Saturday, June 18, 2016

" Ought to" and "Want to" The Virtue of Virtue Ethics

Below is why I find virtue ethics to be the best approach for moral reasoning. "Ought to" Christians are like Kantian deontologists; "want to" Christians are like utilitarians.  Virtue ethics asks us to imitate the man of practical virtue, and for Christians, that means Jesus Christ. As Minkoff points out, Jesus exhibited both “ought to” and “want to” qualities at different times in his life and ministry.  He shows us the way to be good.

Are You an “Ought To” or a “Want To” Christian?

Have you ever wondered how David, apparently a man after God’s own heart, found himself capable of flagrant acts of adultery and murder? Have you ever wondered how David could still be a believer after all that? Think about if a similar scandal were to come to light in our day: if some mega-pastor were caught in adultery with one of his congregants, and then it turns out he had her husband assassinated in an attempt to avoid a scandal. Would you ever be able to trust that pastor’s repentance?

Duty and Affection

For years, I have had a sentence written on the glass between the tracking and monitoring rooms in the Nehemiah Foundation’s project studio: “Duty will not compel me more than affection.” It’s an aphorism I learned from some colonial American whose name I have forgotten. I like to look at it while I’m in the tedious process of mixing and editing. It reminds me that I press forward not in grim resignation but joyful resolution.
But that’s me. I know many people whose commitment to duty very much overrides their various affections, and I won’t say at this point that these people necessarily err in this. When I look at my father, for instance, I see a sincere and meek-hearted Christian whose commitment to duty overrides all other impulses. I don’t know the true state of his heart, obviously, but his actions are generally unimpeachable. So I don’t know that it makes a lot of sense to tell my father: “Duty should not compel you more than affection.”
In the parable of the willing and unwilling sons, Jesus made it clear that the unwilling son who helped his father in spite of his contrary feelings was a true son (Matt. 21:28–32). In other words, it was good that the unwilling son’s sense of duty ultimately overcame his initially wrong-hearted affections. But is Jesus suggesting that doing what is right even when we don’t feel like it is the terminal destination for Christian sanctification? I don’t think so. But neither is he saying that contradicting wrong affections with a sense of duty is (necessarily or always) false religion or legalism.
In the process of developing an effective approach to right-doing, I have begun to realize that sincere and genuine believers tend to find motivation for righteousness in at least two distinct ways: through reverence (duty) or through devotion (affection). In other words, there are “ought to” Christians and “want to” Christians.1
Before I dive into making a biblical case for the legitimacy of these two motivations to virtue, let me say that I don’t think either one is more or less important or necessary in the church today. In order to stay healthy, the church needs a good mix of both kinds of Christians.

“Ought to” and “Want to” Christians

“Ought to” Christians are motivated by a desire to obey the rules and orders given by their Master. They generally submit to authority. They have a strong commitment to duty, and a healthy fear of punishment. They regularly do right even when they don’t actually want to do right. They are unwilling to bend the letter of the law because they often have trouble seeing into its spirit. They prefer to “err on the side of caution.” They tend to be conservative, particularly in “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” terms. They operate toward God as their Father and their Master much more often than as their Brother and their Friend.
“Want to” Christians are generally unwilling to do differently than they feel, so following the rules for them has more to do with correcting their broken affections than constraining them. They tend to challenge the status quo and question authority. They regularly bend the letter of the law. In fact, they tend to act without carefully consulting the letter in the first place. They often experience the spirit of the law more clearly through sustained intimacy with God, but have dangerous intermittent periods of spiritual coolness that leave them vulnerable to great temptation. They do not fear punishment. They tend to think it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. They operate toward God as their Brother and their Friend much more than as their Father and Master.
The Bible has a number of scenarios where “ought to” and “want to” Christians are placed together in the same story as mutual foils. Each of these scenarios is enlightening. Here are the ones I have noticed:2
Notice that in each of these scenarios, God makes it clear that both the “want to” and “ought to” believers are truly his children. They each represent legitimate complimentary angles on righteousness. Let’s consider the story of David and Uriah more closely.

David and Uriah: Case Study of “Want to” and “Ought to”

David was a “want to” Christian. He viewed the law of God as his delight before he viewed it as his duty. He regularly bent or broke the conventional rules of tradition and propriety and had a pretty flexible view on the letter of the law as well. For instance, he ate the forbidden showbread (1 Sam. 21:1ff). He danced before the ark in what his wife (and probably others) thought was a shameful state of undress (2 Sam. 6:12ff). He had no problem telling lies to his enemies (1 Sam. 27:8) and sometimes even his friends (1 Sam. 21:2). He eschewed the conventional parameters of hand-to-hand combat—and warfare in general (re: Goliath).
There are probably many other examples of how David discerned the spirit and substance of the law, and therefore felt comfortable operating in an extra-conventional righteousness. God still blessed David in this, and God considered David even an exceptionally righteous man (Acts 13:22).
But then you have, on the other hand, Uriah. This was a man of duty, conviction, and principle. He refused to sleep with his wife when he came home from the battlefield. He came home only at his king’s specific command. He fought and died bravely, and from everything we know of him, he was righteous. He followed human conventions even possibly to a fault, and probably said things like, “Better to err on the side of caution” and “It’s the principle of the thing.”
It’s interesting to consider how Uriah and David would have operated if their places had been switched. If Uriah had been in David’s shoes, he probably would not have sinned with Bathsheba. But he probably would have died trying to cross swords with Goliath (as a matter of honor), and it’s unlikely Uriah could have written most of the Psalms.
It’s almost certainly the case that David would have slept in his own bed with his own wife if he had been in Uriah’s position—and he wouldn’t have been wrong to do so. And it is almost equally certain that Uriah would not have eaten the showbread in David’s position—and Uriah wouldn’t have been wrong to abstain.
The David and Uriah pairing should act as a grave warning to the “want to” Christian. What happens when you don’t want to or when you are drawn to want something other than God’s will in your life? You’re in a dangerous position. You can infer the cooling of David’s fervency even at the beginning of his temporary fall from grace. Rather than going out (with Uriah and the other soldiers) “during the time when kings go to battle,” David decided to stay behind and loaf about on his rooftop (2 Sam. 11:1).

Marc Chagall – Kind David and Bathsheba (1957) [demurely cropped for “ought to” brothers and sisters]
Was he depressed? Complacent? Bored? Possibly all of the above. The point is that his delight in God’s will was not burning quite as fervently in his heart as it usually did. And unlike the “ought to” Christian, David didn’t have the same healthy fear of punishment to hold him back from great sin. So when his affections were drawn elsewhere, he acted on them as usual—to devastating consequences.
Would such a fall likely happen to an “ought to” Christian? No. Such a public scandal is not likely to happen to an “ought to” Christian—if he or she is a genuine believer, that is. Duty-driven Christians generally avoid such circumstances by not veering from their rules. They have learned how to operate against their affections out of a healthy fear of negative consequences.
But “ought to” Christians have a major weakness too—since they are capable of functioning righteously on the exterior even when their hearts are not in the right place, they often don’t have the same external warning signs when something is going very wrong in their spirits. And they don’t have the same urgency to get their hearts right. Everything could look quite normal and righteous on the outside, even when a sinful spirit is rotting them out from the inside.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Our Motivations

The “want to” Christian has many strengths: contagious passion, oftentimes greater insight into the spirit of the Law, spiritual boldness, and a willingness to challenge the status quo (very important when it needs challenging).
But the “want to” Christian has a major weakness: the capacity for extraordinary acts of wickedness in those rare and usually short-lived times when his passion for God has cooled.
The “ought to” Christian has many strengths: steady righteousness, faithfulness in the little things, respect for authority and tradition, and extraordinary loyalty.
But the “ought to” Christian has a major weakness: the ability to harbor a sinful spirit indefinitely within a superficially “righteous” exterior.
It’s generally the case that a “want to” Christian, like David, can commit even great sin and still be a sincere believer. In fact, the “want to” believer’s spirit might be truly righteous most of the time. Since David obviously did whatever he wanted, the fact that he so consistently followed after God indicates that he generally wanted to follow after and be like God. A whole lot more than most of us actually. So even though many of us might never do that thing that David did, it’s still the case that his heart was more consistently like God’s than ours.
Great sin can come against the “want to” Christian in a moment of weakness, but in order for an “ought to” Christian to do what David did, that Christian’s entire motivation for virtue would have to be destroyed. If an “ought to” Christian gets to the point that he no longer possesses any healthy fear of punishment for a monumental breach, he has probably been living in secret sin already for many years. It’s hard to recover from that.
When you consider the Pharisees, you see the final corruption and apostasy of “ought to” believers: they become white-washed tombs. “Ought to” Christianity can drift into Christ-hating legalism if it is not rooted in real union with God, and one of the extraordinary dangers of this drift is that, at least superficially, apostate “ought to” pharisaism doesn’t look much different than genuine “ought to” belief.
“Want to” Christians look like the big sinners we all say we know we all are. “Want to” Christians have trouble hiding their sin tendencies, for better and for worse. While they are re-tooling their affections, they will probably sin fairly regularly (and publicly). They don’t contribute very much to making the church seem pious to outsiders (or insiders, for that matter). But their zeal and sincerity (when properly directed) contributes much to the right spirit of the church.
“Ought to” Christians look like legalists. Their commitment to duty can make them real sticks in the mud. They don’t contribute much to making the church seem welcoming to outsiders (or insiders, for that matter). But without their faithfulness, prudence, loyalty, and conservative submission to standards, the church would tear itself apart.


Jesus exhibited both “ought to” and “want to” qualities at different times in his life and ministry. He clearly didn’t have much problem breaking conventional rules (he particularly galled the Pharisees by working on the sabbath and hanging out with sinners). But he was also absolutely fastidious in other circumstances (his responses to Satan in the wilderness were all drawn from the Law in Deuteronomy). He also did things he did not “feel” like doing (as evidenced in Gethsemane). His reverence for the Father compelled him at times. His affection for his brothers and sisters compelled him at others. He was the perfect and whole person.
As Christ’s body, each of us must imitate him in that small part he has given us within himself. None of us are complete or whole unto ourselves, though. “Want to” and “ought to” Christians pursue their individual qualities in Christ, and then come together to form a complete person in the church.
I wrote this article to help genuine Christians recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, but also to help us look after each other in love. Too many times, churches begin to coalesce around one particular motivation for virtue, and this often results in a collective emphasis on individual weaknesses. “Want-to” churches tend to lack discipline, rigor, order, and commitment. They tend to look down on the hobgoblin-beset, legalistic minds meeting down the street. “Ought-to” churches tend to lack heart, compassion, forgiveness, and flexibility. They tend to look down on the nightmare hippie children scandalizing the name of Christ in the other part of town.
The operations of “want to” and “ought to” Christians serve a similar function in the church that fusion and electro-magnetism serve in the sun. Without fusion, the sun would be cold and dead. But without the constraining electro-magnetic field, the sun would be an explosion—not a productive and continual source of life-giving energy.
We need a healthy mix of both kinds of Christians in all of our churches. Developing this healthy mix will require all of us to exit our comfort zones for the sake of our brothers and sisters and the church. Practically speaking, how do you think we can accomplish this?
  1. I don’t think any Christian is entirely one or the other. I’m talking about primary, not exclusive, motivations toward virtue. 
  1. I have written the pairs here with the “want to” believer first. There are likely many other pairs of mutual foils in the Bible. Please comment if you think of one/some. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Republicans and the Know-nothing Party

There has been an inner tension within the Republican party, as a result of its incorporation of the Know-nothings. The Republican party of today bears little, if any resemblance to the party of Lincoln's day. The Know-nothing DNA has come to the forefront in our day.

from Mark Noll, Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present

Noll writes,
"Explicit anti-catholicism emerged as the major political issue in the 1850's. In 1856, the anti-Catholic, nativist Know-nothing party won 21 percent of the popular vote for its candidate, Millard Fillmore. Then it merged with the antislavery and purely regional Republican party. The result was that the Republican party had a strong Puritan evangelical component, bent on regulating the society according to Christian principles. Anti- slavery was the great achievement of this outlook, but anti-alcohol and anti-Catholicism components were just as much its trademarks.
One thing this party was doing was establishing an insider-vs. outsider mentality toward America and Americanism. Ethnically, it was predominantly British; economically, it was thoroughly allied with the business community. Both these features reinforced its insider view of itself. The Puritan-Methodist ethic of self-help, moral discipline and social responsibility dominated much of American education and defined its version of Americanism.

One storey or two storeys? Premodern vs. Modern Metaphysics

As a premodern, I embrace the one-storey universe, and reject the modernist two-storey metaphysic.
This comic is an excellent, short-hand way of describing the difference.


Monday, May 30, 2016

Physics, Philosophy, Free Will, Falsification, and Faith

Physicist George Ellis Knocks Physicists for Knocking Philosophy, Falsification, Free Will

Horgan: At the conference where we met, Howthelightsgetsin, you were in a session called "The end of experiment." What was that about?

Ellis: Well this was just echoing what you have already said: many of the possible high-energy physics experiments and astronomy observations relevant to cosmology are now in essence nearly complete. Physics experiments are approaching the highest energies it will ever be possible to test by any collider experiment, both for financial and technical reasons. We can’t build a collider bigger than the surface of the Earth. Thus our ability to test high energy physics – and hence structures on the smallest physical scales – is approaching its limits. Astronomical observations at all wavelengths are now probing the most distant cosmological events that will ever be “seeable” by any kinds of radiation whatever, because of visual horizons for each form of radiation.

It’s rather like the situation as regards exploring the Earth: once upon a time we had only fragmentary knowledge of what is there. Then we obtained a global picture of the Earth’s surface, including detailed satellite images of the entire land mass. Once you have seen it all, you have seen it all; apart from finer and finer details, there is nothing more to find. You might respond, But we can’t see to the bottom of the oceans. However, we do indeed now have quite good maps of the ocean floor too, through various sounding techniques. This is similar to the way we have seen right back to the last scattering surface in the early universe at a redshift of 1200 (the analogue of seeing the entire surface of the Earth from space) with satellites such as COBE, WMAP, and Planck, and also (indirectly) to the time of emission of gravitational waves by Bicep2 (the analogue of seeing to the bottom of the ocean). We’ll sort out that controversy in the next couple of years.
So what we can see at the largest and smallest scales is approaching what will ever be possible, except for refining the details.

But I emphasize that this comment does not apply to complex systems. Complexity is almost unbounded – microbiology, biology, the brain will give us work to do for many centuries more, what we may find may be very unexpected. That might also apply to the foundations of quantum physics, and its relation to complexity. But – barring something very unforeseen - the possible tests of the very large and the very small are coming towards the limits of whatever will be possible.
Yes I know this kind of thing has been said before. That was before we had explored the entire visible universe at all possible wavelengths. I concede that observations relevant to structure formation in the universe – galaxies, stars, planets – have a good while to go, they are in essence verging to the side of studying complexity, and still have life in them yet, they are very interesting studies.

Horgan: Lawrence Krauss, in A Universe from Nothing, claims that physics has basically solved the mystery of why there is something rather than nothing. Do you agree?

Ellis: Certainly not. He is presenting untested speculative theories of how things came into existence out of a pre-existing complex of entities, including variational principles, quantum field theory, specific symmetry groups, a bubbling vacuum, all the components of the standard model of particle physics, and so on. He does not explain in what way these entities could have pre-existed the coming into being of the universe, why they should have existed at all, or why they should have had the form they did. And he gives no experimental or observational process whereby we could test these vivid speculations of the supposed universe-generation mechanism. How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.

Thus what he is presenting is not tested science. It’s a philosophical speculation, which he apparently believes is so compelling he does not have to give any specification of evidence that would confirm it is true. Well, you can’t get any evidence about what existed before space and time came into being. Above all he believes that these mathematically based speculations solve thousand year old philosophical conundrums, without seriously engaging those philosophical issues. The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy. As pointed out so well by Eddington in his Gifford lectures, they are partial and incomplete representations of physical, biological, psychological, and social reality.

And above all Krauss does not address why the laws of physics exist, why they have the form they have, or in what kind of manifestation they existed before the universe existed (which he must believe if he believes they brought the universe into existence). Who or what dreamt up symmetry principles, Lagrangians, specific symmetry groups, gauge theories, and so on? He does not begin to answer these questions.

It’s very ironic when he says philosophy is bunk and then himself engages in this kind of attempt at philosophy. It seems that science education should include some basic modules on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and the other great philosophers, as well as writings of more recent philosophers such as Tim Maudlin and David Albert.

Horgan: Are you, or were you ever, a believer in a final theory of physics?

Ellis: I certainly have believed in it as a possibility. However the price of having to use higher-dimensional theories is in my view a considerable drawback and to be avoided if possible; it is certainly unproven to be the way Nature is. Rather it may be that fundamental physics in the end involves two different intermeshed theories: a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) and unimodular Loop Quantum Gravity, with no hidden dimensions and no string theory landscape. The unification will be in terms of broad approaches underlying physical theories (Lagrangians, variational principles, physical symmetries, etc.) but not necessarily one overriding theory that encompasses all fundamental physics in a unified form.

Indeed it is in my view unlikely there is a unified theory of all fundamental forces including gravity, because Einstein taught us that gravity is *not*, at a foundational level, in fact a force – rather it is an effective result of spacetime curvature. Yes of course there are various effective theories of gravity where it is seen as a force, such as Newton's theory and representing it as a spin 2 graviton, but their existence does not determine what the underlying deep theory of gravitation is. My feeling is that it will be a theory based on a discrete view of space-time with a conformal structure for the gravity sector, probably based in principles of holonomy, interacting with a unified GUT theory for the matter sector. That is not a unified final theory of physics as envisaged by string theorists. Such a theory may not exist.

Horgan: Are you a fan of multiverse theories? String theory? The anthropic principle?
No (may be true but unproveable, much too much untestable speculation about existence of infinities of entities, ill defined and untestable probability measures), no (too much speculative introduction of very complex unseeable entities, treats gravity just like any other force), yes (however one responds to it, it’s a real question that deserves consideration). Fine tuning of fundamental physics parameters is required in order that we can exist. Examining this issue has led to many very interesting studies.

Horgan: Physicist Sean Carroll has argued that falsifiability is overrated as a criterion for judging whether theories should be taken seriously. Do you agree?

Ellis: This is a major step backwards to before the evidence-based scientific revolution initiated by Galileo and Newton. The basic idea is that our speculative theories, extrapolating into the unknown and into untestable areas from well-tested areas of physics, are so good they have to be true. History proves that is the path to delusion: just because you have a good theory does not prove it is true. The other defence is that there is no other game in town. But there may not be any such game.
Scientists should strongly resist such an attack on the very foundations of its own success. Luckily it is a very small subset of scientists who are making this proposal.

Horgan: Krauss, Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson have been bashing philosophy as a waste of time. Do you agree?

Ellis: If they really believe this they should stop indulging in low-grade philosophy in their own writings. You cannot do physics or cosmology without an assumed philosophical basis. You can choose not to think about that basis: it will still be there as an unexamined foundation of what you do. The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined.

Actually philosophical speculations have led to a great deal of good science. Einstein’s musings on Mach’s principle played a key role in developing general relativity. Einstein’s debate with Bohr and the EPR paper have led to a great of deal of good physics testing the foundations of quantum physics. My own examination of the Copernican principle in cosmology has led to exploration of some great observational tests of spatial homogeneity that have turned an untested philosophical assumption into a testable – and indeed tested - scientific hypothesis. That’ s good science.

Ellis: You are a Christian, more specifically a Quaker. Does your faith have any effect on your scientific views, or vice versa?

It may affect to some degree the topics I choose to tackle, but it cannot affect the science itself, which has its own logic that must be followed wherever it leads without fear or favour, within the domain of application of the relevant theories.

My philosophical and religious views must of course take present-day science seriously, but in doing so (a) I distinguish very clearly between what is tested or testable science and what is not, (b) I make strenuous efforts to consider what aspects of reality can be comprehended by a strict scientific approach, and what lie outside the limits of mathematically based efforts to encapsulate aspects of the nature of what exists.

Many key aspects of life (such as ethics: what is good and what is bad, and aesthetics: what is beautiful and what is ugly) lie outside the domain of scientific inquiry (science can tell you what kind of circumstances will lead to the extinction of polar bears, or indeed of humanity; it has nothing whatever to say about whether this would be good or bad, that is not a scientific question).
Attempts to explain values in terms of neuroscience or evolutionary theory in fact have nothing whatever to say about what is good or bad. That is a philosophical or religious question (scientists trying to explain ethics from these kinds of approaches always surreptitiously introduce some unexamined concept of what is a good life by the back door). And they cannot for example tell you, from a scientific basis, what should be done about Israel or Syria today. That effort would be a category mistake.

Horgan: Is your social activism--for example, you past efforts against apartheid--related in any way to your scientific work?

Not directly. It is based in concerns to do with human values and ethics that lie outside the scope of science per se.

Horgan: Are you concerned that today so much research—especially in the U.S.—is funded by the military?

This is not an issue that has been of specific concern to me – but it could become so, particularly as regards brain research.

Horgan: In some of your writings, you warn against excessive determinism in physics, and science. Could you summarize your concerns?

Many scientists are strong reductionists who believe that physics alone determines outcomes in the real world, This is demonstrably untrue – for example the computer on which I am writing this could not possibly have come into being through the agency of physics alone.
The issue is that these scientists are focusing on some strands in the web of causation that actually exist, and ignoring others that are demonstrably there – such as ideas in our minds, or algorithms embodied in computer programs. These demonstrably act in a top-down way to cause physical effects in the real world. All these processes and actual outcomes are contextually dependent, and this allows the effectiveness of processes such as adaptive selection that are the key to the emergence of genuine complexity.

As I stated above, mathematical equations only represent part of reality, and should not be confused with reality. A specific related issue: there is a group of people out there writing papers based on the idea that physics is a computational process. But a physical law is not an algorithm. So who chooses the computational strategy and the algorithms that realise a specific physical law? (Finite elements perhaps?) What language is it written in? (Does Nature use Java or C++? What machine code is used?) Where is the CPU? What is used for memory, and in what way are read and write commands executed? Additionally if it’s a computation, how does Nature avoid the halting problem? It’s all a very bad analogy that does not work.

Horgan: Einstein, in the following quote, seemed to doubt free will: "If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the Earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was traveling its way of its own accord…. So would a Being, endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, smile about man’s illusion that he was acting according to his own free will." Do you believe in free will?

Ellis: Yes. Einstein is perpetuating the belief that all causation is bottom up. This simply is not the case, as I can demonstrate with many examples from sociology, neuroscience, physiology, epigenetics, engineering, and physics. Furthermore if Einstein did not have free will in some meaningful sense, then he could not have been responsible for the theory of relativity – it would have been a product of lower level processes but not of an intelligent mind choosing between possible options.

I find it very hard to believe this to be the case – indeed it does not seem to make any sense. Physicists should pay attention to Aristotle’s four forms of causation – if they have the free will to decide what they are doing. If they don’t, then why waste time talking to them? They are then not responsible for what they say.

Horgan: If you were the King of Physics, responsible for prioritizing and funding research, what would be your first decision?

Ellis: Condensed matter physics and quantum optics are where I’d concentrate first – it is where relatively modest investment is producing fabulous experiments and testable theories. The relation of physics to biology, medicine, and neuroscience is a fantastic area that should be strongly developed.
Yes of course I’d like to see astronomy and high-energy physics continued as far as possible, but the price has to be reasonable. Projects like Bicep2 give great returns, and gravitational wave astronomy is the last frontier and so must be explored, as also the many great observational cosmology projects under way at present. Megabucks for ever-greater colliders will need solid justification.

Friday, May 20, 2016


Using the Dick and Jane readers, the first word I learned to read was "Look." ("The New We Look and See"). Even as a first grader, I sensed the appropriateness of that word. It was a gateway to literacy, to the future, to the world.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My love affair with Venus Colored Pencils

In third grade, Mary Henry would give me a Venus colored pencil for each picture I drew for her. Venus pencils had a soft, brilliant colored lead...I thought they were ideal! I used them until they were less than an inch long...and I still have those nubs.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Theosis and Incarnation, or Bousema-Prediger vindicated

This article fits the theology that I first heard from Steven Bousma-Prediger, and which Tom Wright now has popularized.

Ascent, Descent, and Human Destiny

od forms Adam from dust, breathes life into his nostrils, and places him in a garden in the land of Eden. We know from Ezekiel (28:13–14) that the garden is planted on a mountain, but we could have inferred that from Genesis 2, since a river flows out of the garden and downhill to Assyria, Cush, and Havilah, where there is gold.

Human history begins on a high place, but Adam is created to ascend, from height to height. The garden isn’t the highest point in Eden. A river arises in Eden, above the garden, and then flows through the garden. Adam isn’t to remain in the garden forever. He’s to climb from the garden to the pinnacle, to the source of Eden’s river.

Even after Adam is cast out and down east of Eden, ascension is still the destiny of the human race. The rest of the Bible is full of ascensions. The flood lifts the ark above the mountaintops, and Noah, the first postdiluvian Adam, rebuilds humanity from Mount Ararat, where he plants a vineyard. Abraham’s great test takes place on Mount Moriah. The temple is built on that same mountain, and all the idol shrines in Israel are built on “high places.” Priests go up into the inner sanctuary, as worshipers “go up” to Jerusalem singing “Psalms of ascent.” David is taken from the sheepfold and given a name among the great ones, while Solomon builds an ivory throne that sits atop a seven-step, stylized mountain. Each of these is a reminiscence, each a small, sometimes symbolic, and always partial recovery of Adam’s original elevation.

And each is an anticipation, pointing ahead to the Last Adam who is elevated beyond the garden, beyond even the peak of Eden, beyond the clouds and the firmament, all the way to the right hand of the Father in the highest heaven. Jesus ascends as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, a king who takes a throne higher than Solomon’s. Jesus’s ascension isn’t a “religious” event with a “spiritual” significance. It fulfills the human vocation to become God’s prince ruling God’s universe. It’s the foundation for a profoundly humanistic Christianity.

It’s a commonplace of Patristic theology that Jesus took our humanity to the throne of heaven. The novelty of the ascension is not that the Son of God reigns. That’s as old as eternity. The novelty that astonishes the angels is the elevation of human nature to the throne of God. And the New Testament makes it clear that the members of Christ—his disciples who trust, love, and follow him—are elevated along with him. We, not just Jesus, are enthroned in heaven (Ephesians 2:6). Our lives are hid with Christ in heaven (Colossians 3:1). Martyrs, like the faithful Martyr Jesus, sit on thrones (Revelation 20:4). This isn’t a future hope. The saints already share the glory of Jesus’s ascension.
That seems a suitable stopping point for human history, but it’s only a halfway point. Human history is about our ascent from garden to peak, from earth to heaven. It’s also about humanity’s descent back to earth again. This too is anticipated from the beginning. Adam is created to ascend into Eden, but he is also sent out and down, out of Eden to follow the rivers down to lands of gold.

Much of the book of Revelation envisions humanity’s ascent to heaven. Martyrs under the altar cry out for vindication and are given white robes as a pledge that they will join the heavenly choir. The 144,000 gather around the Lamb on Mount Zion as first fruits. Once harvested, they stand on the glassy firmament to sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. Up, up, up, until the beheaded sit on thrones once occupied by angels.
At the very end of Revelation, though, John stands on the last of the Bible’s mountains to see the heavenly Jerusalem descend. It’s a garden city, with a river flowing down its golden boulevards and fruit trees on it banks—but this garden city doesn’t stay in the high place. God builds and populates a heavenly city to send it back down to earth. Even Jesus doesn’t stay in heaven forever. As we confess in every creed, we believe that he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Heaven is not our home, our ultimate destiny. Heaven is where things happen first, where our nature is first enthroned in Christ Jesus. But the last part of our journey slopes downward, from heaven to earth. Ascension is not the endpoint of the human story. We ascend in order to descend, and the end comes when heaven breaks through the firmament to couple with earth, when heaven comes to earth to heavenize it.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute. He is the author most recently of Gratitude: An Intellectual History. His previous articles can be found here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Head and/or Heart: The Ping Pong Theory of Western Intellectual History

       Peter Kreeft argues that Western intellectual history can be seen as a ping-pong match between head and heart (reason and will),  eventually deteriorating (or hardening) into logic and feeling/sentiment/emotion.  I've tried to capture his argument in this image. On the left is the "head/reason/ ratio-logic" stream, and on the right is the "heart/will/feeling-emotion" stream. I've tried to use cooler colors to represent the periods tending toward the "head" stream, and warmer colors to represent the periods tending toward the "heart" stream. The closer a period is to the center of the page, the more balanced it is between the poles of head and heart. The further to the left it is, the more it tends toward the head; the further right it is, the more it tends toward the heart. Following this diagram is an explanation of the "ping-pong" theory.
Peter Kreeft's Ten Periods of Human History

Head -------------------------------------------------------Heart
                                                                   {--------1) Myth ------ }

                                                          { ---------2) Axial period--------------}

  Reason understood as
"Ratio &a Intellectus




            3) Hellenism                                                                                4) Hebraism 
                                                  JESUS CHRIST:
                       Logos + Son of David              
                                                      5) Medieval Christian Synthesis



                            6) Renaissance

                                                                                                    7) Reformation

 Reason as

         8) Enlightenment                              

                                                          will understood as  "Feeling"
                                                                                                                         9) Romanticism   


         10)  Postmodernism ………………………………………………..........................10)  Postmodernism 


Adapted from Peter Kreeft’s Back to Virtue
                                                (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1992) pp. 47-56

1.  Myth
       time of the pagans, poets: Homer, Hesiod
         myth attempts to explain origins of things; but are not meant to be rational or moral.

2.  Axial Period:  6th century, B.C.
       Period of great ferment; men were beginning to become aware of their powers and
3.  Hellenism
       Classical Greek and Roman philosophers pursue TRUTH
         The truth they search most for is the truth about virtue/goodness
         Emphasize centrality of intellect, theory  (HEAD)
         Head judges heart “Live according to reason.”
         >virtue is a matter of knowledge:  if we know what is good, we will do it
              vice is a matter of ignorance:  we do wrong out of ignorance

4.  Hebraism
       The Judeo-Christian stream; prophets pursuing the GOOD
         Introduce two critical categories of human existence:  sin  and faith
         Emphasize centrality of will, choice, action  (HEART)
         Faith comes first, then virtue, then knowledge.
         Just knowing what is good is no guarantee that we will do it.
         Heart judges head. “Above all else, guard your heart; it is the wellspring of life”  (Proverbs 4:23)
5.  @ 500-1500:  Medieval Christian Synthesis  (Basic Christian Theism)
       managed to find a way of combining Hellenism and Hebraism
                                                                           head and heart
                                                                          intellect and will               
                                                                         faith and reason
         “a profound reinterpretation of Greek philosophy and morality.”
         The apex of philosophical realism, which holds that there is a real external world that can be known;
          Human beings created below God, angels; above animals, plants
6. 16th century: Renaissance
       an attempt to return to Hellenism, getting rid of medieval scholastic philosophy and theology;
         a return to the intellect exclusively,   "Man the measure of all things." Nominalism spurs the  
         Scientific Revolution, and further fuels reason.

7. 17th century: Reformation
       an attempt to return to Hebraism, to simpler pre-medieval NT Christianity:
       getting rid of Greek rationalism, Roman legalism; return to the will
        Nominalism becomes the default metaphysic of the west; views God as pure Will. The Reformers 
        are influenced by this idea of God and declare "sola fides."  Thus human beings 
        can only obey Him; they cannot understand Him.  Faith eclipses reason.
8. 18th century :  The Enlightenment /Deism
       reaction against reformation faith; scientism and rationalism as replacements triumph of head over heart, but  this head is trimmed down, secularized

         “Enlightenment rationalism cut the top off Greek ideals and kept the bottom;
                  cut off wisdom and kept logic; transformed reason into reasoning.”
         Scientific method became the method for achieving the summum bonum: the conquest of nature;
                  things are real insofar as they are measurable
         This period is now often referred to as “modernism.”
                  Hume’s skepticism= the logical conclusion of modernism

KANT:        attempts to reply to Hume, provide foundations once more for science, reason;
                   Result is a Copernican revolution in philosophy: the death of philosophical realism.
9.  19th century: [Romanticism], Nihilism, Existentialism
       reactions against Enlightenment rationalism; fallout from Kant's "Big Bang"
         Romanticism=triumph of heart over head, but a trimmed down, secularized heart
         “Romanticism’s heart was sentiment instead of will, and it was in relationship to nature, rather than 
         to God.”  Existentialism exalts the will; Nietzsche deifies it. 

10.  20th century:  Postmodernism/ Naturalism, Eastern Pantheistic Monism, New Age
         Postmodernism(or as some call it, hyper-Modernism) has come into its own in the past decade.
         It repudiates the rationalism and universal truth of  modernism, preferring individual perspectives 
        andrelativism (metaphysical, epistemological and moral.)  This opens the Pandora’s Box of 
        worldviews, but the main contenders seem to be falling out, and  they are naturalism; Eastern 
        Pantheistic monism and its half-breed stepchild, New Age thought; and finally, Christian Theism. 
         (Though one could argue whether it should rather be Theism in general, or Theisms in particular—
        Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.)