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and the Gospel of Redemption
By Duncan Roper
We include here three related articles that attempt to give some background insight into the character of the Gospel and Reformational Christianity. As such it is important to grasp the idea of religiousness as something that is universal to all human beings, rejecting the current Western idea that some people are religious and some people aren’t.
The first article – is, in a sense, introductory in this respect. It is orientated to the current international scene of Fundamentalism and the New Atheists.
The second is concerned with trying to understand what we call the Nature- Freedom Religiousness that, since its beginnings in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has now become the dominant intellectual and spiritual force of modernity. We consider some of the ideas of both Bertrand Russell and Lloyd Geering in this connection.
The third seeks to compare and contrast the religiousness of both the Fundamentalism prevalent in North America and the Middle East with that of the Nature-Freedom impulse of Russell and Geering with that of the Gospel and Reformational Christianity.
Religiousness: The Cases of Fundamentalism and the New Atheists
The so-called ‘New Atheists’ – people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett – are having a field-day. With their new found zeal for the critique of the religiousness stemming from the consequences of the radical Islamist-inspired attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11th 2001 on the one hand, and the populist TV evangelism and ‘scientific creationism’ in the US, together with its fundamentalist ‘left behind’ subculture on the other, the movement is certainly having an influence.
There can be little doubt that much of ‘the New Atheist critique’ of religiousness represented by the popular and militant fundamentalism coming from the Middle East and the US actually deserves most of the criticism levelled at it. That said, however, these atheists want to say that ‘the essence of religiousness’ is to be found precisely in ‘the arrogant and over-zealous profusion of emotions deprived of common sense’ found in fundamentalism.’ Hence, their claim that ‘Religion Spoils Everything,’ ‘God is not Great’ and ‘The God Delusion’.
In August 1966, Sayyid Qutb, one of the most original theorists of modern Islamism, was hanged in Egypt under the orders of the Arab Nationalist President Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1981, his successor, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated by the Al-Jihad group at a Public Function to honour him. Twenty years later, the kamikaze murder and destruction of the passengers of US commercial airliners plunged into the twin Towers in New York. That these events are related is indicated by the fact of the way in which Osama Bin Laden’s right hand man, Ayman Zawahiri, was involved in all three of these events. Zawahiri was an avid student and follower of Qutb, following the most radical of the basic three responses to his message subsequent role in the future of Islam of the responses to his book later translated into English as Signposts or Milestones. After the arrests following the assassination of Sadat, Zawahiri was their spokesperson outlining the Islamic basis of their stance against Sadat and his Government. Finally, it was Zawahiri who led Bin Laden into the more radical adoption of the Islamist ideas influencing first by Al Qaeda and the Twin Towers terrorist attack, and then the objectives of Islamic State.
Pursuing this in any further detail here would take us too far away from the principal purpose of this article. However we can, with some profit, gain some important insight with regard to the character of religiousness by looking at the subject of ‘scientific creationism’ a little more closely. In 1987, before the radical Islamist linked to the work of Sayyad Qytb had really come to the attention of the West, an American religious studies scholar, Richard Wentz, wrote a very interesting little book entitled Why Do People Do Bad Things in the Name of Religion? In it he gave an interesting insight into the problems of fundamentalist creationism that is worth repeating here:
A faculty member of my own university, a geology professor, announced that he was writing a book attacking creationism. Creationism is an attempt on the part of some Christians to provide scientific support for a literal reading of the Genesis creation accounts. Many intelligent persons may be sympathetic to the professor's enterprise. However, I soon discovered that the professor understands very little about religion or human religiousness. He becomes very religious about something he calls ‘science. ‘Science,’ he is quoted as saying, ‘offers truth without certainty. Religion ‘offers certainty without truth…. people like to live in a fantasy. They want final truths, but science is tentative. They like to have things black and white, but science isn't black and white—there's a lot of gray.’
To properly understand what is going on here, we need to understand the differing human character of both science and religiousness. The latter is concerned with what we might call a final or ultimate source of order and meaning to life and, as such, Wentz argues convincingly in his little book that it is a universal human characteristic. Science, on the other hand, is concerned with the search for universal theories that explain certain aspects or facets of the way the world in which we live, actually functions. This too, it should be noted, entails a quest for order and meaning. However, it is not, or better, should not be the final or ultimate source of meaning and order that transcends our daily existence while, at the same time provides a foundation for it.
At the scientific level of truth, the ‘factual’ claims of ‘creation science’ follow from a way of reading the first chapters of the book of Genesis. To some extent at least, they are amenable to both facts and general ideas in conjunction with the theories that purport to explain them. As such they are open to a scientific discussion as to the order and meaning of aspects of the world in which we live. The problem with such discussion, however, is that the principal reason adopting the framework is a dogmatic attempt to insist that advocated approach to reading Genesis is the only one permissible, thus over-emphasising the religiousness of their standpoint. Against this, the point that an understanding of the functioning of the world in which we live is primarily ‘scientific,’ not ‘religious.’
Whilst almost everyone would acknowledge that ‘creation science’ is very strongly motivated by religiousness, the religiousness of the scientism of their opponents is seldom acknowledged. In this respect, Wentz points out that the geology professor mentioned above, even though he probably doesn’t realize it, is also led by religiousness - albeit one of a very different kind. His religiousness, argues Wentz, is one that derives from the way in which he mistakenly takes science as his transcendent ground for all truth. It is primarily for this reason that his outlook on life is threatened by ‘creation science.’ He demonstrates this by the strength of his ‘religious’ objections to ‘creation science’. This is to be understood not only with regard to whatever ‘scientific’ character this creation science may or may not have. It is also a threat to his own commitment to ‘science’ as the only way of getting at the truth.
Wentz then endeavours to point out that, in the sense that the geology professor uses the terms ‘science’ and ‘religion,’ there are no such things as science or religion as compartmentalised human activities. Rather, what we have are human beings who are involved in scientific pursuits with differing commitments that appeal to different final or ultimate sources of meaning and order providing the ground for their religiousness. Thus, we need recognise that there are two kinds of contribution to the one discussion taking place here. The first contribution concerns the adequacy of the assumptions made about the Genesis account as far as the scientific enterprise is concerned. The second is with regard to the adequacy of a particular religious ground for providing the foundation for the overall significance and meaning of human life. In particular, we need to recognise that, in a religiously pluralist world, we humans engage in cultural enterprises with different kinds of commitment. The extent to which the scientific enterprise, as a particular kind of cultural enterprise, is or should be free of such commitments is an important discussion. However, insofar as it is engaged in dogmatically from two or more different viewpoints, it does not serve the interests of anyone. Indeed, it all too easily has the potential to foster social and cultural disharmony in ways that has a resemblance to ethnic or religious intolerance. This is particularly so in the USA, where its Constitution is predicated on the assumption of a division between Church and State in which the life of the latter is considered secular in the sense of being free from religiousness.
In this respect, it may be the time in which the acrimonious discussions regarding the supposed religious neutrality of state education needs to be re-examined more closely. If it were to be more generally acknowledged that religiousness is a universal human characteristic, albeit one that would require serious discussion as to what this means, then some genuine progress might be able to be made in this debate. Whilst we have the situation in which the ‘religiousness’ of creation scientists is generally acknowledged, and that of the ‘scientism’ of their opponents is effectively denied by most, then the current standoff that protects a religious form of scientism in public life is likely to continue. While it is far from being free of problems, Wentz’s summary of this is one that, if adopted more broadly, could lead to some genuine progress. He writes:
We have seen how religiousness is a high human characteristic, that it is fundamental to human nature. We have observed how it is expressed in many ways that people are not accustomed to call ‘religion.’ This religiousness of ours is universal. The bad things done in this world are not done because some people are religious and others are not. The violence is not the result of the religiousness of people. It stems from the misunderstanding of the nature of our religiousness. Remember the geologist's comment that ‘Science offers truth without certainty and Religion provides certainty without truth.' What he should have said is: ‘There are those people who, in the religious transcen-dence of their biological nature, are willing to live with moving horizons, knowing the truth without certainty. But there are also those who cannot live with uncertainty, and this often leads them to defensive and hostile attitudes, even violence. They may then use either science or religion in support of their violent need for certainty.’
Hence, while in many instances at least, it is mistaken to consider religiousness as the direct cause of evil, it is nonetheless true that, in some of its forms, it can all too often contribute evil. Following Augustine we shall, in this article, contend that evil is not something in itself. It was neither an original power – akin to the evil power of the ‘bad semi-ultimate power’ of Zoroastrianism, Angra Mainyu. This power undoubtedly has some historical connection with ‘the devil’ in the Christian tradition. He or it is envisioned as constantly attacking the good power of the god Ahura Mazda of the Zoroastrian tradition.
Nor did Augustine consider that evil was a created power coming from the good hand of God. Rather evil is the distortion, the radical twisting and/or the actual denial of something that, as it comes from the hand of God, is basically good. This was important for Augustine’s ability to deal with the continuing problem of the radical dualism that he found in the doctrines of the Manichees. It is equally important for the proper understanding of Biblical religiousness – in particular for the redemption of a creation that has lost its way because those in charge of it (we humans) have turned their hearts away from the true source of ultimate order and meaning. We can find a whole range of degrees to which the distortion and/or denial of the good - in a whole range of the spheres of human life – has had evil consequences. The historical ways in which we humans have shaped the world – in religiousness as well in other realms – it is plain to see, that evil has often triumphed. For much the greater part, however, the conflict between good and evil is not a simple one between the goodies and the baddies. Much of the time, it is a battle within a battle. The worst of us usually demonstrate some good; the best of us are far from immune from evil. The contribution to evil within the human realms, both of science and religiousness, as well as other realms of human life, are legion. We shall return again to this theme. For the moment, however, we shall continue our discussion of religiousness.
In another section of this website [link to Box1. Living in a Secular Age, article on God in the New World and From the Big Bang to God] we discuss the attempt of Ludwig Feuerbach and, following him, Lloyd Geering, to understand ‘the essence of religiousness.’ It may seem a strange thing to say, but in this case the basic problem with their understanding of religiousness is its heavy indebtedness to both Christianity and the secularist antipathy to it. In the first place, it is one thing to say that ideal human aspirations – such as justice, mercy, love, compassion and forgiveness – have been projected onto God. However, it might equally be claimed that the generalized human values of victory in war, blood-lust, vengeance and the demand for cruelty, have also been projected onto the gods of many pagan religious traditions. As such they have then inspired their worshippers to fulfil many of the dark deeds recorded by the peoples worshipping and serving such gods – with the Assyrians, providing an excellent (or bad) example.
Furthermore, in the second place, we might well consider that the claim made of the values attributed God in Jesus Christ – such as agape love and humble service – did not originate from any other human or human tradition. Indeed, to claim a human origin to such human values is not a claim that can go unchallenged. Many would point out that it was only as a result of the divine act of becoming human and living out these kinds of qualities, that we humans have come to consider them ‘high.’
The upholding of these ‘high values’ of ‘justice, love, compassion and forgiveness’ as they are generally held in an evolutionary framework, entails the claim that such values were comparative late-comers in the human scheme of things. However, the nineteenth century heyday of evolutionary progress in the realm of values has to confront the emergence of the kinds of values espoused by the Nazis, the Communists and the Capitalists. They certainly did not uphold the values of the aspirations of humility and agape love as exemplified by the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth.
This line of argument then leads is to the conclusion that the religiousness espoused by Feuerbach and Geering is one that requires us humans to have the capability of realizing these kinds of values in the present and future without the grace of God working in human hearts to actually bring it about. Furthermore, the idea that the essence of religiousness – that ‘the high human values of love, justice, compassion and forgiveness’ have somehow been lost as a consequence of being projected upon God as an actually existent Creator God - seems a bit odd.
It is odd, in the sense that it supposes that these ‘high values,’ having originated from a humanity in its upward evolution from below, has endeavoured to preserve them by projecting them upon a fictional deity, and now needs to divest themselves of this fiction. This, I suggest, is all counter to the New Testament version story. This claims that such values did not come from below - in the course of the evolutionary development of humankind. Rather, these values came from above and were revealed to human beings in the concrete circumstances of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit. The injunction to the first believers was one that required them first to look to this Jesus as the One who, in both entering the human realm and then living a life of servanthood demonstrating agape love and genuine humility. Then, second, they were enjoined to be imitators of him, by laying hold of the grace of God that was made possible in the redemptive events of Jesus’ coming amongst them.
It is therefore difficult to see how these ‘high values’ as they are considered intrinsically human, first may be stripped from the creator and redeemer God who imparted them by acts of grace, in the redemption of an otherwise lost humanity, to those who came to acknowledge him. In the second place, given this, it is difficult to see how this redemptive activity of God might continue in the present and the future if the very source of these values is abandoned, leaving us humans to try to fulfil them without any divine grace to draw upon.
Thus, our point is that the idea of religiousness due to Feuerbach and Geering is too bound up with the secular move away from the forms of nineteenth century Christianity to be generally useful in dealing with the realities of religiousness in the modern world. This is simply because it requires that all nations should follow along lines of secularisation pioneered by the Western world. The advent of both the fundamentalisms in the USA and in the Middle East, together with the vigorous response of the New Atheists mentioned in this article, suggests that this secularisation process is not exactly working out in accord with the script written by the more ‘secular’ amongst us.
Hence, we need to look at some better ways of understanding religiousness than that offered by Feuerbach and Geering. In this respect, we have already taken a step in this direction with our mentioning of the little book by Richard Wentz. For a further discussion of the matter I refer to the reader to Part I of the book entitled The Myth of Religious Neutrality by Roy A Clouser and I will give a brief summary of the main points of his argument before proceeding further.
In the first place he puts forward the view that religiousness that entails the human attribution of a divine status to something, someone or some beings. In the second place this divine status is one in which everything not given such status is, in some final ontological sense, considered dependent upon the divine for its existence. In this respect Clouser gives several examples of what is meant – from both Aristotle and the scriptures of the Jews, Christians and Muslims.
In the third place, he argues that whilst the common core of religiousness is to be found in the idea of the divine just stated, the particular contents of what is taken as the divine can, and usually do, differ profoundly. The distinction between the office of the divine and its various particular occupiers is illustrated by a consideration of the difference between an office like the President of the United States, and the person who, at any one time, occupies this office. For our purposes, we may note that both the English and Hebrew languages have two meanings of the word ‘god’ (Elohim). This, for example, is fundamental to any proper understanding of the first of the Ten Commandments given to Moses. It states that ‘I am the LORD, your god, who brought you out of the land, from the house of bondage.’ In its general usage of the word ‘god’ it is referring to the many ways in which humans have come to speak of ‘the divine’ as the final source of order and meaning to everything else. In its usage of the word LORD, it refers to the One who is the creator of the heavens and the earth and as the One who brought the Hebrews out of Egypt and the house of bondage.
Now, our earlier discussion of Richard Wentz’s book on why people do bad things in the name of religion does need some qualification. Historically, it has been the case that in many times and many places people have claimed the right to rule and treat others very badly on the grounds of their claiming to have been appointed by a god for such a purpose. It was true, for example, of the ancient Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians (who were usually more tolerant of others – provided they acknowledged their over-lordship.)
Through the continuation of this view and the practice it engendered through Alexander’s conquests and the development of Hellenism in the Eastern Mediterranean, and subsequent adoption by Imperial Rome (as opposed to the Roman Republic) it became a major factor in the Christianity that developed in the Roman Empire after the conversion of the Emperor Constantine. As such this whole ‘Christian heritage’ was one of the principal reasons for the critiques of Christianity in the early and late modern periods. Suffice it to say, however, that once we take the book of Revelation seriously, the central conflict in the unfolding of history of the last two thousand years needs to be appreciated as one between the transcendent rule of the Lamb of God/Lion of Judah in relation to all wayward sinfulness of the institutional and cultural powers (including Christian ones) that continue to shape the world in the present time and will remain until the fullness of the coming of the Kingdom of God.
In order to achieve our present purposes, we will attempt to flesh out the ideas of religiousness just mentioned, in a discussion of Bertrand Russell’s short essay entitled A Free Man’s Worship, one of his most quoted works.
2. Bertrand Russell’s ‘A Free Man’s Worship’: Nature-Freedom Religiousness
Once we feel the weight of its content, it is not difficult to understand why Russell’s essay entitled A Free Man’s Worship is one of his most quoted works. On the face of it, it paints a very sober and pessimistic (some might even call it blasphemous) picture of the overall human predicament. It begins with an account of ‘the story of the world’ that draws allusions from Marlowe’s play Dr Faustus, to the Genesis creation story and to the overall evolutionary story, including a reference to ‘the heat death’ of the sun, as well as a possible reference to the mindless Darwinian struggle for biological existence. I have freely adapted it in various ways, in the hope of making its message more arresting. It is not, however, intended to change its meaning.
Mephistopheles told the story of creation to Dr Faustus.
Weary of the endless and boring praises of the choirs of angels, the creator decided upon a more amusing tale – one that entailed his worship by beings whom he would torture. Smiling inwardly, he resolved that a great drama would be performed.
For countless ages hot nebulae whirled aimlessly through space. At length it all began to take shape: the central mass threw off planets; they cooled, while boiling seas and burning mountains heaved and tossed as black masses of cloud and hot sheets of rain deluged the barely solid crust.
The first germ of life grew in the depths of the ocean. In the atmosphere of fructifying warmth it rapidly grew into a vast forest of trees with huge ferns springing from the damp mould. Sea monsters began breeding, fighting and devouring one another before they passed away, leaving their progeny behind.
From these monsters the play unfolded by itself for a time. Men and women were born. With the power of thought, a knowledge of good and evil and a cruel thirst for worship, these men and women soon saw all the cruelty inflicted upon this mad and monstrous world. Its constant struggle to snatch a few brief moments of life before the inexorable decree of Death caused them to wonder.
The man said: `There is a hidden purpose to all of this, could we but fathom it. The purpose of it all must be good, and we need to reverence something, and what we see is not worthy of our reverence.' The man and woman then stood aside from the struggle, resolving that the creator did indeed intend a harmony to come out of the chaos by human efforts.
They followed the instincts that God had transmitted to them from the ancestry of beasts of prey, calling it sin, and then asked God to forgive them. However, they doubted whether they could be justly forgiven and invented a divine plan by which God's wrath would be appeased.
Then, seeing that the present was bad, they made it even worse, believing that thereby the future might be better. They then gave thanks for the strength to be able to forgo even the joys that were possible in ensuring that their species continued.
And then God smiled when he saw that the man and woman had become perfect in such renunciation and worship. He was also heard to murmur that ‘it was a good play; I will have it performed again.’
At that point he sent another sun through the sky. It crashed into the sun that provided the humans with all their light and warmth. They died.
Once again, all was returned to the nebula; and the play was repeated infinitum.
Russell then turns to the way in which he believes that the science of the late nine-teenth century confirms this overall picture of the unfolding of the scheme of things:
Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.
How, in such an alien and inhuman world, can so powerless a creature as Man preserve his aspirations untarnished? A strange mystery it is that Nature, omnipotent but blind, in the revolutions of her secular hurryings through the abysses of space, has brought forth at last a child, subject still to her power, but gifted with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity of judging all the works of his unthinking Mother. In spite of Death, the mark and seal of the parental control, Man is yet free, during his brief years, to examine, to criticize, to know, and in imagination to create. To him alone, in the world with which he is acquainted, this freedom belongs; and in this lies his superiority to the resistless forces that control his outward life.
Scarcely in the whole world of literature is it possible to find such a deeply tragic and at the same time equally eloquent epitaph to the ultimate (apparently) meaninglessness of human existence. Although there is nowhere in this essay in which Russell explicitly discusses the contribution of Darwinism to this overall scenario, it has nonetheless come to play a significant role in it.
In the first place, the emphasis upon the biological struggle for the continued existence of a species that comes to the fore in Darwin’s theory, was taken up by three distinct ideologies that may together be grouped together as ‘social Darwinism’: Communism, Capitalism and Nazism. Together, these have done a great deal to shape the human cultural and social world of the twentieth century and beyond. Before considering this in further detail, however, we will look at the above picture painted by Bertrand Russell as a realistic and honest statement concerning what we might call naturalistic-humanist religiousness.
In the analysis of the Christian philosophy of Hermann Dooyeweerd, this religiousness is anchored in the human attribution of the final source of order and meaning to the cosmos into (effectively) two sources: Nature and Human Freedom. Of these, the former gives rise, in some fashion, to the latter. As such this ground motive, as Dooyeweerd calls it, is characterised by an inner tension between the two poles identified in it: the Nature pole threatens the integrity of the other pole – human freedom. It is this tension that, as sketched above by Bertrand Russell, is painted in dark, broad strokes with glimpses of bright deft colours. The other major tension within this ground-motive, at least historically, is exemplified in the rise and fall of German philosophy and culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although he does not describe it in the terms of a tension between Nature and Freedom, the basic contours of the story have been told by the American philosopher Robert Solomon in his book Continental Philosophy since 1750: The Rise and Fall of the Self. Its first chapter helpfully opens with the following:
Our story begins not with science, or Cartesianism, or even with Kant, but with the neurotic and solitary genius of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78), at once a member of the French Enlightenment, and the founder of European romantic-cism, one-time friend of Diderot, Voltaire, d’Alembert and Hume, but inevitably their enemy as well. Unlike those sophisticated urban gentlemen, he was a country bumpkin who felt more at home in the woods of St Germain than in the noisy cafés of Paris. His philosophy was not so much a cry for reasonableness as a radical proposal to revise our very idea of what it is to be human.
This idea of what it means to be human concerns the Self. However, it is no ordinary self. It is the Transcendental Self, whose nature and ambitions are unprecedentedly arrogant, cosmic, and often obscure. Put more modestly, this universal Self is human nature; in less modest terms, it is nothing less than a ‘Godlike’ Absolute Self or World Soul equated with humanity itself. As such, this theme takes shape in the philosophies of Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Schiller, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche and beyond. Moreover, as its overall picture of the Nature underlying the scientific enterprise tended to be a somewhat romantic, living and personal. Hankering after Plato, it counted as something of the threat of the Freedom pole to the Nature pole exemplified in the science ideal of this religiousness.
There is another way in which we may understand the nature of this inner tension within the ground-motive of Nature-Freedom religiousness. It is manifest within the different emphases within the overall evolutionary conception of reality itself. On the one hand, we have the conceptions of Teilhard de Chardin, Julian Huxley, and many others, including Bertrand Russell who, as quoted above, has eloquently remarked that Nature has at last brought forth a child, subject still to her power, but gifted with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity of judging all the works of his unthinking Mother, for a few brief years before Death, is able to examine, to criticize, to know, and in imagination to create.
Furthermore, as elsewhere in this website, [link to Living in a Secular World box, level 2] we have referred to the way in which Lloyd Geering has sought to revamp a form of secular Christianity so that we may put our sights upon a future in which ‘our highest human [according to him, there is no transcendent form of existence] values of honesty, justice, love, compassion and forgiveness’ may be our guide.
Whilst this exhibits the Freedom pole of Nature-Freedom religiousness, we should not forget the ways in which the Nature pole of this religiousness has also played such a significant part in the cultural, social life of the twentieth century. In this respect what is called ‘science’ does not begin with facts and theories, whether those of Darwin or anyone else. It begins with what we might call a ‘scientistic’ human exultation of Nature that may be captured by the human activity of science.
The following quote from Herbert Spencer, the leading English philosopher extending evolutionary theory beyond biology in the latter part of the nineteenth century, makes this very clear. Brimming with confidence to the effect that the full flowering of the paths of modernity were fully indebted to science, in 1850, that was later published in as essay in 1889, in which he posed the question - What knowledge is of most worth? And he answered it by saying that ‘the uniform reply is - Science.’ Furthermore, elaborated this claim by saying ‘This is the verdict on all counts.’
For direct self-preservation, or the maintenance of life and health, the all-important knowledge is - Science. For that indirect self-preservation which we call gaining a livelihood, the knowledge of greatest value is - Science. For the due discharge of parental functions, the proper guidance is to be found only in - Science. For that interpretation of national life, past and present, without which the citizen cannot rightly regulate his conduce, the indispensable key is - Science. Alike for the most perfect production and highest enjoyment of art in all its forms, the needful preparation is still - Science. And for the purposes of discipline - intellectual, moral, religious - the most efficient study is once more – Science. …Necessary and eternal as are its truths, all Science concerns all mankind for all time.
In the wake of the dominant Comtian positivist understanding of science and its so-called historical law of three stages, this meant that, on almost all sides, science was regarded as the hallmark of what was true and reliable, and, undoubtedly for that reason many of the advocates of all the major ideologies of the first part of the 20th century – Nazism, Communism and Capitalism – were, in one way or another, influenced by Darwin's theory as a way of giving it a ‘scientific’ boost.
There are two main points that we need to make here. The first follows from Russell’s comments concerning the emergence of the human species from earlier biological and physical creaturely beings in ways that bring some distinctively new dimensions to existence: awareness of self, love, hate, honesty, deception, justice and injustice. However that this creature, humankind, ‘is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave, is all but certain to the beliefs of modern humans.’
The second is that what we are apt to refer to as the human values of honesty and deception; love and hate, social harmony and disharmony, good and bad, justice and injustice, beautiful and ugly now need to be considered as merely human. They are literally our creations in the sense that they have no ground in the reality of existence other than us. This has the consequence that the choices whether we eat the flesh of other human beings for food is simply a decision that we decide whether or not to call good or bad. Hate is just the other side of love, and we might just as easily opt for describing cannibalism as ‘good’ and a love and respect for other humans as ‘bad.’
Of course, very few people do try to act out a truly moral relativism [the Marquis de Sade is one such example] and perhaps that really indicates that the real world in which we do live is indeed structured in a way that implies that we are not the only things in the scheme of things who have the capacity to love, be faithful and trusting, to make and keep promises. It just might be the case that we all really have a meaning to our existence that may be summed up in the words ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbour as yourself.’
This would then mean that we should indeed pull together in the realization of our individual, marriage, family, employment, other work, national and international communal lives. However, if we take a competitive, survival of the fittest, natural selection image of nature as the model for our human social interactions in ways that can all too easily defy the kinds of values we have ‘created,’ then the resulting conflicts and their resolutions take upon another twisted and distorted kind of reality.
In this respect, it is not difficult to see that a significant element of struggle, dog-eat-dog, strong ruling the weak, kind of ethic – whether on the level of one person to another, one nation to another or one economic class to another – can easily do a great deal to justify what we have known as Capitalism, Communism and Nazism.
Thus, Marx and Engels certainly appreciated that Darwin’s analysis of the development of biological species by means of the natural selection resulting in the survival of the fittest had implications for the class struggle and the future of an equalitarian social order.
From Darwin’s side, there was nothing connecting him, the retiring English gentleman, with Marx, the revolutionary communist trying to subvert the existing social order. However, from the side of Marx and Engels, they immediately recognised the significance of Darwin’s theory when it appeared in The Origin in 1859. Thus Engels wrote to Marx in 1859, just after he had read the first edition of Darwin’s book, as follows:
Darwin, by the way, whom I’m reading just now, is absolutely splendid. There was one aspect of teleology that had yet to be demolished, and that has now been done. Never before has so grandiose an attempt been made to demonstrate historical evolution in Nature, and certainly never to such good effect. One does, of course, have to put up with the crude English method.
The last sentence is undoubtedly a reservation that Engels and Marx held only between themselves - regarding the methodological approach of Darwin. From 1859 until their respective deaths, however, they insisted on the importance of Darwin’s work. Teleology, meaning a divine purpose which was working itself out in nature had been, in their minds, effectively demolished.
Most importantly, Darwin’s theory could ‘demonstrate historical evolution in Nature.’ Here was the most significant development in natural science in the 19th century, the culmination of the revolution in science that had begun 200 years earlier. Science was at the core of the Enlightenment, the liberation from religious and dogmatic thought that had developed in the preceding century, the outlook of Kant’s famous dictum ‘Dare to Know.’
Marx and Engels were well aware that to develop a scientific outlook on society - which was the only way that the emerging movement of the working class could establish socialism - an historical approach was needed. When Marx wrote in 1861 on Darwin he stressed this as follows:
Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle.
Although there have been various claims to the effect that a similar kind of ‘scientism’ was at work in the efforts of the Nazis to utilize Darwin’s theory, they need to be critically evaluated. The influence of Darwinism upon Nazism needs to be seen as less due to the desire for it to be genuinely ‘scientific.’ Rather it has to be seen as genuinely ideological. It is certainly true that, in this respect, the viewing of nations in the primary terms of ethnic groups, together with thinking of them in a racial hierarchy from Europeans down to savages was a common feature of the way that all Europeans and other Westerners viewed the world. To this general conception, the Nazi contribution was a form of ideology that gave this a much more forceful, brutal and militaristic emphasis that saw their own destiny in terms of an almost divine right to rule all others. This presumed right – to the point that they assumed the power to liquidate and murder the so-called ‘lower races,’ the weak, the infirm and the mentally ill was taken in the interests of cultivating a master race of Germans, free of such defects.
Although this bore some resemblance to Darwin’s picture of the competitive instincts for the survival of biological species, there was no way in which the Nazis would rely upon Nature to dictate the course of history in the conflicts establishing the order of the strong German Nation to rule the weaker ones. Their program was a lot more akin to the way in which a breeder of plants or animals sought to develop further varieties for specific human purposes. It also had a resemblance to the Nietzchean ideal of the superman. However, it also twisted these contributions so that the strong would rule the weak and eliminate the deformed and mentally ill. Political dissidents, Jews and those Christians who stood up to the Nazi contempt for the Ten Commandments as well as those (the Jews) whose Scriptures had done so much to preserve these commandments over more than three thousand years of civilization – were also eliminated.
Finally, such fierce capitalists as Andre Carnegie, derived from the Darwinian image of the struggle for existence in the natural selection between the biological competitors for food and resources, a justification for free market economics. As he wrote in his autobiography: ‘Not only had I got rid of theology and the super-natural, but I had found the truth of evolution. All is well since all grows better, became my motto, my true course of comfort.’ In another context he added to this the sentiment that ‘While evolution could be hard for the individual, it is best for race because it ensures the survival of the fittest in every department.’
3. The Gospel and Reformational Christianity
In this third contribution to an understanding of the religiousness of the gospel, with its implications for Reformational Christianity, we will endeavour to compare and contrast its own integral character with that of the Nature-Freedom religiousness discussed in the second. The two religious orientations meet in their considerations of what it means to be human. They nonetheless differ very profoundly concerning just what it means to be a member of the human race. In the Nature-Freedom scheme of things, the advent of humans brought something that is entirely new. It is in this respect that Lloyd Geering introduces the contents of Psalm 8 in his picture of the overall evolution of humankind in his book From the Big Bang to God.
According to Nature –Freedom religiousness, the evolutionary story of the rise humanity from Nature to the position of the commander of the planet Earth, is described by Lloyd Geering in his book Coming Back to Earth – From gods, to God to Gaia. Religiously, he paints this transition of humanity as if humankind awoke in a dream of consciousness that looked everything around her or him as if they were personal powers, leading to beliefs concerning many of the other ‘created things’ as gods. From there, a more worthy candidate for human worship and service was somehow found in a monotheism that considered the One ultimate source of order and meaning as a supreme, transcendent ruler domiciled in heaven.
When confronted with onward march of the secularist thrust of modernity, however, Geering asks the question ‘What happens to the God who was believed to inhabit heaven, the One who replaced the plurality of the gods of paganism?’ In his answer to this question, Geering draws our attention to certain ideas of the important twentieth century philosopher of Science, Sir Karl Popper. The ideas in question comprise Popper’s elemental ontology, somewhat prosaically described as World 1, World 2 and World 3. Geering adapts these ideas as follows:
World 1 is the physical world which for us is the space-time universe. Through most of the universe’s existence (as we now conceive it) nothing else existed. But, in the course of time, about three billion years ago, our planet Earth brought forth life, in the higher forms of which there evolved the phenomenon of consciousness. Geering then goes on to say that the ability to become aware of the physical world through the medium of sensory experience produced a new non-physical, non –spatial reality that Popper calls World 2.
Now, we might interrupt Lloyd Geering here for a moment, for he seems to want to avoid asking some crucial questions. If we equate the physical world with the material things made up of sub-atomic particles: protons, neutrons and electrons, combining in various ways to produce the atoms of the various elements, and these atoms then combining to form the molecules of both inanimate and living things, how is it possible for living things to arise from such physical things? Furthermore, how did plants to give rise to the sentient things that have the subjective conscious existence that is capable of ‘becoming aware of the physical world’.
The expected reply, of course, is ‘by evolution.’ However, this sounds like a simple renovation of the ‘God of the gaps’ argument. Just as this has been ridiculed as ‘an answer to a problem that simply draws upon the word ‘God’ to explain something that has not, up till now, been able to be explained in any other way, we might also apply this to ‘evolution’. In this respect, we simply need to emphasise that this kind of usage of the word ‘evolution’ far beyond anything envisaged by Charles Darwin.
It might be helpful to draw a simple analogy here. Let us suppose that we were to develop a new University course on Euclidean Geometry and Nuclear Physics. The course would begin with a statement of Euclid’s axioms –as self-evident truths – and develop all the theorems that used to be well-known to all students of mathematics. At some point in the course we would need to introduce the ideas of energy and particles in order to talk about nuclear physics. However, the ideas of energy and particles do not appear to be self-evident truths in quite the same way of Euclid’s axioms. Nor do these ideas seem to follow, in any simple way, from Euclid’s axioms. So how would be go about providing the link between Euclidean Geometry and nuclear physics?
To avoid these difficulties we might, as University professors, decide simply to appeal to the common-sense cultural awareness of physical theory that views ‘modern science’ as having ‘explained these levels of reality.’ We then proceed to develop the theories of the various forms of energy and the four fundamental types of force governing the universe – gravity, electromagnetism, the nuclear strong force and the nuclear weak force – in a way that is able to avoid the problems. No doubt some of the students may be puzzled that we left out any attempt to show atoms and energy were capable of a logical construction from the concepts of rectangles, circles and other geometrical figures, and thus to emerge in a scheme of things that supposedly began with just the geometrical elements of things.
This may sound far-fetched and it certainly is. However, is it all that different from being asked to believe that the realms of life, sentience, feeling, and theoretical reasoning and consciousness are considered to arise by ‘evolution’ with no adequate explanation? This said, we will allow Lloyd Geering to continue.
In the course of time the self-conscious reflection of humans created a third world, Popper’s World 3. This contains language, ideas, stories, religious beliefs, rituals and the arts. We are now in a position to appreciate the question that Geering posed before entering into his discussion of Popper’s ideas concerning Worlds 1, 2 and 3.
It turns out that what happens to the transcendent God who supposedly revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, acting in the history of the Hebrews to bring them out of Egypt into Canaan with a calling to live in accordance with the Sinai covenant, is first reduced to the idea of theism as initially something invented by humans. Second, as an idea created by humans, it inhabits World 3. As such, the idea evolved and changed in the course of human history - to the point that we now need to acknowledge that this idea has outlived its usefulness, and needs further change and adaption. This entails its continual use as a symbol that unifies ‘all of the highest of human values’ – justice, compassion, love, forgiveness.
The major point that I would like to make in answer to all of this is that all the ideas and concepts inhabiting Popper’s World 3 are not simply stand-alones deprived of any actual, fuller existence. The claim that ideas or concepts exist in World 3 - as mere ideas and/or concepts with no other relationship to reality, is demonstrably false. From childhood, we learn to name and categorise the things of our experience. Later, we may learn about more abstract concepts. However, although we learn about ideas and concepts, they are inevitably geometrical concepts, physical concepts, biological concepts, conceptions of human nature. In this way, even the idea of God is, in some sense linked with some part of ultimate reality upon which all else depends – what we have called ‘the divine,’ has this character. To put this point in Popperian terms, we might say that all the inmates of World 3 have cousins or correlates in Worlds 1 and 2.
To appreciate this point form another angle, we need to understand the significance of the influence of the Positivism of Auguste Comte and many others in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This ‘prescriptive law’, in effect affirm that history entailed a process of conceptual evolution from religion and theology, to metaphysics and then to positive science. Only the concepts concerned with ‘science’ were considered to relate to the actual things having any other existence than that of World 3. As such they were deemed ‘metaphysical’ and promptly declared ‘meaningless’.
Furthermore, in the case of ‘Adonai’, ‘Yahweh’ or ‘the Lord’ - as depicted both in the Jewish Scriptures and in the Old and New Testaments – we are dealing with One who acts in the course of human history and, in so acting, reveals himself to human beings. One of the central issues of contemporary culture (a characteristic of its secular definition of reality that rejects any meaning to what Popper might have called ‘World 4’ - the world that transcends the physical and concrete world of everyday experience) is its wholesale rejection of the reality of a transcendent world beyond Nature and Human Freedom.
All of the major world religious and wisdom traditions are based upon the opposite conviction: ultimate reality transcends the finite universe. Not only that. To be fully human is to be implicated in this divine transcendence. Furthermore, there are many philosophers and scientists who, in one way or another, have acknowledged the reality of transcendence, acknowledging the mystery and depth concerning what Popper might have called World 4! We shall look briefly at the problems with the conceptions of transcendence as conceived by Aristotle and Plato, before giving some attention to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
Aristotle’s conception of the heavens as the transcendent realm involved the implication that the God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures inhabited the heavens above the earth in a way that was far above the stars and planets. Such a conception is well-nigh impossible to adapt to modern cosmology. Plato’s conception, on the other hand, has the difficulty that his divine forms – including the abstract conceptions of mathematics as well as the ideals of virtue, the good and the beautiful – were too readily incorporated by Christian Platonists into ‘the divine mind’ of the God who rules the heavens and the earth.
One other significant thing here is that Plato considered the divinity [ie immortality] of the human soul as inhabiting the same divine realm as the forms. However, the history of this kind of conception of the soul, in conjunction with its link to a Platonic heaven, has been a very mixed blessing for Christian thought over the centuries. The principle problem has been Plato’s dualism between body and soul, something that made it virtually impossible for a truly unified conception of the human person as ‘body and soul.’
Over against these two conceptions we have at least two sources of Biblical ideas that are able to give us some clue to an adequate conception of transcendence. The first derives from the New Testament references to Jesus’ appearing and disappearing behind closed doors after his resurrection. The second concerns the way in which the Old Testament, in particular, pictures the human heart as the personal centre of our human existence - in a way that is inaccessible to the direct experience of the various aspects of our everyday existence. We shall look at each of these in turn, beginning with Luke’s account of what is usually referred to as the Ascension. For this purpose we will adopt a translation of Acts1: 9-11 that, while it owes much to that of N.T. Wright, yet also endeavours to consistently carry through an idea that is suggested by his translation:
He was lifted up while they were watching and a cloud took him out of their sight. They were gazing up into the sky as he disappeared. Then, lo and behold, two men appeared, dressed in white, standing beside them. ‘Galileans,’ they said, ‘Why are standing here staring into the skies? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.
The same Greek word -‘ouranon’- is here rendered by the italicised English words ‘sky’, ‘skies’ and ‘heaven.’ The idea behind this is that what the onlookers saw was Jesus going up and disappearing in a way that looked like his going behind a cloud. Significantly, the text does not picture him as continuing to rise so as to gradually disappear above the skies in a way that would fit with an Aristotelean conception of transcendence. Rather he was transported into a ‘heavenly’ realm that went beyond ‘the space-time’ confines of the things of the ordinary temporal life of concrete experience. This is paralleled by the events described of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 5:13-17, his transfiguration in Matthew 17:2-8, and his appearing and disappearing behind closed doors in John 20:19-26 and Luke 24: 28-43.
In each of these events, there was something going on that entailed an interaction between the created temporal world of ordinary experience and the transcendent heavenly realm beyond it. It is from this transcendent world – beyond creation – that God orders and lawfully governs creation, and it is to this real transcendent world beyond creation that Jesus goes after his period within earthly creation.
A second Biblical entry into the possibilities of our experiencing the possibilities of a world transcending the ordinary temporal world comes by way of the depiction of the relationship between God, ‘the inner self’ and ‘the outer bodily self’ with a reference to the account given in I Samuel concerning God’s choice of an Israelite King to replace Saul. Samuel is depicted as exhorted by God thus:
Do not look upon the outward appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks upon the outward appearance, but the LORD looks upon the heart.
Here ‘the inner self’ is called ‘the heart’. God looks upon the heart of a person, as their ‘inner self.’ Samuel is not able to do this, and he is warned not to make a judgment upon the fitted-ness of a person for the office of King on the basis of their outward appearance – ‘the outer bodily self’ to which Samuel did have access to.
In ordinary usage, the English word ‘heart’ has generally two uses. The first refers to the pumping organ that is responsible for pushing the blood around our living flesh, taking waste products away from the tissues and bringing in fresh supplies of oxygen from our lungs. The second usage of the word ‘heart’ generally refers to the supposed seat of feeling and emotion that is deemed to be distinct from the supposed seat of thinking, ‘the mind.’ Furthermore, in ordinary usage the word ‘soul’ connotes something supposedly spiritual, loosely connected to both heart and mind.
Thus, we need to ask the question as to the relationship of the Biblical usage of ‘the heart’ in relationship to the more commonly used words ‘soul’ and ‘mind.’ Whilst the overall story is one that is tied into the history of both philosophical reflection, Biblical Studies and Theology, we need to take a look at the meanings of the two most important Hebrew anthropological terms, as they relate to the Greek, Latin and English terms. These are Nephesh – often translated as ‘soul’; and Leb – usually translated as ‘heart’. While a great quantity of literature is available, the state of the art of the meanings of these two terms, in the light of recent scholarship, can be found in Hans Walter Wolff's Anthropology of the Old Testament.
Nephesh is a Hebrew word that was frequently translated as ‘psuche’ in Greek (in the Septuagint for example) as well as ‘soul’ in English. However, Nephesh has a variety of other meanings that are not able to be translated by the Greek psuche or the English soul. Psalm 105:18, for example, says, ‘his Nephesh was put into irons.’ Similarly, Nephesh has the bodily desire or appetite for food, drink, and breath. Often it simply means the vital principle or life-force: ‘the Nephesh of the flesh is in the blood’ (Lev. 17:11). Nephesh is used of animals as well as people in the sense of living creature. It can even mean a dead person (Num. 5:2; 6:11), but this is rare. It can also refer to ‘the seat’ of emotions and moral dispositions, or praise the Lord and hate the neighbour. Furthermore, in the places that it is usually translated as soul it is generally preferable to render its meaning as person or self, and to refer to them by of such personal pronouns as I and myself. In these cases it is generally correct to suppose that the term stands for the whole self or person rather than for some immaterial part or aspect of it. ‘My Nephesh will praise the Lord’ for example is better rendered as ‘I will praise the Lord with my whole being’ or ‘My whole life will praise the Lord’ rather than ‘My soul will praise the Lord.’
The Hebrew word leb or lebab means much the same as heart, in English. As such it occurs some 814 times in the Old Testament. The word does, of course, refer to the organ that pumps blood around the body. For example, Jeremiah cries out, ‘Oh the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me (Jer. 4:19). However, although the use of the term heart (leb) here is not restricted to the organic level, as it pumps blood around the body, it is unlikely that the meaning of the sentence is exhausted by this more focused meaning. The beating of the organ is pictured as ‘a pounding’ is associated with great anguish and pain that is viewed by the author as coming as the result of ‘the foolishness of my people’. However, this application of the heart to our typically human functions, supposedly locating it as the source of our emotional and feeling life as contrasted with our rational life seated in the mind, has generally been misunderstood in the post-Enlightenment romantic and idealist tendencies.
The significance of heart or leb in Hebrew thought is neither primarily for its role for organic life, nor for connoting our feeling and emotional life. Rather it is the hidden control-centre of the whole human being. The entire range of conscious and perhaps even unconscious activities of the person is located in and emanates from the heart as ‘the inner self’. It experiences emotions and moods, it has personality and character traits, it is the locus of thought and deliberation, choice and action, and it is above all the source of love or hate of God and neighbor. It may be hidden from other people and perhaps even from oneself, but God searches its depths and knows it altogether.
So, as with nephesh, there are significant ways in which the biblical idea of the heart overlaps with modern notions of the ego, person, or the deep inner self. Furthermore, there is no distinct Hebrew word for the mind. However, the Hebrew word leb does occur in ways that best renders it as nous in Greek or mind in English. Thus the injunction for us ‘to love God with all our leb and nephesh in Deuteronomy 6: 4-5 is rendered in the New Testament as ‘with all your heart, and with all your soul and all your mind’. Wolff feels compelled to warn against contemporary irrationalistic interpretations of the heart, saying that ‘We must guard against the false impression that biblical man is determined more by feeling than by reason. This mistaken anthropological direction is all too easily derived from an undifferentiated rendering of leb?’ Each of the capacities and modes of human subjective activity – thinking, feeling, emotion, trust, kindness, justice, frugality, beautiful nuance, faith and spirituality - has its own important and correlative place in human life as a whole. The entire package, often captured in the Biblical usage of the terms Leb or the heart, is ultimately employed either in covenant faithfulness to the God of the covenant or else in rebellion against him. And, as a matter of fact, there is a great deal more stress in the Old Testament on ‘getting a heart of wisdom’ than having certain feelings or pre-conceptual intuitions, no matter how positive and uplifting they may be.
To this point, it is worth pointing out that, in the usage of the OT terms Nephesh and Leb, the usage of the term Leb is a strong candidate for what we have referred to as ‘the inner self’. For its part, Nephesh, at least as used in the Old Testament or Jewish Tanakh, is less suitable. In its connotations with ‘person’, ‘life’ and other bodily functions, it tends to have the connotation of a unity of ‘body, soul and mind’ that does not emphasise what we have called ‘the inner self’ that is central to the meaning of I Samuel 6: 6-13.
Thus for our immediate purposes, leb or the human heart – as the unity comprising each of the capacities and modes of human subjective activity – thinking, feeling, emotion, trust, kindness, justice, frugality, beautiful nuance, faith and spirituality is ‘the inner self’ that transcends the ordinary ‘outer personal life’ connoted in part by Nephesh. God alone has access to the deepest reaches of our hearts; other humans (and animals) do not know the inmost thoughts, feelings, motivations, religious commitments and inner struggles of our hearts. We may have some idea or suspicions of them through the actions of ‘the outer selves’ of others, particularly if we know them well, and this may be confirmed by the way they choose to reveal themselves to us. Nonetheless, in the sense we have discussed here, the inner life of our hearts transcends the life of our ‘outer selves’, albeit that our outward actions have their origins in the transcendence of our hearts as we live our lives before God in ways that are either open or closed to the work of his grace and mercy in our inmost being, in ways that are able to have a profound affect upon the diverse lives of our ‘outer selves.’
An appreciation of transcendence is crucial to a Biblical worldview. As indicated in our consideration of Bertrand Russell’s essay A Free Man’s Worship, there is no place for it in the religiousness of Nature-Freedom. The few clues to our appreciation of transcendence in what we have endeavoured to propose here obviously need to be developed and amplified further.
Bertrand Russell’s fictional deity described by Mephistopheles to Dr Faustus, as responsible for the unfolding of the cosmos is simply a metaphor for ‘Nature.’ It does not require the genuine transcendence of a Creator –Redeemer distinct from a Creation that continues to be ordered by His Word. As such, the very idea of this kind of transcendence is anathema to all forms of Nature-Freedom religiousness.
The emergence of our ‘higher human values’ comes about from below. In this respect, Russell’s picture of the deceitful and malevolent deity is a far cry from the Biblical picture. Furthermore, his more ‘scientific account’ relieves such personalized accusations by regarding the first final source of order and meaning – Nature – as an impersonal set of forces that had ‘no design or purpose in what was going to be achieved’. In other words, order, somehow – by means of ‘evolution’ - came out of chaos.
Russell also confronts us with the picture of the sensitive human beings who, after emerging from the lower levels of existence, are sickened by the horrors of the world in which they find themselves. They still came to the conclusion that whatever the final source of the order of Nature and the consequent human meaninglessness of it all, was unworthy of their worship and service. They therefore resigned themselves to an acknowledgement that they could not locate any origin of themselves within the cosmos. They therefore inaugurated a quest to discover their ‘human essence’ in some kind of model as to what human meaning and destiny might be in themselves alone, viewing any intrinsic or final sense of meaning and purpose as illusory. Russell describes this as follows:
Mankind is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.
Thus deprived of any intrinsic meaning or purpose – what philosophers once called essence – the otherwise meaningless and powerless creatures that arose to command this planet Gaia, needed to invent (or re-invent?) and define (or re-define?) themselves. In other words, the meaning of human life was now to be found not so much in finding it for ourselves. Rather, it was a matter of defining it for ourselves. However, as most of us need some kind of model or blueprint to imitate – a Hero to be followed, if not worshipped – we are presented with a problem. We have a plethora of heroes – both ancient and modern. However, they differ from one another quite profoundly. Should we take up the mantle of Mother Teresa? What about Al Capone, Ned Kelly or Billy the Kid? Even Hitler might be a real option for some. To quote again from Bertrand Russell:
A strange mystery it is that Nature, omnipotent but blind, has brought forth at last a child, subject still to her power, but gifted with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity of judging all the works of his unthinking Mother. In spite of Death, the mark and seal of the parental control, Man is yet free, during his brief years, to examine, to criticize, to know, and in imagination to create.
To him alone, in the world with which he is acquainted, this freedom belongs; and in this lies his superiority to the resistless forces that control his outward life.
The major problem with the human freedom prescribed by the Nature-Freedom religiousness represented by Bertrand Russell is that its freedom and imagination knows no bounds. In our freedom to define our own essence, we can adopt Hitler, Alexander the Great, Gandhi or Mother Teresa as models. It is, I suggest, within this broader context of the intrinsically meaningless world of an omnipotent Nature that ‘the theology’ of someone like Lloyd Geering needs to be understood. He wants to commend to us all the ‘higher human values’ represented supremely in Jesus Christ – justice, compassion, going the extra mile, honesty and forgiveness’. We should all respect him for this. God knows, the world would indeed be a much better place if we were all to follow his advice and lead.
However, although he does acknowledge the basic problem of meaning and purpose within the kind of secularistic world that we inherit, he does not seem to appreciate that he offers his answer within the context of the same kind of religiousness as that of Bertrand Russell. They both – whether or not they use ‘god-words’ - call upon us redefine the intrinsic meaningless of our humanity through the worship and service of the god of the humanly constructed ideals of ‘justice, compassion, love, kindness and honesty.’
In one way this can be viewed as an attempt to follow a religiousness of a [humanly constructed] lawfulness, independent of the grace of God. Now, I say this in the full recognition that this is the very opposite of what is intended. The desire is to put forth a life of faith, not of law or grace. However, the god of that faith is, at the same time described as ‘high human values’. As such they seek to define the goal to which we should strive from deep within our hearts. We should not forget that, even in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches of the need to recognise that the problems of hate and love, forgiveness and revenge, murder and the giving of alms, adultery and marital faithfulness – lie not in our outward actions but within the inner motivations of our hearts.
At root, the new wine of the gospel of the coming of the Kingdom of God, is the reality of God’s grace as this entails the actual transformation of human hearts by the Holy Spirit. Faith in Jesus Christ does indeed entail belief, but the focus of the faith is upon an open-hearted desire to receive the riches and power of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – to enable us defeat sin and the real powers of evil that affect us both in the depths of our hearts and in the outward actions of our lives.
The basic religiousness of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments may therefore be summed up in the final sources of order and meaning entailed with Creation, Fall and Redemption – placing whatever realities that are properly described as evolutionary – within this overall picture.
Creation entails a Creator God who originates the cosmos as Creation, in a way that intends certain creatures – as his Image-Bearers – to care-for, develop and manage it, as part of her/his faithful service and worship of the Creator. That Creation is good as it comes from the hand of God. Evil is not a created reality; it is a distortion or denial of the good that comes about as the result of human rebellion and the denial and turning away from God in the very roots of our hearts, the basic source of the unity of selfhood that expresses itself in our feeling-life, our pain, our compassion, our kindness, as well as our thinking, our cultivation of the garden, the making of meals and everything associated with the daily tasks our living in this world.
Our hearts are also concerned with the roots of our religiousness – the inner and outer final Source of order and meaning that we acknowledge deep within our hearts and act out in the various capacities of our lives.
In the fallen world in which we live, we humans know both good and evil. We experience both in the full reality of our lives. Religiousness – even the religiousness of those who profess to believe in God, in Jesus as Messiah – suffers from the distortions of sin and idolatry. The overall commandment is indeed ‘a very high’ calling, so much so that we cannot realise it faithfully apart from the grace of God transforming our hearts so that we really do want to do what we know we should do.
Redemption is the activity of God in the bringing of the world back to health as it suffers from ‘the disease’ of sin, idolatry and rebellion in the defiance of the will of God.
The gospel is the good news of the possibility of us humans gaining the forgiveness, the mercy and the inner transformation of our hearts through the transcendent grace of God that alone cam bring about the full restoration of our humanity. It is this full restoration of our calling as servant-lords of creation that fits us to live in the Kingdom of God, both now and in the world of the renewed heavens and earth that is to come.
The evolving character of creation is a major feature of the development of modern science. However, its significance for an overall outlook needs to be appreciated as having a significant role in Nature-Freedom religiousness, as this is exemplified by the thought of Lloyd Geering and many others. We cannot follow all the way along this path. Nonetheless, we will attempt at a later stage in the develop this website to consider a course entitled ‘Evolution as the Genesis of Creation’ that will attempt to discuss the place of the unfolding genesis of creation as the proper way to reform and understand the place of the idea of evolution in our outlook, including our science.
A Reformational Christianity is one that fully appreciates the meaning of what it means to be human in the sight of God. It also fully appreciates the extent to which our rebellion affects the world in its huge awareness and experiential knowledge of both good and evil. Finally it fully appreciates the scope of the redemption that God has wrought in Christ, and the calling that it calls us as the disciples of Jesus Christ to engage in:
So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s. What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewal of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is - what is good, acceptable and complete.
To live and think properly in this way can only be done effectively by dealing with the dilemmas of Nature-Freedom religiousness in ways that recognise that its religious roots actually function as both idols and rivals of the basic religiousness set out in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Once we reject the reality of the latter revealing to us the basic character of God, together with our own ‘essence’ as creatures made in his image to care for, manage and unfold the potential of creation, as well as the depth of our sinful estrangement from him in our hearts, then we become easy prey, losing ourselves and our very identity in other forms of religiousness.
This is a mockup. Publish to view how it will appear live.