Words matter. Because ideas matter. Particularly theological ideas. There are few theological words which have greater significance in the history of the church than the word, justice. It’s the root of justification––the doctrine, according to Calvin, which is the hinge upon which the faith turns. But there’s a deeper foundation to the doctrine of justification: the justice of God. This was His motive in offering His Son as a propitiation for our sins: that He would be just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus (Rom.3:26). With such profound theological and historical significance to the very heart of the Gospel, itself, it’s difficult to imagine that a conservative, evangelical organization called The Gospel Coalition would carelessly misuse the concept of justice. And yet that is precisely what they’ve done in the latest article by Greg Forster. ...continue reading
John Piper recently spoke at Google on the topic, Jesus Christ Egomaniac? The impetus for that question is the astounding number of prominent people who have explicitly rejected Christianity because they have perceived God (or Jesus) as being an egomaniac. While Piper seems to think that these rejections are based on a misunderstanding of God's love, I'm going to argue that these people are actually rejecting God because of their adopted morality of altruism. But let's start with the four noteworthy instances of such rejections which Piper recounts. ...continue reading
True conservatives (the few there are left) are beginning to wake up and rediscover the need for asserting moral, rather than merely pragmatic, arguments for their causes. This breath of fresh moral insight has been expressed by both Ben Shapiro and Glen Beck for a while. More recently, though, it was the topic of a whole episode on the Matt Walsh podcast. Unfortunately, Walsh framed the discussion, not around the need for morality, but around the need to focus on “social issues” and “social conservatism”. I say, “unfortunately”, because this seeming equivocation between morality and social conservatism is emblematic of the disastrous reason conservatives have lost on moral principles in the past: our “principles”, in essence, are no different (or no better) than that of the left. ...continue reading
As I observe the increasingly evasive tactics of those who are defending Planned Parenthood, I can’t help but notice the sad similarities to those who so evasively defend blatant irrationality in theology. And I’m not surprised, because it all comes from the common root of relativism, and is supported by the militant insistence of moderation. Relativism and moderation: those are the destructive twin “narratives” of our time, and though evangelical Christians would love to protest otherwise, they are, in large part, complicit in that destruction. ...continue reading
In the last post, we concluded that the will must be free in some way, but we didn’t really specify in which way. I was going to do that in this post, but I realized that it would likely be more helpful to first discuss in which ways the will is not free. In fact, this will help us to narrow our focus down to see the simplicity of what is properly meant by the term, free will.
Free From Reality?
The most important question which must be asked about free will is, “free––from what?” You see, many wish to hold that, in order for the will to be free, it must be free in every possible way, from every possible thing. To this, I ask: free from reality? Then the will is not a real thing, for that is what it means to be “free from reality.” Free from any sort of cause and effect? ...continue reading
The idea of free will tends to run into problems (or at least perceived problems) in both atheistic worldviews (like Objectivism) and in theistic worldviews (like Christianity). The Christian Egoist advocates certain “brands”, or aspects, of both, and therefore I get a lot of questions about free will, or things pertaining to it. Whether you’re dealing with “strict” laws of logic and nature, or with “strict” ideas of God’s sovereignty and providence, many seem to think that such “suffocating” ideas must necessarily “crowd out” any possible notion of human free will. But could this be because such people haven’t thought very carefully about what free will is? I think so. ...continue reading
The word “curse” often evokes fairytale imagery or some sort of mystical power which corrupts everything under its influence. But this magical motif in fiction has a very real non-fiction counterpart: irrationality (or sin). In children’s stories, we resort to magical language because it provides a simple and concrete way of depicting the corruption which takes place as a result of irrationality and sin in one’s life –– or in the culture. At least, that would be the rational way of using such mystical language.
The Curse is in You
Unfortunately, there seems to also be an awful lot of people who really do think of sin or evil as some sort of mystical or magical force –– like an invisible spell cast over the population, from which none can escape. After all, that would make it something beyond any one person’s control, and would therefore implicitly expunge everyone from any sort of guilt associated with it. Those who love their own darkness are all too eager to accept the premise that that darkness was pushed upon them, quite apart from their desires. And those who love their own darkness are quite opposed to shining any light upon that darkness (i.e. rationally analyzing it) in order to discover its actual causes and origins. ...continue reading
“There is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism.... But when it came to the next question, a code of ethics to observe for the salvation of one's soul—(this means: what must one do in actual practice in order to save one's soul?)—Jesus (or perhaps His interpreters) gave men a code of altruism, that is, a code which told them that in order to save one's soul, one must love or help or live for others. This means, the subordination of one's soul (or ego) to the wishes, desires or needs of others, which means the subordination of one's soul to the souls of others. This is a contradiction that cannot be resolved.”
-Letter to Mrs. Austin, by Ayn Rand
The "Great Basic Contradiction"
Previously, I covered the beginning of this (and another quote) by Rand on the teachings of Jesus in regard to individualism and egoism (Read Ayn Rand on Christian Egoism: Part 1, here). In both quotes (each taken from personal letters), Rand begins by praising Christianity for its teaching on the sanctity of man's soul (ego) and for making the salvation of one's own individual soul the primary concern. However in both quotes, Rand goes on to elaborate on a fundamental contradiction which she sees in Christian philosophy: the contradiction between Jesus' teaching on individualism/ egoism and the morality of altruism: ...continue reading
"Christianity was the first school of thought that proclaimed the supreme sacredness of the individual. The first duty of a Christian is the salvation of his own soul. This duty comes above any he may owe to his brothers. This is the basic statement of true individualism."
-Ayn Rand, Letter to Reverend Dudley
Ayn Rand on Christianity
Though Rand was obviously not a theologian or student of Scripture, she knew enough about Christian theology to identify this foundational moral principle in the teachings of Christ: that the chief moral imperative of the Christian is the salvation of his own soul. And, from this she concluded that Christianity did promote a similar sort of egoism to her own:
"The salvation of one's own soul means the preservation of the integrity of one's ego. The soul is the ego. Thus Christianity did preach egoism in my sense of the word, in high, noble and spiritual sense." -Letter to Rev. Dudley
Elsewhere, Rand writes:
"Jesus was one of the first great teachers to proclaim the basic principle of individualism—the inviolate sanctity of man's soul, and the salvation of one's soul as one's first concern and highest goal; this means—one's ego and the integrity of one's ego." - Letter to Mrs. Austin
Surely, many will likely object that as an avowed atheist, Rand had no business commenting on, or presuming to understand, the foundational morality of Christianity; that she is simply mistaken about this idea of individualism and egoism being an integral part of Christ's teaching. And so, the proper question to ask here is: is she right?
Jesus: The Chief Individualist (and Egoist)?
Did Jesus "teach the inviolate sanctity of man's soul, and the salvation of one's soul as one's first and highest goal" -- thus proclaiming "the basic principle of individualism" and the importance of "one's ego"?
"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and to lose his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" -Jesus, Mk8:36-37
The implicit answer: nothing. Nothing, Jesus is saying, can possibly be of more value to you than the salvation, integrity, and perseverance of your own soul. Why? Because it is your own individual soul which values -- apart from it, you cannot value anything. Why would there be no profit in exchanging one's own soul for the whole world? Because it is the soul which profits -- apart from it, there is no such thing as profit for the one doing the trading. If you gain everything that could ever satisfy your soul at the expense losing the very thing you wish to satisfy (your soul), then you gain nothing.
"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" -Jesus, Mt10:28
Translation: Your soul is of supreme value and importance. Your greatest fear should not be any physical threat, but the threat of the soul's destruction; Value the preservation and perseverance of your soul more than this life, itself.
Add to these, and the many others which could be listed, C.S. Lewis' observation that "nearly every description [given by Christ] of what we shall ultimately find if we do [as He commands] contains an appeal to desire" ; that the motive behind all of New Testament morality is the ultimate good of one's own soul (in its union with God). An honest look at Scripture makes it abundantly clear that, in spite of contrary 'Christian' opinions, the atheist, Ayn Rand, is absolutely right on this point: Christ was one of the first and greatest champions of individualism and egoism -- not in the superficial and carnal ways we mean those terms today, but in the deep, ultimate, and ironically spiritual sense which the atheistic philosopher has rightly pointed out.
Contradictions Do Not Exist
Whatever else Christ may have taught, it cannot be denied that He taught this much about the supreme value of the individual soul -- the ego. And if Christ is to be taken as the infallible Truth of God which Christians hold Him to be, then everything else He taught must be understood in such a way as to not contradict His teaching on the "inviolate sanctity of man's soul" -- man's ego.
That is the direction to which Rand turns in both quotes cited above, and the topic of the next blog: did Christ's other teachings contradict His teachings on the value of man's soul presented above? Is Rand right that "there is a great, basic contradiction in the teachings of Jesus", and are modern Christians right to insist that Jesus was a staunch advocate of altruism? Stay tuned.
Since the new poverty-worshiping Pope recently spoke out against the ‘tyranny of Capitalism’, there has been an upsurge in the voices which insist that Jesus was a Socialist. Now before you tune out, thinking that this debate is all about both sides attempting to read ‘political philosophy’ into the teachings of Jesus, let me say very clearly that the central points of Jesus’ ministry had very little (if anything at all) to do with political affiliation.
It's Not About Politics. It's About Morality.
But this debate is not about political affiliation. It is about moral foundations -- which inevitably give birth to political systems. Therefore, this issue is far from irrelevant to those who do not wish to ‘get involved in politics’. It isn’t about politics; it’s about the morality of the Christian worldview, and the central moral principles upon which Christ, the Son of God, operates. These aren’t different views of Government; these are different views of Christ -- and therefore different views of God, and of all of reality.
When someone claims that Jesus was a Socialist, he is not primarily claiming that Jesus advocated State-run charity and wealth re-distribution (though that is certainly included and implied); he is primarily claiming that Jesus practiced and advocated that morality which underpins (and inevitably demands) Socialism: the morality of altruism. Altruism is the moral code which, at its best, states that meeting the needs of others is the ultimate moral imperative; and at its worst, states that self-sacrifice, as an end in itself, is the ultimate moral imperative. While it is understandable that a highly selective and biased reading of the Gospels could result in the belief that Christ taught and practiced this morality, there is no excuse for a truth-seeking, context-respecting Christian to leave the New Testament with that thought.
The Atheism of ‘Christian’ Altruism
Notice that those who claim that Jesus was a Socialist always use the past tense: “Jesus was a Socialist”. Jesus was -- as in: isn’t any more. Jesus was a historical figure, or a good teacher, or a moral leader. Was. Implication: Jesus isn’t around anymore. I realize that it is possible that they simply use the past tense as a convenient figure of speech, but whether it is a figure of speech or not, speaking of Jesus as if He were still dead is absolutely consistent with that moral ideal of altruism. For Jesus to come back to life from the dead would imply that His death, His self-sacrifice, was not an end in itself; it would imply that He might have had something to gain in His death; that His death wasn't entirely altruistic. If Jesus was truly altruistic -- if “Jesus was a Socialist”, He would have stayed in the tomb (i.e. He would have stayed dead). But He didn’t. His death was not an end in itself, but a means to a greater end -- and it is that end which the altruist must consistently deny and evade.
Stop Evading, and Keep Reading
In fact, it is always the end, the ultimate, the big-picture, the goal, which the altruist tends to evade when discussing morality (whether in the Bible or elsewhere). Show me any argument that "the Bible teaches altruism", and I will show you an argument which ignores or evades the ultimate context and reality of what is being taught:
- “Jesus said 'Blessed are the poor'” ... in spirit. Jesus is commending those who see and acknowledge their own spiritual poverty -- not those who lack material wealth.
- “Jesus said 'It is easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God' -Mt.19:23”.
Keep reading: the disciples responded “then who can be saved?”. Jesus replied “with men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible”. Both Jesus and his disciples make it clear that they understood Jesus to be saying that it is impossible for men, in general, to enter heaven apart from God. The talk of the ‘rich man’ is meant to emphasize ‘the cares of this world’, referred to in other parables, as being one of the main reasons that men do not want to think about eternity. That is the theme, taught here and throughout the Gospels by Jesus: that men who are too easily pleased with the ‘here and now’ will never have the appetite for eternal things.
- “Philippians 2:1-8 says that we should not be selfish and that we should be like Christ who humbled himself to the point of death”.
Keep reading: “...for this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name...” Christ’s humiliation, from the beginning of eternity, was always aimed at His exaltation. “He endured the cross despising its shame, for the joy set before Him” (Heb.12:2).
But these poverty-peddlers are not only plucking words out of context (as demonstrated above); they are gutting Christianity of its ultimate end, its ultimate value: glory -- and reducing Christianity down to a naturalistic, here and now, make the best of what we’ve got, atheistic worldview. To focus on self-denial apart from the context of ultimate self-gain is to turn self-obliteration into the ultimate moral goal of life, and the ultimate end of the universe; to focus on the suffering of Christ apart from the eternal exaltation of Christ is to rob 'the passion of Christ' of His ultimate passion; to focus on God’s love for men apart from His omnipotent and eternal love for Himself, is to gut God of His highest and chief value.
Love the Poor, But Not Like an Atheist
This doesn't mean that God doesn't care for the poor -- or that Christians should neglect the poor. It simply means that caring for the poor must be understood in the context of ultimate morality and ultimate reality -- rather than being made central to morality. It is very true that God cares about the poor, that Jesus demonstrated great care for the poor while on earth, and that Christians ought to follow suit -- but it is atheistic to stop there. God’s care for the poor is not an end in itself (because nothing but God’s enjoyment of Himself is an ‘end in itself’) and Jesus’ care for the poor was always aimed at something higher, more ultimate, and eternal. Therefore, if Christians wish to imitate God and Christ in their care for the poor, they had better begin to think long and hard about those ultimate and eternal things toward which ‘care for the poor’, and everything else, is to be aimed; i.e. they had better figure out how ‘loving the poor’ can be done in a way that is ultimately aimed at eternal values and self-gain. But before they can do that, perhaps they will need to come to terms with the fact that Jesus was not, in fact, the perfect altruist; that Christ, the Son of God, is risen from the dead in glory because He values His own glory as ultimate. He is risen, and therefore He is not a "Socialist".