– the chaplain
Imagine that a total stranger asks for permission to visit your home. If you are inclined to consider granting the request, you will probably ask the visitor a few questions about his or her intentions, and inform that person of house rules that you consider inviolable. For example, neither the deacon nor I smoke, nor do we do allow people to smoke in our home. We simply do not want to deal with the odors, butts and health risks that inevitably accumulate where smokers indulge in their habit. Smokers who come to our home will have to step outside to smoke. If you come to my home and defy my rules, you will be firmly asked to leave and advised not to expect an invitation to return.
Now, imagine that some Christians are traveling to an officially atheistic country, like, say, China. It is well known that the Chinese government regulates both the practice of religion in its country and the distribution of religious materials within its borders. Even though I am not religious (and even, at times, somewhat anti-religious), I do not approve of these policies. I disapprove of censorship and prefer the free exchange of ideas, even though that requires that I respect the right of others to disseminate ideas that I find ridiculous. Nevertheless, China is a sovereign country that has a right to make its own house rules. Changes to those rules should either come from within the country itself, or through the respectfully proffered diplomatic influences of outsiders. Accordingly, if I want to visit China, a request the country is not obligated to grant, then I have a responsibility to abide by its rules.
I know you won’t be at all surprised to learn (if you didn’t know it already) that some Christians do not believe that they are bound by such social and political niceties. A headline at MSNBC declares Foreign missionaries defy ban during Olympics. The report goes on to say,
“Christian groups who flouted a Chinese ban on foreign missionaries are calling their underground evangelizing during the Olympic Games a success…..”
“‘We did see some conversions,’ said Christian missionary Mark Taylor of Pensacola, Fla….”
“…the Christians came in on tourist visas and said they were involved in sports or cultural activities….”
Even though the Chinese government had made it clear that missionary efforts would not be welcomed during the Olympics, 115 Christians from 12 countries decided that China’s house rules did not apply to them. They asked for permission to enter the country, then disrespected the expressed wishes of their host. That’s ill-mannered, to say the least. What’s even worse is that exercising bad manners was the least of the Christians’ sins. They compounded their wrongs by lying to gain entry into the country. They didn’t apply for missionary visas. After all, such visas are difficult to attain and likely would not have been granted at all during this particular time frame. So, instead of risking a rejection of their request, the Christians resorted to subterfuge. WLWJT? What Lie Would Jesus Tell to get his way?
MSNBC also recounted this story (which I first read about at Bitchspot):
“One Christian group made headlines this week when Chinese authorities confiscated 315 Chinese-language Bibles found in their checked luggage when they arrived in the southwestern city of Kunming from Thailand.
A member of the Wyoming-based Vision Beyond Borders group said they wanted to give the Bibles to their “brothers and sisters.” Chinese law forbids bringing in religious products for more than personal use.
“It was almost like they were treating us like criminals,” member Pat Klein said by telephone as the group prepared to return to Thailand with the Bibles.”
Well, yeah, if the shoe fits… You broke the law, so, by definition, you behaved like criminals.
According to Yahoo, Klein also said, “They’re saying that it’s illegal to bring the Bibles in and that if we wanted to, we had to apply ahead of time for permission.”
Asking for permission. What a novel idea. In Klein’s world, being a Christian means never having to ask for permission. Christians are doing God’s Work, and are, therefore, always right. It doesn’t matter what means they use to attain their ends, what matters is reaching the goal. Is it any wonder that many non-Christians perceive Christians as insufferably pompous? Where in the world would we get such an idea?
I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will, lest some Christian commenter flame me for not acknowledging it: not all Christians support the efforts of believers who break the law to spread their gospel. The MSNBC report notes, “Even the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham, said during a visit to China this year that he did not support illegal missionary work during the Olympics.”
Unfortunately for Christians, this acknowledgment brings up a sticky point for them: notwithstanding the fact that they’ve had 2,000 years to codify their rules, there still is not a single, coherent ethical standard that binds all Christians. Some Christians use the Bible to justify contravening laws they find inconvenient and other Christians disagree with them. Nevertheless, all of them expect me to look to them for moral guidance. No thanks, I’ll pass on that offer, and here’s why: There was a time when I would have regarded the actions of these proselytizers and Bible smugglers as heroic. After all, according to the the Christian worldview to which I once adhered, nothing is more important than getting God’s word into the hands, hearts and heads of people. The law of God supersedes the laws of humankind. Now, in my post-Christian state, I recognize the arrogance of that view and reject it. Instead, I respect the rights of others to set their own house rules and I accept my obligation to abide by those rules – even if I disagree with them – when I choose to visit their homes. It may not be the Christian way, but it is the right way.
– the chaplain
The deacon and I spent Friday night in New Orleans. We had a great time hanging around the French Quarter, particularly on Bourbon St., and enjoying some old-fashioned jazz.
At about 7:00 in the evening, the police block vehicular traffic from Bourbon St. and the party begins.
After walking along with the crowd for awhile, we decided to eat supper here:
This place had pretty good Po’ Boys and featured entertainment by a Dixieland band:
A little later in the evening, we we went to a jazz club, Maison Bourbon, and listened to Jamil Sharif and his band for about an hour. This band played jazz standards and was pretty good, so I bought an autographed CD at the end of the show. The pianist was standing in and had to use a fake book, but she pulled her weight well, including improvising several solos throughout the evening. Sharif, a trumpeter, was very good, as was his woodwind playing sidekick. The bass player was also good, but the drummer, I must admit, gave the deacon and me the willies. He was a pretty young guy who looked like a beatnik wannabe, complete with thick glasses and a little goatee. During the second piece, the deacon said to me, “The drummer keeps looking at himself in the mirror.” I looked over and, sure enough, there was the drummer making faces at himself in the mirror. As we watched (and listened to) the show, we couldn’t help noticing that the drummer had an amazing array of distorted faces that he made throughout the show, particularly during his solos. He spent most of the night looking like he was constipated. At the end of the evening, I said, “That drummer is creepy.” The deacon answered, “He’s just weird. He’s one of those guys who, if I knew him, I’d stay away from him as much as possible.” The deacon is more generous than I am; if I knew the guy, I’d never admit it.
This was my first visit to New Orleans, although I’ve always wanted to go there. Bourbon St. is every bit as enjoyable as I always imagined it would be and there are many more jazz clubs for me to visit. The deacon and I will be booking our tickets soon. Maybe we’ll see you there.
– the chaplain
This blog has reached some milestones recently:
When I opened this blog nine months ago, I wasn’t sure that I’d have much to say. Now you’re probably wondering what it will take to get me to shut up. I also wasn’t sure whether anyone would be the least bit interested in anything I would say. Thanks for showing up, reading the posts, and adding your two cents. We’ve had some interesting conversations. The only question I have now is, what am I going to write about next?
– the chaplain
It was just over a year ago that I seriously considered a range of theological, philosophical and empirical data regarding the existence of God and the likelihood that any theistic religion, particularly Christianity, was true. As I read books, blogs and web sites, I occasionally stumbled across the term, presuppositionalism. I quickly gathered that this is a branch of Christian apologetics that starts with the premises that God is real and that Christianity is true, and then seeks to find rational support for those premises. I probably don’t need to point out to you that this method of reasoning is circular. Presuppositionalists try to weasel out of that charge by claiming that there are different types of circularity, that their method does not rely on mere vicious circularity (which they agree is a logical fallacy) and that all methods of inquiry rely, to some degree, on presuppositionalism. Therefore, even if they are guilty, so is everyone else.
Presuppositionalists claim that their presuppositions – 1. that God exists and 2. that the Christian version of God is the correct one – are not unreasonable and are, in fact, the only ones by which humans can make any sense of the world. Naturalists, on the other hand, claim that humans are capable of observing and testing data in the world and drawing sound conclusions about the nature of the universe on the bases of their tests and observations. This claim, which does not necessarily require or rule out a supernatural cause, may be regarded as the naturalist’s presupposition. Naturalists take humankind’s capacity to learn as a self-evident fact, an axiom, if you will, just as presuppositionalists take God’s existence as an axiom. If it is indeed the case that we are all starting with presuppositions of some sort, why is it that the theist’s presupposition is circular and the naturalist’s is not? Simply this: naturalists are not setting out to prove their presuppositions; they are using those presuppositions as means for moving forward into inquiries about all sorts of matters. Theists, on the other hand, are using their presuppositions specifically and solely to argue back toward what they’ve presupposed. Notwithstanding the clever claims of Van Til, Bahnsen and others, this is simply circular reasoning.
Some Christian apologists try to get around this distinction by restating (read: misrepresenting) the naturalist position. Such apologists assert that naturalists start with the presupposition that God does not exist. By doing this, they recast the naturalist position as a mirror image of the theistic position, an argument that corresponds precisely with theirs. Thus, we’re just as guilty as they are. In reality, as I’ve already noted, the naturalist presupposition is neutral regarding a creative entity; it requires neither acceptance nor rejection of that entity. It simply applies Occam’s Razor and ignores the supernatural altogether.
A related presuppositionalist error (or tactic) is to mistake (or misrepresent) the null hypothesis as a presupposition. Good research is built on stating a null hypothesis (if phenomenon A is the result of random agents, then agent B will have no observable or measurable effect on A), and an alternative hypothesis (if agent B has an actual effect on phenomenon A, we will be able to observe and/or measure it). When it comes to questions about God’s existence, naturalists begin with something akin to a null hypothesis: if natural phenomena can be explained via natural agents, then supernatural agency has no observable or measurable effects on nature. It is important to note that this is not a positive statement of God’s non-existence; it is simply a statement about whether God’s agency has been observed or measured. The alternative hypothesis is this: if God has actual effects on nature, then we will be able to observe and/or measure them. Naturalists start from a neutral position and do not posit God Did It until all other explanations have been discredited. God is simply one of many possible hypotheses. If the null hypotheses fail, then the alternative hypothesis, that God did, indeed, do it, must be accepted. The naturalist’s method of inquiry allows for two possible outcomes; the presuppositionalist’s method begins and ends by precluding the outcome it does not desire. It’s clear to me which of the two methods is more honest than the other.
To summarize, what I’ve explained here is:
a) Presuppositionalists and naturalists both begin with axiomatic premises.
b) These premises are not mirror images of each other, because
c) the presuppositionalist uses his/her premises to argue back toward themselves and thereby “prove” them; investigating God’s existence begins by assuming that existence. This is circular reasoning.
d) the naturalist uses his/her premises to argue away from the premises themselves toward all sorts of other conclusions. This is not circular reasoning.
e) The naturalist’s approach to investigating God’s existence does not begin with a presupposition either for or against such an entity. Instead,
f) the naturalist’s method begins with both null and alternative hypotheses and is open to confirming or rejecting either one.
g) The presuppositionalist’s method rejects the null hypothesis entirely and is only interested in reinforcing the alternative hypothesis.
h) The naturalist’s approach toward investigating God’s existence is more methodologically and logically sound than the presuppositionalist’s approach and is, consequently, more reliable.
– the chaplain