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   Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lessons In Apologetics #5: Deism


The tests or methodologies of epistemology are just the first step into the realm of Apologetics. These, in turn are applied to the assorted worldviews.
The first worldview examined will be Deism. As with Christianity, Deism believes that God created the universe and set it up to operate in accord with a system of natural laws both physical and moral that are discoverable by mankind. What sets Deism apart from Christianity is the extent to which each believes God intervenes in the affairs of both nature and man.
Often, Deism is described as the watchmaker view of God. Those holding to this view believe that, while God created the world and set it into motion, the natural laws He established were so comprehensive that God no longer intervenes in or on His creation’s behalf. This assumption puts it at odds with orthodox Biblical theology on a number of points.
As a system, it could be said that Deism served as a transitional set of beliefs between two great epochs of Western intellectual history. Following the upheaval of religious conflicts such as the Thirty Years War, in a sense Deism was a recoil to the horrors of dogma that had been exorcised of the doctrines of compassion and moderation.
Deism also softened the shock to those wanting to turn their backs on a Biblically-based understanding of life but not yet ready to embrace the rampant secularism characterizing the more recent contemporary era. Deism was also the end product of the scholastic undertakings of the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration whereby European thinkers had to come to grips with the realization that a world, a goodly portion of it consisting of cultures as at least as complex as their's, existed beyond the borders of Christendom.
The Father of English Deism was Herbert of Cherbury. In his book “On Truth“, Herbert established the following principles as common to all men: that there is one supreme God, that he ought to be worshipped, that virtue and piety are the chief parts of worship, that we ought to be sorry for our sins, and that a divine goodness dispenses rewards and punishments both in this life and the hereafter (153).
At a quick glance, the list does not appear all that controversial and there is not much there the orthodox Christian would disagree with. However, it is what is not on the list that Deists following after Herbert of Cherbury expanded upon that brought this worldview's anti-Christian underpinnings to full fruition for all the world to see.
One thinker that most have at least a cursory knowledge of connected to Deism was John Locke. According to Geisler, Locke in “The Reasonableness Of Christianity” endorsed the Deist unitarian view of God and denied the deity of Christ.
Among early Deists, the average Christian would really have to be on their toes to detect the subtle attacks against the faith. Often then the attacks were carefully aimed at other religious systems rather than directly on the Bible itself. However, as society became more accepting as to the amount of dissent that could be openly expressed, a number of Deists more bluntly stated their antagonisms with varying degrees of success.
For example, Matthew Tindal in “Christianity As Old As Creation” argued that, since God is perfect by definition, the revelation of God in the created order is so complete that the idea of the Bible is superfluous and is actually inferior as Tindal considered the Bible to be full of errors anyway (160). And by the time of the founding of the United States of America and the early years of the Republic, Thomas Jefferson edited a version of the Bible exorcising the Scriptures of their miraculous content. Our third president ended the Gospel with “there laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone in front of the sepulcher and departed”, thus causing this version of the good news not to be all that good as Jesus had not risen according to this act of censorship (165).
Source: Geisler, Norman. "Christian Apologetics". Baker Academic, 1988.
by Frederick Meekins
Mood: None, or other
7:58 AM - 0 Comments - 0 Kudos - Add comment 

   Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Historian Distorts Past In Pursuit Of Anti-Christian Animus

In the 4/19/10 edition of USA Today, religious antiquarian Phillip Jenkins, by comparing extremist Islam with assorted atrocities committed in the name of Christianity over the centuries, details from an historical perspective how any religion can be co-opted in the name of violence. Though his warning is in part a timeless one that needs to be considered in all ages, Professor Jenkins' case overlooks a number of important points.

 First, it must be remembered that, though horrible, the lynching and dismemberment of Hypatia and the abuses perpetrated by Cyril highlighted by Professor Jenkins occurred centuries ago. The violence committed by Islamic extremists is going on today.
That does not diminish the evils inflicted so long ago or repudiate the lessons that can be learned from such ancient accounts. However, the danger arises when this sense of scholastic detachment is then applied to the issue of contemporary terrorism.
Secondly, it must be remembered that such violence perpetrated solely for expansive religious purposes in the name of the Lord by human hands is not endorsed by Christ during the dispensation of grace. In Acts 17, Paul debated and dialogued with the Athenian philosophers on Mars Hill; he didn’t crack open their heads.
For Christians, Jesus during the time of His first advent and Paul are to serve as examples in regards to faith, practice, and missiological strategy. It could be argued that Muhammad serves a similar function in the life of the Muslim.
It would be factually incorrect to say that all Muslims are prone to fanatic violence. However, those using violence for socioreligious ends are more faithful in emulating the example set by Muhammad and the text he promoted than supposed Christians committing violence are in living up to New Testament standards.
Professor Jenkins would no doubt argue that those emphasizing violent manifestations of Islam while neglecting violent expressions of Christianity are doing a disservice to history. He has committed this very offense by insinuating that violent atrocities are a phenomena exclusive to unhinged religions and not something plaguing other social institutions.
Jenkins writes, "Out-of-control clergy, religious demagogues with their consecrated militias, religious parties usurping the functions of the state --- these were the common currency of the Christian world just a few decades after the Roman Empire made Christianity its official religion. He continues a paragraph or two later, "...given a sufficiently weak state mechanism, any religion can be used to justify savagery and extremism."
Are you going to tell me that an historian of Phillip Jenkins'
repute is not aware of the countless deaths that result not so much from a "sufficiently weak state mechanism" but from a state made too strong at the expense of other cultural spheres? For example, Jenkins writes, "Between 450 and 650 AD, during what I call the 'Jesus Wars', inter-Christian conflicts and purges killed hundreds of thousands, and all but wrecked the Roman Empire."
Such conflict is tragic. However, it could be argued that the Roman Empire was, to use a highly technical historical metaphor, heading down the toilet well before then and for a number of additional reasons.
Frankly, the Roman Empire wrecked itself. Christians didn't instigate the debaucheries for which the waning years of the Empire have become infamous such as gladiatorial combat, rampant orgies, and even incest among the ruling elite.
History is as much a reflection of the values of those writing it as it is about the past era being written about. As such,  Professor Jenkins needs to be asked why he thinks the violence perpetrated by warring bishops is somehow worse or the victims any more dead than the Christians slaughtered by Roman authorities for little more than quietly adhering to their own convictions.
It would seem that the most important lesson to take away from the great tragedies of history is that innocent human lives are lost when institutions of authority assume power to extents and over matters they were never intended. The regimes more blatantly hostile of Christianity such as Nazism and Communism were actually the regimes that turned the slaughter of the innocent and dissidents into an exact science.
It has been said that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Concentrating power in the hands of government at the expense of other social institutions in the name of preventing tyranny is one of the surest ways of bringing about that particularly undesirable state of political affairs.
by Frederick Meekins
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