Category Archives: Theology/Philosophy

Religion is Absurd

Spandrell points out a talk about religion calling it absurd:

And let me tell you how I think it’s been so successful. First of all there wouldn’t have been any societies without religion, without transcendental beliefs. Which are absurd. They have to be preposterous. The basic tenets are not false beliefs. They are preposterous beliefs. Something like Aristotle’s category violations, a “four-footed idea”. It’s not something that even has truth conditions. It’s not something that even has truth conditions. So it’s open to interpretation, which makes it so adaptable. That’s why you have sermons, and imams, and rabbis, and priests, giving you every week a new version of what it actually means, because the foundations of them are meaningless.

In this he agrees, at least partially, with Paul:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:17-31 ESV)

Myth is True, yet it is also absurd, in that it is beyond verifiability or falsifibility, it exists outside the mere naturalistic material realm and is more True than any mere fact claim. Verifiability and falsifibility can discern naturalistic fact, they cannot discern Truth.

Yet, this absurdity does not mean it is meaningless, something which meaningless which he touches upon right away:

But you need meaningless ideas, unfalsifiable, and unverifiable. Otherwise, it’s a mere social contract of convenience which has an exit strategy and people can defect any time they want. Once you buy into this apparently absurd beliefs, and think about it, the more apparently absurd they are, the deeper the trust they engender. And stronger the societies are in competition with other societies. And Darwin of course was the first to point this out in The Descent of Man, saying : why do the heroes and martyrs come into being? They are willing to die and commit to this… what? What are they dying for? They’re not dying even for their families, because they know they are gonna die. They are dying for abstract ideas, abstract causes, which no other creature but man re subject. And human beings will do their utmost exertion for ill or good, not for the sake of kith and kin, but collectively for the sake of abstract ideas. And these abstract ideas are unverifiable, and unfalsifiable.

People will fight, work, and die for Truth, they will not do so for what is merely true.

This is because meaning is only found in Truth, yet Truth is beyond mere fact. Fact is meaningless; it exists, but in relation nothing.

The sky is blue! Who cares? Water is wet! Meh. 1.34159! So?

The fit reproduce, the unfit are selected out! And so? What does this mean to me?

Solomon was the fittest, he had 1000 wives and concubines. Yet:

And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 ESV)

There is no meaning in fact… Where is meaning to be found?

Man needs meaning, he needs myth. Myth makes man.

Facts are meaningless in themselves, Truth is not. Facts are only valuable when they have been given meaning by being subsumed in myth.


The content of religious beliefs are what people make of them at the moment. What they agree upon them at the moment. They aren’t fixed, they are forever adaptable. And that is why they are counterintuitive and absurd. Because if they were fixed, if you could give them propositional content, if you could falsify them, or verify them, they’d be stuck. So they have to be open.

Here the speech fumbles, at least regarding Christianity. The Truth of Christianity has not changed in two thousand years, as there is one Truth:

A carpenter nailed to a tree then resurrected.

Barring time travel, the ability to verify this event passed long ago. Even beyond that single Truth, the Christian Church has held to the same creeds for two thousand years. Through time and cultures there have been heretics and apostates, debates over theological matters, doctrinal changes, disagreements, and clarifications, different emphasises, and such and on, but the core truths have stood firm and the core teachings, repent and be baptized, have not changed.

Even with these changes the Orthodox Church has held the same views for two thousand years (with, as far as I know, the only major change being the temporary reversals on iconography), the Roman Catholic Church has held mostly the same views for two thousand years, and, until the last century of degeneracy, even within most Protestant churches core doctrines of particular denominations rarely changed.

Chesterton on Men and Women

I’ve been sick and not up to writing posts, so here’s some Chesterton on the difference between men and women, from Chapter 3-2 of What’s Wrong with the World:

Cast your eye round the room in which you sit, and select some three or four things that have been with man almost since his beginning; which at least we hear of early in the centuries and often among the tribes. Let me suppose that you see a knife on the table, a stick in the corner, or a fire on the hearth. About each of these you will notice one speciality; that not one of them is special. Each of these ancestral things is a universal thing; made to supply many different needs; and while tottering pedants nose about to find the cause and origin of some old custom, the truth is that it had fifty causes or a hundred origins. The knife is meant to cut wood, to cut cheese, to cut pencils, to cut throats; for a myriad ingenious or innocent human objects. The stick is meant partly to hold a man up, partly to knock a man down; partly to point with like a finger-post, partly to balance with like a balancing pole, partly to trifle with like a cigarette, partly to kill with like a club of a giant; it is a crutch and a cudgel; an elongated finger and an extra leg. The case is the same, of course, with the fire; about which the strangest modern views have arisen. A queer fancy seems to be current that a fire exists to warm people. It exists to warm people, to light their darkness, to raise their spirits, to toast their muffins, to air their rooms, to cook their chestnuts, to tell stories to their children, to make checkered shadows on their walls, to boil their hurried kettles, and to be the red heart of a man’s house and that hearth for which, as the great heathens said, a man should die.

Now it is the great mark of our modernity that people are always proposing substitutes for these old things; and these substitutes always answer one purpose where the old thing answered ten. The modern man will wave a cigarette instead of a stick; he will cut his pencil with a little screwing pencil-sharpener instead of a knife; and he will even boldly offer to be warmed by hot water pipes instead of a fire. I have my doubts about pencil-sharpeners even for sharpening pencils; and about hot water pipes even for heat. But when we think of all those other requirements that these institutions answered, there opens before us the whole horrible harlequinade of our civilization. We see as in a vision a world where a man tries to cut his throat with a pencil-sharpener; where a man must learn single-stick with a cigarette; where a man must try to toast muffins at electric lamps, and see red and golden castles in the surface of hot water pipes.

The principle of which I speak can be seen everywhere in a comparison between the ancient and universal things and the modern and specialist things. The object of a theodolite is to lie level; the object of a stick is to swing loose at any angle; to whirl like the very wheel of liberty. The object of a lancet is to lance; when used for slashing, gashing, ripping, lopping off heads and limbs, it is a disappointing instrument. The object of an electric light is merely to light (a despicable modesty); and the object of an asbestos stove… I wonder what is the object of an asbestos stove? If a man found a coil of rope in a desert he could at least think of all the things that can be done with a coil of rope; and some of them might even be practical. He could tow a boat or lasso a horse. He could play cat’s-cradle, or pick oakum. He could construct a rope-ladder for an eloping heiress, or cord her boxes for a travelling maiden aunt. He could learn to tie a bow, or he could hang himself. Far otherwise with the unfortunate traveller who should find a telephone in the desert. You can telephone with a telephone; you cannot do anything else with it. And though this is one of the wildest joys of life, it falls by one degree from its full delirium when there is nobody to answer you. The contention is, in brief, that you must pull up a hundred roots, and not one, before you uproot any of these hoary and simple expedients. It is only with great difficulty that a modern scientific sociologist can be got to see that any old method has a leg to stand on. But almost every old method has four or five legs to stand on. Almost all the old institutions are quadrupeds; and some of them are centipedes.

Consider these cases, old and new, and you will observe the operation of a general tendency. Everywhere there was one big thing that served six purposes; everywhere now there are six small things; or, rather (and there is the trouble), there are just five and a half. Nevertheless, we will not say that this separation and specialism is entirely useless or inexcusable. I have often thanked God for the telephone; I may any day thank God for the lancet; and there is none of these brilliant and narrow inventions (except, of course, the asbestos stove) which might not be at some moment necessary and lovely. But I do not think the most austere upholder of specialism will deny that there is in these old, many-sided institutions an element of unity and universality which may well be preserved in its due proportion and place. Spiritually, at least, it will be admitted that some all-round balance is needed to equalize the extravagance of experts. It would not be difficult to carry the parable of the knife and stick into higher regions. Religion, the immortal maiden, has been a maid-of-all-work as well as a servant of mankind. She provided men at once with the theoretic laws of an unalterable cosmos and also with the practical rules of the rapid and thrilling game of morality. She taught logic to the student and told fairy tales to the children; it was her business to confront the nameless gods whose fears are on all flesh, and also to see the streets were spotted with silver and scarlet, that there was a day for wearing ribbons or an hour for ringing bells. The large uses of religion have been broken up into lesser specialities, just as the uses of the hearth have been broken up into hot water pipes and electric bulbs. The romance of ritual and colored emblem has been taken over by that narrowest of all trades, modern art (the sort called art for art’s sake), and men are in modern practice informed that they may use all symbols so long as they mean nothing by them. The romance of conscience has been dried up into the science of ethics; which may well be called decency for decency’s sake, decency unborn of cosmic energies and barren of artistic flower. The cry to the dim gods, cut off from ethics and cosmology, has become mere Psychical Research. Everything has been sundered from everything else, and everything has grown cold. Soon we shall hear of specialists dividing the tune from the words of a song, on the ground that they spoil each other; and I did once meet a man who openly advocated the separation of almonds and raisins. This world is all one wild divorce court; nevertheless, there are many who still hear in their souls the thunder of authority of human habit; those whom Man hath joined let no man sunder.

This book must avoid religion, but there must (I say) be many, religious and irreligious, who will concede that this power of answering many purposes was a sort of strength which should not wholly die out of our lives. As a part of personal character, even the moderns will agree that many-sidedness is a merit and a merit that may easily be overlooked. This balance and universality has been the vision of many groups of men in many ages. It was the Liberal Education of Aristotle; the jack-of-all-trades artistry of Leonardo da Vinci and his friends; the august amateurishness of the Cavalier Person of Quality like Sir William Temple or the great Earl of Dorset. It has appeared in literature in our time in the most erratic and opposite shapes, set to almost inaudible music by Walter Pater and enunciated through a foghorn by Walt Whitman. But the great mass of men have always been unable to achieve this literal universality, because of the nature of their work in the world. Not, let it be noted, because of the existence of their work. Leonardo da Vinci must have worked pretty hard; on the other hand, many a government office clerk, village constable or elusive plumber may do (to all human appearance) no work at all, and yet show no signs of the Aristotelian universalism. What makes it difficult for the average man to be a universalist is that the average man has to be a specialist; he has not only to learn one trade, but to learn it so well as to uphold him in a more or less ruthless society. This is generally true of males from the first hunter to the last electrical engineer; each has not merely to act, but to excel. Nimrod has not only to be a mighty hunter before the Lord, but also a mighty hunter before the other hunters. The electrical engineer has to be a very electrical engineer, or he is outstripped by engineers yet more electrical. Those very miracles of the human mind on which the modern world prides itself, and rightly in the main, would be impossible without a certain concentration which disturbs the pure balance of reason more than does religious bigotry. No creed can be so limiting as that awful adjuration that the cobbler must not go beyond his last. So the largest and wildest shots of our world are but in one direction and with a defined trajectory: the gunner cannot go beyond his shot, and his shot so often falls short; the astronomer cannot go beyond his telescope and his telescope goes such a little way. All these are like men who have stood on the high peak of a mountain and seen the horizon like a single ring and who then descend down different paths towards different towns, traveling slow or fast. It is right; there must be people traveling to different towns; there must be specialists; but shall no one behold the horizon? Shall all mankind be specialist surgeons or peculiar plumbers; shall all humanity be monomaniac? Tradition has decided that only half of humanity shall be monomaniac. It has decided that in every home there shall be a tradesman and a Jack-of-all-trades. But it has also decided, among other things, that the Jack-of-all-trades shall be a Jill-of-all-trades. It has decided, rightly or wrongly, that this specialism and this universalism shall be divided between the sexes. Cleverness shall be left for men and wisdom for women. For cleverness kills wisdom; that is one of the few sad and certain things.

But for women this ideal of comprehensive capacity (or common-sense) must long ago have been washed away. It must have melted in the frightful furnaces of ambition and eager technicality. A man must be partly a one-idead man, because he is a one-weaponed man—and he is flung naked into the fight. The world’s demand comes to him direct; to his wife indirectly. In short, he must (as the books on Success say) give “his best”; and what a small part of a man “his best” is! His second and third best are often much better. If he is the first violin he must fiddle for life; he must not remember that he is a fine fourth bagpipe, a fair fifteenth billiard-cue, a foil, a fountain pen, a hand at whist, a gun, and an image of God.

Ace wrote something related a little while ago.

Myth, Truth, and Modernity

Nyan wrote on creating a religion. The basis of his post is this bit of materialist nonsense:

The immediate and obvious solution is that we must believe in a mythology that is not true. Not necessarily false, mind you; our spiritual myths may be nonsense from a truth perspective. For example, we might claim to believe that “It is the destiny of mankind to conquer the stars”. This can’t really be true or false in a positivist sense because constructions involving “destiny” and “mankind” are not really meaningful empirically. How does the statement constrain your expectations? It does not; it is purely mythological.

You may have noticed the relationship of this problem to Hume’s impenetrable Is-Ought barrier. I propose a similarly impenetrable but transparent Truth-Myth barrier to replace it. On one side we have the beliefs one adopts as part of an unsubordinated quest to understand the world, the beliefs that an idealized engineer might have, the Truth. On the other side we have those beliefs that provide meaning and spiritual context, and motivate us, the Myth. I call the barrier transparent because the Myth tends to be constructed in terms of the Truth. For example where on the truth side we notice fleshy ape-things that are related in a certain way to most of what we have to deal with, on the Myth side we call them “people”, give them individual names, and speculate about their destiny. On the Truth side of the barrier, I think Logical Positivism is the correct approach; we construct our beliefs about Truth to constrain our expectations and direct our purposeful actions, and we cut out the non-contributing parts. On the Myth side, I don’t really know how or even whether we ought to constrain our techniques of reasoning. I will be relatively permissive here and take the position that you adopt whatever mythology speaks to your soul, with the only restriction being that don’t let this pollute our understanding of Truth.

Something can be True without being Fact, and you will never have a human system until you come to terms with this. I’ve written on the three types of truth before.

Fact truth – Fact truth is mundane reality. A fact truth is empirical, it explains or describes a natural phenomenon but goes no deeper than that. “The sky is blue” would be a fact truth. Science is the best developed way of establishing this type of truth.

Social truth – A social truth is something socially accepted as being true. A social truth is something true in relating to and within a society. Social truths can be both mundane and transcendental. “It is rude to spit on the sidewalk” would be a mundane social truth; “the American Dream” would be a transcendental social truth.

Primal truth – Primal truth is transcendental truth. It is Truth. Truth speaks to the core of our human essence; to who and what we are. It is never mundane.

Another name for the third is mythic truth. Myths are True, in fact they are often more True than fact.

If you don’t understand, think of Plato’s forms as an analog. The forms don’t technically exist, they are not fact, but the form is more True than any particular factual instantiation of the form. The non-factual concept of tree is more true of trees as a whole than that particular existent oak at the neighbourhood park.

In the same way, the primal truths are more true of humanity than any particular existing human, any organization, or any of the facts of humanity. Myth is the distilled Truth of humanity.

Nyan is trying to replace Truth with fact and wondering how to create a human religion out of this. It’s impossible, you can not even make human out of fact alone. If you try you will only have a broken, soulless wretch animated only until the empty sleeve of flesh can destroy itself. Man does not live on fact alone. Man needs myth; man is myth; myth is truth.

Modernism, in its essence, is the destruction of myth in the human experience and its replacement by fact, often false. Modernism is the entirety of truth being conquered by fact. Buying into the naturalist, materialist world-view is to swallow modernity whole. By holding to his Truth-Myth framework Nyan is only showing that he is still pwned by modernity.

None of this is to say that fact is wrong, untrue, or unimportant. Fact is an essential part of truth, but it is not the entirely truth. Fact has its place, but that place is not myth’s place.

Nyan needs to abandon his false materialism. He sees ‘internal contradictions’ and replaces God with Darwin. Darwin may be fact, he may be true, but he can never be Truth. The internal contradictions he sees which he thinks deny God are Truth. The glory of fox’s hunt and the desperation of the rabbit’s run are not internal contradictions, but are instead mutually necessary; without the glory there is no desperation, without the desperation there is no glory. It is both the glory and the desperation that make the race real, that make the hunt matter, that create Truth. The glory and the desperation are Truth whatever Darwinian facts may be used to explain them. Nyan’s materialism would destroy both leaving only biology and game theory in its place.

Nyan knows, even if he does not actively realize it, that his materialism is false for he can’t even hold to his materialism for the single post in which he purports to do just that. He reifies a non-material, atheist natural law, then anthropomorphizes this immaterial form as Gnon and erects himself a new god. He states he remains agnostic to Gnon’s metaphysical nature while at the same time he posits Gnon as metaphysical Truth itself. He set out to make a materialistic, positivist religion and creates himself a immaterial, metaphysical god. As with all materialists, he denies God only to create his own god.

This is because materialism and positivism are useful for finding fact, but near useless for finding Truth, but Nyan can’t see this because he makes a modern false distinction between Truth and Myth. He needs to reconcile himself to Truth and deny this inhuman materialism.

Nyan, spurn this modernism and embrace the truth of myth.


From here, I’ll let Chesterton take over (read the entire chapter to see modernity eviscerated):

Well, I left the fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since. I left the nurse guardian of tradition and democracy, and I have not found any modern type so sanely radical or so sanely conservative. But the matter for important comment was here: that when I first went out into the mental atmosphere of the modern world, I found that the modern world was positively opposed on two points to my nurse and to the nursery tales. It has taken me a long time to find out that the modern world is wrong and my nurse was right. The really curious thing was this: that modern thought contradicted this basic creed of my boyhood on its two most essential doctrines. I have explained that the fairy tales rounded in me two convictions; first, that this world is a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful; second, that before this wildness and delight one may well be modest and submit to the queerest limitations of so queer a kindness. But I found the whole modern world running like a high tide against both my tendernesses; and the shock of that collision created two sudden and spontaneous sentiments, which I have had ever since and which, crude as they were, have since hardened into convictions.

First, I found the whole modern world talking scientific fatalism; saying that everything is as it must always have been, being unfolded without fault from the beginning. The leaf on the tree is green because it could never have been anything else. Now, the fairy-tale philosopher is glad that the leaf is green precisely because it might have been scarlet. He feels as if it had turned green an instant before he looked at it. He is pleased that snow is white on the strictly reasonable ground that it might have been black. Every colour has in it a bold quality as of choice; the red of garden roses is not only decisive but dramatic, like suddenly spilt blood. He feels that something has been DONE. But the great determinists of the nineteenth century were strongly against this native feeling that something had happened an instant before. In fact, according to them, nothing ever really had happened since the beginning of the world. Nothing ever had happened since existence had happened; and even about the date of that they were not very sure.

The modern world as I found it was solid for modern Calvinism, for the necessity of things being as they are. But when I came to ask them I found they had really no proof of this unavoidable repetition in things except the fact that the things were repeated. Now, the mere repetition made the things to me rather more weird than more rational. It was as if, having seen a curiously shaped nose in the street and dismissed it as an accident, I had then seen six other noses of the same astonishing shape. I should have fancied for a moment that it must be some local secret society. So one elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks looked like a plot. I speak here only of an emotion, and of an emotion at once stubborn and subtle. But the repetition in Nature seemed sometimes to be an excited repetition, like that of an angry schoolmaster saying the same thing over and over again. The grass seemed signalling to me with all its fingers at once; the crowded stars seemed bent upon being understood. The sun would make me see him if he rose a thousand times. The recurrences of the universe rose to the maddening rhythm of an incantation, and I began to see an idea.

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE. Heaven may ENCORE the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance.

This was my first conviction; made by the shock of my childish emotions meeting the modern creed in mid-career. I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were WILFUL. I mean that they were, or might be, repeated exercises of some will. In short, I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.

But modern thought also hit my second human tradition. It went against the fairy feeling about strict limits and conditions. The one thing it loved to talk about was expansion and largeness. Herbert Spencer would have been greatly annoyed if any one had called him an imperialist, and therefore it is highly regrettable that nobody did. But he was an imperialist of the lowest type. He popularized this contemptible notion that the size of the solar system ought to over-awe the spiritual dogma of man. Why should a man surrender his dignity to the solar system any more than to a whale? If mere size proves that man is not the image of God, then a whale may be the image of God; a somewhat formless image; what one might call an impressionist portrait. It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree. But Herbert Spencer, in his headlong imperialism, would insist that we had in some way been conquered and annexed by the astronomical universe. He spoke about men and their ideals exactly as the most insolent Unionist talks about the Irish and their ideals. He turned mankind into a small nationality. And his evil influence can be seen even in the most spirited and honourable of later scientific authors; notably in the early romances of Mr. H. G. Wells. Many moralists have in an exaggerated way represented the earth as wicked. But Mr. Wells and his school made the heavens wicked. We should lift up our eyes to the stars from whence would come our ruin.

But the expansion of which I speak was much more evil than all this. I have remarked that the materialist, like the madman, is in prison; in the prison of one thought. These people seemed to think it singularly inspiring to keep on saying that the prison was very large. The size of this scientific universe gave one no novelty, no relief. The cosmos went on for ever, but not in its wildest constellation could there be anything really interesting; anything, for instance, such as forgiveness or free will. The grandeur or infinity of the secret of its cosmos added nothing to it. It was like telling a prisoner in Reading gaol that he would be glad to hear that the gaol now covered half the county. The warder would have nothing to show the man except more and more long corridors of stone lit by ghastly lights and empty of all that is human. So these expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that is divine.

In fairyland there had been a real law; a law that could be broken, for the definition of a law is something that can be broken. But the machinery of this cosmic prison was something that could not be broken; for we ourselves were only a part of its machinery. We were either unable to do things or we were destined to do them. The idea of the mystical condition quite disappeared; one can neither have the firmness of keeping laws nor the fun of breaking them. The largeness of this universe had nothing of that freshness and airy outbreak which we have praised in the universe of the poet. This modern universe is literally an empire; that is, it was vast, but it is not free. One went into larger and larger windowless rooms, rooms big with Babylonian perspective; but one never found the smallest window or a whisper of outer air.

Their infernal parallels seemed to expand with distance; but for me all good things come to a point, swords for instance. So finding the boast of the big cosmos so unsatisfactory to my emotions I began to argue about it a little; and I soon found that the whole attitude was even shallower than could have been expected. According to these people the cosmos was one thing since it had one unbroken rule. Only (they would say) while it is one thing it is also the only thing there is. Why, then, should one worry particularly to call it large? There is nothing to compare it with. It would be just as sensible to call it small. A man may say, “I like this vast cosmos, with its throng of stars and its crowd of varied creatures.” But if it comes to that why should not a man say, “I like this cosy little cosmos, with its decent number of stars and as neat a provision of live stock as I wish to see”? One is as good as the other; they are both mere sentiments. It is mere sentiment to rejoice that the sun is larger than the earth; it is quite as sane a sentiment to rejoice that the sun is no larger than it is. A man chooses to have an emotion about the largeness of the world; why should he not choose to have an emotion about its smallness?

It happened that I had that emotion. When one is fond of anything one addresses it by diminutives, even if it is an elephant or a life-guardsman. The reason is, that anything, however huge, that can be conceived of as complete, can be conceived of as small. If military moustaches did not suggest a sword or tusks a tail, then the object would be vast because it would be immeasurable. But the moment you can imagine a guardsman you can imagine a small guardsman. The moment you really see an elephant you can call it “Tiny.” If you can make a statue of a thing you can make a statuette of it. These people professed that the universe was one coherent thing; but they were not fond of the universe. But I was frightfully fond of the universe and wanted to address it by a diminutive. I often did so; and it never seemed to mind. Actually and in truth I did feel that these dim dogmas of vitality were better expressed by calling the world small than by calling it large. For about infinity there was a sort of carelessness which was the reverse of the fierce and pious care which I felt touching the pricelessness and the peril of life. They showed only a dreary waste; but I felt a sort of sacred thrift. For economy is far more romantic than extravagance. To them stars were an unending income of halfpence; but I felt about the golden sun and the silver moon as a schoolboy feels if he has one sovereign and one shilling.

A Quick Response

Continuing our genocide conversation, Malcolm points to a women who divorced her husband after ‘signs from the Lord’. My (hopefully final) response is short and twofold:

a) Is she a prophet through whom divine revelation flows?

b) Where in that mess of self-justification does God directly and undeniably command her to divorce?

All I read looking through the link is someone selfishly deciding to do something, then looking for every possible excuse to not feel guilty.


Maybe I have not been communicating as effectively as possible. While a specific divine command may override more general commands for the specified action/time/event, this is not some lightly taken thing.

In the Bible these overriding commands occurred when God spoke directly to and through His prophets while shaping the God-chosen nation the of Israel. Anybody receiving and transmitting a divine command from the Lord is a prophet and being a prophet is not something taken lightly. It is a major, nation-shaping event and any proclaimed prophet has tests to pass for which the penalty for failure is death (and likely damnation).

Breaking God’s law under God’s command is not something done lightly. There is no, ‘I was praying and saw a whisp of smoke, then my preacher spoke on something vaguely related’ to it. It is ‘God spoke directly to me clearly and unmistakeably and called me to Himself through miracles, angels, and visions.’

In the Bible, the prophets were clearly and unmistakeably called by God. They were generally hesitant to obey God and had fairly miserable lives. Those they prophesied to/for/against generally did not like what they had to say (hence, Saul disobeying Samuel) and usually responded grudgingly, at best. So, when I write of following a revealed divine command, it is no small thing I speak of. It is a divine revelation of Biblical proportions that you will likely detest and will shatter your life and the lives of those around you.

A prophecy isn’t needed to call people to do what they want or would have done anyway. Anybody using a divine command to justify something they wanted to do already is engaging in delusional self-justification and anybody desiring divine revelation for themselves strikes me as foolish.

When I talk of a divine command it is something on a fundamentally different order than the everyday Christian interactions with God such as praying over which job to take, learning something revealing from a sermon, the small coincidences of life chalked up to God’s grace, ‘small morsels from God’, or feeling God uplifted you through worship.


Finally, on the topic of divorce and divine command, we can look to Ezra.

While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law. Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.” Then Ezra arose and made the leading priests and Levites and all Israel take an oath that they would do as had been said. So they took the oath.

Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God and went to the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib, where he spent the night, neither eating bread nor drinking water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles. And a proclamation was made throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the returned exiles that they should assemble at Jerusalem, and that if anyone did not come within three days, by order of the officials and the elders all his property should be forfeited, and he himself banned from the congregation of the exiles.

Then all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. And all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. And Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have broken faith and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now then make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.” Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, “It is so; we must do as you have said. But the people are many, and it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open. Nor is this a task for one day or for two, for we have greatly transgressed in this matter. Let our officials stand for the whole assembly. Let all in our cities who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every city, until the fierce wrath of our God over this matter is turned away from us.” Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahzeiah the son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite supported them.

Then the returned exiles did so. Ezra the priest selected men, heads of fathers’ houses, according to their fathers’ houses, each of them designated by name. On the first day of the tenth month they sat down to examine the matter; and by the first day of the first month they had come to the end of all the men who had married foreign women.

(Ezra 10:1-17 ESV)

Responses to Genocidal Mercy

I wrote on the Israelite genocides a couple posts ago and am going to respond to a few of the response here.

First, Zippy responded, to others and possibly me, in two posts, here and here.

When the Bible tells us that Samuel said “Thus sayeth the Lord of Hosts”, it is entirely possible that it is giving a literal account of words actually spoken by the actual prophet Samuel. I rather expect that it is; although that is not the only possible interpretation, and inerrancy only really guarantees that true and accurate interpretations exist, it doesn’t guarantee that I have it right.

But Samuel saying those words as a formal preliminary to issuing commands doesn’t necessarily imply what folks think it implies. We know that, as Popes do now, prophets had authority from God. But the fact that Papal authority comes from God doesn’t imply that every word and deed of every Pope is tantamount to a literal act of God. In reality Papal infallibility is something very rarely invoked, and the use of a formal introduction for the words of a Prophet doesn’t convert those words into a set of axiomatic syllogisms from which a positivist theory of everything can be constructed. Samuel’s formalism could conceivably mean that God actually spoke those words from a burning bush; but in the full context of the OT that seems less than likely. At best we can say that we don’t really know whether the formalism “thus sayeth the Lord of Hosts” is a formality – like the wearing of a crown – when the prophet gives orders.

This is intellectually untenable.

To argue that a prophet of the Lord when saying he is proclaiming the will of the Lord is not proclaiming the will of the Lord, ruins any ability to take anything from the Bible. If we can not trust a God-anointed prophet of the Lord to be proclaiming the will of the Lord while saying he is proclaiming the will of the Lord, how can we trust the words of any of the other prophets or teachers? Why would we give heed to Isaiah? Why would the words of John the Baptist be trustworthy? Why would we trust the revelations of John? For that matter, why would we trust the words of Jesus? (Not to mention, for the Catholics, why would we trust Peter or those who claim to be the successors of Peter?)

It is also not just Samuel’s introduction, but Samuel’s pronouncement of judgment on Saul where he also directly claims to speak for the Lord. Saul accepts Samuel’s judgment as being from the Lord, and, as far as I know, no one in the Bible argues that this judgment was ever outside the Lord’s will. Given that Samuel’s appointing of David as king, and, ultimately, the birth of Christ through the lineage of David hinge on this event, it is hard to argue God wasn’t behind this.

And Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And the LORD sent you on a mission and said, ‘Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?” And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the LORD. I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. (1 Samuel 15:17-20 ESV)

To add to this, without accepting Samuel’s words, we have no reason for why God rejected Saul. David’s crowning and 1&2 Samuel lose their meaning and coherency if this event does not take place as written.

What is being pitted against each other is some folks’ personal interpretations of the OT against the intrinsic immorality of murder.

What is being pitted against each other is Zippy’s personal interpretation of natural law against the direct words of the God-ordained prophet of the Lord on a mission from the Lord directly commanding the people of the Lord as the voice of the Lord to destroy the Amalekites. Then the prophet of the Lord stripping Saul of His kingship over the people of the Lord in the Lord’s name for disobeying the Lord’s commandments.

There are 5 ways this event could be interpreted: God commanded the destruction of the Amalekites, God lied to Samuel, Samuel lied to Israel, some other spiritual force deceived an anointed prophet of the Lord and the writer of a book of the Bible in such a way that influenced that entirety of the Christian story and the prophet was never corrected, or the Bible is lying to us (or being metaphorical, which in the case of a book purporting to be history recounting a historical event would be functionally equivalent to a lie).

The second is blasphemy, the third renders the words of the Biblical prophets meaningless, the fourth renders God ineffectual, and the fifth essentially makes the Bible impossible to decipher. Any but the first would make any attempts at understanding Christian natural law impossible.

If you read the Bible and come to the conclusion that a bedrock Christian doctrine such as the absolute prohibition of murder under the natural law is wrong, this doesn’t demonstrate a problem with bedrock Christian doctrine.

The claim is not that murder is okay. The claim is (or in fairness, if this was a criticism of someone else, my claim is) and was specifically ‘Murder is unlawful killing and God’s law is the highest law. If God orders a killing, it is by definition lawful, and is therefore, by definition, not murder.’

God ordered the genocide of the Amalekites, therefore it was not murder. It  has not demonstrated that this was murder; the argument ‘murder is wrong’ misses the point entirely.

In the comments Zippy states the following:

I am equally intolerant of an approach that is unwilling to start with what we actually know – e.g. that slaughtering infants is intrinsically immoral, always wrong, and therefore not something God would ever command – and work the problem from there.

Zippy should prove, not assert, not simply repeat ‘natural law’, but show logically and scripturally that 1) God would never command the slaughtering of infants (despite His prophets specifically commanding the slaughter of infants in His name) and 2) the slaughter of infants is wrong even if God does command it.

The only way to know apodictically that God is ordering it is if you are God. Otherwise it is always possible that you are deceived: that you are wrong. So we can’t escape from comparing how likely it is that we are deceived that murder is always wrong versus how likely it is that it is actually God telling us to do it.

We might not be able to know for certain and no matter what we think we might, but we can and shold reason out the most likely answer. If we follow through on Zippy’s argument how can we know God orders anything? We aren’t God. We can’t know anything of His will apodictically. In that case and what Zippy’s position implies in the context of this debate why even bother trying to ascertain God’s will on any issue? We’ll never know apodictically and it will always be possible we’re deceived.

We can’t escape from comparing how likely is is that Samuel as recorded in the word of the Lord, speaking as a prophet of the Lord in the name of the Lord to the Lord’s people who accepted his words as being from the Lord was deceived or deceiving versus how likely it is that Zippy’s interpretation of the natural law is wrong?


malcolmthecynic asked:

Something claiming to be the voice of God commands you to kill children.
Do you obey, or are you convinced this was the voice of Satan, and refuse?

I would test the spirits:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1-6 ESV)

If after a period of prayer, fasting, consultation with trusted Christian leaders, and testing the spirits I understood the spirits were those of the Lord I would obey. Depending on the ‘level of wrongness’ (for lack of a better term springing to mind), this period would be longer and more intense. I might also try to bargain with God as per Abraham.


Anonymous Coward stated:

This is the same argument that the Muslims make: we cannot put man’s law above God’s law, and man has no right to judge God. Anything Mohammed did is good by definition.

So clearly your argument is wrong, because it defends and promotes the great evil of Islam.

The Muslims are wrong in that their god is not God and Muhammed is not God’s prophet.


Aeroguy stated:

I’m not sure you guys really appreciate the full implications of Euthyphro’s dilemma. Defining god as good either denies god agency, the ability to choose, or it makes good relative, not absolute. I didn’t take you for a moral relativist. God could have never sent the angel to stop Abraham from sacrificing Isaac and it would have been equally good as sending the angel. If right and wrong are absolute and not apart from god then he has no will of his own. The temptations of Jesus would be meaningless since he never had the capacity to sin in the first place.

Bottom line, you can’t use god to justify something. Either justice stands on its own or is rendered meaningless.

You seem to mistakenly think you can separate justice and God. God is just. He is the yardstick by which justice is measured; morality is relative to God. I am unsure how would that render justice meaningless.

Genocidal Mercy

Cane noticed some writing on the Israelite genocides in the Old Testament and gave a solid response (read it). I’m going to write on the topic as well. This post will also tie in with my earlier post, The Holocaust: God Loves the Jews.

First, we must remember that God is good and God is good. Good is defined in relation to God, He is the absolute measure of good apart from which good becomes meaningless, so whatever God does or orders is good.

To try and judge God or His works is arrogance, nothing more. To try to hold judgment over His commands is error. To try to explain away, minimize, or apologize for His works and His orders is to attack God’s righteousness. To think that God’s commands present a problem is not a problem of God, but rather a deficiency in your own understanding and own morality.

How dare Christians take their modern liberal morality and try to impute it on God, then wonder why God falls short in their judgment. This is moral pride, nothing more. Christians who do need to read more Job:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7 ESV)

The question is not ‘why did God command this evil?’ That question assumes that man has the right to judge God’s work as evil. The right question is ‘what can we learn about God’s goodness from this command?’


Second, to think the genocide at the behest of God is murder is a grave misunderstanding of the law. Murder is unlawful killing and God’s law is the highest law. If God orders a killing, it is by definition lawful, and is therefore, by definition, not murder.

To even think it theoretically possible that God can order murder is to put human law above God’s law and to assume that humans have the right to judge God. That is sinful pride.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:20-24 ESV)


Finally, the good of the genocide of the Canaanites is easy to see if one looks to the eternal rather than the temporal.

The iniquity of the Canaanites had come to completion, they had given themselves fully to Moloch, the dark god of the Ammonites. As a race the Canaanites had damned themselves through their offerings of their children to the fire. The sons of the Canaanites, at least those who were not themselves sacrificed, would follow in the sins of their fathers and damn themselves. To kill them in the name of Yahweh, before they could reach the age of reason and damn themselves, saved them from both the fires of Moloch and the fires of hell.

Death was the greatest mercy those children could receive for it would keep them from eternal damnation.

On top, of this, leaving the Canaanites and Ammonites alive would have led to their bringing the rebellious Israelites into the worship of Moloch, damning the Israelites alongside them. Even as it was the Israelites occasionally fell to Moloch. How much worse would it have been had the Lord not ordered their destruction.

They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (Jeremiah 32:35 ESV)


To conclude, to ask the question concerning the slaughter of the Canaanites in the manner the question is usually asked is both sinful pride and too focused on the temporal. It is putting one’s own morality, one’s own understanding, and one’s own law above God, His understanding, His morality, and His law. Instead of judging God by their limited, temporal standards, Christians should focus on learning of the eternal good from God and His commands.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.
(Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV)

Cyclical History

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…
All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun…
There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be among those who come after.
(Ecclesiastes 1 ESV, Selected)

History is cyclical. There is nothing new under the sun.

Civilization is in constant war with chaos. Chaos eventually, inevitably, triumphs. The civilizational cycle of growth and death never ends.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Everything man creates turns to ashes, there is no relief from the curse of Adam.

Man endures until he can’t; death his only relief. His children then endure until they can’t.

Moth and rust destroy; thieves break in and steal. All go to the grave.

Everything man builds collapses; every institution man creates falls.

Every institution but one:

The Catholic Church has yet to fall. It has been corrupted, it has been split, it has been broken, but it has always endured.

This is the light in the darkness man constantly wars against.

There is no hope, there is no relief, there is no victory, but one.

The cycle was broken once: a bloody body upon an instrument of torture, an empty pit of death.

A fire descended, a burning illumination among the horrifying darkness.

The cycle of death and entropy never ceases, but that small fire promises hope that it will.

There is a final escape from the entropic cycle for those who have the eyes to see.

For those that keep their eyes closed, the chaos will follow them beyond the grave.


And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
(Revelation 21:3-4,8 ESV)