So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

Running into Trees

There is an opinion circulating in our culture that ‘perception is reality’. This means that your perception of and interpretation of the sense-data you receive creates the reality within which you exist. In other words, there is no such thing as an objective point-of-view; existence and experience is purely subjective. It is as though we live in a dream world because the ‘out there’, or that which stimulates the senses in the first place, can never be directly known; it’s real but not ‘really real’. So, if you run into a tree, you will have an interpreted perception of “hardness” (among other things, like pain) but even then it is purely subjective (some might perceive it as harder, or softer, and have more or less pain than you); the hardness is in our head, not ‘out there’ where the tree is, or where we think it is but can’t know for sure.

This opinion, and others like it, stands or falls on the presupposition that nothing from the ‘outside’ can enter our subjectively constructed worlds because we have no means by which to perceive it. We only have our senses and they alone provide the material of experience. This is the triumph of empiricism and materialism over all other contenders while also a very convenient doctrine for those trying to get us to think a certain way. Since there is no direct experience of an ‘out there’ but only our perceptions, the interpreting of these perceptions can be done for us by those in positions of political power via the manipulation of available media, or, worse, with brute force and military power; North Korea is a prime example. Once enough people buy into the ‘official’ interpretation it becomes the societal ‘norm’.

A significant consequence of all this is moral relativism. The fallacy of this misguided social and political doctrine is the untenable position that when two sets of perceptions (moral or otherwise) are opposite yet both claim to be true, there is no way to decide which one is the most accurate nor what the best course of action is. Everyone’s moral point of view is as good or true as everyone else’s. Again, the greater the number of people who subscribe to a particular interpretation the more likely it will be the ‘norm’.  So the mayhem that characterizes world politics and the numerous moral policies set forth by nations is explained. And, closer to home, it explains why our society is in political and moral shambles.

On the other hand, Christianity claims, among other things, that there is such a thing as objective knowledge and that we can know it, experience it, and govern our lives by it. The hardness of that tree we ran into earlier really is hard not just because we perceive it to be but because the Source who made the tree gave it ‘hardness’ and made sure our perceptions, though truly limited, are nevertheless accurate and dependable (some of you will hear echoes of Descartes here). But for this to work we have to invoke the concept of faith, accept that it allows us to know objectively and that it is not just a perception gone bad. This will probably seem like a stretch especially to our worldly associates who lump any appeal to faith along with our using the term ‘mystery’ when explaining the unexplainable (like the Trinity, for example).

But consider the fact that all of us depend on faith everyday. For example, we conduct our lives today as though tomorrow will come, yet we have absolutely no perception of tomorrows sun rising. We must, then, base our conviction on past instances of the sun rising in a regular and predictable manner. Yet, we have no justification that it will once again repeat its usual behavior but we act as if it will. This faith is built-in so to speak, just like our sensory organs are built-in. The difference, of course, is the experience of faith is immediate; i.e. not dependent on a mediated sensory perception.

Because of the immediate perception of faith Christians maintain that the reality we experience is a created one not by our interpreted perceptions but by a Creator and we who occupy this reality have been given the means to live and thrive in it. Even though we to not have the physical means to experience this Creator empirically (like the tree), we do experience the effects of His presence in our world through the mediation of the senses and the immediacy of faith. The upshot is that, of all people in the world, Christians have the wherewithal to experience both mediated (empirical) reality and immediate (non empirical) reality and therefore make claims about all of reality that others just can’t.

One thing Christian’s know is that the unseen part of reality is more real than the seen part (Heb. 11:3) because the visible was made by the invisible.  So, we know Who made the tree and that there is a meaning and a purpose behind the collision that no amount of empirical interpretation alone could ever discover. And it’s this way with all our experiences, good or bad.

However, if people deny or ignore God, then they remain trapped in their own subjectivity (the aforementioned ‘opinion’ is right after all) and are wrong-headed to think they’re doing their own independent thinking; someone, or something, else wants them to experience and interpret reality the way they, or it, does while hiding the truth that there is much more going on than meets the eye.

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The Power of A Suggestion

I’ve noticed, and maybe you as well, the many medical and psychological explanations offered through the media (which makes me suspicious already) about why we behave certain ways.  What I find interesting, and a bit frightening, are claims that much of our behavior (soon to be all if the trend continues) is governed by factors out of our control, like genetics, or brain ‘wiring’, for example. Although these theories are presented with only very small research support, premature you might say, they are nevertheless offered as important discoveries. And I have to point out that while I’m sure the ones doing this research think they are really on to something, all this is not really new; the Gnostics held similar views and without knowledge of genetics at that; but I digress.

Note carefully what is happening: the mere suggestion we might not be responsible for our aberrant behaviors is enough to both excuse them as ‘not our fault’ and indulge in them because we are preconditioned to act this way so we may as well not put up a fuss.

The point is that these kinds of suggestions provide an alternative to the idea of personal sin and, because, so they say, we are driven along by conditions (like genetics or brain wiring) beyond our control, an alternative form of forgiveness is provided as well. What these ‘movements’ are doing along with their suggestions is offering substitutions. So, instead of being morally responsible for our aberrant behavior (sin) we are merely ‘sick in the head’ and require medical or psychological help (or in extreme cases, be institutionalized) while also excused from any guilt for these behaviors (forgiveness) because we were born this way.

So, there are movements afoot that seek to absolve human beings from any sense of guilt and preserve their self-esteem against such supposedly harsh points of view like Christianity with all its talk about an offended righteous God, the universal sinful nature of humanity, judgment against sin, heaven and hell and the like. At this point it seems there is still enough resistance to these ideas that their influence is minimal (it seems much more widespread and influential in Europe). But, not for long; advocates of these ‘suggestions’ are relentless and I think driven by behind-the-scenes forces they can scarcely imagine. In fact, such ‘suggestions’ are perfect to the task of keeping people in darkness and Wormwood would be pleased (a lead character in C.S. Lewis’, The Screwtape Letters).

So, what should we do? I propose we at the very least suggest otherwise against all these suggestions with the truth of the Gospel. With the help and power of the Spirit, it is the most powerful ‘suggestion’ of all.  We should also be alert to these ‘scientific discoveries’ and know others will follow. Such watchfulness will insure that the enemies at our gates will not gain a foothold. Finally, we should never allow ourselves to be intimidated by any alternative views that contradict what we know to be the truth. This will insure we remain free because knowing the Truth (read Jesus) always frees the mind and heart from bondage.

An After Easter Meditation

Now that the festivities of Easter 2012 are over, the church calendar continues its yearly cycle eventually leading us back to the celebrations of Christmas, Good Friday and then, once again, Resurrection Day. The fundamental lesson this calendar (whether Julian or Gregorian, makes no difference in this regard) repeats for us year after year is that being Jesus’ disciple means participation in, and full identification with, His birth, death and resurrection’; i.e. everything about Him becomes true of us.

But most importantly it teaches that even though these holy days fall on specific dates, this participation and identification is an every day sort of thing, not just for special occasions. In other words, these holy days shouldn’t really be that much different from a typical ‘any day’ or, perhaps better, our ‘any day’ should be like a holy day.

I’m certainly not suggesting that these high holy days are insignificant; in fact they are because they affirm the central beliefs of the Christian faith, those beliefs that make us Christians and not some other religious devotee. They are yearly opportunities for Christians around the world to celebrate these beliefs before an unbelieving world. But, it is the continuation of His life lived through us every day, the all important ‘rest of the time’ after the celebrations are over, that makes a real and lasting difference in the world.

For me, anyway, the challenge is to live out the meaning of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter every day and I must admit I often fail at doing this, sometimes miserably. But at the same time and in spite of my failure, the power, love, forgiveness and redemption that the Lord of Christmas, Good Friday and Easter brought to our dark world shines in me (darkness is no match even for a dim light!) giving me hope and strength to continue ‘running the race’. I pray this same hope and strength is yours as well.

Going to Church? Here’s Something to Think About

I just read a piece by someone arguing why we should go to church. The usual Bible verses were used whenever this issue comes up but I think some important ideas were overlooked as they usually are. One is establishing the difference between the local church and the universal Church, similar to the one between flesh and the Spirit. Most believers understand the difference between a church and the Church but sometimes they are blended together and give the impression they are one in the same. If this is the case, then not attending church is the same as not attending Church which seems to be a dubious analogy. The point here is that the universal Church is almost impossible not to attend because “…for where two or three are gathered in my Name, there am I…” can happen everywhere and at any time. So, for example, if you and your spouse are Christians you are in Church every time you’re together whether you both go to a church or not.

Now, it is argued that this is all well and good but we need to fellowship with other Christians beyond just the “where two or three are gathered…”; that is, we have to intentionally go somewhere. Thus, church attendance is associated with a geographical place and a certain time (what we call “spatial-temporal”) requiring that we move from point A to point B at a certain time on a certain day along with others of the same disposition. Having arrived at point B we all gather inside a building, room, tent etc. and, for some anyway, await the entertainment. However, gathering together under one roof at a particular address, all listening to the same preacher and singing the same songs isn’t ‘fellowship’ at least in the Biblical sense. (I will elaborate in another post another day)

It might seem that I’m dead set against going to church; I’m not. I just think it’s necessary to know what we’re doing and why. Physically gathering together for a church service is not useful if we fail to understand what binds us together and what the sole purpose is for all the effort. What binds us together is the spatial-temporal subtended by the infinite-eternal through the presence of His Spirit thereby transforming a church into the Church. The purpose is worshipping Jesus as Lord and Savior as the Church which is the only reason for a church to exist at all; if it’s about anything else we might as well attend the Elk’s club or go bowling or the like. In fact, attending a church might be disastrous and should be discouraged if it is not Biblically based or doctrinally faithful to the most basic truths of the Gospel. Why? Because it is just a spatial-temporal entity with no life in it and attending a lifeless church is far worse than not going at all. (More to come on this in the future)

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