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Why Christianity Isn’t Just a List of Don’ts

One of the interesting aspects of Christianity is that it focuses on pursuing health rather than avoiding illness. This was the topic of a short discussion I had with my class today. Many times we think of Christianity only as a list of rules that help us avoid wrong behavior or keep us from having fun. This is what I hear frequently from students. However, this isn’t the goal. It isn’t focused on not doing wrong by creating a long list of don’ts. Instead, it is about living rightly and creating a lifestyle that is healthy. This is what I mean about pursuing health rather than avoiding illness.

The problem that many in our culture have with this message is that in order to create a healthy lifestyle and right living, we need things that are right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy. “Secularists, Marxists, and Postmodernists consider right and wrong to be burdensome because they hamper personal freedom.”¹ The reason for this is because most Secularists, Marxists, and Postmodernists consider themselves the highest authority. Their worldview says there is no religion or God they have to follow. This makes right and wrong relative to the individual, and no one can impose morality on another. This is what we are seeing in our culture today. “Who are you to judge?” A culture of relativism means a culture of no right and wrong, and this would allow people to have personal autonomy and choose whatever makes them happy. Is this really what is best?

I don’t think it is and here’s why.

We live in a culture with many rules that create right and wrong. And when we think about them, we see that most are in place to help us rather than hurt us. I have rules in my classroom not to limit my students’ freedom, but to create an environment of learning so that they benefit and grow. We have traffic laws not so the government can control us, but to protect us and create peace on the roads. Accidents and deaths generally happen when people are breaking the law. Take sports for example! Every sport has a long list of rules in order to make sure the payers are safe. Football has changed so much the last few years in because of their knowledge about concussions and health problems. We don’t see these rules as limiting the freedom of players but protecting them. Rules are there to pursue health rather than avoiding illness.

We also see this with a parent and a child. I don’t know any parent that allows their child to eat candy all day long and nothing else. Parents don’t force kids to each their vegetables to limit their freedom or to be burdensome. They also don’t do it just to avoid illness. Parents should do it because they want their child to be healthy. We also recognize that the child’s opinion on that matter really isn’t important because their knowledge is limited. The child says, “It tastes good. I like it. It makes me happy. So it must be good!” This shows that they don’t fully understand how things work. Parents, with their greater knowledge, create rules to pursue health for their children even when the child doesn’t understand.

The same is true for Christianity. We often look at our decisions and think, “It tastes good. I like it. It makes me happy. So it must be good!” However, we don’t fully understand the consequence of our decisions just like the child. Not everything that feels good is good, and not everything that feels bad is bad (Injections for example). Instead of a child and a parent, the true example is God and us. God has given us a list of right and wrong. It isn’t just a list of don’ts to limit our freedom and take away our fun, but they are guidelines that allow for a good, healthy lifestyle were we pursue doing right rather than merely avoiding wrong behavior.

It’s amazing what a slight change in perspective will do for a person when looking at rules.

¹ Jeff Myers, Understanding the Times, Summit Ministries

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Why Post-Election America Points to the Existence of God

In order to be very clear, I want to make a few points from the beginning. I am not saying that God exists because the Republicans won. I’m not saying that God exists because Clinton lost or because Trump won. I’m not saying that God exists because the U.S. is being judged. I’m also not saying that God exists because of any voting demographic. This post has nothing to do with who voted or who won, but instead has to do with the culture of the U.S. post-election.

We live in a culture that wants to live according to moral relativism.

What I mean is that many people don’t want there to be an objective moral standard. Our society is being heavily influenced by relativism which means that we can determine our own truth or morality. We see this in statements like “That’s true for you but not for me,” “We can’t know the truth!” and “How you identify is more important than your biology.” Our feelings have become more important that the truth, and we don’t want to tell anyone how to live.

Then we run into a problem.

If relativism is true, then hate, lying, racism, and sexism aren’t wrong. 

Relativism sounds nice until someone does something or acts in a way that we think is wrong. Many of the same people who claim that we can’t tell other how to live, or that morality is relative, will be the first one to call someone out for immoral behavior. But what does “immoral” mean if we all create our own morality? Here’s the problem, if we create our own morality, then those “wrong” behaviors aren’t objectively wrong. It is just your opinion that you may not like them.

We can’t go around claiming that we can identify however we like and that truth is found within the person while at the same time claiming that hate, racism, sexism, and other things are objectively wrong. Before anyone gets upset let me be clear. I do agree that hate,  lying, racism, sexism and assault are wrong. That is why I am not a relativist!

The problem is that we want to hold others to a standard outside ourselves while claiming that a standard outside ourselves doesn’t exist.

Now some may respond by saying that the standard is created by the majority or what is legal. If that is true, then things like slavery were morally good in the 1800’s since it was decided by the majority and made legal. However, that is hard for most to admit because we inherently know slavery is wrong. We know that slavery is wrong even when it is legal.

Without a standard of good that transcends humanity, then there is no evil! In a relativistic society, all we have is opinions and preferences. However, what we are seeing in our culture is not merely an opinion. People are claiming that things like hate, racism, are sexism are objectively wrong, and they are! So we have to ask the questions, what standard of good exists in order to call things things wrong?

It takes something special in order to ground objective morality. The grounding has to be a personal being in order to be able to create a moral law. Laws are created by personal beings. This being also has to be changeless and transcend time, space, and matter in order for the moral law to be objective and not change. The being also has to be good in its very nature in order for the moral law to be good. It is for this reason that I say that the post-election America points to the existence of God. How else could you judge someone or something as immoral?

Do objective moral laws point to God?

Objective morality exists and the most reasonable explanation is an objective moral law giver.

One piece of evidence for God’s existence that is found inside our universe is the existence of moral laws. There is a standard that everyone is expected to live by and by which we are held responsible. We see this when we are able to judge another person for their moral actions and say that they were wrong. There are certain moral actions that are wrong for all people, in all times, and in all places. So, who gets to decide this standard? Can objective morality be explained while staying inside our universe? The problem is that staying inside the universe does not provide a foundation by which to ground objective morality. The only way this moral standard can be explained is by showing that an objective moral law giver exists outside of our universe. What are we left with if there is no moral law giver outside of our universe?

Nihilism

Nihilists have rejected the idea of objective morality and say that moral statements cannot be either true or false. This means that there is no good or evil action. Love is no different from rape. This view cannot be lived out.

Subjectivism (I say Relativism)

Others believe that there are moral laws, but that it depends on the individual to decide morality. This view is called subjectivism; the subject gets to decide what is morally right and wrong. In this view, one is unable to say that the moral action of another person was wrong since they believed it to be good. They best you could do is say that you don’t like what they did, but it is just your opinion vs theirs. No one is objectively right.

Society Says Relativism

Since many see the problem of subjectivism, they attempt to explain morality by saying that groups or cultures get to decide right and wrong. This would mean that you are unable to say that another culture or group is morally evil. In this view, it was wrong for other countries to judge the Nazis for morally wrong actions. They lived in a different society and were doing what was right according to them, therefore, they did nothing worthy of punishment. It also becomes difficult to know how large the group needs to be in order to change morality.

Human Flourishing

Since these proposed solutions seem to be difficult to define, some philosophers have based moral truths on human flourishing. But just like subjectivism, which person gets to decide what flourishing is? Why is flourishing the best standard for judging morality? Some people flourish while taking advantage of others. Are they wrong? Also, why is it that humans get to flourish? Why not another species? Should we be tried for speciesism for thinking we are better than other species?

Every attempt at explaining objective moral values while staying inside of our universe fails. This is why many choose to completely reject the idea of objective morality rather than trying to ground it in foundations that don’t stand. In order to have laws that transcend all people, we need a being that transcends all people. The best explanation for the existence of moral laws is that there is an objective moral law giver that exists outside of our universe.

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The following blog series comes from a paper I wrote for J. Warner Wallace on his book, God’s Crime Scene. He has given me permission to post my summary of each chapter for this series. This is a short summary of the seventh chapter, not an exhaustive look at all of the possibilities. If you would like more information, you can purchase God’s Crime Scene here, visit his website, or email me and I will provide further resources.

Is free will an illusion?

We lose our ability to choose freely if our universe is only physical.

Many naturalists today will argue that we do not have minds and therefore do not have the ability to choose. Our ability to choose is lost when we are being controlled by the chemical reactions in our brains. This view is called determinism; free will does not exist and we could not have done anything different than what we did.

However, this does not seem to agree with what we understand about the universe. We live in a culture that is based in free will. People are expected to choose to follow the law and be good employees. If they don’t follow the law then we hold them responsible and hope they change in the future. But if determinism is true, we are controlled by the chemical reactions in our brains and there is no choice.

This deterministic view can be easily explained, but it cannot be lived. Even determinists would argue that someone is immoral for choosing to rape instead of love. People choose to do evil acts daily and that is why we have a system in place to arrest those people and help them receive treatment. This treatment is used to help a person realize their negative behavior and change their actions in the future. If determinism is true then jails are no longer correctional facilities, and they become holding cells for the “broken” or “malfunctioning” people. The person did evil because their wiring was off and not because they chose to do evil.

However, we do expect a person to change while in prison, but this change is impossible if we do not have the freedom to choose a different option. Since it is difficult to get around the fact that life is based on free will, some naturalists have changed the definition of free will in order to give a naturalistic account for the way we think. Others argue that free will simply appeared in our universe without any reason. But just like most of the naturalistic explanations, there is no evidence to support this idea. In a last ditch effort to give a natural explanation for free will, some have described free will as an illusion. Sam Harris and Daniel Dennet are two atheists who hold to this view. But how do they know it is an illusion? Are they freely choosing to hold to that view, or are their chemicals reacting in a way that they are forced to say that? I once had an atheist trying to convince me that my belief in free will was wrong and that I should change my opinion and agree that I don’t have free will. The fascinating thing that he didn’t realize is that I would have to have free will in order to change my mind to agree with him that free will doesn’t exist. It is completely self defeating.

It is impossible to explain free will from only the natural world, and so we need to go outside of our universe to an immaterial being to explain the existence of free will. Free will cannot be the product of chemical reactions in our brain. If free will exists, and there is good reason to think that it does, then there is something outside this natural world that gave it to us.

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The following blog series comes from a paper I wrote for J. Warner Wallace on his book, God’s Crime Scene. He has given me permission to post my summary of each chapter for this series. This is a short summary of the sixth chapter, not an exhaustive look at all of the possibilities. If you would like more information, you can purchase God’s Crime Scene here, visit his website, or email me and I will provide further resources.

Who is the ultimate authority in your life?

This is a question that was the topic of three of my lectures today and two more lectures tomorrow. Who is the ultimate authority in your life? I asked my students to think of different areas of their lives where they have a set of rules they have to follow, and the authority that enforces those rules. They thought about rules in their house where their parents are the ultimate authority. They thought about driving where police enforce rules created by the government. There are also rules in the schools enforced by the teachers and administration.

They saw that the rules/laws that they named are only applied in certain circumstances or areas. School rules only apply while you are at school. House rules only apply while you are living at home with your parents. Driving laws only apply while living in the state or country that enforces them. I then asked a followup question. Are there laws that govern the entire world? They agreed that murder without justification is wrong. They also mentioned racism, torturing children for fun, and rape. So who is the authority that created and enforces these rules that are above all people? What are the options?

I am the ultimate authority.

Our culture tells us that morality is decided by your happiness. Whatever makes you happy is good. But is this really how we live? It would make me happy to go to work in shorts and a t-shirt but that is not possible. What if someone loves robbing banks and that is what makes them happy? Does that become morally acceptable for that person? Of course not. The belief that morality is only dependent on our love or happiness creates relative morality that cannot account for the objective morality we see governing the whole world.

Government is the ultimate authority.

If government is the ultimate authority, we would see different laws and morality from government to government. What one government deems morally good would have to be accepted by all other governments. This leads me to believe that when our government approved of slavery, then slavery was morally good. That is just crazy! Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is morally good.

People are the ultimate authority.

If people are the ultimate authority, who gets to choose the moral standard by which we all live? Is it based on the majority? I don’t think so. If the majority of people decided that genocide was a good thing, would it then become morally good? No, this does not explain the objective morality that we see in the world. This type of morality would be based on opinions, not objective.

God is the ultimate authority.

This is the explanation that best answers what we see in the world. In order for there to be an objective morality for all people, we need an objective authority that is over all people. That is God.

So how does this apply to our lives? Society is telling us that morality is relative and depending on your personal feelings. I see students being influenced by what society says is normal. It is normal to have sex with your boyfriend/girlfriend and it is normal to get drunk, do drugs, and get an abortion if you are pregnant. It’s LEGAL, what’s the problem? Just because something is normal, it doesn’t mean that it should be accepted. When we allow society to influence our behavior, we are saying that society has authority in our lives instead of God. Allow God to be the ultimate authority in your life and make your decisions based on His moral standard, not society’s.

Can we be good without God? What I learned from CIA part 2

One of the sessions that I attended at the Cross Examined Instructor Academy by Brett Kunkle was titled “Can we be good without God?” The answer to this question is very simple. YES! You actually can be good without believing in God and atheists can be just as moral as Christians. Many Christians make the mistake and think that if someone doesn’t believe in God then they are automatically immoral people and that just isn’t true. The important part that you need to notice is “belief in God”. Someone can deny the existence of God and still be a moral person. Atheists can help the poor and be kind just like Christians. You can read a book and deny there is an author. That is possible.

Brett showed that the better questions is, “Can there be goodness without God?” Like I showed before, you can read a book and deny there is an author, but the book wouldn’t exist without an author. The same goes for morality. You can be good without believing in God, but goodness wouldn’t exist without God.

When you really think about it, it is evident that objective moral truths exist. It is wrong to beat your siblings for fun. It is wrong to practice racism daily. It is wrong to murder children for fun. So what is the best explanation for objective moral truths? Where do laws come from?

We all know that laws need a law giver. Objective laws need authority, oughtness, and they need to be personal, mind-independent, and immaterial. What is the best explanation for objective moral laws? God exists. Some people may claim that there is no need for God and that objective moral laws can be grounded in evolution. However, if only material things exists and evolution is true, ethics are illusory. Morality and laws would evolve along with evolution, and all laws would lose their objectivity and slip into subjectivism.

So can we be good without belief in God? Yes! Would there be goodness without God? No! Since objective moral laws exist, God exist!

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