Monday, July 03, 2006

Is this the God I worship?

John W. Loftus said:

“Steve, this is the God YOU worship?”

Yes, this is the God I worship.

The basic point of disagreement between you and me is not over surface phenomena.

No, it runs much deeper. You and I are not on the same wavelength.

Most of the time I suppose I sound a lot like an evidentialist. That’s because most of the time it’s sufficient for me to answer the unbeliever on his own shallow grounds.

I never need to play my high cards. I can keep my deeper reasons to myself.

But really, John, you might as well be a Martian for all we have in common.

You keep acting as if my faith were optional. As if I go to bed a believer, never knowing if I’ll wake up an unbeliever.

As if I get out of bed every morning, open my Christian safe, and peer inside to see if my faith is still there.

You act as if I need to review the state of the evidence every day before breakfast to see if the scales have tipped the other way while I slept—if a piece of Christian evidence was removed from one side of the scales or a piece of anti-Christian evidence was added to the other side of the scales.

Now, this balancing act can be relevant in terms of weighing the options within Christianity. Should I be Catholic or Protestant? Lutheran or Baptist.

But it’s not what makes a Christian qua Christian tick.

It may seem that way to you because you lost your faith.

And you may say it could happen to me. Well, that’s a hypothetical that can’t be verified or falsified at this juncture, now can it?

I can only speak from my theology and my experience. From a lived-in theology.

You’re like a man who steps into a painting and then denies the existence of the painter because you can’t find the painter in the painting.

From within the painting, you can’t see anything outside the painting.

I’m like a man who steps into a painting and cannot deny the existence of the painter since he is evident in every brushstroke.

You only see absence. You see everything except the painter, so you conclude that the painter does not exist.

I don’t need to see the painter when I have the painting.

What is more, the painter painted himself into his own painting 2000 years ago.

God is hidden in plain sight. But we become insensible to God the way we become insensible to airplanes and barking dogs—not because it’s all so elusive, but because it’s so all-pervasive. There’s nothing to contrast it with when it is all around us and within us.

“He damns me for his glory?”

As Gene and I have each explained, this is simplistic.

“Can you step back from this and see this belief for what it really is? A God like that isn't worthy of worship.”

According to you, an atheist.

“A God like that makes atheists out of those of us who see it for what it really is.”

Yes, that’s true. There are nominal Christians who see God through a tinted window, but when the tinted window is replaced with a clear pane of glass, and they see who God actually is for the very first time, then they turn their back on God.

Truth is either a unitive force and a divisive force. Some men are drawn to the light while others are blinded by the light and prefer to live as creatures of the night.

You have a way of turning truth-claims into a bluff: “I dare you to tell me that this is what God is really like, for if, indeed, that’s what God is really like, then I refuse to believe in a God like that!”

What makes you think that I’m bothered by that consequence? You’re the one who suffers the consequence, not me.

In Calvinism, the gospel is intended to have that affect on the reprobate. It’s intended to drive them away from God (Jn 9:39)—not because God is bad and they are good, but because they are bad and God is good (Jn 3:19-20).

It’s really rather childish of you to suppose that we should cut and tailor our theology under the standing threat that unless we redesign the creed to meet your personal specifications, you will take your business elsewhere.

There’s no correlation between what you like and what God is like. That’s not how existential truths operate.

A God who’s made to order according to your personal specifications is a make-believe God, an imaginary deity.

“But who are we to answer back to God, you'll say. You explain everything...and nothing.”

Actually, that’s not the answer I’ve given.

That’s the answer Paul gave to a hypothetical Jewish opponent. He’s answering his opponent on his own grounds. His opponent believes in God as well as the Scriptures.

Is this a persuasive answer for someone who doesn’t believe in God or God’s revelation in Scripture? No. But that was not the target audience.

And it’s a perfectly good answer in its own right. If there is a God, and he has the attributes of the Biblical God, then he does indeed know better than I what is for the best.

But that’s not the only answer Paul gave, and it’s not the answer I gave in the course of this discussion.

“Now tell me this Steve, does God also make me desire to reject him so that I will go to hell? Where exactly is this thing called secondary causation?”

Gene gave a good answer.

“And what do you think of the ethical principle of the means justifying the ends? I'll suppose you reject it. Yet, your God does this with us.”

This is simplistic. Does any end justify any means whatsoever? No. Does the end never justify the means? No. We need to avoid two extremes.

I don’t regard teleological ethics as the sum of ethics, but teleological considerations are a necessary, if insufficient, feature of moral deliberation and moral valuation.

We build hospitals for sick people. Caring for the sick justifies the construction of hospitals. If there were no sick people, it would be a waste of time and money to build hospitals. Hence, the end justifies the means.

We raise armies and pay policemen. The right of self-defense justifies an army as well as a police force. If we had no enemies or criminals, the outlay would be unjustified. Hence, the end justifies the means.

John Loftus is a secular blogger. He has written in defense of why he is blogging for the cause of atheism. If you read his defense, it’s an exercise in teleological reasoning.

“Kant argued that we should never use people as a means to an end.”

What is this? An argument from authority? Why should I regard Immanuel Kant as a moral authority? Much less regard him as my moral authority?

i) If you want to give me an argument from Kant, then we’ll have something to take about, but to use Kant himself as an argument is a question-begging appeal to authority. Kant’s person opinion does not amount to a reasoned argument for or against anything in general or anything in particular.

ii) We all use people as means to an end. When you go to the grocery store you are using the grocer as a means to an end. And he is using the customer as a means to an end.

When you buy gasoline, you are using the gas station attendant as a means to an end, and he’s using the customer as a means to an end.

A man marries a woman because he has an emotional need for a woman in his life, as well as children. He is using her as a means to an end.

A woman marries a man because she has an emotional need for a man in her life, as well as children. She is using him as a means to an end.

We are needy, dependent, contingent creatures. So, yes, we use each other to supply our material and emotional needs.

Now, there’s a right way and a wrong way to use a person. But there’s nothing intrinsically evil about using another person to satisfy our natural needs. To the contrary, that can be intrinsically good.

“Using people like this is done around the globe by regimes who imprison and torture political prisoners for the good of the regime.”

All this goes to show is that an unworthy end can never justify the means. A worthy end is a minimal precondition of teleological ethics.

“Your God is entitled to have a diametrically opposed ethical system because he's God, right? You explain everything...and nothing.”

That’s a misleading way of putting things. Whatever God does is right.

But mainstream Calvinism does not regard the law of God as a morally arbitrary fiat, so that whatever is right today could be wrong tomorrow, or vice versa.

Certain injunctions are grounded God’s own character, while other injunctions are grounded in the nature he has given us.

“God's goodness is judged by a totally different standard than our standard of goodness. What then does it mean to say God is good, when you say it? You explain everything...and nothing.”

You have a lordly habit of using the editorial “we,” as if your moral intuitions were self-evidently true and universally true.

Kantian ethics does not represent everyone’s standard of goodness.


  1. Steve,

    I use the term "we" because there are a lot of little voices in my head, OK Mr. smarty-pants? You explain everything and nothing, I can say that if I want to and don't tell me I Kant...

  2. Steve: Thanks for a good summary post, getting back to the roots of the disagreement.

    John: Thanks for showing you aren't utterly humorless ("don't tell me I Kant...").

  3. Jim, that's an imposter with the humor, not me. I'd like to have fun, but whenever I do, that imposter makes me out as if I was serious, and tries to make me look silly.

    But with people like that commenting on Steve's post I don't have to. Now the discussion is no longer about the original post because of the imposter. Ironic, wouldn't you say?

  4. Jim, that's an imposter with the seriousness, not me. I'd like to be serious, but whenever I do, that imposter makes me out as if I was silly, and tries to make me look serious.

    But with people like that commenting on Steve's post I don't have to. Now the discussion is no longer about the original post because of the imposter. Ironic, wouldn't you say? Now beam me up, Scotty...