Category Archives: Modernism

A Christian SF Writer Comments on the Challenge: God is Either Loving or Weak

Is there a contradiction between the theological claims that God is omnipotent and that He is love?

A short time ago my teaching pastor, Bruxy Cavey was teaching on Three Beautiful Words (God is Love) from I John 4:8 (if you’re interested in this critical message you can download the podcast for free).

After the message, as is the custom in our meetings, the floor was opened up for questions. A query was texted in by Peter (not yours truly) and from memory the gist of the question was:

A speaker on TV said that God being loving and being omnipotent was a contradiction. If God were loving, he would fix the world to take away evil and suffering. Since he doesn’t that means either he can’t (therefore he’s not omnipotent) or he won’t (therefore he’s not loving). This has bothered me a lot. How would you answer this?

Now when I encounter challenges like this, I like to think through them and this is the reason for my post.

Thinking about the definitions

Omnipotence is a theological term that describes God’s power as creator and sustainer of all things. I don’t believe it is ever used in the bible but rather is used by theologians to describe the sum of the teaching on God in the bible on the subject of His power and sovereignty.

Before one can examine the claimed contradiction, I think it is useful to understand the word “omnipotent.” The TV speaker and I likely agree that omnipotent means “all powerful” but does that mean that there are no actions that are inherently impossible even to an all-powerful being?

I think the answer to that question is “no;” there are actions inherently impossible even for the omnipotent.
For example, the following actions are inherently impossible or necessarily limit the scope on omnipotence:

1. Actions that violate the law of non-contradiction: God can’t make it rain and not rain on the same spot, in the same sense, at the same time. Choosing to make it rain means He has already chosen against making it “not rain.” The decree and its complement come as a single package.
2. In any creative process, full omnipotence is limited to the first decision. After that, all future decisions are constrained by what has already been chosen. Often subsequent choices are impossible because they violate earlier choices.
3. Omnipotence tells us what God can do, not what He will do.

Allow me to elaborate on points 2 and 3.

In any creative process, full omnipotence is limited to the first decision

As a writer I see this principle in effect whenever I start a novel. When my page is blank I may write anything I like. Perhaps:
“In a galaxy far, far away …” or
“He found the body after midnight on the moor.” or
“When Dolores opened the letter, she knew her life would never be the same again.”

After the first line, my omnipotence as a writer has shriveled enormously. I can no longer do what I want. Everything I write afterwards has to be consistent with what I wrote before. I think God faces the same limitation of particularity. When he chooses a certain course in creation, the contingent choices have to be self-consistent. When He steps into time, what He can do now, is constrained by the choices already made.

Omnipotence tells us what God can do, not what He will do

Omnipotence argues that God could lie. What prevents Him from doing so? He could put the lying words together, but choses not to because of His character. We have the same kind of power: we can all formulate a lie, but in our better moments we chose not to. This argues that there are some things God could do, but does not do them because they conflict with His essence or character.

Okay so why doesn’t God end all wickedness and suffering right now?

I think this is really the heart of the question that bothered the texter, Peter, and I don’t have a full answer. Here is what I have: what would God need to do to fix all wickedness and suffering right now? I think we would have to change the role we currently play on this planet and wrest from us all impulses and desires contrary to His will whether we want to give them up or not.

One of my favorite fantasy book series is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time®. In it a group of gifted people, called channelers, have enormous powers over their fellow humans. One power they have is called compulsion. With compulsion they can make subtle changes the thinking in the ungifted or even the gifted they have overpowered. For example, a channeler might compel a highly competent general to make subtle mistakes in a battle that to lead to disaster. On the other hand, compulsion can be used to completely take over a person’s mind so that the compelled must worship the compeller and be willing to kill or give up their lives for him. In the books, compulsion was rightly seen as a great evil in all its forms because it turned humans into automatons.
If my memory serves me correctly, there was a vision in the last book in which all people were compelled to be kind, productive, generous etc. But their humanity was sacrificed to make them that way against their will. They were no longer human. The protagonist saw this compelled change as a great loss to evil.

I think this is the fundamental flaw in having God fix things right now—it would have to be done against our will and our nature and that action itself would be an evil even if the end were good.

So where does that leave me?

I believe God is fixing things (perhaps it might be more correct to say He has fixed things in Christ) but the full effect of the cure has not fully spread through the system yet. The need for the means and the end to be true and good means the process will take some time, but it encourages me enormously that God in Christ came down into creation as a man and suffered right along with us. He was born into a poor family, of an oppressed people. His father likely died when he was a young man. Finally, he was crucified as an innocent man, while dying for His enemies who did not value His death at the time. This gives me great hope that God deeply cares about our (and my) condition in this flawed and marred world filled with flawed and marred people.

One of my favorite pictures is the one shown at the head of this blog taken of a framed print in my home. In Michelangelo’s fresco of The Creation of Adam, God is seen as touching Adam’s finger ever so slightly. Through this lightest of touches, He is communicating His love, but also His gift of independence and free will. The touch is there so Adam can choose to move toward Him or away from Him. Alas, we have moved away. He pursues us, but the touch continues to be light to preserve our free will. It is always my choice whether I move toward the touch or away from it. If I have to choose between becoming automaton or having God work the process to bring us home when we are willing to move towards Him, I choose His timing and process.

A final comment on theologically-skeptical snipers

I must end this blog with a protest about theologically-skeptical snipers. I can’t directly complain about texter Peter’s TV speaker because I never saw the program, but I have seen many others like it. The speaker, in criticizing theism or Christianity trucks out some challenge and then leaves it hanging. In my experience, they never go on to say: “This is my world view and this is how I answer this question that I have just asked.” That would reveal that their own answers are at least as problematic as the Christian’s and thus leave them open to challenge. In other words, these skeptics are often not skeptical enough because they don’t challenge their own views along with the Christian’s.

In my mind, these speakers are like snipers who are happy to lie hidden in the brush taking pot shots at their opponents. As long as their own position is undiscovered they can happily fire away without taking any return fire.

If you are interested in these kinds of questions and you find the musings of a non-theologian, Science Fiction author helpful, why not check out my book Questioning Your Way to Faith? In story form, it discusses questions I have wrestled with, in the context of a respectful conversation between friends who profoundly disagree on the answers. ©Peter Kazmaier 2018

A Review of William D. Gairdner’s THE WAR AGAINST THE FAMILY

I had read this book a while ago but was revisiting it as I frequently do and realized I had never written a review. If you have read my Science Fiction book about a university that is transported to a parallel world (The Halcyon Dislocation) I think you will see some of the “what if” elements in my book were influenced by Gairdner’s thesis.

The War Against The Family: A Parent Speaks OutThe War Against The Family: A Parent Speaks Out by William D. Gairdner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This well-referenced, thought-provoking book caused me to re-evaluate a number of events happening in Canada. Gairdner makes the case that it is in the interest of the more controlling and totalitarian political elements to destroy the family. The well-functioning family is self-contained, self-sufficient, and becomes a source of stability for citizens developing independent ideas.

In contrast, as Gairdner argues, if the family unit is broken down, then individuals are forced to develop a co-dependency with the government. They must look to the government and its agencies for social help, financial help, and all other things a family would ordinarily provide. They will therefore be strongly motivated to not only expand the influence of government, but also, of necessity, expose themselves to whatever new wave of teaching and thinking that their government wants to impress upon them. Gairdner would argue this makes these citizens much easier to control.

Whether you agree with Gairdner’s thesis or not, his book is filled with so much data that it’s worth the read in my view. The book was written in 1992. A great many events have happened since then. It is very interesting to see which of Gairdner’s predictions have come true and which have not.

View all my reviews

A Response to Stuart Aken’s Blog on “Why are we required to respect religion?”

Images of Religious Symbols courtesy of Wikimedia

Images of Religious Symbols courtesy of Wikimedia

Writer Stuart Aken, in his blog entitled I’d Like to Know: Why? #3 Religion, asks the provocative question: “Why are We Required to Respect Religion?” This question is of interest to me as a Christ-follower (even though I would not characterize myself as religious—I know other people would characterize me in that way).
As I thought about Mr. Aken’s blog, it led me to think about how the phrasing of the question channels the responses that this question elicits. It’s always handy to set up a contest or a discussion so that only one side is given the bows and arrows while the other is left only with a shield. It’s like a Canadian or American football game where the rules of the contest allow only one team to play offence (and hence is best set up to score points) while the other is perpetually on defense. I think such a rule-based asymmetry is neither sporting nor does it readily necessarily let the better team prevail.

If one looks at the question in its current form, then Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and other adherents of a religion are on trial to justify their beliefs and explain why their beliefs merit respect, but atheists, agnostics, materialists, and secularists are excluded from scrutiny by the form of the question itself.
It seems to me a more instructive and fairer form of the question would be: “Why should I respect the World View of others when their World View differs from my own?” In this context I use “World View” to mean how I and others view reality. I think this re-configuring of the question has important advantages:

1. Now everyone, religious and agnostic alike has a chip in the game and has beliefs that may be called into question.
2. It ought to be understood that everyone intrinsically believes that their World View best explains the real world (material and spiritual).
3. Any criticism that is leveled at another World View can also properly be asked of one’s own. So if one asks if religious world views are prone to violence, one has to ask if one’s own World View is different in this regard and why.
4. In this kind of a discussion, if one begins to believe that many of the key things one genuinely believes about the nature of reality are wrong, this will be a very unsettling development for everyone who experiences it—not just religious people.
5. Finally, I think it prevents participants in the discussion from making the disastrous mistake of assuming that all religions are really the same, merely because they are religions. Even within a religion there may be substantial differences in World View by adherents because of differences in emphasis, in interpretation of sacred texts, in theology, or by reconciliation with other sources of evidence.

Thank you Mr. Aken for raising this important topic. Perhaps as time becomes available, I will be able to give my perspective on some of the other follow-on questions you raised in your post.

G. K. Chesterton on Paganism

The Everlasting ManI have been reading G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. This book, first published in 1925, has much to say to a 21st century reader. For me, the early chapters generated one of those wonderful intellectual events, when on reading Chesterton’s account, a number of disparate puzzles coalesced for me and came together in an ‘ah hah’ moment.

Let me explain. In chapters V-VII, Chesterton describes three strands of paganism which ran side-by-side: mythology with all of its fantastic stories; philosophy, particularly post-Socratic philosophy which has given our civilization so much; and those strands of paganism which worshiped demons and were linked with human sacrifice such as Moloch worshipers in Palestine and the Aztecs in the new world. In one sense these three strands were contradictory. How could philosophically rigorous thinkers participate in rites and observances related to Bacchus? How could peoples who at least believed in objective values, as Lewis calls it, the tao (The Abolition of Man), degenerate into human sacrifice?

Chesterton showed how these strands really represented three attempts to connect with the spiritual. Mythology was an act of the imagination. Philosophy was an act of reason, but the two always remained separate, if parallel, strands of connection to the spiritual Other. The darker strand of demonology and human sacrifice, was more pragmatic than the other two. At some point, reason and imagination were abandoned and people sought for what worked. And so dark powers were invoked, requiring hideous sacrifices, all to a pragmatic end – they’ll give us the power that we want.

Chesterton goes on to point out that synthesis between the philosophical strands and the imaginative yearning for mystical experience were only thoroughly synthesized in the Middle Ages. From my own reading I can see how Thomas Aquinas was able to bring reason, faith, and mystical experience together. Perhaps this is why pagan societies, for all their shortcomings, were often very open to the Gospel. The imagination, reason, along with objective value had prepared them.

One final point. In my last post, I discussed the book Living at the Crossroads. It was interesting to see how in our current age the imaginative strand and the logical strand have parted company again. We have Postmodernism (imaginative strand) and Modernism (logical, data-driven strand) existing side by side. We yearn for the beauty and meaning of Postmodernism and yet fall back to the sterile world of data and logic because in some sense it is more connected with reality and outcomes. We have lost the synthesis.

If you have read The Everlasting Man, I would appreciate hearing what you thought of it.

Thanks for reading,

Peter

On Reading LIVING AT THE CROSSROADS by Michael W. Goheen and Craig G. Bartholomew

Crossroads CoverEffective communication means not only speaking and writing cogently and precisely but also developing an understanding of how our words will be perceived by the listener or reader. Words are filtered or perhaps interpreted through the Worldview of the listener.

Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew have written an interesting book on Worldview subtitled An Introduction to Christian Worldview. In order to understand their points it’s useful to begin with a description and history of the key term “Worldview” detailed in their work.

Goheen and Bartholomew in Living at the Crossroads (LATC) trace the concept of Worldview back to Kant’s Weltanschauung, a term which was developed further by the idealist philosopher Friedrich Schelling. Weltanschauung, or Worldview is denoted as a comprehensive and cohesive set of beliefs that underlie and shape all human thought and action.

In other worlds, to use a metaphor, Worldview is the set of glasses through which we see the world. Often, as glasses, if they have been on long enough, we don’t even realize they color everything. This realization is important from two perspectives:

  1. If you are speaking to someone with a different Worldview, communication will be difficult because the very words themselves will be re-translated by the Worldview.
  2. If one seeks to minimize one’s bias, it is important to understand one’s own Worldview and how it colors what one hears and reads.

Now although we all have a Worldview, I do not at all insist that all Worldviews are equal. It matters a great deal how closely the Worldview mirrors reality and sinceSunglasses Worldviews are often contradictory at points, it is unreasonable to believe they all map into reality equally well.

I share Goheen and Bartholomew’s Christian Worldview and it was interesting to me to read how the Christian Worldview intersects and reacts to two other Worldviews currently prevalent in the West: Modernism and Postmodernism.

Modernism

Conversion of EuropeIn Chapter 6 they trace the rise of Modernism through Reformation and the development of modern science from its Christian roots to the point where by the end of the eighteenth century is firmly based on confessional humanism. This transformation is summarized in one graphic and Modernism is based on four principles (page 91):

  1. Faith in progress
  2. Faith in reason
  3. Faith in technology
  4. Faith in a rationally ordered world

To my mind, these four faiths of Modernism also point to the great weaknesses of this perspective:

  1. How do we define progress? Progress becomes things we can measure: Gross Domestic Product, Average Income, and Life Expectancy. These are important, but are these the most important?
  2. Reason is very important, but what assumptions do we bring to reason and what concepts of right and wrong do we bring to reason?
  3. Science and technology are two-edged swords. They can give us polio vaccines and hydrogen bombs. Is our capability outstripping our ability to control our self-interest and quest for dominance? Where do our restraints come from?

Postmodernism

LATC tackles Postmodernism in Chapter 7. Goheen and Bartholomew point to Jean-Francois Lyotard and his “incredulity toward metanarratives” (page 109) as a defining characteristic. He and other Postmodernists are saying that Worldview defines everything. In other words reason must be distrusted when it comes to defining reality. LATC quotes Kenneth Gergen: “We are not dealing here with doubts regarding claims about the truth of human character, but with the full-scale abandonment of the concept of objective truth.” One of the few things Postmodernism shares with Modernism is their hostility towards Christianity. After that they are opposites.

Fact Value DichotomyThe two most significant things I learned from this book can be summarized as follows:

  1. Postmodernism can never completely vanquish or obliterate Modernism because Postmodernism doesn’t really work at any level that touches on reality. It may claim the sympathies of many, but eventually in public discourse, data and reasoned argument will still win out. So Modernism will not disappear.
  2. Although Christians (and presumably people of other Faiths) are able to participate in government at some level, Modernism will not let them be fully enfranchised since key political issues such as education of our young will always exclude their heart felt input. This is shown in the following figure. We can vote, but real choices we care about will never be on the ballot.

In summary, I would rate this book a 3 stars out of 5. I’m glad I read it, but it did not become part of my “go to” library.

If you have read this book, I’d love to hear from you and find out what you thought.

Thanks for reading,

Peter

A Note on the Kazmaier Rating system

4-5 Stars:             I will read this book over and over again.

3-Stars:                 I’m glad I read the book, but am unlikely to read again. If I do read it again, I’ll bump it up to 4 Stars.

2-Stars:                 I wish I hadn’t read the book.

1-Star                  To my mind this book is so poor, I’m stupider now for having read it.