll post as I finish sections.

In case you missed the first part, I'm claiming that a Christian worldview is most consistent with Humanity. That is, it allows for things which are integral to our being human. Belief in Please, Soup Kitchens, Science, True Love, and Dandelions are all explained best by Christianity. Naturalism, the belief that nature is all there is and all basic truths are truths of nature, offers an inadequate explanation for all these.

And without further ado, here is the first part.

True Love
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
– God, Genesis 2:24
You have ravished my heart, my treasure, my bride. I am overcome by one glance of your eyes, by a single bead of your necklace. How sweet is your love, my treasure, my bride! How much better it is than wine! Your perfume is more fragrant than the richest of spices.
– Solomon, Song of Solomon 4:9-10
That what seemd fair in all the World, seemd now
Mean, or in her summ'd up, in her containd
And in her looks, which from that time infus'd
Sweetness into my heart, unfelt before,
And into all things from her Aire inspir'd
The spirit of love and amorous delight.
-Milton, Paradise Lost V:472-477
My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.
-Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II
There is no basis for true love or romance apart from God.
You can’t believe in love. Or at least in the way that it has been understood by humanity.
As an Naturalist, all you can believe about love is chemicals. Never mind about all the human things that happen when one is in love. The risk and terror of asking a girl out? Chemicals. The inexpressible joy of relationship? Chemicals. Lovesickness? Chemicals. How you felt after your first kiss? Nothing but chemicals. The terribly cheesy poetry in love letters? Chemicals for sure.
The theme of romance has inspired the greatest poets and authors throughout history. From the love of Perris and Helen through Romeo and Juliet and continuing today in terrible supermarket novels, we have been enraptured by this idea of love and romance. It has inspired the greatest works of our race. And we want to say that we’re on the verge of the answer? For the great observers of the human conditions (playwrights and authors), love was a transcendent, and only through their wonderful ability can we understand a glimmer of it. Romeo’s words resonate in some special way with those of us who have looked across a room to see the most beautiful woman we thought ever could be.
But as it turns out, it’s not a transcendent. It’s chemicals. Your happy relationship? That was just good deterministic luck and the action of chemicals. Neither of you really had a choice in the matter. There’s a bit of work left to be done as to which unpronounceable chemicals it is, and when one bounces off the other. But that’s the answer.
And we’re supposed to be satisfied with it? You know what love is. All 6.5 billion of us do. And it’s not what’s written about in scientific papers. Shakespeare’s a lot closer to being right. Who are these ‘scientists’ who would contradict the observations of the rest of the race, including the precedent of 3000 years of publications supporting an opposite view?
It is utterly un-scientific to explain away 6.5 billion (plus all the dead observer who wrote about it) without powerfully compelling evidence. And what is the evidence? Because we know chemicals do some of the things in the human experience. Therefore they must also explain all the things. Convincing?
But what is Christian love? It is a major theme of the Bible, and many words have been written on it since then. Christian love is that which we received from God, the ability to choose to care more about another than we do for ourselves. Being from God, it is higher than just another biological instinct. And love depends on freewill; we must of our own volition choose to love for it to have meaning. But all of my rambling cannot compare to Paul’s wonderful description: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…” (1Cr 13:4-8).
If you allow for God and souls, you can have love. Love remains transcendent, something above us which like the stars which we look towards, but its transcendence is founded in God. We receive the holy gift of love from Him. And regardless of our acknowledgment of the gift, we are able to express it and experience it with the will that we each have. When humans make love, it is not two animals procreating by instinct; it is two people uniting in body and soul.
When I choose to ask a girl out, I choose. My soul, and the freedom it has, chooses to love. And it is in this way that love becomes real; it is in this way that love rises above instinct. And it is this which we have all felt, some higher thing, sitting on top of our instinct.
We would not express our humanity if we were driven by chemicals alone. It is only when we transcend the physical that we express our humanity. It is when we choose whom we love that we act as humans.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Song of Twilight

Earlier today, I prayed with one of my friends on campus and I biked back towards home after finishing. I cycled towards home down Serra Street past the main quad just after sunset. Some light lingered still, as if in homage to the set sun. For no particular reason (and against the very nature of late-October), my mind began to sing “Joy to the World!” As I reflected on the line, “Let Heaven and Nature sing,” I began to consider the connection between the beauty of Nature and the beauty of Heaven, and especially of Heaven’s plan of salvation through Christ.
I looked up at the trees, and it was as if they began to sing. And my eyes heard their Song. The Song of Twilight commenced by the shadows, shapes and colors of a million leaves. I smiled wide, passing trees on both sides. My teeth exposed, I felt the rhythm of the cool air. The trees sang their praises to God, and my smile would have grown if it were possible. My joy, ever filling, spilled over into my eyes which upturned, but even they would not be able to contain it. Then the Song moved to its crescendo! I heard as heaven above me joined the choir, singing in a deep blue baritone, and about me the buildings sang in earthen colors and the red of tile roofs. All of them together sang in a language unknown but familiar. Though I knew not the words, I knew their message and the Joy in their voices. Nature was unanimous and emphatic in its song: “God loves you.” And my Joy was full.
I continued pedaling down the road, and Joy from the Song continued filling me. Finally Joy overflowed my soul and streamed down my face in tears. They came first in a trickle and then as a flood. The Song was muffled by the tears, but still loud. As my eyes kept hearing of the Love of God, I continued to weep.
It must have been quite a sight for those who saw me: a full-grown man riding his bicycle, his face wet and dripping with tears, his eyes red with crying, and strangest of all, wearing a grin ear-to-ear and laughing.
I cycled for a quarter mile, barely able to see. And then at last, the Song faded. The choir members went back to merely being glorious sky and beautiful trees. But the memory of their melody still played in my soul.
I used to think of our souls as a sliding scale, and “full joy” was moving towards one side of that scale. I used to think Jesus’ promise to make full the joy of those who abided in Him was simply a movement of the scale a point or two. Today I learned that Jesus meant ‘full,’ and not ‘maximal,’ for ‘full’ implies a liquid. So then ‘full joy’ could not be measured by a scale; rather our souls catch Joy as it falls like rain from heaven. But we are imperfect and our souls, like cracked pottery, are always leaking and never full. But today, for no special reason beyond God’s delight, I was filled with Joy to overflowing by the Song of Twilight.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why you can’t believe in Dandelions (Part I)

I have recently realized something about most people: they are inconsistent. Orwell described this state of mind in his novel 1984: “…holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” This is what most people in America do today, and like those in 1984, they do not know that they are doing it.

In most cases, people will plagiarize the pleasant parts of another philosophy (in the case of America, from Christianity), nor realizing that the stolen material is actually contradictory to the argument. This pair of articles intends to show several of the more important areas where this occurs like, Please, Soup Kitchens, Science, True Love, and of course, Dandelions. In the next article, I will show that these are possessions of Christians which have been stolen by Humanists. In this one, I will describe the dangers of such thieving to the Humanist, and thus my motivation for writing this. As this is a public safety announcement for Humanists, I will address the rest of this article to you, my Humanist friends.
You believe in a lot of Christian beliefs in things like “Please,” soup kitchens and Dandelions against all Humanist evidence (to your credit). You know true things to be true no matter how inconsistent it may be with your worldview. One issue (which will be dealt with in the next article) is, “Which things in Humanism are borrowed or inconsistent?” The other issue (and the one I will deal with here) is: “So what if Humanism does borrow some things? Who cares if I pick and choose what things I believe in? I may prefer the idea of caring for others above the idea of Survival of the Fittest in society, but that’s not inconsistent.”
In this article I will try to describe why that’s a bad, or at very least, a dangerous idea.
The first problem is that borrowing ideas without citing them is stealing. In most of these cases, you are taking what was a Christian virtue, renaming it, and then calling it your own (or that of your philosophy). “‘Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them,’ (Matthew 7:12)” becomes, “I should do to others what I’d want them to do to me.” You don’t cite sources, because you usually don’t know that it’s plagiarized. While it helps, not knowing does not excuse you. You have received stolen merchandise; your ignorance about its origins doesn’t change the fact that you’ve got somebody else’s stuff. Nevertheless, the plagiarism in itself is not so much a logical problem as a moral one.
What is a logical problem is the fact that you are using far too many Christian ideas. To help illustrate this, imagine we are both building structures. Imagine I am setting bricks onto a stone foundation according to a blueprint. Now imagine you are watching me. You like the way one of the walls of my building is coming along, so you take some of my bricks (with or without permission) and start to make one that looks like it yourself.
In the parable, the bricks are Christian philosophies (the Golden Rule, for example). The foundation is my faith in Jesus and the blueprint is Christianity as a worldview (including all that is in the Bible and all the philosophical implications and answers that come from it).
The problem you have in the parable is this: in every location where a Christian brick is used instead of a secular one, it weakens your position in two ways. Your first problem is that you’re using my bricks. Why do you need my bricks? Are yours not good enough? Are mine better? Secondly, every time you look to me, a Christian builder, to watch what bricks I lay, it begs the question: “Why not copy the foundation, too?” If I were indeed a better builder (the evidence for this is accumulates with every one of my bricks you lay), it would be a very good idea to look to my foundation, which (as a Civil Engineer let me assure you) is the most important part of a building. It may be that the bricks form an excellent building, but that building was not designed to stand on anything but the solid foundation of Christ; in fact, when engineers specify strong foundations, it usually means that they are required for the building to stand.
What is also a very bad idea is to engineer by mosaic. Two heads may be better than one, but building according to two different blueprints is definitely not. You may think yourself bright, but there have been many before you who were brighter. And what’s more, these people have worked together over the centuries to come up with ideas which were comprehensive. They have thought of everything within a particular view and how it fits in with everything else. And so we have various worldview ‘blueprints,’ called Christianity and Atheism which are comprehensive. That is, they have answers (good or bad; attractive or repulsive; and I won’t say “respectively,” at least not yet) to all important questions.
When you take a girder from a Christian blueprint because you like the way it looks, and try to fit that into an Atheist building, there is no guarantee that it will not cause a structural failure. Unless you believe yourself more capable than the original architects, swapping pieces from separate blueprints is a very dangerous thing to do. It might be safe to change the façade on a Christian building to look more Mexican, but do not change a pillar of Atheism (selfishness) with one of Christianity (selflessness) and think the structure sound.
But what if you did? What if you fling all caution to the wind and throw up a structure which had all the attractive elements (stolen from the Christian worksite) put together on the loose and sandy foundation of Atheism. Imagining that you could get an engineer to sign off on it, and assuming it was a possible construction (that is, assuming you took the spires with their flying buttresses), you’d end up with a building.
Some might call it a monstrosity, an amalgam of two contradictory styles, Gothic spires above Greek columns, or a Renaissance façade on a steel building. But you could claim that it was your monstrosity, and that you liked the way it looked. They might claim that you had no single theme in mind when you designed it. But you could say that a building doesn’t need a single theme. Some would call you a fool for sleeping in a structure which would be shaken if rain fell or earth shook. You could say that you don’t care about the danger, and could assert with no evidence that your building would stand, come what challenges may. You would contend that, even though a structure like yours has never seen an earthquake or hurricane, it would be strong because it looked good and was built with good materials.
And maybe you’d prove them all wrong: all the architects throughout history who followed rules, all those who said you shouldn’t steal building materials, all the artists who said two styles couldn’t be mixed, all the engineers who said you should have built on rock and not sand, and all the meteorologists who predicted it would be destroyed in a storm. Maybe. But what are the chances? How likely is it that you’ve stumbled onto something that one of the real architects missed? Do you really want to live in a building that has no precedent? Certainly, if you are one of the visionaries of our age who is blazing a trail through unexplored country. But is that how you see yourself? Do you really feel safe in a structure designed by you, who are neither architect nor engineer? Do you feel comfortable in a building which those who are experts say is unsound?
In other words, do you trust your philosophy to stand up to all challenges of life? Do you have confidence that your untested and untried belief will be steadfast against seeing gross injustice, experiencing great evil, and will remain unshaken even in the face of your own death?
If the answer to these questions is, “Yes!” then I have nothing more to say. You are either a genius or insane (or both), and I hope that your structure does not collapse so suddenly as you cannot escape.
But for those of you uncomfortable with the prospect of mosaic architecture, stay tuned. I will soon attempt to show you which bricks you have stolen from Jesus, and explain how they work much better when laid upon a solid foundation.