The ‘I’m a Good Person’ People

 

How do you know you’re living in a post-Christian, neo-pagan society? How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m a good person,” or even, “He’s a good person?” This is essentially a judgment about the state of someone’s soul, which we Christians believe is only discernable by One Judge, and He ain’t you or me.

The “I’m a good person” people are mainly, although not always, on the secular Left. Their piety is put into practice with woke-ism rather than Protestantism or Catholicism, for example, although sometimes Christians stray so far left, you’ll hear the same self-assessment coming from them. Secularists on the Right who say such things are generally people who assess themselves good because they’ve mainly avoided disordered behaviors (in religious terms, “sins”) they’re not terribly attracted to, while carrying on with the ones they prefer, guilt-free. These are the “I may regularly sodomize the person I ‘love,’ but I believe in your right to your freedom of religion and free speech and, oh, incidentally, I haven’t murdered anyone” people.  Let’s just say the standards they set for themselves could be a little higher, even if they go unmet, like in the case of, oh, 100% of Christians.

Faithful Christians, while recognizing the value of every human life made in the image and likeness of God and made to be good (made to share in the Beatific Vision), will address each other as “my fellow sinner” as Bishop Barron does in his sermon on the Prodigal Son. We know we’re falling short of the good God intends for us.

These thoughts on “good person” people, neo-paganism, and ancient paganism contra Christianity come from the appended videos, which I think you’ll find worth your time, wherever you are on the religious-pagan spectrum. The Joe Heschmeyer clip includes an amusing reflection on the title of this post*. Namely, if you ask an “I’m a good person” person if he deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom or the Nobel Prize, he’ll say, “obviously not.” But, if you then ask him if he’s going to heaven because he’s a “good person,” he’s pretty comfortable answering “yes,” with no sense of irony that he believes himself deserving of nothing less than eternal bliss! Oh, really? Huh.

Gary Michuta’s book Revolt Against Reality sounds like another one I’ll have to buy and be too distracted to finish (squirrel!), but it addresses the ethical hinge of history that was the Incarnation. In his conversation with Cy Kellett, he starts by saying the effects can reveal the cause. How did the world change by the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? The ramifications are too many and too profound to cover in a reasonable length post, but start with how women and children were viewed with the advent of Christianity. Rather than being property of men, as pagans believed, women and children became valued as other children of God, with all the inherent dignity that entails. Christians (especially Catholics) are accused of oppressing women and wanting to keep us “barefoot and pregnant.” The opposite is true, and in the case of Catholics, it’s most evident in the devotion to the Blessed Mother. Women were elevated by the Incarnation, not diminished.

Take also, science. Science developed in the Christian West because of the belief that God is coherent and consistent within Himself — and that He made the world intelligible. Why bother to try to understand it otherwise? This realization was one of the prime motivating factors for my reversion to the faith of my fathers.

No examples that could be given of the radical change in ethics with Christianity will be exempt from Christians acting badly (we’re all sinners). As apologist Joe Heschmeyer says, the sins of individual Catholics are not the result of them acting “too” Catholic, but rather not Catholic enough!

*Joe has some profound thoughts on the built-in need for humans to make sacrifices that still pertain to the secular Left today (pssst — human nature is unchanging, pass it on). Their sacrifices just take the form of recycling or putting a COEXIST sticker on their bumper.

.

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  1. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    Hartmann von Aue (View Comment):
    Funny thing…several Orthodox Jews I know or whose works I am familiar with (e.g. Pinchas Lapide, Rabbi Lapin) admit that Jesus rose from the dead.

    I sent Rabbi Lapin your comment, and he wrote:

     I most decidedly do not ‘admit’ anything of the sort.

     

    • #151
  2. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    But many people believed, perhaps incorrectly, that Mohammed heard the voice of God. And, thus, Mohammed had a huge impact on the world, including Christianity.

    Islam is essentially a simplification of Christianity. And it hasn’t had the revolutionary impact that Christianity has. Islam did not revolutionize politics, or foster a profound philosophical tradition, produce symphonies on the level of Mozart or the plays on the level of Shakespeare, produce modern science, or end slavery, among many other things. It did produce a martial culture that conquered a good part of the world, but there is nothing new or surprising in that. It’s pretty much business as usual for human history.

    I agree that the impact of Islam on the world is quite different from the impact that Christianity has had on the world.

    But my point is that a religious belief, even if false, can have an enormous impact on the world.

    Certainly. But not in the respect that they are false. Many things are a mixture of the true and the false, and they are effective in the respects that they are true and ineffective in the respects that they are false.

    The impact Islam has had on the world is largely restricted to the lands it historically conquered, and the social structure it has imposed, which is based on a strict monotheism that can be thought of as a simplification of Christianity. In that respect, at least, it is true from a Christian perspective (i.e. Islam is correct insofar as it acknowledges One God). Whether or not Mohammed actually received a revelation from God is not strictly relevant to that. Even if he didn’t, monotheism would be true and Islam would be connected to the truth as far as that goes. That’s why Islam has endured as a religion – it’s partially true. 

    In Christianity, however, it’s not the monotheistic aspects of the religion that lead to conversions and revolutionary changes. It was the proclamation of the Gospel – the Incarnation of God Himself as a Man – that drove conversions and martyrdoms, and inspired later missionaries, sculptors, artists, novelists. In other words, just where Christianity is supposed to be false it was most effective.

    You want to know why some religions have a more significant impact on civilization than other religions. The answer to this question might never be known with any certainty or specificity. But the fact is that false religions do have an impact, sometimes huge ones.

    Christianity might very well be a false religion that had an enormous impact.

    But it is a very peculiar religion if it had impact just at the point where it was false.

    • #152
  3. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    I agree that the impact of Islam on the world is quite different from the impact that Christianity has had on the world.

    But my point is that a religious belief, even if false, can have an enormous impact on the world.

    Certainly. But not in the respect that they are false. Many things are a mixture of the true and the false, and they are effective in the respects that they are true and ineffective in the respects that they are false.

    If Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet but some of Jesus’s followers thought, incorrectly, that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, that would partially explain why Christianity spread over the centuries following Jesus’s death.

    Someone who is sincere but wrong about something can often convince others that what he is saying is true.  The idea that one can have eternal life in heaven if one believes in Jesus could, in some certain social contexts, be a contagious idea.  Perhaps the Jesus message emerged at time and place in history where it was likely to spread, even if the underlying theology, that heaven exists and one must believe in Jesus to get into heaven, was false.

    • #153
  4. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    One can listen to Mozart and appreciate the music and still have serious doubts that Jesus rose from the dead.  One can enjoy Shakespeare’s plays and still have serious doubts that Jesus rose from the dead.

    It’s not clear why if one thinks that Mozart’s music and Shakespeare’s plays are of excellent quality that it follows that Jesus must have actually rose from the dead.  Why draw a connection between the two?  I’m not following the logic.  

    • #154
  5. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Many things are a mixture of the true and the false, and they are effective in the respects that they are true and ineffective in the respects that they are false.

    Successful propaganda would argue against this claim.  Good propaganda does include some truths, but they’re included in order for the false aspects of that propaganda to be accepted and thereby effective.

    The impact Islam has had on the world is largely restricted to the lands it historically conquered

    Arguably not so.  Just for example, you aren’t from a land historically conquered by Muslims and they still take up so much space in your mind – even if only as something to compare yourself to and differentiate yourself from.

    Re Mozart & Shakespear – delightful, but the fact that you don’t know about ‘Muslim culture’ (and I suspect you don’t – can you name some Muslim schools of Music or calligraphy or painting without googling?) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

     

    • #155
  6. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Zafar (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Many things are a mixture of the true and the false, and they are effective in the respects that they are true and ineffective in the respects that they are false.

    Successful propaganda would argue against this claim. Good propaganda does include some truths, but they’re included in order for the false aspects of that propaganda to be accepted and thereby effective.

    The impact Islam has had on the world is largely restricted to the lands it historically conquered

    Arguably not so. Just for example, you aren’t from a land historically conquered by Muslims and they still take up so much space in your mind – even if only as something to compare yourself to and differentiate yourself from.

    Re Mozart & Shakespear – delightful, but the fact that you don’t know about ‘Muslim culture’ (and I suspect you don’t – can you name some Muslim schools of Music or calligraphy or painting without googling?) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Even if we acknowledge that Christian societies have produced better music, architecture and science than Islamic societies, why would we conclude that main theological doctrines of Christianity or Islam are true?   

    • #156
  7. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Many things are a mixture of the true and the false, and they are effective in the respects that they are true and ineffective in the respects that they are false.

    Successful propaganda would argue against this claim. Good propaganda does include some truths, but they’re included in order for the false aspects of that propaganda to be accepted and thereby effective.

    The impact Islam has had on the world is largely restricted to the lands it historically conquered

    Arguably not so. Just for example, you aren’t from a land historically conquered by Muslims and they still take up so much space in your mind – even if only as something to compare yourself to and differentiate yourself from.

    Re Mozart & Shakespear – delightful, but the fact that you don’t know about ‘Muslim culture’ (and I suspect you don’t – can you name some Muslim schools of Music or calligraphy or painting without googling?) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Even if we acknowledge that Christian societies have produced better music, architecture and science than Islamic societies, why would we conclude that main theological doctrines of Christianity or Islam are true?

    It lacks logic, you’re right, but I don’t believe the argument is based on any knowledge of Islamic societies.  it’s illogic wedded to assumption.

    • #157
  8. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Zafar (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Many things are a mixture of the true and the false, and they are effective in the respects that they are true and ineffective in the respects that they are false.

    Successful propaganda would argue against this claim. Good propaganda does include some truths, but they’re included in order for the false aspects of that propaganda to be accepted and thereby effective.

    Right. And it’s important for the people producing the propaganda to keep the true and false elements separate in their minds. When they start believing their own BS, and making decisions according to it, things start to go wrong. This is the reason the Soviet Union collapsed after only 70 years. It was constructed on falsehoods about culture, economics, history and human nature itself.

    The impact Islam has had on the world is largely restricted to the lands it historically conquered

    Arguably not so. Just for example, you aren’t from a land historically conquered by Muslims and they still take up so much space in your mind – even if only as something to compare yourself to and differentiate yourself from.

    Re Mozart & Shakespear – delightful, but the fact that you don’t know about ‘Muslim culture’ (and I suspect you don’t – can you name some Muslim schools of Music or calligraphy or painting without googling?) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

     

    Of course Muslim culture exists. Who said it didn’t? But we’ll just have to disagree that Muslim culture has had the same revolutionary impact that has the Christian West. The music of Mozart and Bach, and the plays of Shakespeare are performed around the world.  Please refer me to the Japanese or Chinese symphonies playing Muslim music, or the 17th century Muslim scientists on the level of Copernicus, Leibniz or Newton. 

    No, I can’t name Muslim schools of calligraphy. Neither can your average South American, Australian, Japanese, Korean or Indian. But many of them will know who Newton and Mozart are. I don’t know much about Japanese culture either. Why is it that the Japanese teach their children to play the violin and Mozart, but people elsewhere in the world don’t teach their children to play traditional Japanese instruments and music? 

    • #158
  9. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Zafar (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Many things are a mixture of the true and the false, and they are effective in the respects that they are true and ineffective in the respects that they are false.

    Successful propaganda would argue against this claim. Good propaganda does include some truths, but they’re included in order for the false aspects of that propaganda to be accepted and thereby effective.

    The impact Islam has had on the world is largely restricted to the lands it historically conquered

    Arguably not so. Just for example, you aren’t from a land historically conquered by Muslims and they still take up so much space in your mind – even if only as something to compare yourself to and differentiate yourself from.

    Re Mozart & Shakespear – delightful, but the fact that you don’t know about ‘Muslim culture’ (and I suspect you don’t – can you name some Muslim schools of Music or calligraphy or painting without googling?) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Even if we acknowledge that Christian societies have produced better music, architecture and science than Islamic societies, why would we conclude that main theological doctrines of Christianity or Islam are true?

    It lacks logic, you’re right, but I don’t believe the argument is based on any knowledge of Islamic societies. it’s illogic wedded to assumption.

    So your argument that Islamic culture has had a similar worldwide impact to Western culture is that myself, and most everyone in non-Islamic cultures, don’t know a lot about Islamic culture?

    • #159
  10. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    The idea that one can have eternal life in heaven if one believes in Jesus could, in some certain social contexts, be a contagious idea. Perhaps the Jesus message emerged at time and place in history where it was likely to spread, even if the underlying theology, that heaven exists and one must believe in Jesus to get into heaven, was false.

    Sure, it’s possible. I am arguing from the principle that the truth is ultimately more powerful than the false. The false isn’t fruitful, at least not in any enduring or profound manner. Propaganda can convince people of certain things for a limited amount of time, but if it is out of touch with realities about the world, it will eventually perish of its own success. 

    Zafar seems to think I have no respect for non-Christian cultures, but that’s not the case. Islam is still around because it speaks to something real in the human heart. If it were utterly false it would have disappeared long ago. Buddhism has been around for thousands of years because its spiritual practices produce real results. A lot of mythology has grown up around the Buddha but those stories are non-essential and even a distraction to serious Buddhist practice.

    I think it is undeniable that Western culture has had a dynamic and revolutionary impact unparalleled by any other culture in history. That’s just a fact, and it’s not an insult to other cultures to point it out. What accounts for that impact? Why did the Christian West produce such achievements and change that it is imitated around the world?

    One answer – perhaps the simplest – is just that its foundation is true.  If the Incarnation is true, then it reveals foundational truths about human nature and its destiny. A culture dedicated to those truths will likely produce results unobtainable by cultures that did not have access to those truths. I grant you that the foundational truth of the Incarnation is “far-fetched” – i.e. God becoming Man, dying on a Cross and being Resurrected is hard to believe on its face.

    But so is the alternative – that a culture dedicated to the falsehood somehow produced cultural achievements unimagined elsewhere. The Incarnation isn’t some secondary doctrine or peripheral idea, like the miracles of Buddha. It’s the central idea, the fact around which everything else revolves, the explicit inspiration of the monks who preserved Western Civilization through the collapse of the Roman Empire and Handel’s Messiah.

    It’s possible that the unique and unprecedented culture achievements of the West were all based on a lie or a mass hallucination, and that the lie itself somehow unlocked cultural possibilities the rest of the world missed. It’s possible. But it strikes me as far-fetched. 

    But then the Resurrection is far-fetched as well. (I’m not being snide. It is far-fetched.) 

    • #160
  11. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    J Climacus (View Comment):
    Zafar seems to think I have no respect for non-Christian cultures, but that’s not the case.

    It did sound like that, and I do apologise for the tone of my response.

    But the point is, everything builds on something.

    For example, you mentioned Copernicus.  Have a look at these links:

    https://adsabs.harvard.edu/full/2007HisSc..45…65R

    https://muslimheritage.com/copernicus-and-arabic-astronomy/

    The point is not to diminish Copernicus, just to point out that (like everybody) he built on a body of existing knowledge – at least some of which was developed by ‘Islamic’ civilisation.  (Which in turn built on knowledge developed by the Greeks and the Romans and Indians and Chinese.  That’s how these things work.) It seems churlish to ignore that.  I’ve just stuck to Copernicus, but I’m sure you could find many other examples – none of this is to diminish the West’s achievements, just to place what they were built on in context.

    I’ll go out on a limb and posit (maybe I’m right, maybe wrong) that you are not familiar with Indian Civilisation.  And there’s no reason you should be.  But I bet you use something developed in India every day – the base ten system.  Something the West uses to great effect.  This doesn’t take anything away from the West’s inventiveness or productivity, but everything builds on something.  At this point usually many somethings.

    The impact of civilisations on others is interesting.  I agree (I think?) that in its most immediate form it depends on conquest – and the size of conquest is a function of technology (which keeps improving).  There have been two iterations of Western conquest – the first was  traditional colonialism (taking land, slaves, colonies, etc), the current iteration is more a matter of economics and finance. Which hasn’t happened before.

    France doesn’t need a military presence in Ivory Coast – it controls it (and much of West and Central Africa) by means of the West African Franc.  America doesn’t need to invade Iran or Venezuela or Cuba – it has sanctions and the SWIFT system; in terms of the world the US $$ as the dominant reserve currency is another way the US can control without actually ‘invading’.

    I have no desire to say anything negative about anybody’s religious beliefs – I don’t see the point – but you might consider that the West’s greatest level of control and power – and arguably its greatest time of inventiveness and productivity – has accompanied the growth of disbelief in the West. That is to say, it’s happened since WWI[I] and it’s happened while the West has gotten less and less Christian – until we find ourselves at a time where the US is basically the only super power (the rest just don’t compare militarily or economically or technologically) and Christian belief in the US is at the lowest level since the country’s founding.

    Peace.

    • #161
  12. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    The idea that one can have eternal life in heaven if one believes in Jesus could, in some certain social contexts, be a contagious idea. Perhaps the Jesus message emerged at time and place in history where it was likely to spread, even if the underlying theology, that heaven exists and one must believe in Jesus to get into heaven, was false.

    Sure, it’s possible. I am arguing from the principle that the truth is ultimately more powerful than the false. The false isn’t fruitful, at least not in any enduring or profound manner. Propaganda can convince people of certain things for a limited amount of time, but if it is out of touch with realities about the world, it will eventually perish of its own success.

    Human beings find both the truth and falsehood persuasive.   Also, the claims made by various Christian theologians can’t be proven or disproved empirically.

    It’s not like journalists and social scientists can go on guided tours of heaven and hell to determine if everyone in heaven was a Christian and everyone in hell was a non-Christian.  The Christian claim that “Jesus is the only way” to salvation is an assertion that can never be verified empirically.  

    It’s a bit different if I say that wage and price controls do not cause shortages or surpluses and I am very charismatic.  No matter how persuasive my words sound, the empirical data demonstrates that wage and price controls often cause shortages and surpluses.  

    So, your assertion that religious propaganda can convince people for a limited amount of time is sort of a half truth.  It depends on how easy it is for someone to find out if the propaganda is false.  

    And let’s also remember that a religion can be partially true and partially false.  It can be partially true in the sense that it might teach people not to lie to other people.  This could be considered “true” in the sense that when someone consistently lies, that person eventually loses credibility in the eyes of people who are familiar to him.  But that same religion could teach that “You must accept Jesus to go to heaven.”  That part of the religion could easily be false, yet people would not have any reliable way of determining this.  

     

    I think it is undeniable that Western culture has had a dynamic and revolutionary impact unparalleled by any other culture in history. That’s just a fact, and it’s not an insult to other cultures to point it out. What accounts for that impact? Why did the Christian West produce such achievements and change that it is imitated around the world?

    It’s a very interesting question.  But it’s hard to see how the best answer is, “Because Jesus rose from the dead.”  How does someone rising from the dead in the 1st century have any influence on whether someone centuries later writes amazing music or writes interesting ideas about representative democracy and/or freedom of religious belief?  

    The person who supposedly rose from the dead lived in a time and place in history radically different from the person who wrote a great symphony.  The religion that the Jewish preacher subscribed to could be completely different from the religion that the symphony writer believed in.

    One answer – perhaps the simplest – is just that its foundation is true. If the Incarnation is true, then it reveals foundational truths about human nature and its destiny. A culture dedicated to those truths will likely produce results unobtainable by cultures that did not have access to those truths. I grant you that the foundational truth of the Incarnation is “far-fetched” – i.e. God becoming Man, dying on a Cross and being Resurrected is hard to believe on its face.

    It is a simple answer.  But simple answers aren’t always the more accurate answers.  

    I can say that a zebra has stripes because someone painted the stripes on him.  That’s a simple answer.  

    If I were an evolutionary biologist I might be able to give a very complex account of the zebra’s place over eons of evolutionary change, but never really be able to explain exactly why the zebra has stripes.  It just does.  

    So, people who yearn for simple answers to very complex questions will always find people willing to supply those simple answers.  But the simple answer is often false.

     

    It’s possible that the unique and unprecedented culture achievements of the West were all based on a lie or a mass hallucination, and that the lie itself somehow unlocked cultural possibilities the rest of the world missed. It’s possible. But it strikes me as far-fetched.

    A great symphony is a result of a complex alignment of things like the innate musical talent of the composer, the unique cultural environment the composer lived in, the composer’s ability to have the time (was he forced to work on the farm 16 hours a day, everyday?  Or did the composer have some time to play piano?)

    It seems illogical to attribute the existence of a symphony to an alleged “event” that happened centuries earlier in a culture that was radically different.   

    • #162
  13. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    I’ll make another point about the “simple answer” and perhaps why we should sometimes be skeptical of simple answers.

    Let’s say I am having trouble finding my car keys.  My friend, Jeff, and I want to go to a sporting event.  But I can’t find my car keys. 

    Jeff says that Gremlins took my car keys.  That’s a simple answer.  But I dispute that.  I tell Jeff that his explanation is nonsense.  Jeff asks me what my explanation is.  

    I don’t know.  I’m looking for my car keys.  But I don’t have a ready explanation as to why I can’t presently find them.  I thought I put them on the kitchen counter.  

    After 5 minutes of searching, I find my car keys in my den, next to the computer.  “How did my car keys get here?” I mutter aloud. 

    Jeff says, “Gremlins moved your car keys from the kitchen counter to the den, next to your computer. 

    Jeff has a simple answer to my questions.  But I still think they are wrong answers, despite the fact that I have no answers of my own.  

    That’s what I say to people who say, “How did this amazing culture develop if Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead?”  It’s a complex question and I don’t think anyone will ever be able to explain it.

    • #163
  14. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Zafar (View Comment):

    I’ll go out on a limb and posit (maybe I’m right, maybe wrong) that you are not familiar with Indian Civilisation. And there’s no reason you should be. But I bet you use something developed in India every day – the base ten system. Something the West uses to great effect. This doesn’t take anything away from the West’s inventiveness or productivity, but everything builds on something. At this point usually many somethings.

    I agree with much of what you write in this comment. I was aware the base 10 system came from India. I’m also aware that algebra is an Arabic word and the system was originally developed there. The Chinese invented gunpowder and pasta. One of the most striking examples of this is the medieval recovery of Aristotle. Christian monks had preserved the writings of many of the ancient pagans like Plato and Homer through the destruction and chaos following the fall of the Roman Empire. But the writings of Aristotle had been lost. They were later reintroduced into Europe in the 11th century through Arabic translations, where they had been preserved.  So the Aristotle the Europeans got in the middle ages was a Latin translation of an Arabic translation of the original Greek.  St. Thomas Aquinas in his works often engages the medieval Arab philosophers Averroes and Avicenna – the latter in particular can be considered a genius.

    That leaves us with the question why the West was the one to put it all together, and other cultures didn’t. The Chinese invented gunpowder but never did anything with it.  Arabs invented algebra but that never developed into calculus or modern physics.  It’s not because people in the West were any smarter or inherently “better” than anyone else. I’ll have more to say on this later.

     

    • #164
  15. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Each iteration of the world’s dominant civilisation pulls more stuff together – which makes it more effective. Is my guess. 

    • #165
  16. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Zafar (View Comment):

    I have no desire to say anything negative about anybody’s religious beliefs – I don’t see the point – but you might consider that the West’s greatest level of control and power – and arguably its greatest time of inventiveness and productivity – has accompanied the growth of disbelief in the West. That is to say, it’s happened since WWI[I] and it’s happened while the West has gotten less and less Christian – until we find ourselves at a time where the US is basically the only super power (the rest just don’t compare militarily or economically or technologically) and Christian belief in the US is at the lowest level since the country’s founding.

    Peace.

    We are discussing very sensitive subjects and it is a tribute to the space that Ricochet has created that we are able to do this without descending into vitriol.

    Your point is interesting and I agree that the West’s power and control reached a zenith in the 20th century, just as religious belief fell.  I suppose I think of this as living off the spoils of the past.  The 17th century was perhaps the greatest century of scientific innovation ever, with Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, Descartes, Pascal, Boyle, and Hooke among others revolutionizing science. Yet outwardly not much changed in Europe during the century.  Life was pretty much the same at the beginning of the century as at the end, and European influence about the same. It took decades and centuries for the scientific revolution to make itself felt in its fullest, not reaching a peak until the 20th century. Living off the accumulated treasure of that tradition, the West then turned its back on God and has been squandering its inheritance.

    We modern Westerners are arrogant, believing our world dominance is a birthright and unchallengeable, without realizing how it is based on the innovation, discipline and faith of our ancestors. We’ve lost the last two parts of this. We push other countries around with the dollar (through the SWIFT system and reserve currency status, as you point out), but this situation is temporary.  

    • #166
  17. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Not to nit pic, but the West isn’t less creative or inventive today than it was in the past. I can see the argument that these things take on a momentum, it’s hard to argue with the fact that things came together most productively in the West – due to circumstance or civilisational genius, I don’t know – but the West hasn’t run out of intellectual steam at all. Social steam – maybe, maybe not, but in terms of producing knowledge it’s still where it’s at.

    My feeling is that the kind of questioning that results in invention and innovation is a function of unbelief or doubt – of questioning. (Sort of the opposite of your thesis.). And that begins with religion. So the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, these may have led up to the burst of scientific enquiry in Europe in the 17th century.

    Another way the West is different is the sheer volume of the migration of knowledge producers to it.  Until a critical mass of Indians and Chinese students prefer returning home to staying on and doing research I don’t see that changing either.

    • #167
  18. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Many things are a mixture of the true and the false, and they are effective in the respects that they are true and ineffective in the respects that they are false.

    Successful propaganda would argue against this claim. Good propaganda does include some truths, but they’re included in order for the false aspects of that propaganda to be accepted and thereby effective.

    The impact Islam has had on the world is largely restricted to the lands it historically conquered

    Arguably not so. Just for example, you aren’t from a land historically conquered by Muslims and they still take up so much space in your mind – even if only as something to compare yourself to and differentiate yourself from.

    Re Mozart & Shakespear – delightful, but the fact that you don’t know about ‘Muslim culture’ (and I suspect you don’t – can you name some Muslim schools of Music or calligraphy or painting without googling?) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Even if we acknowledge that Christian societies have produced better music, architecture and science than Islamic societies, why would we conclude that main theological doctrines of Christianity or Islam are true?

    True or not, Christian societies have done more for mankind than any other culture. Even nonbelievers live better in Christian societies . Nonbelievers have never offered me anything better.

    • #168
  19. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    Zafar (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Many things are a mixture of the true and the false, and they are effective in the respects that they are true and ineffective in the respects that they are false.

    Successful propaganda would argue against this claim. Good propaganda does include some truths, but they’re included in order for the false aspects of that propaganda to be accepted and thereby effective.

    The impact Islam has had on the world is largely restricted to the lands it historically conquered

    Arguably not so. Just for example, you aren’t from a land historically conquered by Muslims and they still take up so much space in your mind – even if only as something to compare yourself to and differentiate yourself from.

    Re Mozart & Shakespear – delightful, but the fact that you don’t know about ‘Muslim culture’ (and I suspect you don’t – can you name some Muslim schools of Music or calligraphy or painting without googling?) doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Even if we acknowledge that Christian societies have produced better music, architecture and science than Islamic societies, why would we conclude that main theological doctrines of Christianity or Islam are true?

    It lacks logic, you’re right, but I don’t believe the argument is based on any knowledge of Islamic societies. it’s illogic wedded to assumption.

    Islamic societies are fleeing to Christian ones.

    • #169
  20. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Not to nit pic, but the West isn’t less creative or inventive today than it was in the past. I can see the argument that these things take on a momentum, it’s hard to argue with the fact that things came together most productively in the West – due to circumstance or civilisational genius, I don’t know – but the West hasn’t run out of intellectual steam at all. Social steam – maybe, maybe not, but in terms of producing knowledge it’s still where it’s at.

    My feeling is that the kind of questioning that results in invention and innovation is a function of unbelief or doubt – of questioning. (Sort of the opposite of your thesis.). And that begins with religion. So the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, these may have led up to the burst of scientific enquiry in Europe in the 17th century.

    Yes, you are right that I think innovation and invention are more fundamentally a matter of faith than doubt.  An innovator can doubt that current answers are the best answers, but he’s got to have faith that a better answer is out there and it is worth his time and effort to try finding it. If you doubt the answer is out there, why waste your life looking for it?

    Ideas have consequences. Many philosophies common in the ancient world viewed the material world as a realm of chaos and degeneration. Truth and salvation were found in the transcendent realm, in the pristine geometrical theorems of Euclid or the world of the Platonic Forms; or perhaps in the enlightened realm of Buddhist meditation and practice.

    The Christian tradition held that God Himself became man (i.e. material) – the Word made Flesh; all the world was made through Him. The material world was no longer a realm of chaos, but had been elevated by the Incarnation. God Himself worked with his hands so manual labor, even menial work, came to be viewed as holy if done in God’s Name (and there is a lot of menial work in scientific investigation), and not inherently degrading. (You mentioned India. It’s the lowest castes that do the most menial work, right?)  And there was good reason to believe that behind the apparent chaos of the material realm was a rational order that might be found.

    Kepler spent years trying to find that rational order, convinced that God had put it there for him to find . After years of failure he finally found it – but only because he had the faith to pursue it in the first place.

    • #170
  21. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    Not to nit pic, but the West isn’t less creative or inventive today than it was in the past. I can see the argument that these things take on a momentum, it’s hard to argue with the fact that things came together most productively in the West – due to circumstance or civilisational genius, I don’t know – but the West hasn’t run out of intellectual steam at all. Social steam – maybe, maybe not, but in terms of producing knowledge it’s still where it’s at.

    My feeling is that the kind of questioning that results in invention and innovation is a function of unbelief or doubt – of questioning. (Sort of the opposite of your thesis.). And that begins with religion. So the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, these may have led up to the burst of scientific enquiry in Europe in the 17th century.

    Yes, you are right that I think innovation and invention are more fundamentally a matter of faith than doubt. An innovator can doubt that current answers are the best answers, but he’s got to have faith that a better answer is out there and it is worth his time and effort to try finding it. If you doubt the answer is out there, why waste your life looking for it?

    But faith that the answer to some scientific question is out there is different from faith that someone who lived centuries ago in a different land rose from the dead.  A scientist can have faith of both kinds.  But even a scientist who doubts that Jesus rose from the dead might have faith that if he continues doing his research, he will discover better medical treatment for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and kidney disease.  

    It’s not clear that belief that Jesus was divine is an important component of scientific innovation.  

    It seems we are equivocating in our use of the word “faith.”  In some contexts, “faith” might simply mean “confidence based on prior experience.”  

    Each time we use the word “faith,” we might want to specify what we mean by “faith.”  Do we mean “a strong belief that Jesus rose from the dead” or do we mean “a reasonably strong confidence in some future outcome based on past experiences in similar circumstances?”

    • #171
  22. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    I’ll make another point about the “simple answer” and perhaps why we should sometimes be skeptical of simple answers.

    Let’s say I am having trouble finding my car keys. My friend, Jeff, and I want to go to a sporting event. But I can’t find my car keys.

    Jeff says that Gremlins took my car keys. That’s a simple answer. But I dispute that. I tell Jeff that his explanation is nonsense. Jeff asks me what my explanation is.

    I don’t know. I’m looking for my car keys. But I don’t have a ready explanation as to why I can’t presently find them. I thought I put them on the kitchen counter.

    After 5 minutes of searching, I find my car keys in my den, next to the computer. “How did my car keys get here?” I mutter aloud.

    Jeff says, “Gremlins moved your car keys from the kitchen counter to the den, next to your computer.

    Jeff has a simple answer to my questions. But I still think they are wrong answers, despite the fact that I have no answers of my own.

    That’s what I say to people who say, “How did this amazing culture develop if Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead?” It’s a complex question and I don’t think anyone will ever be able to explain it.

    Your friend Jeff … is he in the room with you right now?

    • #172
  23. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    But faith that the answer to some scientific question is out there is different from faith that someone who lived centuries ago in a different land rose from the dead. A scientist can have faith of both kinds. But even a scientist who doubts that Jesus rose from the dead might have faith that if he continues doing his research, he will discover better medical treatment for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and kidney disease.

    True. Scientists today have the advantage of the history of science that demonstrates that scientific investigation actually works, so they don’t need faith. The early modern scientists had no such history. What motivated them? Well, they thought there must be a rational order in the material world created there by God. Why did they believe that? Because they believed that God Himself became Man – the Word became Flesh – and so the material world wasn’t the realm of chaos and evil a lot of people thought (or that it appeared), but hidden within it was the Mind of God. So faith in science was linked to faith in the Incarnation.

    Scientists were pretty much universally believing Christians all the way up through Maxwell in the 19th century, when they started to turn secular. And then forgot the faith that underwrote the scientific revolution in the first place.

    I remember my college physics textbook noting that Newton “wasted time” on his religious investigations, actually putting more time into them than he did science. It never occurred to the authors that Newton’s religious faith might have had something to do with his revolutionizing science.

    It’s not clear that belief that Jesus was divine is an important component of scientific innovation.

    It seems we are equivocating in our use of the word “faith.” In some contexts, “faith” might simply mean “confidence based on prior experience.”

    Each time we use the word “faith,” we might want to specify what we mean by “faith.” Do we mean “a strong belief that Jesus rose from the dead” or do we mean “a reasonably strong confidence in some future outcome based on past experiences in similar circumstances?”

    By “faith” I mean faith in the Incarnation as summarized in the Apostle’s Creed.

    • #173
  24. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    But faith that the answer to some scientific question is out there is different from faith that someone who lived centuries ago in a different land rose from the dead. A scientist can have faith of both kinds. But even a scientist who doubts that Jesus rose from the dead might have faith that if he continues doing his research, he will discover better medical treatment for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and kidney disease.

    True. Scientists today have the advantage of the history of science that demonstrates that scientific investigation actually works, so they don’t need faith. The early modern scientists had no such history. What motivated them? Well, they thought there must be a rational order in the material world created there by God. Why did they believe that? Because they believed that God Himself became Man – the Word became Flesh – and so the material world wasn’t the realm of chaos and evil a lot of people thought (or that it appeared), but hidden within it was the Mind of God. So faith in science was linked to faith in the Incarnation.

    Scientists were pretty much universally believing Christians all the way up through Maxwell in the 19th century, when they started to turn secular. And then forgot the faith that underwrote the scientific revolution in the first place.

    I remember my college physics textbook noting that Newton “wasted time” on his religious investigations, actually putting more time into them than he did science. It never occurred to the authors that Newton’s religious faith might have had something to do with his revolutionizing science.

    It’s not clear that belief that Jesus was divine is an important component of scientific innovation.

    It seems we are equivocating in our use of the word “faith.” In some contexts, “faith” might simply mean “confidence based on prior experience.”

    Each time we use the word “faith,” we might want to specify what we mean by “faith.” Do we mean “a strong belief that Jesus rose from the dead” or do we mean “a reasonably strong confidence in some future outcome based on past experiences in similar circumstances?”

    By “faith” I mean faith in the Incarnation as summarized in the Apostle’s Creed.

    If that’s the way you are using the word “faith,” then scientific progress was not a result of faith.  

    If one wants to think that Christianity is true because at one time in history “scientists were pretty much universally believing Christians all the way up through Maxwell in the 19th century,” then one could point to a different time and place and history where many leading scientists are not Christians and use that as “evidence” that Christianity is false.  

    It seems to me that neither conclusion follows from the premise.  

    • #174
  25. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    But faith that the answer to some scientific question is out there is different from faith that someone who lived centuries ago in a different land rose from the dead. A scientist can have faith of both kinds. But even a scientist who doubts that Jesus rose from the dead might have faith that if he continues doing his research, he will discover better medical treatment for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and kidney disease.

    True. Scientists today have the advantage of the history of science that demonstrates that scientific investigation actually works, so they don’t need faith. The early modern scientists had no such history. What motivated them? Well, they thought there must be a rational order in the material world created there by God. Why did they believe that? Because they believed that God Himself became Man – the Word became Flesh – and so the material world wasn’t the realm of chaos and evil a lot of people thought (or that it appeared), but hidden within it was the Mind of God. So faith in science was linked to faith in the Incarnation.

    Scientists were pretty much universally believing Christians all the way up through Maxwell in the 19th century, when they started to turn secular. And then forgot the faith that underwrote the scientific revolution in the first place.

    I remember my college physics textbook noting that Newton “wasted time” on his religious investigations, actually putting more time into them than he did science. It never occurred to the authors that Newton’s religious faith might have had something to do with his revolutionizing science.

    It’s not clear that belief that Jesus was divine is an important component of scientific innovation.

    It seems we are equivocating in our use of the word “faith.” In some contexts, “faith” might simply mean “confidence based on prior experience.”

    Each time we use the word “faith,” we might want to specify what we mean by “faith.” Do we mean “a strong belief that Jesus rose from the dead” or do we mean “a reasonably strong confidence in some future outcome based on past experiences in similar circumstances?”

    By “faith” I mean faith in the Incarnation as summarized in the Apostle’s Creed.

    If that’s the way you are using the word “faith,” then scientific progress was not a result of faith.

    If one wants to think that Christianity is true because at one time in history “scientists were pretty much universally believing Christians all the way up through Maxwell in the 19th century,” then one could point to a different time and place and history where many leading scientists are not Christians and use that as “evidence” that Christianity is false.

    It seems to me that neither conclusion follows from the premise.

    • #175
  26. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    J Climacus (View Comment):

    But faith that the answer to some scientific question is out there is different from faith that someone who lived centuries ago in a different land rose from the dead. A scientist can have faith of both kinds. But even a scientist who doubts that Jesus rose from the dead might have faith that if he continues doing his research, he will discover better medical treatment for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and kidney disease.

    True. Scientists today have the advantage of the history of science that demonstrates that scientific investigation actually works, so they don’t need faith. The early modern scientists had no such history. What motivated them? Well, they thought there must be a rational order in the material world created there by God. Why did they believe that? Because they believed that God Himself became Man – the Word became Flesh – and so the material world wasn’t the realm of chaos and evil a lot of people thought (or that it appeared), but hidden within it was the Mind of God. So faith in science was linked to faith in the Incarnation.

    Scientists were pretty much universally believing Christians all the way up through Maxwell in the 19th century, when they started to turn secular. And then forgot the faith that underwrote the scientific revolution in the first place.

    I remember my college physics textbook noting that Newton “wasted time” on his religious investigations, actually putting more time into them than he did science. It never occurred to the authors that Newton’s religious faith might have had something to do with his revolutionizing science.

    It’s not clear that belief that Jesus was divine is an important component of scientific innovation.

    It seems we are equivocating in our use of the word “faith.” In some contexts, “faith” might simply mean “confidence based on prior experience.”

    Each time we use the word “faith,” we might want to specify what we mean by “faith.” Do we mean “a strong belief that Jesus rose from the dead” or do we mean “a reasonably strong confidence in some future outcome based on past experiences in similar circumstances?”

    By “faith” I mean faith in the Incarnation as summarized in the Apostle’s Creed.

    If that’s the way you are using the word “faith,” then scientific progress was not a result of faith.

    If one wants to think that Christianity is true because at one time in history “scientists were pretty much universally believing Christians all the way up through Maxwell in the 19th century,” then one could point to a different time and place and history where many leading scientists are not Christians and use that as “evidence” that Christianity is false.

    It seems to me that neither conclusion follows from the premise.

    I agree. That’s why I didn’t make that argument.

    • #176
  27. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    I bring Horowitz up because we generally think of non-believers as people of the Left.  But what about people on the Right who never found “Jesus rose from the dead” and “You need Jesus in your life” convincing?

    Why confine it to Judaism or Christianity?  What did Horowitz stake his moral beliefs on?  What was the core of belief that drew him away from the left?

    • #177
  28. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Roderic (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    I bring Horowitz up because we generally think of non-believers as people of the Left. But what about people on the Right who never found “Jesus rose from the dead” and “You need Jesus in your life” convincing?

    Why confine it to Judaism or Christianity? What did Horowitz stake his moral beliefs on? What was the core of belief that drew him away from the left?

    I don’t know if there was a core belief that drew Horowitz away from the left.  But Horowitz’s experience in dealing with the Black Panthers was crucial.  The Black Panthers killed one of Horowitz’s friends due to their paranoid worldview (that’s how I remember this, from reading the book about 20 years ago).  

    But there were other issues that caused Horowitz to exit the leftish worldview.  He noticed the bloodbath in Southeast Asia after the US withdrew.  Leftist radicals said that the communists were growing “rice roots democracy” in Southeast Asia and Horowitz eventually concluded that this was completely false.  

    So, a series of data points caused Horowitz to have doubts, those doubts intensified and eventually Horowitz became a prominent conservative.  I was Horowitz speak in person in the late 1980s at a Young Americans for Freedom conference.  

    I find Horowitz’s biography interesting because while he rejected Marxism-Leninism, he didn’t embrace Christianity or Islam or Judaism or Buddhism or any religion.  

    • #178
  29. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

     

    Sometimes people write about events that didn’t actually happen or happened a bit differently than described by the witness. Sometimes people give oral testimonies, describing events that didn’t actually happen or happened a bit differently than described by the witness.

    The fact that testimonies can be incorrect, either mistaken or purposely misleading, is one of the reasons why, in our courts of law, we have an adversarial system in which witnesses can be cross examined. And even then we know that occasionally jurors, after listening to all of the evidence presented to them, end up putting someone in prison who is exonerated later based on DNA evidence.

    Historians often disagree over what actually happened in the past, even as these historians look at the same testimonies, the same written documents, the same evidence.

    I think you are mistaken in your belief that Jesus rose from the dead.

    So, just because the four canonical gospels present Jesus as having rose from the dead does not mean that Jesus actually did rise from the dead. If you think that it logically follows that Jesus rose from the dead from the fact that we have manuscripts where it is written that Jesus rose from the dead, then I think your epistemology is flawed. But you are entitled to your epistemology just as I am entitled to mine.

    Well, if that is the conclusion your faith leads you to, then it’s too bad.  God creates just enough ambiguity of His existence for you to choose your faith, and of course that comes with consequences.  Two people can read the New Testament and one can believe and one may not, reading the very same events, both knowing that Christ’s disciples went to their martyred death for Christ and His resurrection.  Some believe and some don’t, or can’t, or are just too “sophisticated.”  God creates just enough ambiguity for you to choose your faith.  You can read why here and read perhaps a deeper understanding of it here.  

    • #179
  30. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Django (View Comment):

    Did Jesus or did he not tell his disciples to spread “the good news”? Did he or did he not say that “no one comes to the Father except through me”?

    John 14:6-7

    “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

    This statement is only found in the gospel of John but not in the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke.

    My sense is that Jesus never said what was attributed to him in John 14:6-7, but, rather, this was part of theological development during the latter part of the 1st century.

    As for whether he told his disciples to spread the “good news,” this could also be part of latter theological development and not part of “the real Jesus’s” actual ministry.

    Obviously Christians are likely to disagree with the idea that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet. They are likely to read the “red letters” in their Bible (the words Jesus supposedly spoke) and try very hard to apply Jesus’s words/sermons/parables to their life.

     

    “My sense is that Jesus never said…”

    When did you become a Biblical scholar? Your sense? What exactly is your sense built from? Why would your sense have any credibility compared to scholars with all sorts of degrees who have read the texts in the originals, read countless commentary and written books on it htemselves? Do yourself a favor: read up on scholars such as John Bergsma, Scott Hahn, N.T. Wright, and Brant Pitre. And frankly, so what it’s in one Gospel and not in the others? That proves nothing.

    I am not a New Testament scholar. You got me there. But my bet is that you aren’t a New Testament scholar either.

    I have read books written by New Testament scholars and I have watched dozens of debates featuring New Testament scholars where they discuss the evidence for Jesus’s resurrection.

    That doesn’t make me an expert, I agree. But the large majority of people who have any opinion regarding Jesus’s resurrection aren’t scholars or experts.

    What ticked me off was that you presented this “discovery” as if it proved the Gospels as contradicting themselves or you had found some key that undermines them.  It does nothing. First, sacred texts are not folklore.  They don’t work in the same manner.  That assumption is something out of folkloric analysis, which does not apply here.  Second, folkloric statistical analysis requires a statistically viable quantity.  Four accounts are not statistically significant to run such an analysis, even if it applied.  It’s slip shod thinking you picked up from slip shod scholars who have a vested interest in undermining Christianity.  

    • #180
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