Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Principles of Good Religion: 1) Free Will

We've been discussing the distinctions between theology and meta-theology and between good and bad religion. The question is: is this the same distinction? In other words, does Good Religion express the primordial meta-theological truth that is situated "above" this or that religion?

A passage caught my eye in this book on Luther: he was the first Christian "to devise an entire religion accommodated to his personal failings." Prior to him, it was for man to do the accommodating, not vice versa. This has redounded to "a plague of designer religions" numbering some 33,000.

Does every one of these constitute "bad religion"? I don't think so. Or, at the very least, there is a spectrum of wrongness. Nevertheless, I would guess that the vast majority of these -- from Jeremiah Wright to Fred Phelps -- are more human than divine, and that the choice of this or that version often comes down to the accommodation of personal failure, or inability to conform to the unvarnished doctrine.

Let's take an obvious example: the gay activist who nevertheless wants to call himself "Christian" will find that his failing is accommodated by Episcopalianism but not Catholicism (at least prior to Francis). Likewise the abortion advocate. At the far end of wrongness, heresy is elevated to sacred doctrine.

But still: how do we distinguish between good and bad religion, and is it even up to us to make this distinction? Here again, Luther's entire argument -- sola fide -- is that it is strictly impossible for man to make such a distinction. Rather, he is totally depraved, and pretending he isn't totally depraved is the worst form of depravity. All he can do is assent to the doctrine, so it is a matter of will, not intellect.

Eh, I don't like that idea. Yes, we must surely guard against intellectual pride and arrogance, but still. Doesn't Luther take it a bit far? Indeed, "the affirmation of the will over reason" might be thought of as a "renewed manifestation of the pride that characterizes Original Sin: the desire that the order of Creation bend itself to human will."

In other words, trying to make religion conform to the will is no better than making it conform to the intellect; both constitute manmade religiosity.

More to the point, just as we cannot separate thought from perception, we can only artificially sever intellect from will. Luther absolutely rejects free will, and with no freedom there can be no truth in any event. Frankly, his whole program is hopelessly incoherent and contradictory, and he spent much of his life trying to explain or paper over the inconsistencies and implications he didn't like.

It is also probably accurate to say that a majority of Protestants don't agree with the founder of Protestantism anyway, and don't really know (or care) what he believed. It is as if they spontaneously reject certain teachings that would constitute bad religion, such as the intrinsic heresy of predestination (AKA denial of free will).

So, right there we've identified a key meta-theological principle of Good Religion: recognition of free will in man. Any religion -- including of course secular religions -- that denies this freedom is a Bad Religion.

Of note, one of Islam's non-negotiable six articles of faith is predestination. Is there a way to purify such a doctrine of its badness and render it good? I think so, if it is deployed as a "skillful means" to cultivate such attitudes as peace, surrender, humility, and recognition of God's greatness. Still, this doesn't make it metaphysically true, just useful.

Running out of time, but I wonder what other aspects of Good Religion we could all agree upon, thus giving us a way to recognize bad religion?

48 comments:

Rick said...

By their fruit.

Rick said...

"Luther's entire argument -- sola fide -- is that it is strictly impossible for man to make such a distinction."

Assuming Luther was a man, why should I listen to him. Does his argument account for himself?

Gagdad Bob said...

Bingo.

Gagdad Bob said...

Other elements of Good Religion I can think of:

--Fallenness (but short of TOTAL depravity)
--Creation
--Transcendence and immanence of God
--Post-mortem judgment
--Intelligibility of creation
--"Special creation" of man, i.e., distinction between man and the rest of creation
--Sexual polarity
--An intellect capable of knowing truth
--Vertical and horizontal cosmos
--Beer

Gagdad Bob said...

It is also rather a Miracle that our Protestant founders nevertheless constituted a government based upon a natural law tradition that is (or at least was) foreign to Protestantism.

julie said...

Re. beer, there was a funny moment in my church Bible study some months back. There was a discussion about alcohol, and how some Christian groups not only use grape juice for Communion but ban alcohol altogether because drunkenness is frowned upon in the Bible. There were gasps of horror - "not even beer!?"

julie said...

I'm with Rick re. by their fruits.

For instance, Mormons. There is a lot of ugly history there, but there is also a tremendous amount of goodness and decency. And if you disagree with them, the worst they'll do is invite you to have a discussion and maybe visit their church. Worst case, shunning.

Then again, no beer...

Gagdad Bob said...

In other words -- as is usual in progressive legislation -- prohibition is aimed at people incapable of prohibiting (or enabling) themselves.

Gagdad Bob said...

I deleted the wrong comment, which should go above the previous one: that Churchill heaped equal scorn upon drunkards, prohibitionists, and other assorted "weaklings of excess."

ted said...

@Julie, Good point about the Mormons. I actually like most Mormons I've met. I wish other Christians/Catholics were more like them. But alas, that kooky history and the odd theology keeps me away.

julie said...

Yes, totally agree. I grew up with a lot of Mormons. With only a couple of exceptions, they were some of the kindest and most well-adjusted kids in school.

Gagdad Bob said...

Many of my son's parkour friends live in Utah, and they are great kids, wholesome without being repressed. Being that he's almost a teen now, the wife mentioned to him that she approves of Mormon guidelines to adolescent dating. The boy says: you mean more than one wife?

julie said...

:D

ted said...

If only had Joseph Smith lived through the sixties.

Dhavar said...

Religion is a collection of doctrines wich, no matter how diverse, all pretend that have been revealed by an entity or entities called God or Gods or Goddesses.

This is a plain "petitio principii":
a)There is someone called God who knows everythign and controls everything, never lies and is ethernal but is always hidden to all but his chosen ones.
b) He -or them- have told me X, Y, and Z just to me.
c) Hence, this is not a doctrine thought by me but revealed to me by such entity
d) And how can you prove that such entity exists and you are not just a tricky sophist?
e) Because he has revealed to me its existence and the said doctrines - by which you will give me all I need and total command over you, by the way.

So funny

ted said...

So funny

God does seem to have one hell of a sense of humor.

julie said...

Yes; I have reason to believe He finds us funny, as well.

Because he has revealed to me its existence and the said doctrines - by which you will give me all I need and total command over you, by the way.

Now that's funny!

EbonyRaptor said...

As a lifelong Lutheran, there were many discussions of predestination that I participated in. The general consensus follows along the lines of Calvinist "Double Predestination" versus Lutheran "Single Predestination". In essence, Lutheran doctrine is that although God preordained certain (limited) souls to be saved, he didn't preordain that all the rest must be damned - the path to being saved was available by Grace through Faith in Jesus. Now some would see that as a wanky way to believe in predestination without throwing out free will ... but there it is.

Dhavar said...

Well, it looks that after that glimpse of amused irony to Eve and Adam after the apple affair, he lost all sense of humour and developed a pronounced inclination to pulp fiction type of stories. From then onwards he is always
a) Furious and menacing
b) Boasting about how powerful he is
c) Again, furious and menacing

Warning: Never lose your sense of humour or you will be in great danger of becoming a God.

julie said...

Funny, I used to think that too, until I actually started reading the Bible. And Jesus is seriously hilarious; sadly, a lot of the jokes have been lost in both translation and cultural context.

Cousin Dupree said...

Don't mention the Inquisition!

Gagdad Bob said...

This is a problem that will solve itself as soon as those merry Muslims prevail in Spain. Then Spaniards will discover all the fun they've been missing by living in a Christian society!

Dhavar said...

Well Allah has even less sense of humour than Yaweh.
And perhaps may I remind you that we are the only country in the world expressly cited in Coran and that we fight with them for eight centuries untill we totally expelled them out of our country (the only case in a Muslim occupied country).
Really, you can teach us nothing about dear Almohades and Almoravides Califas et allii, their pure demential and bloodthirsty ways and their passion for enslavement.

It is the nth case, -up to now,it appears that this fatal vogue started with the Sumerians- of "god has told me X, Y and Z"... now you obey me or perish!

Tonto said...

What do you mean "we," paleface?

Gagdad Bob said...

An angry and humorless god who demands obedience. We have that here in America. We all it "the left."

Dhavar said...

Tonto:

By the way, I have another question, completely sincere: Which way is more correct, "You and Me or You and I"?

julie said...

Context matters.

Take out the "You and" part from the sentence. With what's left, would you use "I" or "me"?

Thus, "I am going to the store" becomes "You and I are going to the store".

Conversely, "God loves me" becomes God loves you and me".

Put another way, it depends whether you and I are doing something, or whether something is being done to you and me.

Dhavar said...

Julie:

Aha. Many thanks. We only have "Yo", no matter if it is Yo paseo - I take a walk- or ¿Quién llama? - Who is calling?- Then we answer "Soy yo" - its me.
You have explained it perfectly. Again, tks.

julie said...

My pleasure. It's good to remind myself on occasion, as well. It's easier to write these things than to speak them properly.

Tonto said...

Maybe joke lost in translation, but Tonto no remember atheist Reconquista in Spain.

Ephrem Antony Gray said...

Predestination simply means that God foreknows who will be saved in the end, but doesn't take action to condemn anyone (Jesus affirms this.) The idea is that God is doing the utmost to save as many as can be saved, but the condition of free will means that there will be some who are not. Removal of free will is not an option, as that would destroy the human nature and the person would still not be saved.

One point about good religion vs. bad religion is the notion of the process of unification with the divine; on the bad religion side you have either the 'cannot ever be unified' or the 'is totally dissolved', both of which negate man's desire to be godlike. I suppose the conditions of deification matter; i.e. having men become Gods outside of the Divinity itself is just what they were trying to avoid in Eden "lest they eat of the tree of life and become immortal."

Dhavar said...

Tonto:

Not sure what you mean. Perhaps you suggest that back then we were very much religious, and that is the reason we win? If it is so, it is very old phallacy applicable to all: "back then we believe in Enki, and for that reason we build Sumerian Civilization, back then we believe in - whomever the God- and for that reason we developed geometry, back then.....
Again the funny thing it is that sort of arguments fully disdain if that event of revelation took place or not. "it may well be a lie, but it is very useful for...(here, the standard list)

Tonto said...

Holy Wakan Tanka, you trying to prove atheist have worse sense of humor than Muhammadan!

Dhavar said...

Tonto:

No. It is simply that you confuse arguments, simple reasoning, with a warm joke and also with being furious or lacking sense of humor or going about menacing others.

Tonto said...

Me get it. There was no Christian Reconquista.

A mew sing said...

Huh. If it was just a question of one set of phony beliefs over another, why would Spaniards care whether they were Muslim or Christian, especially after all that time? Seems like a lot of trouble to overcome a perfectly cromulent status quo.

Basil Fawlty said...

Don't mind him -- he's from Barcelona.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

Predetermine the layout within which events take place, time space bad good belief disbelief and the objects of that belief or disbelief, the main actors in this play of events and the knowledge as to what you expect in the future impose no shackles on human freedom which itself predetermined. On the contrary it helps to understand what is going on in this complex drama. Human disputes never stop because it is the way to reach truth. There is always those who raise the flags of disdain distortion lie and negative emotions and those who raise the flags of truth honesty beauty and goodness, This is the divine game, like it or not, revere it or not, you have to navigate under it. There is no bad religion but bad interpretations of the one divine message to humanity. In the realm of the meta there is no distortions, distortions set in when the message is descended to the human realm. Faith is an illusive issue one can not say for sure, it is an intellectual issue or not, a will issue or not or its a combination of all these and more. God does not make jokes but delivers his words with all seriousness.Those who want to make fun of god words are digging their abyss, because god gives humans ample time to open their eyes before death opens them to them. I do not like to play dice with god. Life is not a game of sarcasm,irony and satire. I am sorry but this is the way I understand the message of god irrespective of the receivers of that message.

A mew sing said...

If God is without humor, why would he give Man, created in His own Image and Likeness, such pleasure in laughing?

Jesus was often ironic, and being the Word frequently engaged in Word-play, though never with cruelty. For instance, the back-and-forth with the woman at the well. You say watah, I say wootah, either way she's all wet. Joyfully, I might add, once she realized the joke was on her; she couldn't wait to run and tell everybody about the funny man who had no water but wanted to give her a drink.

doug saxum said...

It is better to bless those that curse you.-Jesus.

Would Jesus not bless me if I cursed him?

And would I be cursed or blessed of God if I cursed him?

No joking here or trolling.

doug saxum said...

I mean I'm not joking or trolling

julie said...

Saul was very zealous in afflicting Christians; when Christ appeared to him, he didn't say "Why are you bothering my friends," he asked, "Why do you persecute Me?"

Notably, by "persecute" Saul was seeking out Christ's followers and having them executed.

More to the point, on the Cross he didn't say, "Curse them, look what they have done to me!" Rather, "Forgive them; they know not what they do."

That said, the thieves crucified with Him had very different responses. One did essentially curse Him; the other asked to be remembered before God. I don't know what the final judgment is for the first guy, but if he went down rejecting God, then down is likely where he stayed. My $.02, of course.

julie said...

In other words, if you are going to curse the Man Upstairs, best to do so when there is time to take it back. The Catholic perspective, of course, is to recommend confession and reconciliation.

One more thing to consider: it is never a bad thing to argue with God. Or even be angry; life is hard and shitty things often happen to good people, for inexplicable reasons. He can take it, so long as we are talking to Him or even yelling at Him instead of shutting Him out. See Job as an example, but there are many others. It is in the dialog that understanding - or at least peace of mind - may take place.

ted said...

...so long as we are talking to Him or even yelling at Him instead of shutting Him out

I like that Julie. As we all know the inverse of love is not hate, but indifference.

doug saxum said...

Yep, Julie gets it.

Rick said...

"Predestination simply means that God foreknows who will be saved in the end, but doesn't take action to condemn anyone (Jesus affirms this.)"

Ephram -- where is this in the NT?

I can't square it with free will. If it is determined, why bother to entertain having faith?
Faith seems to be pretty important to Jesus - I believe he mentions it often.
Also, I can recall at least one account where Jesus is "amazed" by someone's course of action. This indicates something happened differently than he thought it might.

Not to mention it seems like an Absolute buzz kill for God. And may even seem to render the trinity with out purpose and miracles.

It seems logical that we as persons can't know (and predetermined that we won't know). So perhaps it's sufficient that that kind of predetermined knowledge is what we sense must be.

Perhaps predetermination is a capability of God but He withholds the knowledge from Himself. Like the gag about, can God create a stone great enough to smash himself. Or however it goes... He can do everything, but won't do everything -- such as break his own rules etc..

Gagdad Bob said...

That's what I think -- some things are better than omniscience. For example, surprise.

Anonymous said...

Notice of an Inquiry into Religion

Raccoons will submit a written statement of their religious beliefs to the comment section of this blog. The Examiner will read them and determine if further interviews are required in each case. Respondents will refrain from travel until a determination is made in their case.

Thank you, Tor Quemada,

Senior Magistrate Examiner,
Knights Templar Headquarters,
Barcelona, Espana.