CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Affirming Responsibility in an Age of Irresponsibility

Aug 31, 1998

One never ceases to be amazed at the things that will turn up in the daily newspapers. A recent newspaper account of a new study will certainly put a new twist on an old excuse. A new study has been presented which claims that male infidelity and promiscuity may be genetic. The findings were presented in February at a scientific conference in Philadelphia. The findings claim that men born with a certain gene will be more likely to have sex with a variety of partners. Interestingly, these findings come from Dr Dean Hamer, the same researcher who about 5 years ago reported he had discovered a genetic basis of homosexuality. His earlier research has been roundly criticised.

It is interesting to note how far people are willing to go to deny or ignore human responsibility. Various theories of causation keep arising, suggesting that the way we act is predetermined. Marxists have said we are economically determined. Freudians have said we are sexually determined. Darwinists have said we are biologically determined. All such determinists seek to undermine the reality of personal responsibility and accountability. One can only imagine that genes will soon be discovered to account for anger, gossip, lying and racism. But then two can play at that game. If we are to accept, for example, that gays are genetically determined to be that way, perhaps homophobes have a genetic compulsion to be so as well.

While there are obviously various biological and environmental factors that have an influence on our behaviour, we are nonetheless primarily free moral agents with the ability to forge our own destinies and make responsible choices. As scripture implores, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” “Whosoever will may come”. “Choose life, that you may live”. Such verses can be multiplied at length.

The Scriptures hold us accountable as sinners simply because it assumes that we have freely chosen to rebel against God. Yes, we are all affected by the power and pull of original sin, and yes, there are strong environmental factors that need to be considered. But overall we are seen by God as individuals who can make free moral choices and will reap the consequences of those choices. That is why mankind has been seeking to make excuses ever since that fateful day in the garden when Adam passed the buck to Eve, and she in turn blamed the serpent. Everyone wants to live as they please, without accepting the consequences for their choices.

That is why so many people find various alternatives to the Christian faith so appealing – alternatives which minimise personal responsibility and accountability. For example, many are flocking to the New Age and eastern religions, which in part teach that what we are and do today has been determined by what we were in a past live. People find it easy to embrace the ideas of reincarnation and the law of karma (you are living out now what past lives have determined), because it takes away personal responsibility.

No society can last for long when everyone insists on doing whatever they please without anyone being willing to accept the consequences of their behaviours. Anarchy will quickly result. Fortunately some perceptive thinkers are starting to wake up to this fact. Several books which have sold well in the secular market have been arguing for the need to own up to personal responsibility. One such book is How Could You Do That?: The Abdication of Character, Courage, and Conscience by Laura Schlessinger. Dr Schlessinger contends that no matter what past or present influences weigh down upon us, we are still free to choose how we respond, and we ought to start taking a bit of responsibility for our actions. In a nutshell, “the path to solid, supportive, healthy relationships, self-respect, and a quality of life starts with the usually painful decision to do the right thing.”

Another good book which deals with this problem is Charles Sykes’ A Nation of Victims. In it he argues that we have become a nation of victims, with everyone blaming his or her lousy behaviour on the actions of others. Unfortunately, explains Sykes, “this is a formula for social gridlock: the irresistible search for someone or something to blame colliding with the unmovable unwillingness to accept responsibility. . . . A community of interdependent citizens has been displaced by a society of resentful, competing, and self-interested individuals who have dressed their private annoyances in the garb of victimism”.

It is encouraging to see others coming to see what Scripture has affirmed all along. Considering how many church folk are buying into the “I can’t help it” line, it is more necessary today than ever that we rediscover afresh the Biblical understanding of personal responsibility and accountability.

[791 words]

17 Responses to Affirming Responsibility in an Age of Irresponsibility

  • I realize that this comment is a bit late in terms of when your article was posted. Perhaps your understanding of karma and Eastern religion has improved. So forgive me, but the doctrine of karma does anything but shift responsibility from the individual. It is the individual whose past choices inform his present choices and predispose him to choose similarly in his present life. However such predisposition does not imply that free choice is nonexistent.

    Furthermore as a convert from Christianity to Eastern religion, I can assure you that no one I know has converted for the reasons you suggest. In fact many have been turned away from Christianity because it is often presented, however wrongly, as a religion in which simply believing in Christ exonerates one from any wrong doing. When presented in this way, as it often is, it appears not to ask its adherents to take responsibility for their actions.

    I expect that you will be quick to point out that the above is a misrepresentation of Christianity. Even though it should be clear that I already agree on this point. My point then is merely that, again, you have grossly misrepresented the doctrine of karma with regard to responsibility in a way that to me is similar to those who misrepresent Christianity, leading one to believe that they are not responsible for their action if they merely believe in Christ.

    Swami Tripurari, CA

  • Thanks Swami Tripurari

    I might have expressed myself somewhat more clearly in my article. Yes, karma is the ultimate case of reaping what you sow, and as a moral law of causality, in one sense human responsibility is very much a part of it. But two problems arise: One, if you tie transmigration into all this, and one is reincarnated into a cow or mosquito, it is a bit hard to make right moral choices in such a state. Only human beings can make genuine moral choices.

    Two, this is an inexorable law, where nothing seems to be able to break in from the outside to change things. One is simply stuck with the consequences of past choices, and seemingly endless lifetimes are needed to break out of the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara).

    In Christianity, by contrast, there certainly is the concept of reaping what you sow. The consequences of sin is death and separation from God. But Jesus Christ breaks into human history, and breaks into our chain of causation, taking the penalty we deserve upon himself. Thus we can by grace forego all the consequences of our actions.

    In karma things seem too fatalistic, compared to biblical teachings where real change can take place, because of God’s grace and intervention. And this is not exonerating bad choices: a full price has been paid – by Jesus. And the result of this grace is a changed life. One who received the free pardon of God does not remain the same, but with God’s help makes genuine change.

    Our spiritual journeys are opposites: I started out embracing Eastern thought, including a keen commitment to reincarnation and karma, but I left that for biblical Christianity. I pray you will come back to the only liberator from the world of cause and effect: Jesus Christ. True moksha is only found in a personal relationship with Christ, not tens of thousands of lifetimes trying to get things right.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for your prayer Bill. I need all the grace I can get!

    Let me reply to the two points you raised from the perspective of the particular trandition I am affiliated with. This tradition is one of Devotional Vedanta, a monotheistic, grace-based path.

    My tradition, like all other branches of hinduism I am familiar with, explains that human life bears responsibility. Misuse of that responsibility results in the kind of karma that can cause one to regress, resulting in the transmigration you mentioned. Having regressed, the soul dwelling in a less developed form of life lives out the result of the karma accrued in its previous human life. When that karma is played out, the same soul returns to a human life. So because there is no awareness of sin or wrong doing in the less evolved forms of life, souls in such species do not accrue karma. They exhaust the results of the karma accrued in human life that caused their regression. Such regression is something like a term of incarceration. Whereas human life is like parole, and if you live it correctly, you can only advance.

    This leads to your next point. Advancement is of two types: material and spiritual. While material advancement is based on karma, spiritual advancement is dependent upon grace—divine intervention. Without this there is no possibility of advancing spiritually such that one can transcend the cycle of birth and death.

    Furthermore in my tradition there are two aspects to salvation. The first involves the mitigation of one’s karma, both good (the source of material progress) and bad (the source of material regression). Note that good acts are not enough and in fact from the absolute perspective are a negative.

    The second aspect is the development of love of God. We focus on the latter aspect, and sequentially the former follows first as a prerequisite for love, for love of god being exclusive is devoid of material desire or separate interest. Thus even the eradication of one’ karma or fruit of separate interest is dependent upon grace, what to speak of actual love of God.

    The above sounds a lot like your path. However my path differs in that it acknowledges reincarnation and transmigration. It also does not entertain the notion of a singular savior and venue of grace.

    Swami Tripurari, CA

  • Thanks again Swami Tripurari

    (It would be nice to know your real first name here!) Yes your thoughts sound all very familiar – as I said, I once was on a similar path to the one you are now on. But it is your last paragraph that is the most significant. That is at the heart of the differences between Christianity and other religions, including those of the East.

    As one who had a Christian past, you would know that Jesus made it quite clear that he is not just another avatar, not just another guru, not just another road along the way. His claims were completely exclusive: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but by me.” There is certainly no room in such teaching for multiple roads to salvation – or enlightenment – or for self-help and self-salvation.

    Indeed, the New Testament writers make it clear that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. You can’t get much self-help out of a dead person. Corpses need new life, and that only comes from without. Nor are we already god, and just need to realise that. We are created by the one true living God, and designed to have a personal relationship with him, but that depends on how we deal with the sin question.

    Acknowledgement of sin (not just airy fairy concepts of maya and renunciation of the ego) is what is needed. We are genuine individuals made in the image of God, so we have worth as individuals, and our individuality is not meant to disappear and merge into the Oneness. But our selfishness and sin have separated us from our Creator, and Jesus is the only way back to the Father.

    But our individual self is hopelessly lost in sin and selfishness, which is why Christ came. He said he came to seek and to save those who are lost, and made it clear that all of us are in this camp.

    So I would urge you again to read the Gospel accounts of Jesus, without your Eastern-coloured glasses on. Let Jesus speak for himself, and see what he has to say.

    I will keep you in my prayers. Thanks again for writing.

    Regards,
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill

    Real name? Do you mean the name I had before I legally changed it to my present real, legal name? From my perspective we have all had many names over many lives yet remain the same individual soul. 🙂

    Again, my spiritual path is monotheistic and does not involve merging my individual self into the One, but rather establishing and eternal relationship with God.

    I do not think that the concepts of maya (illusion) and renunciation of ego (false identity) are airy fairy in comparison to the Christian concepts of original sin and the devil. Perhaps I should ask you to take off your Christian glasses and reexamine them. Basically there is a difference between the flesh and the spirit, and to look for one’s fulfillment in the flesh is to be in illusion as to where it can actually be found—in the spirit. Renunciation of the ego is about forgoing selfishness and becoming selfless in the service of God, wherein one’s true identity as an eternal servant of God is revealed.

    As for the Christian claim of salvation through Christ alone, I do not believe that this claim has much power to endure in the present largely pluralistic times we live in. Catholics have certainly altered their stance since my days of Sunday school.

    If the son is the father in that both of them are God, then for Jesus to say that he is the way, etc. is to say that the way, the truth, and the light is through God alone. I understand that you have interpreted such passages narrowly and in your mind more accurately, but certainly such passages do lend themselves to broader interpretations, especially when one can find similar ones in other scriptures and followers of either scripture that are saintly and sincere.

    Swami Tripurari, CA

  • Thanks again Swami Tripurari

    Of course because you deny the reality of the devil, you are also sceptical of the possibility of satanic deception, another point which Jesus stressed time and again. And it is not a question of my interpretation of the Gospels. The plain reading of the text will show the huge differences between what Jesus said and what Eastern thought teaches.

    The two are clearly incompatible. And Jesus made it clear that simply being sincere is not enough. One can be sincerely wrong. You have rejected Christ of the Bible for another religion, one that runs counter to the clear teachings of Jesus. That is your choice. But according to the biblical version of events, not all roads lead to God, and not every religion is true.

    And the Bible, you may recall, teaches that there is only one life (not many), and judgment follows (Hebrews 9:27). Again it comes down to a question of authority here. Is the Bible God’s word, and is Jesus who he claimed to be? If so, we must all bow one day before him, either willingly or unwillingly.

    But as I say, having spent a number of years pursuing Eastern thought, I am familiar with what you are saying here. But I now see it is quite wrong, and due in part to the deception of a devil that you now deny. Paul says the “god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe” (2 Cor. 4:4).

    I again urge you to reconsider your earlier Christian roots. In the end the East cannot offer anything of real and ultimate value, only a road away from the true and living God. I pray that you will really keep searching for the truth.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Swami Tripurari

    In response to a couple of things you mentioned…

    “As for the Christian claim of salvation through Christ alone, I do not believe that this claim has much power to endure in the present largely pluralistic times we live in.”

    I would have to strongly disagree with this. Sure we do live in a post modern society. But I believe that primarily for this very reason people are starting to realise that there has to be truth. Not a truth but the truth. and as Bill rightly pointed out, the difference between Christianity and most other religions is that Jesus claimed to be the ONLY way to God.
    As a youth pastor and I can tell you that I see many young people desperate to know the truth. They dont want just another band-aid answer to questions about life. They dont want to be told “this could be the right way, but there could also be other right ways”. They want to build their lives on solid foundations not wishy washy ideas and concepts.

    As for your comment
    “If the son is the father in that both of them are God, then for Jesus to say that he is the way, etc is to say that the way, the truth, and the light is through God alone”

    You have really misquoted what Jesus actually said.

    From your interpretation, the logical assumption is:
    IF the Father=God
    and Jesus = God
    then Jesus=the Father

    AND if Jesus = way to God
    and Jesus = God
    then God=the way to God.

    if the only way way to God, is through God, then yes I understand that there would possibly be many roads to get to God. However I would have to correct you here and remind you about the Biblical teaching of the Trinity.

    Nowhere does the Bible teach that Jesus is the Father and that the Father is Jesus. Rather they are part of a trinity. He is one God, Manifested in three individual persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
    Jesus is God, but he is not the Father. And the Father is God but he is not Jesus.

    Therefore Jesus’ statement “I am the way, the truth and the life” cannot be interpreted any other way.

    If you want to get to God, the only way is through the Son.

    The Bible clearly teaches that there is no other way by which a person can be saved but through the Son.

    My friend, you sound very sincere in your search for truth. Like Bill, let me plead with you to take time to see what Jesus has to say from an objective perspective. I believe that you will come to the same conclusion as I have in my own life and understand that there really is no other way to salvation but through Jesus Christ

    God Bless,
    Mauricio Hernandez

  • Hey Swami, sorry i dont have much time here so after i read the article i read your first two posts and skimmed Bill’s answer.

    I run into alot of Eastern philosophy and Eastern religions in my constant goal of speaking to everybody 🙂 – one thing that i notice is that Eastern philosophy seems to have a structure that denies reality – and scews or denies the boundaries of experiencial reality – which ultimatly leaves the ‘believer’ absolutly no imperical evidence to rest on that these philosophies or religions have any truth to them.

    Quite simply i find it is a case of Fidism or ‘blind faith’, i mean there are many different ‘takes’ and ‘forms’ or ‘philosophies’ in eastern religion, and they dont agree with each other.

    I have to ask the question – who judges what is a good act that yeilds karma, and what is a bad act that yeilds negative karma. Who judges and how can you know? Who made the universe where did it come from? Why are there such rigid laws of physics, and how can one explain the compressed digital information in the genetic DNA code?

    How does your belief system explain these things? Or does your belief system expect you to have blind faith ignoring any reasonable conjecture or valid scientific discovery?

    Joshua Ferrara

  • Bill

    Thanks for allowing me to take part in your forum. I entered this forum with a view to correct your misrepresentation of the doctrine of karma. I think I have accomplished this.

    In your most recent response you have told me what you believe. I respect that, but I am sure you can understand that I might find your beliefs unconvincing. There are many differing voices representing the Bible and yours is but one of them.

    As for the Devil, no I do not believe in the person of Satana the archangel of Biblical lore in a literal sense. I do however, acknowledge the force of temptation in this world that distracts one from the spirit to the flesh. Thus I think that I do accept the notion of the Devil in spirit, if you will, althoughi realize that “temptation” is not perhaps as strong a word as Christianity might use to explain their devil’s influence.

    I mentioned the Devil in response to your depiction of the doctrine of maya and renunciation of ego as “airy fairy.” I found that comment of yours to be less informed and bordering on insulting. I am sorry if I have insulted you in some way by suggesting that the Christian notion of the Devil may be more airy fairy than the doctrine of maya and ego renunciation as represented in Eastern spirituality.

    Swami Tripurari, CA

  • Thanks Swami Tripurari

    Yes I did not expect agreement here. Indeed, this exchange – if nothing else – shows how very incompatible the Christian truth claims are from those of Eastern thinking. If we fully accept the teachings of Jesus, then we cannot embrace the teachings of Hinduism. If Hinduism is true, then Christianity cannot be. And vice versa.

    So we are left with a choice here: following Jesus and submitting to His Lordship, or following another path. And if the claims of Christ are true, not all paths will arrive at the same destination. But thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Mauricio

    Yes, I also believe that today people yearn for an objective truth, one that postmodernism denies or seeks to be. The ever illusive postmodernism is in my opinion largely a reaction, a doubting and thus a pause with regard to the direction modernism has taken us. Thus it cannot stand in and of itself.

    Nonetheless, postmodernism brings with it considerable critical thinking, all of which is not bad. Just as modernism brought a sense of individualism and critical thinking which in part helped to usher in the Reformation, similarly postmodernism is already informing Christian thought in many circles in ways that are moving it towards a more inclusive position and thus a reformation of sorts. Christian evangelical environmentalism is a good example. You may not want to be part of that so called reform, but I believe that such a reformed and more inclusive Christianity will have more staying power in the decades to come, more than a provincial, exclusive version.

    Christianity is no exception to the fact that humanity’s understanding of religion is influenced by the times. Look at the Church’s middle age reaction to newly discovered works of Aristotle, as exhibited by Augustine. Then look at Luther’s reaction to Catholic corruption and how his position was influenced by the social and intellectual climate of his time that brought on the Protestant Reformation. In these two periods Christianity went from a Catholic/Hellenistic/Scholastic- Christianity in which reason played a much greater role in scriptural interpretation, to the protestant shift to scriptural literalism. So, again, I suspect that a more pluralistic, inclusive sense of the Christian revelation will be more viable in the postmodern climate than an exclusive Christianity that continues to objectify nature, etc. and look down upon other spiritual traditions more akin to a modernist mindset.

    Regarding the Biblical citation, I agree your interpretation is better. Although the Son and father are both God, they are also different from one another. One is the way the other the goal. However, I think that the way of the Son can be justifiably rendered such that it is more inclusive. At the same time I doubt that you would find this type of reading to your liking. Still it is those who insist upon a narrow and literal interpretation who are burdened with having to explain away the saintliness, obvious spirituality, and Godliness found in others who do not follow their one lane highway to God. Again, although such one way believers may feel confident with their own explanation of this phenomenon, I doubt it will have much currency in the coming decades in comparison to a more inclusive understanding of Christ’s way.

    Swami Tripurari, CA

  • Joshua

    I do not know what you are referring to when you write that Eastern spirituality “skews or denies the boundaries of experiential reality.” Indeed, I have no idea what you are talking about. You say that ES has no empirical evidence to rest its belief on. I disagree with this statement, but also question if Christianity or any spiritual path needs to rely upon empirical evidence. As far as I know the existence of God does not rest upon such evidence. He will not show up is he is to be tried in the court of reason, in that reason and much more so empiricism are beneath him. This does not render belief in God unreasonable, but rather trans-rational and certainly transcendent to the limitations of empiric sense experience.

    Yes, there are may different expression of Eastern spirituality. No more however, than there are different versions of Christianity. Indeed the Protestant reformation at its heart was about a direct relationship with Christ, as opposed to a Church mediated relationship, and that new relationship was private in that its religious authority rested with each Christian individual reading and subsequently interpreting the Bible in accordance with his or her conscience. Again, thus the multitude of Christian sects and interpretations of the Bible, and enough of the claim to exclusivity. At best Fundamentalist Christianity today and all of Christianity at large can claim, on faith alone, an exclusivity with a huge asterik that marks the gulf of doctrinal difference between its many sects, most of whom do not acknowledge that salvation is available through any sect other than their own.

    However, just as there is a current of common ground running through most expressions of Christianity, so to there is considerable common ground found in Eastern paths and certainly within Hinduism and its schools of Vedanta. Still I fail to see how the diversity found in the East or West has anything to do with blind faith.

    You ask,

    “who judges what is a good act that yeilds karma, and what is a bad act that yeilds negative karma. Who judges and how can you know? Who made the universe where did it come from? Why are there such rigid laws of physics, and how can one explain the compressed digital information in the genetic DNA code?

    How does your belief system explain these things? Or does your belief system expect you to have blind faith ignoring any reasonable conjecture or valid scientific discovery?

    God and of course scripture/revelation determine what is good and bad karma. Perhaps you are unaware that Hinduism and its Vedanta are a scripturally based religion/spirituality, in which the revealed scripture holds arguably a more important role that it does in Christianity. The universes come from God. God is their cause and they are the effect. Why are there laws of physics, etc. you ask? Our scriptures explain the world better than the Bible does, better that is in terms of any correspondence with modern science. Indeed, if modern science has looked anywhere outside of itself for insight into the nature of consciousness (without which matter woul not matter) it is to the East—to Hinduism and Vedanta and their errant derivative Buddhism. There are numerous best sellers on the interface between Eastern spirituality and modern science beginning with the Tao of Physics decades ago.

    Scientific discovery has been viewed differently by Christiantiy over the centuries, as it has by all religions. Both the Catholics and the Reformation damned the budding Copernican revolution on the basis of their interpretation of the Bible! Honestly Joshua, I forgive you for being uninformed, but you leave me with a sense of disbelief at the measure of it. You are not corresponding with Shirley McClain here!

    Swami Tripurari, CA

  • Thanks Swami Tripurari

    Let me pick up on a few points if I may. As to the goodness or saintliness of non-Christians, biblical Christianity of course explains this. Because of the fact that we are made in God’s image, and because of common grace, there can be “good” people doing “good” things. But this must be balanced with passages I have already referred to, that we are all dead in our trespasses and sins, and that all our righteousness is as filthy rags.

    Again, this is a major difference between Christianity and the religions of the East. Christianity takes sin seriously, as well as Satan and the demonic realm, and recognises that on our own we will never attain oneness with God and overcome or deal with our own sin. Indeed, left to our own, we are alienated from a pure, holy and righteous God. Which again is why Jesus came: to die for our sins and become a bridge back to the Father. But reconciliation with God must take place on his terms, not ours. We can never be good enough or holy enough. Again, this is the basic gospel message, one that does not really have anything to do with how “literally” one takes Scripture, as you keep mentioning. A plain, simple reading of the four Gospels makes this message quite clear.

    And there may well be many differing types of religions associated with Christianity, but from early on, all orthodox believers have adhered to some pretty basic fundamentals, such as found in the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. Those who go beyond those boundaries forfeit the right to call themselves Christians. So amid the diversity that does exist, there is a core of common beliefs, among them the truth there is only one true God, composed of Father, Son and Spirit, and that salvation is alone found in Jesus Christ.

    As to the development of modern science, it of course arose out of the Judeo-Christian West, not out of the East. That some aspects of recent scientific thinking is finding some convergence with aspects of Eastern though does not detract from this fundamental truth. It was the biblical worldview that made the modern scientific endeavour possible. This has been argued by plenty of scholars, from Whitehead to Oppenheimer.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill

    You have raised three points: 1) The sincerity and goodness of non Christians; 2) Uniformity of Christianity; 3) The Biblical worldview’s contribution to modern science.

    In response:

    1. In bringing this point up I also used the word saintly. I believe that the saintly are both sincere and good, but unlike good and sincere people saints exhibit other qualities that make them stand out. Let me refer you to a quote from the Christian Theologian John Moffit’s “Journey to Gorahkpur; An Encounter with Christ Beyond Christianity.”

    Moffit writes, “If I were to choose one man in Indian religious history who best represents the pure spirit of devotional self- giving, I would choose the Vaishnavite saint Caitanya . . . Of all the saints in recorded history, East and West, he seems to me to be the supreme example of a soul carried away on a tide of ecstatic love of God. . . It is said that, like St Francis of Assisi, he had a miraculous power over wild beasts. His life in the holy town of Puri is the story of a man in a state of almost continuous spiritual intoxication. Illuminating discourses, deep contemplation, and moods of loving communion with God, were daily occurrences.”

    Caitanya was a soul who insisted that only by God’s grace could one attain salvation and love of God. In my opinion, one shared by at least one learned Protestant Christian, Caitanya exhibited actual symptoms of a person who had attained love of God. It is one thing to say “I love God.” and quite another to actually love him. At any rate here I humbly ask you to broaden your outlook, to expand your sense of what it means to be Christ-like. Without doing so I believe you risk appearing unbelievable. Please note also that some forms of Eastern religion emphasize the absolute necessity of grace in pursuit of salvation and that they take sin seriously and even believe in hell.

    2. You have correctly pointed to the unifying aspects of Christianity. However, it is apparent from the citation above that some Christians that fall within the parameters you mention nonetheless have a more generous outlook toward Eastern religion than you do. Thus there are ways in which Christianity can be more accommodating, flexible, and capable of accommodating truth wherever it appears, be it religious or scientific.

    Again, the Church certainly came to accommodate the insights of Copernicus, even though it had to wait until after the Pope found his successor Galileo suspect of heresy, placed him under house arrest, and made him virtually serve a life sentence in prison as the likes of Luther looked on.

    3. It is true that modern science was ushered in by Christianity. However, this is so only to the extent that Christianity saw fit to separate man and nature, a position that is now a point of conetention. While Christainty purged Europe of pagan nature worship and relegated pagan gods and goddesses ultimately to the realm of superstition, in doing so it envisioned a divide between man and nature that was, in the opinion of many today, in excess. This extreme view set the stage for the raping and pillaging of the natural world that has led us into a far reaching moral dilemma, as man and science feel free to play God.

    Early Christians thought science would prove the existence of God, but in reality it has done more to cause Christians to leave their faith than solidify it. After all, before he advent of modern science blessed by the Church, all of Europe use to be Christian.

    As for Eastern religion, there is nothing inherent in it that precludes scientific and rational inquiry, even while it tends not to lay stress on material progress. Furthermore, while the Christian worldview in ways mentioned above ushered in modern science, Hindusim’s Vedanta with its understanding of the nature of consciousness may well do more in the long run bring science back to God.

    Swami Tripurari

  • Thanks Swami Tripurari

    As to saints, the Bible makes it clear that we are all sinners. I will take Jesus and Scripture any day over what Moffit has said. It again comes down to a question of authority. A Christian is one who takes the teachings of Jesus and the Word of God seriously. And the biblical record throughout is that we are all spiritually dead. Until we can receive new life from Christ, based of repentance and faith, we will remain spiritually dead.

    And you keep referring to a more accommodating, inclusive and expansive reading of the biblical text, in good Eastern – and postmodern – fashion. One might as well say that about reading the label on a bottle of medicine: “Well, it says do not exceed 5 ml, but that is a very narrow and restrictive reading of the text. Surely in a more accommodating and accepting age, we can read, say, 15 ml or 50 ml.” Deadly results follow from such broad readings.

    The same with the Bible. As I said, any plain reading of the text will show it does not at all accommodate the claims of Eastern thought. Indeed, the two are diametrically opposed. We either take Jesus and his words at face value, or we radically reread them with Eastern glasses on. But Jesus was no guru or avatar, and his claims will never match up with Eastern monism, pantheism, and teachings about samsara, karma and moksha.

    As to science,you can argue all you like that Eastern thought may be compatible with modern science, but in point of fact, historically modern science arose out of the Judeo-Christian West. It did not arise out of the East.

    There are a number of reason why this is so. Belief in the distinct and objective reality of the physical world was necessary, but in much of Eastern thought, the reality of the physical, material nature of the world is denied and is seen as an illusion (maya). Also the Judeo-Christian understanding of time as linear instead of cyclical as in Eastern thought was essential for modern science. And the biblical idea of creation out of nothing was essential as well. Creation is separate from God, and can be studied and explored, not worshipped and/or abstained from, as in some aspects of Eastern thought.

    And there are plenty of believers who happen to be scientists, contrary to your assertions. There need be no conflict between science and Biblical faith. And of course all of Europe was never fully Christian, and the reasons for secularism are complex and multifactoral, not just due to the rise of science alone.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill

    First of all you, cannot have it both ways when you on one hand speak of Christianity as including all that agree with the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed and on the other hand describe Christians like Moffit as those not following the Biblical prescription on the bottle of what constitutes true Christianity. It might be in your interest to ask Moffit how he justifies his opinion based upon scripture. Instead of dismissing him, at least you could give him the benefit of the doubt and hear him out.

    My point in citing Moffit was that there are objective truths that don’t always square with our particular understanding of scripture or revelation. We can deny them or we can grow in our our understanding of scripture from a static understanding to a dynamic one. Christianity has a history of doing this and this is in part what has kept it alive in the world.

    As I have pointed out earlier, the objective heliocentric truth was for centuries denied on the basis of a particular Biblical reading, one that later gave way to a broader interpretation and Christian acknowledgment of the Copernican revelation, if you will. I believe the views and Biblical readings of respected Christian scholars like Moffit have more currency in the world than views like yours that deny obvious, objective spirituality and love of God outside your reading of scripture.

    Is the love of God observed in Sri Caitanya within the religious realm any less an objective truth for believers than the earth’s orbit around the sun? Let me cite Copleston in his famous debate with Russell: “But when you get what one might call the pure type [of spiritual experience], say St. Francis of Assisi, when you get an experience that results in an overflow of dynamic and creative love, the best explanation of that it seems to me is the actual existence of an objective cause of the experience [God].” Here he is differentiating between actual spiritual experience and imagined spiritual experience of a deluded person. He then goes on to say, “By religious experience I don’t mean simply feeling good. I mean a loving, but unclear, awareness of some object which irresistibly seems to the experiencer as something transcending the self, something transcending all the normal objects of experience, something which cannot be pictured or conceptualized, but of the reality of which doubt is impossible — at least during the experience. I should claim that cannot be explained adequately and without residue, simply subjectively. The actual basic experience at any rate is most easily explained on the hypotheses that there is actually some objective cause of that experience.” Here again Copleston is suggesting that the most plausible conjecture is that the objective cause is God.

    If you do not accept the experience of those like Sri Caitanya as one of God-inspired-grace and evidence of love of God because it has not come through Jesus in the way that you think it must in accordance with your reading of the Bible, you must explain how the same phenomena when occurring in Christians from your sect (if it has) is not only objectively different, but moreover, how the experience of Sri Caitanya is Anti-Christ-inspired, as opposed to those of your sect who are God-inspired. I think think would be difficult to do in a way that would be convincing to an objective person, the likes of which you consider yourself to be. However, if you simply say that your faith dictates your conclusion, I cannot argue with on that other than to say that in this instance your faith and reason do not agree. Of course in the larger picture faith and reason need not always agree, for faith is not dependent upon reason in order for it to be reasonable. However, in this particular instance at least Christians like Moffit see no reason to separate their faith from what appears reasonable.

    As for Christianity and science, I have acknowledged that modern science arose out of a Christian worldview. I also agree with you when you say that the reasons for the development of secularism in Europe were complex and multifactoral, not just due to the rise of science alone. However, the rise of Christianity in Europe is also a product of many factors. Yes, all of Europe was never Christian, but that is like saying all of America was never capitalistic.

    More importantly I think you make more out of the notion that Christianity and science go together than there is evidence in support of this idea. This is especially so when at the same time you make the East and its religion out to be diametrically opposed to modern science. Were it not for India and its zero, etc., we would not be able to do math. Arguably, the origins of calculus lie in India 300 years before Leibnitz and Newton. It is also well known that the math of Copernicus is strikingly similar to that of the Arabic world 300 years before him. Now in a quantum world we also find enough support for a cyclical worldview to conclude that such is not merely primitive and outdated. Its hardly over. There is much to come in the world of modern science, and although Christianity was involved in the beginning of the march of modern science, it is much less involved now. Meanwhile Eastern spirituality with its in depth analysis of consciousness is a player. All the flowers in the garden do not blossom at the same time.

    I never asserted that there were no believers (Christians) who were scientists. Nor is the East without belief in a distinct and objective reality of the physical world. Read Ramanuja, for example, who strongly repudiates the notion that the objective world does not ultimately exist. However, even his opponents who perceive it as false nonetheless accept it as an empiric reality such that their view would not get in the way of scientific discovery. Eastern reverence for the natural world also need not get in the way of scientific progress. Indeed, it seeks merely to throttle such discovery such that it does not become counterproductive, which is arguably the direction it is headed today.

    Swami Tripurari, CA

  • Thanks Swami

    But we are starting to cover some old ground here. But let me make a few quick points. As to heliocentrism, may I remind you that pretty much everyone, not just Christians, believed in geocentrism for millennia. And you provide the typical overly simplistic position of church against science here, when the whole Galileo/Copernicus episode was far more nuanced and complex.

    For example, the great majority of scientists at the time actually sided with the church on this issue. Even non-Christian philosophers of Galileo’s day accepted the reigning Aristotelian scientific paradigm. The pope was not so much concerned about Galileo’s science but the way he used it to attack Aristotelian philosophy, which the church had adopted and relied upon (eg., through Aquinas). And Galileo sought to bring biblical faith and science together. It was the Enlightenment, a century later, which sought to drive a wedge between the two.

    Thus here you are more at home with atheists in your simplistic assessment of the issue.

    Also, you speak much of “objective spirituality and love”. But there is another very important part of the equation: objective truth, something which both postmodernists and most Eastern thinkers have real problems with. That all sorts of people appear to be or act loving simply speaks to God’s common grace, and the fact that we are all made in the image of God. But that alone is not sufficient. Differing truth claims have to be assessed.

    As I said, any plain reading of the Gospel accounts will find Jesus making quite firm and exclusivist truth claims. If we accept him and his words at face value, then we cannot embrace the inclusivism of Eastern thought or the relativism of postmodernism.

    It is simply a question of admitting that if Jesus is right in his claims about himself and his mission, then they are not at all compatible with the claims of the East, whether the claims of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or what have you.

    And it is not just the particular claims of Christ (eg. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me”). The big ticket items are also completely at variance. The Trinitarian monotheism of Christianity is not in the least compatible with polytheism and/or pantheism. The clear distinction between Creator and creature in Christianity is not at all compatible with Eastern monism. The defining Christian beliefs about sin, judgment, hell and Satan find little if any common ground in Eastern religions.

    Indeed, at the heart of the disagreement is the nature of man, his predicament, and the way out. The clams of Christ in this regard are nowhere near anything the East has to say about this. Sorry, you may find the occasional Christian who embraces Eastern inclusivism and relativism, but they are not at all representative of the historic truth claims of biblical Christianity.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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